If you were to single out just one key touchstone for Stranger Things, Steven Spielberg’s ET the Extra-Terrestrial would be it. This is a show set in a small all-American suburb, wherein bike-peddling kids are hounded by FBI agents after they discover a supernatural being, hide it among their own and begin teaching it the ways of the world.
It’s not just the central plot: the bittersweet comic fantasy tone of ET would also appear to inform Stranger Things on the whole. The show, like ET, is largely taken from the perspective of children and finds said kids – behind the backs of suspicious parents and other assorted adults – keeping their newfound super-friend a secret. This friend isn’t quite as benevolent as Spielberg’s long-fingered space traveler, though…
Almost all of the main inspirations for Stranger Things come from the 1980s (representing a high watermark for family-oriented blockbusters), but there are exceptions hailing from the 70s – hits from the decade that continued to have a cultural impact into the 80s and beyond (the era when the Duffer brothers grew up and apparently spent their time watching the same movies over and over).
An immediately obvious precursor to Millie Bobby Brown’s Eleven is Carrie White. Like the Stephen King (anti-)heroine, Eleven is quiet, unsure of herself and surrounded by bullies. Fortunately for her, though definitely not for them, she also has powers that allow her to take humiliating and eventually rather bloody revenge. Like Carrie’s, Eleven’s is a story about an outcast coming of age in an often altogether violent way.