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Stranger Things: Cinematic Degrees of Separation

I love the many connections and moments of homage to 70s and 80s film that are woven into every scene of Stranger Things. Lots of fans have pointed out the main references, iconic films like E.T. and The Thing, but what if you’ve already seen those?

In that case, it’s time to expand your net to the second degree of Stranger Things separation. So take a look, pick a favorite flick, and discover something new to watch!  Use this handy guide for a quick glimpse at each film’s plot.

Stranger Things tree map

Cue the Stranger Things theme

E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
This classic has all those magic moments: kids going on adventures on bikes, lovable creatures, and an overwhelming evil that can only be beaten with the power of love and wide-eyed innocence.

Why not try . . .

  • Midnight Special - Kid with special powers + loving father + sinister government AND cult members in pursuit = awesome
  • Super 8While filming a zombie movie on a Super 8 camera, a group of kids witness the accidental release of a dangerous presence—America’s Funniest Home Videos this is not!
  • Explorers – Three teenage friends build a spaceship and travel the universe encountering some very quirky aliens.

Aside from the terrifying presence that likes to move things around and talk to little girls through the tv, this house it totally normal.

Why not try . . .

  • Beyond the Gates – This spooky tale revolves around two brothers and an interactive VHS board game and—get this—it takes place in a movie rental store. I mean, c’mon!
  • The Visit – Two siblings get suspicious of their grandparents while on a visit, and it’s not just because they’re acting super weird, but that is part of it.
  • Krampus – A family that’s pretending not to be miserable with each other gets visited by the terrifying folkloric Krampus. Hilarity ensues. (jk) (kinda)

Freddy Krueger's glove

1, 2 Freddy's coming for you ... 3, 4 stop counting and run. Like, for real.

A Nightmare on Elm Street
If the whole “teenagers fighting monsters” aspect of Stranger Things got you jazzed, then you probably enjoyed the original nightmare monster, Freddy Kruger.

Why not try . . .

  • Christine – High school nerd, Arnie (and, I mean, he’s not helping his reputation with that name) buys a 1958 Plymouth Fury that may or may not be sentient . . . and evil.
  • Fright Night – A teenager and his girlfriend must fight their new neighbor when they realize he is a vampire (who also happens to be named Jerry, which is a unique name for a vampire IMHO).
  • Candyman – When a student discredits a supernatural being’s legend, he comes back to “shed innocent blood” to keep up his reputation, thus creating an excellent warning for graduate students everywhere.

Alien head closeup

IDK I think it would be way more adorbs if it had eyes. 

What’s more terrifying than a dark, drippy creature filled with teeth?

Why not try . . .

  • Pumpkinhead – In a classic tale of “be careful what you wish for,” a man summons a demon to get revenge but then regrets it and things get ugly.
  • The Fly – Brilliant scientist Seth Brundle (JEFF GOLDBLUM ALERT!) accidently takes a trio through his new teleportation device with a fly, effectively mixing their DNA and setting off an inevitable series of events that will surely end in utter doom.
  • The Abyss – While trying to recover a nuclear sub from the bottom of the sea, a petroleum engineer discovers something magical . . . and scary . . . definitely magical and scary.

Models from The Fly

Jeff Goldblum ... alert?

 The Thing
OK, we all agree aliens are scary. So why not make them scarier by allowing them to shape shift into anything organic? Fun.

Why not try . . .

  • The Blob (1988) ­- A beautiful California town is attacked by a giant, well, blob that falls from the sky. Warning: waaaaaayyy gorier than you might expect.
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) – In what has got to the one of his weirder days on the job, a health inspector discovers that people are being replaced with alien copies. (ANOTHER JEFF GOLDBLUM ALERT! Also bonus Leonard Nimoy!)
  • The Void – Some days you’re just minding your own business when you get stuck in an abandoned hospital while being threatened by creepy cult people and also there are tentacles, like, everywhere.

Kids. Check. Unspeakable evil. Check. Parents don’t believe the kids. Check. And clowns. Creepy, creepy clowns.

Why not try . . .

  • Salem’s Lot – TFW your whole neighborhood is turning into vampires and it’s up to you to stop it.
  • Children of the Corn – Creepy, ancient, evil entity (sound familiar?) entices kids into killing adults thus leaving the town filled with kids and no parents. But boy that corn crop sure looks good.
  • Monster Squad – When the real Dracula, Wolfman, Mummy, Gill Man, and Frankenstein’s Monster show up in a small town, it’s up to the monster fan club to save the day. Alert: Very 80s lots of cussing.

About the author

Adrienne is a writer and editor from Seattle and is MoPOP's Content Wizard (patent pending).