With Stranger Things 3 now streaming and igniting 1985 pop-culture nostalgia in Netflix subscribers like me, its pressing to take a pause and really appreciate what creators The Duffer Brothers have achieved since introducing audiences around the world to Hawkins – Indiana, Mike, Eleven and so many other dynamic characters. Although the entire series plays as a greatest hits of classic movie scenes from films such as Aliens (1986), The Shining (1980), Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and so many others, the overt connectedness to Steven Spielberg and his movie footprint is undeniable. Whereas, Super 8 (2011) from J.J. Abrams was an ode to Amblin and Steven Spielberg with a group of adolescent outcasts discovering their own brand of government secrets, Stranger Things goes beyond the lens flare and narrative structure of boys-on-bikes and dives deep into the aesthetic of the Spielberg movie catalogue. If any cinephile or academic was ever to challenge the “auteur” worthiness of Spielberg, all one needs to do is highlight key Stranger Things moments for Spielberg’s distinctive footprint of his visual and narrative brand.
Strangers Things is a generational fanboy love letter to the filmmaker who single-handedly defined an era. When looking back on my own 80s movie experience, there is no other director who left a more engraved mark in the shared subconscious of the decade than Steven Spielberg. So, as Stranger Things 3 takes place in the summer of Back to the Future (1985), (which Spielberg executive produced), it’s fitting to celebrate the fandom of the Duffers through Strangers Things’ Top 5 Spielberg Inspired Moments.
Number 5: Holly Jolly (Season 1, Episode 5) / Poltergeist (1982)
Evoking the spirit of Poltergeist (1982), as Mrs. Wheeler and little Holly visit Joyce with the gift of a casserole, Holly wanders into Will’s room and is mesmerized by the number of lights flashing and is terrified by the encounter the brooding presence of the Demogorgon through the wall in Will’s room. A throwback to the classic scene of the ghosts penetrating through the static of the television and creating a mosaic of light flickers, this scene plays perfectly into the Spielberg aesthetic of otherworldliness. Although, Poltergeist wasn’t directed by Spielberg, he was an active presence of the Toby Hooper directed set, while knee deep in the production of E.T (1982).
Number 4: Pollywog (Season 2, Episode 2) / Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977)
There are a good number of Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) moments in Stranger Things season 1 and 2. However, the subtlety of Will approaching and opening the front door of his house from the living room and thus witnessing a red-infused sky with an super-sized demogorgon (or something else) looming in the distance, is a beautiful throwback to Spielberg’s opus about otherness and discovery.
Number 3: The Body (Season 1, Episode 4) / E.T. (1982)
As part of the Spielberg narrative, his preoccupation with the absent father is embedded within his earlier films. A product of divorce, Spielberg’s movie dads in his earlier catalogue are either incompetent or non-existence. As such, mom’s play a vital part of the Spielberg narrative balancing their own emotional repression, while trying to be everything to their children. In this throwback to E.T, Mike fakes being sick, while Mrs. Wheeler, plays the Dee Wallace role of Elliot’s loving and damaged mother.
Number 2: The Bathtub (Season 1, Episode 7) / Minority Report (2002)
Moving away from Spielberg’s 80s inventory of incredible cinematic moments, the Duffer Brothers and their writing room, plunge into the masterpiece his summer of 2002 Minority Report. Like the pre-cogs who can witness a crime before it happens, El slays floating on water – eyes covered – venturing into the unknown and unseen. Simple and perfect, a series of singular shots speaks volumes for the reference to one of Spielberg’s best science fiction films.
Number 1: The Bathtub (Season 1, Episode 7) / E.T. (1982)
Harking back to E.T and the government “bad men,” that can’t be trusted within a post-Vietnam and Watergate America, this episode of Stranger Things may just be it’s very best not only in terms of Spielberg dotting but a complete infusion of wonder and 80s nostalgia. With the gang on bikes fleeing Mike’s house and the “bad men,” El goes full E.T. and flips a Hawkin’s energy van in the air with her telepathic powers. Like E.T. making Elliot and his friends soar of bikes, Mike, Dustin and Lucas look on in pure awe of the wonder they’ve just witnessed and experienced together.
So, as you enjoy Stranger Things 3 and the infusion of all things John Hughes and teen angst, what is your favourite Stranger Things moment? Let us know on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club.