8. Close Encounters of The Third Kind (1977)
There are many aspects to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” that have inspired “Stranger Things,” from the mother who’s lost her son to the strange music-based way of communication with the aliens, reminiscent of the Christmas lights through which Joyce talks with Will in season one of the show. But more than anything, these are both depictions of people reacting to things that exceed human understanding.
You might be tempted to underestimate the power of this film if you judge it solely on its premise: aliens visiting our planet. It’s been done many times so you already know the story; it’s been done more recently and it’s been done with better special effects, you may imagine. Wrong.
Despite being 40 years old, Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” remains to this day one of the best – if not the best – science fiction films ever made. From the very first frame, this is a film that enthralls you and is absolutely convincing. And it’s the kind of film where the phrase “less is more” makes perfect sense.
If “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” were to be made nowadays, it most probably would have featured lots of CGI, too much in-your-face imagery and, as a result, less of an impact on the viewer. The use of great practical effects and the way that Spielberg only shows glimpses of the aliens and their spaceships until the end of the film is much more effective.
In horror films, they say it’s better to let the viewer imagine some of the scary things. The more of the unknown you show, the more it loses its power and mystery. This is what this film understands perfectly. Until the climax, the alien presence is mostly suggested only through the use of sound and light, with just a few scenes where we’re given a brief look at the flying saucers. The film builds and builds until the final minutes, when you will find yourself staring at the screen, mouth agape, eyes filled with curiosity and feeling part of the movie. And then it delivers.
After you finish watching “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” it doesn’t feel like you’ve watched a movie. It feels like you’ve literally experienced the arrival of aliens on Earth.
7. Midnight Special (2016)
This film stars Jaeden Lieberher as Alton Meyer, an 8-year-old who possesses special powers and is chased by the government and a religious cult. Along with his biological father (Michael Shannon), a friend of his father (Joel Edgerton) and his mother (Kirsten Dunst), he searches for a place where he envisioned something important is going to happen.
Lieberher’s character is very similar to Eleven from “Stranger Things.” They are both children who have extremely powerful abilities and have to hide from the authorities. Just like Eleven, Alton’s powers exhaust him and there’s even a scene where, after using his abilities, Alton bleeds from his nose.
“Midnight Special” is an interesting take on the science fiction genre. It has a very serious tone and most of the time it feels more like a drama than science fiction. Until the last minutes of the film, you won’t see too much CGI. However, the ending is something special that takes everything to a whole new level, both visually and plotwise.
If you like being spoonfed explanations, this movie is not for you. It is the kind of story which makes you think and leaves a lot of things to the viewer’s interpretation.
6. Poltergeist (1982)
The first season of “Stranger Things” was basically about a kid who gets stuck in an otherworldly realm and a grieving family who does everything in its power to rescue him. In “Poltergeist,” a girl is sucked into another dimension through her television. Her family then hires a team of parapsychologists and finds out that their house is being haunted by a poltergeist. Broadly speaking, “Poltergeist” is a film which follows the same idea as “Stranger Things,” and is probably one of the main inspirations behind The Duffer Brothers’ TV show.
Directed by late Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg, this film is a staple of horror cinema and has been very influential on lots of later horror flicks. However, seen nowadays, its special effects may feel a tad outdated. There’s also a 2015 remake which has better looking FX but, while not being as bad as the critics labeled it, doesn’t really capture the atmosphere of the original.
5. Monster House (2006)
It’s Halloween and Mr. Nebbercracker, the grumpiest old man in the neighborhood, has just died. DJ and Chowder, two 12-year-olds, think that his creepy house is haunted by the old man’s spirit. They are trying to warn the authorities, but no one seems to believe them. Along with Janey, a girl who sells candy on the street, the boys decide to take matters into their own hands.
“Monster House” is a horror-comedy animation which lacks in visuals (if you compare it to a Pixar film, let’s say it looks more like the cut scenes from an older video game), but is great in every other aspect. It has a good story, memorable characters, and it manages to be creepy and amusing at the same time. Despite being primarily aimed at younger audiences, this is a film which might well be enjoyed by adults.
There aren’t other animated films on this list, but this one is really worth its place.
4. Stand By Me (1986)
This adaptation of Stephen King’s novel “The Body” is the pinnacle of coming-of-age dramas. If what you like the most about “Stranger Things” is the friendship between the kids and the more sentimental layer of the story, “Stand by Me” is what you’re looking for.
Directed by Rob Reiner, who also made the 1991 thriller “Misery,” one of the better King adaptations, this film tells the story of Gordie, Chris, Teddy and Vern, four 12-year-old friends who go searching for the body of a missing boy who’s presumed to be dead. What they find is more than the boy’s corpse – it’s the reality of life.
Insightful and nostalgia-inducing, “Stand by Me” is a “kids film” that is even more meaningful when watched as an adult.
3. E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
The story of E.T., the extra-terrestrial who got abandoned on Earth by his brethren and was then found by 10-year-old Elliott, stands as the main source of inspiration behind Eleven’s arc.
There are many aspects from season one of “Stranger Things” that are echoing parts of this Steven Spielberg classic. Mike keeping Eleven hidden in his house and the obliviousness of his parents, Eleven having psychic powers and using them to make things float, the group of kids always riding bikes – these are all nods to “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.”
As always, what Spielberg does the best is infuse his films with a spirit of magic and childlike wonderment. “E.T.” is the classical happy-ending story and one of the best family-adventure films ever made. By today’s standards, it might seem a little predictable and its special effects might not have aged so well, but it’s a movie that has such a heart that it’s hard not to love it anyway.
2. Super 8 (2011)
The 80s, a group of children, an alien, a small town, mysterious experiments hidden from the public eye, and adults who aren’t as efficient as the kids would like them to be. This sounds pretty much like season one of “Stranger Things,” doesn’t it? Well, it also happens to be a perfect description of “Super 8,” the 2011 J.J. Abrams science fiction/adventure film which is basically a homage to Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
“Super 8” has great cinematography, a captivating story, extremely likable characters and the greatest train crash scene you’ve ever seen. The group of six children have incredible chemistry and are a joy to watch. Elle Fanning, who plays Allie, the only girl in the group, gives a terrific performance. There’s a scene where the kids are trying to shoot a film and Allie is playing one of the characters. So basically, you’ve got Elle Fanning playing a character in a movie within a movie. And she’s doing it great.
“Super 8” had some great reviews, but there were some who didn’t like the film so much. That is mostly because of the third act, where there’s a tonal shift caused by a little too much CGI, which would have worked better in a superhero flick. But apart from this, “Super 8” has a lot to offer and is definitely a must-see for all “Stranger Things” fans.
1. IT (2017)
Before coming up with “Stranger Things,” The Duffer Brothers wanted to adapt “It,” the famous Stephen King horror novel featuring six outcast children who fight the eponymous shape-shifting alien creature. This doesn’t come as a surprise considering how similar the two stories are. Naturally, the 2017 adaptation of “It” is the perfect film to watch if you liked “Stranger Things.”
It was promoted as a horror film, but just like “Stranger Things,” it’s much more than that. If you take away all the scary stuff, you remain with what is basically a perfect coming-of-age film. The child actors in “It” are nothing short of amazing. Even better, among them you’ll find Finn Wolfhard, who plays Mike in “Stranger Things.” In “It,” Wolfhard was cast as Richie Tozier, who is by far the funniest character in the film (and to be honest, a better character than Mike). But one can say that all the kids from “It” could just as well belong to “Stranger Things.”
As for the scary stuff, Pennywise the Dancing Clown has been an iconic villain since the 1990 two-part TV adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, where he was played by Tim Curry. Of course, Curry was a great Pennywise, but it would be dishonest to say that Bill Skarsgård didn’t own the role. Being a PG15 film, the 2017 version features an even creepier Pennywise. On a whole, “It” was not as scary as many expected it to be, but the opening scene with Pennywise and 5-year-old Georgie was genuinely tense due to Skarsgård’s pitch-perfect performance.