Netflix has been dominating the landscape of modern streaming services for quite some time now but despite this, it is one of their very first creative properties that continues to prove to be their most profitable.
Arguably the service’s flagship programme, Stranger Things, inspired by the sci-fi adventures of 1980s filmmaking in films such as The Goonies, Halloween and Stephen King’s It, grows stronger and stronger with the release of every new season. As the lead cast of actors, including Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin and Noah Schnapp have matured, so too have the themes of the show with the most recent fourth series taking Stranger Things to truly dark territory.
With the changing tone of the series, the films on which the show is inspired have also shifted, moving away from the child-friendly adventures of the past and onto new sci-fi influences. Over the years, the cast and crew of the show spoke about such inspirations, listing several movies that were mentioned when crafting the fourth season of Stranger Things, naming several classics from the likes of Steven Spielberg, Wes Craven and surprisingly, Seth Rogen.
The movies that inspired Stranger Things season four:
Amores Perros (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2001)
Launching director Alejandro G. Iñárritu into international prominence, Amores Perros, his debut film, would establish the filmmaker’s fondness for dark, dramatically authentic stories, shot with imaginative proficiency.
It’s certainly a specific reference point from the Duffer brothers, with Finn Wolfhard telling Polygon that the duo played a specific scene to the cast during one moment of production halfway through the series. “There’s a scene in the car [in episode 5] where we’re all together and it’s very tense,” Wolfhard told the publication. “The Duffer brothers really wanted me to watch this movie by Iñárritu…There’s a scene […] that’s very similar to the [Agent] Harmon scene in the back of the truck. […] It’s really chaotic and there’s blood — and apparently they drew a lot of inspiration from the movie”.
Carrie (Brian De Palma, 1976)
Though many films explore the many fears that come with high school, many of these stories stem from the horrors presented in Carrie, particularly its blood-soaked third-act sequence.
When it came to the character of Eleven in Stranger Things, played by Millie Bobby Brown, the show’s creators, Matt and Ross Duffer, used the titular girl of Stephen King’s classic tale for inspiration. Speaking in a video from WIRED, the duo stated, “Of course, you have a high school girl who has these amazing powers and these amazing abilities, and we always looked at how King dealt with that when we’ve talked about Eleven. This idea that she has these amazing abilities, but is she ultimately dangerous?”.
The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)
Both silly and strangely sophisticated, The Empire Strikes Back finely balances the camp roots of Star Wars with an elevated story that takes the series into spectacular new territory, fulfilling its role as a perfect sequel.
Going darker than the series has ever gone before, Stranger Things features the deaths of several lead characters, adopting a tone that departs greatly from the previous series. This is similar to how the second film of the original Star Wars trilogy introduces a darker tone without changing the identity of the source material, as Matt Duffer told IGN, “We talked a lot about The Empire Strikes Back, which is — maybe not now — but for a long time, it was the darkest movie in Star Wars…We talked a lot about that and wanting to capture that tone”.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Wes Craven’s fleshy supernatural slasher is a creative masterpiece of the subgenre, creating one of cinema’s most subversive and iconic villains, Freddy Krueger.
The reference towards Craven’s classic may be the most obvious cinematic nod in the whole of season four, with Natalia Dyer who plays Nancy in the Netflix show, telling Polygon that the movie was “definitely discussed”. Continuing, the actor added, “They love the genre and all these stories that they draw from,” Dyer said. “I think the brothers are pretty open with their references and their ideas”.
Toying with a dark dream world that bears some similarities to the realm of Freddy Krueger, Stranger Things season four even sees the original actor of the horror villain, Robert Englund, star as a psychotic killer named Victor Creel.
Pineapple Express (David Gordon Green, 2008)
If the pot-smoking teenagers of the 1990s had Dazed and Confused and The Big Lebowski, a decade later it was David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express that would occupy the contemporary zeitgeist.
Undoubtedly, however, it is not the first film you would think of when you watch Netflix’s Stranger Things, so how exactly did the comparison come about? W ell, the two stoner characters in the series, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) and his friend Argyle (Eduardo Franco) give the film a much-needed dose of humour when everything’s getting a bit intense, with the actors told to look at the films of Seth Rogen and Amy Heckerling for inspiration.
“We didn’t sit down and be like, ‘Yo, let’s watch this and, like, try and copy this.’ But I think culturally, you were aware of those movies,” Heaton told Polygon, adding that much inspiration was taken from Pineapple Express as well as “what we’d find funny on the day”.