SPOILER WARNING: The following list contains major spoilers for various TV shows and movies.
“Stranger Things” popped up in our world like Eleven appeared in the show’s universe: with little fanfare, but eventual fervor. The Duffer Brothers-created show followed several groups of people in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, all of whom come to realize that a very dangerous and possibly supernatural force might be involved in the disappearance of a young man named Will. His friends Mike, Lucas and Dustin immediately started looking into his disappearance, as did his mother and the town’s sheriff. Mike’s sister Nancy even got in on the action after the beloved Barb went missing.
Now that most of us have absorbed the eight-episode first season, we can’t help but look forward to the second season in 2017, which promise new characters and a more in-depth look at The Upside Down. But, now there’s a bit of a hole in our lives that can only be filled by other movies and TV shows, either ones that came out in the ’80s or took inspiration from that amazing decade.
We’re sticking with movies that, generally speaking, pit younger characters against incredibly dangerous situations. Whether they are steeped in reality, fantasy or horror, these tales all shine some light on the craziness of childhood by comparing it with everything from bullies and murderous spies to demonic monsters and just about everything in between.
12. Watchers (1988)
If you’ve never heard of the 1988 Jon Hess film “Watchers,” it’s basically “Stranger Things,” but instead of a group of kids finding a mysterious girl, it’s about Corey Haim discovering a super-smart dog… who happens to be psychically linked to a murderous monster called OXCOM. Accidentally unleashed on the world, the dog — unfortunately dubbed Fur Face by Haim’s Travis — and monster were designed as a perfect weapon: OXCOM hates the dog, the dog gets sent into an enemy camp and the monster follows. In a regular town, it murders just about everyone who meets Travis, including his girlfriend’s dad, friends and mom’s boyfriend. As if all that wasn’t bonkers enough, Michael Ironside‘s also skulking around, playing a villain even scarier than OXCOM! “Watchers” might be less serious than “Stranger Things,” but they definitely share more than a few themes and ideas.
11. Dead of Summer (2016)
Before “Stranger Things” took the internet by storm, some of us thought that Freeform’s “Dead of Summer” would be the best ’80s-set supernatural show of the summer. It takes place at Camp Stillwater in 1989 and features a cast of young counselors, each with his or her own secrets and who crave the escape of camp. They soon discover, however, that their real life problems pale in comparison to the demonic presence yearning to be released. In other words, your mom asking you to take the fall for her DUI doesn’t seem so bad when masked and robed cultists plan on sacrificing your new friend to an ancient deity. This one comes from “Lost” alums Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis and Ian Goldberg, and also stars the former’s Elizabeth Mitchell. While less intense than “Stranger Things,” “Dead of Summer” embraces the camp setting so popular in slasher films, as well as the supernatural elements that have never really gone out of style.
10. Cloak & Dagger (1984)
Not to be confused with the comic book team of the same name, Richard Franklin’s 1984 movie “Cloak & Dagger” takes place in a close approximation of the real world. In this one, Henry Thomas plays a young man named Davey who loves computer games and creating elaborate spy scenarios, with his father (Dabney Coleman) starring in the role of super secret agent Jack Flack. One such adventure leads him and his friend Kim to accidentally come into possession of an Atari game called “Cloak & Dagger” that holds government secrets. Very bad men with very real guns discover he’s the one holding the cartridge and do everything they can to get their hands on it, including blasting away at him in public places. Davey even has to participate in one of these firefights to save his life, making what might seem like a fun, video game-themed romp, more serious than expected.
9. Eerie, Indiana (1991-1992)
Back in 1991, Gremlins director Joe Dante helped José Rivera and Karl Schaefer bring “Eerie, Indiana” to NBC. The kid-centric series focused on Marshall, a recent transfer to the titular town who comes to realize that Eerie is just as weird as it sounds. After befriending neighbor Simon, the pair of pals spend 19 episodes dealing with moms who put kids in huge Tupperware to keep them young, Elvis Presley, over-enthusiastic ATM machines, a mummy, daylight savings time and much, much more. In other words, between “Eerie” and “Stranger,” it seems pretty clear that we should all avoid Indiana at all costs.
8. Super 8 (2011)
Based on his overhauls of Star Trek and Star Wars, J.J. Abrams wears his fandom and influences on his sleeve. That’s even more obvious in his Spielberg-inspired 2011 feature “Super 8,” which follows a group of film-making kids as they stumble upon the accidental release of an alien previously held by the government for experiments. As the creature runs amok in the town, the kids start figuring out what’s really going on, much sooner than the adults. They even offer some nice advice about working through trauma along the way. In a film where childhood hijinks meets extra-dimensional danger, “Super 8” and “Stranger Things” are often closely compared to one another, with a similar attention to period detail and love of monster-fraught high adventure.
7. Freaks & Geeks (1999-2000)
On the surface, Paul Feig and Judd Apatow’s 1999-2000 TV series “Freaks and Geeks” might not seem like it has much in common with “Stranger Things,” thanks mostly to its lack of monsters, but they actually share quite a bit in common. For one thing, both shows focus on a pair of siblings who have grown apart from one another. In “Freaks,” Lindsay (Linda Cardellini), the older sister, tries to find herself by transitioning from being a goody-goody to hanging out with outsiders like James Franco, Seth Rogen and Jason Segel. Meanwhile, her younger brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and his pals constantly geek out on everything from Dungeons and Dragons to Steve Martin comedy albums. Plus, there’s no better heart-wrenching bike-riding scene than the one in the “Freaks and Geeks” episode “The Garage Door,” which reminds us that the scariest things in real life don’t have to come from other planes of existence.
6. Monster Squad (1987)
Screenwriter Shane Black and director Fred Dekker joined forces in 1987 to introduce a generation of kids to classic icons of fright with “Monster Squad.” In this film, Sean and the members of a monster club come to realize that Dracula, Frankenstein, Wolf Man, the Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon have all come to acquire a mystical amulet. Like in “Stranger Things,” a local cop — who also happens to be Sean’s dad — starts taking the threat seriously. He helps a bit, but it’s the kids who truly know how to deal with the monsters they’re spent most of their lives studying. Also, if you don’t feel a surge when Rudy rolls out with that bow and says, “I’m in the goddamn club, aren’t I?” I feel for you.
5. The Gate (1987)
The late ’80s still stand as the height of movies about kids taking care of supernatural business. In the case of Tibor Takács’ 1987 film “The Gate,” a pair of boys — one played by Stephen Dorff in his first film — stand as the first line of defense against a hole in the backyard that threatens to loose monsters of all sizes on the planet. Luckily, Terry’s a big metalhead, who realizes that some of the answers lie in the lyrics and music of a band called Sacrifyx. Eventually, Dorff’s sister Al gets on-board with what’s going on, as do her friends, who happen to be some of the all-time worst teens in horror. This one might seem campy to the casual eye, but the demons throw everything at these kids, including apparitions of Terry’s mom, the death of the family dog and even monsters who gnaw on Terry after he falls in the hole.
4. Stand By Me (1986)
So many people commented that “Stranger Things” reminded them of a lost Stephen King novel — including the man himself — that we just had to include a movie based on one of his stories. In this case, it’s “Stand By Me,” a film based on his short story “The Body” from the 1982 collection “Different Seasons.” Rob Reiner directed Corey Feldman, River Phoenix, Jerry O’Connell and Wil Wheaton as a quartet of friends who brave the wilderness, bridges, trains and leaches to check out the body of a dead kid. Their journey not only tests their friendships, it also builds them up to the point where they are brave enough to stand up to the shockingly scary Kiefer Sutherland!
3. Labyrinth (1986)
While the kids in “Stranger Things” take on an incursion in their world, Jennifer Connelly‘s Sarah treks into Jareth’s realm in “Labyrinth” to save her baby brother Toby. The 1986 fantasy classic sprang from the genius mind of none other than Jim Henson and also featured the immeasurable talents of David Bowie as the Goblin King. Sarah finds herself in a world packed with amazing other-worldly characters — brought to life by Henson’s Creature Shop — but remains vigilant because of her relationship with the missing child and the machinations of the obsessive Goblin King. Enchanting and beautiful, this film remains as much about a girl facing a maze to reclaim her brother as it is about understanding that life is bigger than a 15-year-old might currently understand.
2. E.T. (1982)
One of the fun themes of “Stranger Things” revolved around the eventual bonding between Mike and his older sister Nancy as they deal with the loss of a friend and the realization that something other-worldly is going on. Sounds kind of like how Elliott, Michael and Gertie band together in Steven Spielberg‘s “E.T” from 1982. Both projects also focus on kids riding bikes all over town while chased by adults in cars as a way to keep their super-powered out-of-this-world friend safe. In fact, many scenes in “Stranger Things” came plucked directly from this dated, but otherwise timeless classic. If you haven’t seen “E.T.,” you need to change that immediately.
1. The Goonies (1985)
Richard Donner and Chris Columbus‘ 1985 classic “The Goonies” might not feature anything like The Upside Down or powerful pre-teens, but it does revolve around a group of kids on the hunt for a pirate’s treasure underneath their home town, all while a mobster family tries to stop them with a young child’s one weakness: bullets. One of the all-time classic kids movies of the 1980s, the kids in “The Goonies” don’t quite fit in on the surface, but wind up excelling when working together to find treasure. They also do a decent job of not dying at the hands of the Fratellis. If that doesn’t sound like Mike Wheeler and his pals, we don’t know what does.
What other movies or shows help you scratch that “Stranger Things” itch? Let us know your picks in the comments!
“Stranger Things” Season 2 debuts in 2017 on Netflix.
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