10 Strange Facts for Stranger Things

I love Stranger Things. And apparently, so does everyone else.

Despite its popularity, the rampant critical acclaim of Netflix’s Stranger Things was unprecedented upon its release. The initial script produced by the series’ creators, the Duffer brothers, had been repeatedly rejected by a string of cable networks. It was simply uncategorizable. The ensemble of children at the heart of the TV show—Eleven, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Will—made producers question: was Stranger Things a children’s show? Would adults enjoy it? And if it was geared towards children, shouldn’t the tone be lighter? 

Thankfully, the Duffer brothers never changed their stride, and neither did the show. It was picked up by Netflix in early 2015 and here we are: a homage of 80’s synth pop, jean jackets, and sci-fi movies later, Stranger Things now sits atop Netflix’s most-watched series list, and boasts a 95% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

So what was it that pushed Stranger Things over the edge of indie film territory and into pop culture appeal? Was it the soundtrack? The stellar casting? Steve Harrington’s hair? Maybe, but the response might also have something to do with nostalgia, and Stranger Things certainly had plenty of that.

You might have caught some of them, but here are 10 references you may have missed in Netflix’s monstrous hit.

1. E.T.

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Image from camiseteria.com

No surprise here; thematic shades of E.T. are all over Stranger Things. We see it in the cinematic shots of the series—kids on bicycles, anyone?—but it’s also stunningly prominent in the parallels between Eleven and E.T. As an “alien,” so to speak, Eleven and E.T. share a fixation on one type of food (leggo my eggo), have both dressed up in blonde wigs to blend in, and are both in hiding from shadowy government figures.

2. Dungeons and Dragons

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I think we all caught this one. After all, the series opens with a Dungeons and Dragons campaign, in which Will fails to kill a popular a mythical creature in D&D lore. This scene does two things: first, it foreshadows Will’s capture, which happens immediately after and drives the entire season one plot; and second, it contextualizes the creature in terms that the kids (and us as the audience) can identify. For the rest of the series, the unknown creature from the Upside Down is known as the demogorgon. 

3. Alien

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The demogorgon in Stranger Things has a few nods to Ridley Scott’s aliens. It leaves a lot of goo in its wake, and (spoilers!) it likes to incubate its victims with smaller creatures by forcing its victims to swallow them.

They’re kind of like…worms. Or snakes. It’s gross.

4. Stephen King

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Image from stephenking.wikia.com

I’ve listed Stephen King as a category in a vague sense, because Stranger Things has multiple horror motifs typified by King during his prolific career as a writer. Mainly, Stranger Things takes its cues from King’s novels Firestarter and Carrie. In both cases, Eleven’s telepathic and occasionally erratic powers, along with her abusive and watchful upbringing, align her with Carrie White and Charlie McGee.

5. Star Wars

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Image from heavyarmor.wordpress.com

This one is a bit more obvious, as the characters often voice the references directly instead of the Duffer brothers hiding them under cinematic quality. Eleven has “jedi powers,” Mike owns a Yoda action-figure and talks about the Force, and when Lucas thinks Eleven has betrayed the group he calls her “Lando,” after the Star Wars character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.

6. Nightmare on Elm Street

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Image from elitedaily.com

Episode 8 of Stranger Things has Nancy and Jonathan trying to go head-to-head with the monster, luring it into Jonathan’s house with a brigade of traps and eventually setting it on fire. Sound familiar? It should—the climax of the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street played out in a similar way.

7. The Goonies

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Everyone loves a good ragtag group of misfit kids. And we see a lot of similarities in the playful and mischievous behaviour of the Goonies squad to the Stranger Things crew. The main rule: no adults allowed. (But as a lover of Stranger Things, I’m willing to point out that we do have Joyce and Hopper involved, but they act pretty autonomously for the majority of the show and are in their own separate ‘clique’).

8. X-Men

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Image from comicvine.gamespot.com

X-men also has misfits, yes, but we’ll give that to The Goonies instead. A trickier reference to the Marvel comics actually happens in the first episode, when Dustin and Will are talking about an X-Men comic; the specific issue they argue about is volume 134, in which “Jean Grey mentally snaps…and inadvertently unleashes the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force beyond her control,” which is a tip of the hat to Eleven later in the series.

9. The Thing

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Image from culturecreature.com

The 80’s horror movie The Thing makes a few appearances in Stranger Things. This one is a bit like Star Wars, in that there are a couple of casual mentions you can spot if you’re looking for them. In Mike’s basement there’s a poster for the movie on one of the walls, and when Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on how to build a sensory deprivation tank (which is the most awkward and amusing thing on the show), guess what Mr. Clarke is watching? That’s right: The Thing.

10. Minority Report/Fringe

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Image from movle.blogspot.com

Last but not least, I’m going to throw in a debatable one. When the characters on Stranger Things make a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven to heighten her telepathy and enter the Upside Down, some people got flashes of the 2002 movie Minority Report. Specifically, the scene when Spielberg’s pre-cogs lay in their own sensory deprivation tanks to get flashes of the future.

Now, as it’s Spielberg we’re talking about here (whose other movies are a big influence on the show), it’s probably a homage to him. But! For anyone who watched the hit TV series Fringe—did you not get flashbacks of psychic Olivia Dunham concentrating in a sensory deprivation tank? I did. I really did.

So, did we miss anything? Let us know if you caught something strange that we missed, and bonus points for the more obscure the reference is!

-Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi

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A Movie for the Child in All of Us: A Review of The Little Prince

Le Petit Prince
Illustration by Margaryta Golovchenko

The modern pressures of having a career and being on your feet, working 24/7, are issues that have been talked about for several decades. With the emergence of mechanization, on one hand, the working class hoped that machines would make their workload easier, while, on the other hand, a new fear of job loss began to sweep the population. Today, these pressures and fears are most significant to the growing generation that is about to enter the workforce and that has been dubbed just about everything from “the hopeful generation” to the “lost” one.

How do these issues relate to an animated movie? The French movie, The Little Prince, initially released last year in Europe and coming to theatres in English this year on March 18, addresses the challenges of growing up by taking a beloved classic and putting a new spin to it. For it is now more than ever that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s witty and honest prose is relevant. If he thought that his generation was going through a growing up crisis during World War I, then he would definitely have quite a bit to say about our society today.

True to its origins, The Little Prince film adaptation maintains the original novella’s plot, carefully weaving it into a fresh narrative that continues the magic into the present day. This is the first big plus of the film, as I found out for myself that a younger audience will most likely struggle with this new spin on the novella, to say nothing of how they would fare with a direct adaptation of the novella. Instead, the viewer is introduced to an unnamed cast of characters, being able to refer to them only as “The Little Girl,” “The Mother,” “The Aviator,” and “The Little Prince,” among others. At first glance, this seems impersonal, but I’d argue this is the very thing that makes the movie even more successful, beyond its new twist. The vagueness of the names allows the viewer to delve into each character and analyze them in a much more objective manner. It’s easy to imagine yourself or one of your parents as either “The Little Girl” or “The Mother,” yet this allows much more room for the “Yes, but” mindset to step in, preventing an outright disassembling of the characters in order to pick out the parts that are relatable and throwing out those that are not.

This leads me to discuss the way these characters all coexist in this new narrative world. In the beginning of the movie, a little girl and her mother sit in a drab, grey hallway and discuss a ‘game plan’ for a successful interview. Over the course of the next ten minutes or so, the viewer learns that the girl was hoping, as per her mother’s advice (or under her pressure), to enroll into a prestigious academy. Her résumé of achievements at her young age is impressive to the judges, so they declare they shall ask her only one question in order to judge whether she is fit to enroll. Much to the shock of both the girl and the mother, the question is not “Why are you worthy of attending,” but rather the much more open, and hence ‘dangerous,’ question of “What do you want to be when you grow up.” The pre-planned answer to the former is not applicable in this case, and the lack of preparedness catches the girl by surprise, causing her to faint.

Already, at ten minutes in, the viewer is presented with the theme of the movie, the crisis of growing up, which is taken directly from the present-day context. It isn’t surprising, then, to see the events that follow: the way in which The Mother plans out a strict schedule for her daughter to pass the entrance exam to the academy, and the shock of the seemingly absurd tale of The Little Prince that The Aviator presents to this young girl not long after.

How does one decide “what they want to do” in a time when we have what is, arguably, only an illusion of freedom? Artists and writers are frequently discouraged from their “fantasies” of pursuing creative jobs, which aren’t deemed “worthwhile” or the kind that is likely to bring in a “good income.” Professions such as lawyers and doctors seem like the best choice, at least to the concerned parent. But if you have everyone wanting to become lawyers and doctors, how many of them will truly be able to settle into the job market and be able to get that aforementioned high paying job?

More importantly: if everyone grows up and becomes serious, who will be left to dream, to wonder about the beauty of the sky because they know that somewhere a star is inhabited by a flower?

This is where the film offers some insight, continuing the story long after The Aviator has told The Little Girl about his encounter with The Little Prince. The viewer finally sees what is arguably the most difficult moment in any fairy tale: the possibility of the main character losing their magic, that spark that makes them stand out from all the others.

In order to keep my argument as spoiler-free as possible, I will refrain from delving into all the complexities that ensue in the latter part of the movie. But I have no doubts that this movie has been made at the perfect moment in time. I consider myself lucky to already have a passion and be following it—no matter how difficult it may be at times—but there are children growing up who do not have this comfort of confidence, or have had it taken away from them. This movie is an ode to them, and to the children inside us, acting as a reminder that we need to tend to them, just like to The Rose.

So when The Little Prince comes out this March in theatres, there are a slew of reasons why you should go see it: the animation is gorgeous, particularly the delicate and whimsical paper-like style that hearkens back to the original novella; and the soundtrack is composed by none other than the master Hans Zimmer himself. This is only to name a couple. But the main reason to see this movie would be to do so for yourself, for the glimmer of hope this movie brings in its successful attempt to bring back some of that magical, childish curiosity that each of us carries.

-Contributed by Margaryta Golovchenko