How Steven Spielberg’s ‘Super 8’ Inspired the Phenomenon of ‘Stranger Things’

In the vast landscape of entertainment, few television series have captured the hearts of viewers and ignited a nostalgic craze quite like Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” This sci-fi drama, created by the Duffer Brothers, catapulted into pop culture like a meteor, drawing fans from all corners of the globe. While it weaves a complex tapestry of influences, from Dungeons & Dragons to 80s horror films, one luminary’s legacy looms large over the show: Steven Spielberg.

In particular, Spielberg’s film “Super 8” has emerged as a central source of inspiration for “Stranger Things.” In this article, we delve into the intriguing relationship between these two works of art, exploring how “Super 8” influenced the Duffer Brothers’ creation and analyzing the common threads that bind these cinematic gems.

Spielberg’s Influence on ‘Stranger Things’

“Stranger Things” is a love letter to the 1980s, a decade that Spielberg himself helped define with his iconic films. The show encapsulates the essence of that era with its nostalgic storytelling and profound homage to the adventure and family films of the time. At its core, “Stranger Things” is a story about preteens embarking on daring adventures, navigating both supernatural occurrences and the complexities of growing up.

What sets the show apart, however, is the remarkable performances of its young cast, grounding the fantastical elements in genuine emotion and separating it from mere imitation of Spielberg’s style.

The Spielbergian DNA

Netflix, known for its myriad hits, has seen none rise to prominence quite like “Stranger Things.” This sci-fi sensation has become a cultural phenomenon, inspiring everything from Halloween haunted houses to unexpected crossovers like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series. A significant factor contributing to this meteoric success is the show’s unabashed embrace of its influences, with a particular emphasis on the Spielbergian legacy.

As viewers, we can trace the Spielbergian DNA in “Stranger Things” through its characters, themes, and narratives. The young ensemble cast pays homage to classics like “The Goonies,” while the eerie supernatural occurrences find their roots in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The Spielberg Film That Inspired It All

The Duffer Brothers, the creative geniuses behind “Stranger Things,” have been open about the profound impact Spielberg’s work had on their creative process. One Spielberg film, in particular, stands out as a major source of inspiration for the show: “Super 8.” During an appearance on the “Happy Sad Confused” podcast, the Duffers highlighted just how influential “Super 8” was in shaping their vision:

“We wanted to bring back that more not ironic, sincere, adventure, family storytelling that just seemed to have gone [away] – with the exception of ‘Super 8,’ nobody was doing [it]. And ‘Super 8’ was kind of a one-off. I loved ‘Super 8’ but then it was just gone. No one else did it. And I do think there was an appetite – or that’s what I hoped – for this type of storytelling, so that really more than anything is what it is, is trying to stay in that zone.”

Unpacking ‘Super 8’: Spielberg and Abrams Collaboration

To fully comprehend the impact of “Super 8” on “Stranger Things,” it’s essential to delve into the film itself. “Super 8,” produced by Spielberg and directed by J.J. Abrams, is an intriguing blend of original storytelling and homage to Spielberg’s thematic elements.

The Plot

The heart of “Super 8” revolves around Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends as they embark on a project to create a homemade zombie film. Armed with their trusty Super 8 camera, they set out to capture the essence of classic horror movies. However, their idyllic summer takes a dramatic turn when they bear witness to a catastrophic train crash. As the plot unfolds, they stumble upon a profound mystery: the train was transporting a colossal extraterrestrial creature. The alien, longing to escape Earth, seeks the assistance of these young protagonists, leading them on a journey filled with peril, evading a relentless military force. Amidst this chaos, they are also determined to complete their film, facing a race against time.

Homage to Spielberg

J.J. Abrams skillfully balances crafting an original narrative with paying homage to Spielberg throughout “Super 8.” The influence of Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is unmistakable, especially in the film’s poignant conclusion, where the alien’s vessel ascends into the sky, leaving human characters in awe. Yet, Abrams’ homage extends beyond direct references to Spielberg’s films; he also weaves thematic elements from Spielberg’s work into “Super 8.”

One of the central themes Abrams draws from Spielberg is the concept of a fractured family grappling with grief. Joe’s struggles to connect with his father (Kyle Chandler) after the loss of his mother mirror similar themes in Spielberg’s oeuvre. Additionally, Joe’s budding romantic feelings for his friend Alice (Elle Fanning) introduce a layer of complexity, as his father holds Alice’s father responsible for his wife’s death.

‘Super 8’ and ‘Stranger Things’: A Tale of Young Adventurers

The connection between “Super 8” and “Stranger Things” transcends mere inspiration; it resonates in the very essence of their storytelling. Both projects place young characters at their core, thrusting them into extraordinary adventures that highlight the resilience, camaraderie, and indomitable spirit of youth.

The Strength of Young Casts

In “Super 8,” Joe Lamb and his friends, Charles (Riley Griffiths), Cary (Ryan Lee), and Martin (Gabriel Basso), find solace in their shared passion for filmmaking. Their collaborative project becomes a refuge, a way to temporarily escape the troubles that haunt their lives. When the alien abducts Alice, these young adventurers devise an unconventional plan to rescue her, showcasing their unwavering determination.

Similarly, “Stranger Things” centers around the friendship between Will Byers (Noah Schnapp) and his companions Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), and Mike (Finn Wolfhard). Their shared love for tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, and costumes like the Ghostbusters for Halloween reinforce the camaraderie that defines their bond. When Will mysteriously vanishes into the enigmatic Upside Down, they embark on a harrowing journey, unveiling dark secrets and encountering the enigmatic Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown).

Grounding Fantasy in Emotion

What sets both “Super 8” and “Stranger Things” apart from imitators of Spielberg’s style is the remarkable effort invested by their young actors. These performances transcend the fantastical elements of their respective stories, anchoring them in genuine human emotion. The audience becomes emotionally invested in the trials and triumphs of these young adventurers, making their narratives all the more compelling.

‘Super 8’ and ‘Stranger Things’: Paving the Way for Their Creators

A Launchpad for Creators

As “Stranger Things” approaches its fifth season, the Duffer Brothers have revealed their plans to expand their creative empire under the Upside Down Pictures label. These

ventures include their take on the popular “Death Note” manga and an animated series set in the world of “Stranger Things.” This trajectory mirrors the path taken by J.J. Abrams following the success of “Super 8.” Although Abrams had previously directed the “Star Trek” reboot, it was the triumph of “Super 8” that catapulted him into a league of his own.

Abrams’ subsequent endeavors, such as directing “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and producing hit TV shows like “Westworld” and “Lovecraft Country,” solidified his status as a creative powerhouse. In much the same way, the Duffer Brothers are poised to leave an indelible mark on the entertainment industry, all while paying homage to the cinematic legacy of Steven Spielberg.

Seasons 1-4 of Stranger Things are available to stream on Netflix, while Super 8 is available to stream on Paramount+.


In the realm of entertainment, the symbiotic relationship between “Super 8” and “Stranger Things” stands as a testament to the enduring influence of Steven Spielberg’s cinematic magic. While “Super 8” provided the spark of inspiration for the Duffer Brothers’ creation, “Stranger Things” has evolved into a phenomenon that captivates audiences worldwide.

These works share not only a reverence for the 1980s but also a profound understanding of the power of youthful adventures, friendship, and the ability to ground fantastical tales in genuine human emotion. As “Stranger Things” continues to expand its universe and the Duffer Brothers embark on new creative journeys, the legacy of Spielberg, carried forth by these remarkable storytellers, remains as vibrant and compelling as ever.

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