There is obviously a long list of reasons why we are all reminded of 80’s era Steven Spielberg & Amblin Entertainment when we watch Stranger Things. The Netflix series features kids on bikes in a suburban setting. There are supernatural elements that people who have never experienced anything so threatening face. And, of course, the 1980’s setting.
To me, I feel the biggest link, and the reason why we all connect with the series so much in a nostalgic way, is the way the kids behave. It’s not just the kids are charming and likeable in the Stranger Things universe, which is something Spielberg could always pull from his young cast members. The kids in Spielberg & Amblin films like E.T., The Goonies and Gremlins were independent and behaved in ways far wiser than their years. The young characters on Stranger Things act in a very similar fashion:
They Are The Smartest & Most Capable Characters On The Show
Spielberg had a way of empowering his children characters. Elliot knew how to help E.T. get back home better than any adult. The Goonies were able to save the Goon Docks when their parents had no clue how what to do. Kids ultimately defeated the Gremlins when the adults brought the pesky critters to the small town and were either killed, or incompetent during their attack.
On Stranger Things most of the adults are clueless to the things that are going on in the town of Hawkins. Yes, Hopper, played by David Harbour, eventually catches on to the conspiracies that face the town, but he still catches on after the kids. Winona Ryder’s character Joyce knows that something strange happened to her son, Will, but she isn’t able to handle the trauma that comes with the revelation nearly as well Will’s friends.
They Have The Most Stable And Loving Relationships On The Series
The love Mike, Lucas, Dustin and Will have for each is unconditional. That love is shown in the risks they are willing to take. Their friendship eventually also extends to Eleven—who is a stranger to them when the show starts. The relationship with her starts of a little shaky, especially in the case of Lucas, but by the end of Season One they are putting their lives on the line for her.
The adult relationships on the show are far more complicated. Mike’s parents seem to be distant and lack the ability to communicate. Eleven’s father is the one responsible for her years of torture and imprisonment, and her mother has the lost the ability and strength to help her. Hopper has lost his wife because the pain of their daughter dying was too hard on the marriage. Joyce’s husband is a deadbeat dad that only cares about Will missing when it seems like there may be some monetary gain in it for him.
Even though the children on the show get in arguments and have disagreements, they are mature enough to make things right—which is something the adults on Stranger Things struggle with.
They Face Life Threating Situations
In E.T., Goonies and Gremlins you really feel like the kids are in danger. Steven Spielberg infamously edited out guns in E.T. for its special edition release because they were being pointed at kids. Critics and adults were critical of that when the film released, they felt it made moments in the film too intense. The Goonies and Gremlins also contained really intense moments—Gremlins was so intense it helped to lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating.
Stranger Things also isn’t afraid to put its kids in life threatening situations. Whether it’s Eleven being held against her will and tortured, Will being taken to the Upside Down or Barb being killed —the world of Stranger Things is not a safe one for kids.
They Talk Like Adults, Or Like Real Kids
Anyone who has spent time around teenage kids knows their language is absolutely filthy. Kids can be cruel, especially to each other. The Goonies cursed almost non-stop and had no problem insulting each other—especially Chunk—but that made them feel more real and helped them avoid becoming too cutesy or corny.
Dustin, Mike, Lucas and Will also curse and are quick to make fun of one another. The banter they have really makes it feel like a product of the 1980s. Kids in movies and television now are very, very politically correct. The kids on Stranger Things feel honest, not because they curse, but because they feel real. Real kids use profanity and letting them use a few four-letter words now and then helps the authenticity.