As Pablo Picasso said, “Art is theft”.
stranger things is undoubtedly one of the most successful television shows ever made.
But something I find even more fascinating about it is the amount of inspiration it drew from a variety of 80s books and films.
From the visual style to the music, themes, characters, plots, and even specific scenes, the direct influences can be seen everywhere.
And the best part? This is exactly what creativity really is. Watch my video for some examples, and let’s dive deeper.
where it all started
If you get your hands on the original pitch deck for stranger thingsyou’ll notice a lot has changed since then, including the name, which used to be Montauk.
What’s interesting, though, is how open and honest the creators of the show are about their inspiration.
As they said, the show was going to be a love letter to the golden age of Steven Spielberg and Steven King. The sense of fear and wonder of HEYhelpless fear of Jawsthe horror of Thisand the adventure of support me.
When they needed to describe a certain character or situation, they referred to one from a movie they loved. They even designed the pitch deck itself to look like a classic Stephen King book to ensure they clearly communicate the exact tone they want to achieve.
So how much of the show ended up being shaped by these influences?
The answer is—a lot.
The influences on stranger things
The character of Eleven, for example, undergoes the same experience as that of Modified States (1980), and the way they test his abilities is identical to the movie Fire starter (1984).
just like HEY (1982), she is found by a group of friends who hide her from the government and find themselves in a great bicycle chase only to be saved by the most incredible display of her abilities.
Many other characters are based on one or a combination of a few different characters from the 80s classics. Town boss James “Jim” Hopper, for example, is clearly inspired by chef Martin Brody from Jaws.
Sometimes they even recreate whole scenes like the kidnapping of Dating of the Third Kind (1977), and the list of direct plane-by-plane similarities is long, including Extraterrestrial (1979), freddie (1984), The Exorcist (1973), The Terminator (1984), and many more.
So is it theft?
So does that mean that stranger things is it a scam?
Well no. In fact, that’s what creativity really is.
When people call something “original,” nine times out of 10, they simply don’t know the original references or sources involved.
Fly like an artist is a fantastic book by Austin Kleon about the fact that nothing is original. Fundamentally, all creative work is built on what came before it, and the people who embrace that inspiration are the ones who end up with something great.
In a 1994 interview with Empire magazine, Quentin Tarantino said he “steals every movie ever made” and he certainly meant it. You don’t have to wait too long with one of his films to see a direct reference to a classic from another period.
George Lucas would agree too. In the 1970s, he wanted to make a film adaptation of Flash Gordon (1936) films and serials. According to him, it was a fantastic story with a lot of potential, but no matter how hard he tried, he was never able to get the rights.
Instead, he wrote his own space opera set in a galaxy far, far away, and the rest is history.
He took a lot of inspiration from the source, but he also made it his own by building on it and combining it with other ideas.
What to avoid
Now, it is important to say that stealing is not the same as copying.
Flying like an artist means taking the things that inspire you and disassembling them until you find what makes them work.
When you’re just starting out, it’s inevitable that you’ll end up trying to emulate your idols, but as Conan O’Brien says, “It’s our inability to become our perceived ideal that defines us and makes us unique.”
And that’s exactly what the creators of stranger thingsthe Duffer brothers, did.
In 2011, they wrote a script for a movie in which they tried to emulate M. Night Shyamalan’s tone and directing style. Eventually he got his hands on the script and liked it so much he invited them to help him out with a show he was working on and even gave them mentorship along the way.
Through this experience, they felt ready to develop their own project and wrote the pitch deck for the show that would become the global phenomenon we know today.
And that’s what it all comes down to: taking the best parts of the things you love and combining them with your own unique perspective.
Finally, I leave you with this quote from Francis Ford Coppola:
“We want you to take from us. We want you to steal from us first, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it into your own voice and that is how you will find your voice.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments.