Stranger Things Fans Should Check Out This Movie That Did It Better

Super 8 follows the same formula as Stranger Things, but it executes better for a few key reasons.

Strange goings-on in the late 1970s lead a band of middle-school boys (and their token girl) to uncover the alien conspiracy lurking in the midst of a sleepy American town. No, this is not Stranger Things, although nostalgia and emotional resonance abound.

Before the Netflix series came to define retro horror sci-fi, genre titans J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg teamed up to create a movie that hit many of the same notes that made Stranger Things so successful. With a modest domestic gross profit and muted, if generally favorable, critical reception, 2011’s Super 8 might have been a roadmap for the Duffer Brothers…but it should have also been a cautionary tale.

How Stranger Things Has Influenced Sci-Fi & Horror Media

Super 8 begins with a community rocked by tragedy: main character Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother in a factory accident that deeply affected the entire town. His father, Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is also dealing with that fresh grief — and struggling to connect with his son in the wake of it. But the strange government lab that is also (for some reason) located in the town is about to provide adequate distraction for both father and son, in the form of an escaped alien. Deputy Jackson becomes absorbed in the strange canine and electrical phenomena causing a nuisance for the other townsfolk, while Joe experiences a Stephen-King-esque inciting incident that turns his friend group’s amateur film into real life sci-fi horror. Father and son follow their respective mysteries, but both paths lead back to the same alien — and lead them to each other, offering the prospect to heal from their bereavement.

The film that Joe and his friends are shooting is not incidental in this story. In fact, it is the syntactic kernel of Super 8’s thorough appeals to the audience’s nostalgia. The retro references in the film are more than just images and sounds: the film is constructed around a retro medium. It echoes Abrams’s own experiences entering competitions shooting on Super 8 film, with a retro narrative; it echoes the movies (chiefly E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) that defined Spielberg’s authorship in the first decade of his career. The movie Joe and his friends are shooting is a token built into the structure of Super 8, and serves as a constant narrative reminder of what the story is trying to evoke.

After the thick layer of nostalgia-baiting, the second most significant parallel between Super 8 and Stranger Things is the core group of friends that surround its protagonist. The two groups are very different in details — for instance, Mike and his friends form an ensemble, whereas Joe’s friends function more as a supporting cast — but there is an essential sameness of function and dynamic. This is a gang of nerdy middle-school boys (and one girl) whose parents’ absenteeism facilitates outsized adventures. But Mike, Lucas, Dustin, Will, and El tend to veer into the serious, effectively presenting to the audience as small adults, speaking with the voices of adult writers, to adult viewers. Meanwhile, Joe et al. fully inhabit the age group of their characters.

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Super 8 follows the same formula as Stranger Things, but it executes better for a few key reasons. Strange goings-on in the late 1970s lead a band of middle-school boys (and their token girl) to uncover the alien conspiracy lurking in the midst of a sleepy American town. No, this is not Stranger Things, although…

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