It’s been three years since the third season of Stranger Things aired, and Hawkins, Indiana has never felt farther away. The monster-filled Netflix original series has left us hanging for quite some time, and the void of suburban teenagers chasing down aliens is becoming unbearable. With the promise of season four premiering sometime in 2022, there’s no better time than the present to visit other alien-infested towns and cities. A mixture of nostalgia and innovation, Stranger Things owes much of its style to various science-fiction classics from the 80s, while its also ushered in a new wave of supernatural-centric films. If you miss Stranger Things, dust off the Christmas lights and enjoy these 17 movies filled with rock and roll, teenage detectives, and of course, monstrous aliens.
The Vast of Night (2020)
A radio jockey and a teenage telephone operator in 1950s New Mexico investigate a possible alien invasion in the science-fiction thriller, The Vast of Night. Taking place over the course of one night, the movie emulates the distinct atmosphere of The Twilight Zone as strange, supernatural occurrences begin happening across the town. With paranoid undertones and shades of horror, The Vast of Night is a slow-burning thriller dunked into nostalgia as greasers and girls in poodle skirts parade down the New Mexico streets while looking towards the sky, convinced they’re not alone.
My Friend Dahmer (2017)
Something evil is growing in the suburbs. Before he was known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, one of the most notorious serial killers of all time was simply known to his classmates as Jeffrey. In My Friend Dahmer, Ross Lynch (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) goes through a stunning transformation as the disturbed Jeffrey Dahmer, a 14-year-old loner who befriends a group of quirky teens in high school during the 70s. Based upon the graphic novel under the same name written by John “Derf” Backderf, who was an actual classmate of Dahmer’s during high school, he’s portrayed by Alex Wolff (Hereditary) in the film. My Friend Dahmer is unlike any other coming-of-age film as it floats across the free-wheeling 70s with carefree teens and bell bottom jeans with an undercurrent of dread pulsing throughout. Even at a young age, Dahmer proves to be the scariest monster on the loose in the suburbs.
Blue Velvet (1986)
Director David Lynch is one of the forefathers of taking the ideal fundamentals of American suburbia and flipping it upside down to live amongst the weeds and insects instead of the roses. Blue Velvet is a spellbinding neo-noir horror that spans the course of a few ill-fated days when college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) returns home to help his ailing father and stumbles upon a severed ear in the grass while wandering the picturesque neighborhood. The disturbing discovery leads him down a dangerous road, and he enlists the help of the kind-hearted high school student, Sandy (Laura Dern), to help him solve the confounding crime. Both terrifying and beautiful, Lynch’s Blue Velvet co-stars Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper, and the late, great, Dean Stockwell in a scene-stealing performance that includes him lip-syncing along to Roy Orbison’s, “In Dreams.”
Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
After the massive success of Jaws, Steven Spielberg returned to the silver screen in a big way with a completely different monster in tow. At the time of its release, Close Encounters of the Third Kind was a monumental science fiction film that ushered in the alien invasion mania that would last throughout the 80s. Set in small-town Indiana, various town members begin citing UFOs flying through the sky, including family man Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus). Discarding his sanity, he becomes obsessed with trying to contact the aliens and is willing to go to extreme lengths to expose the truth. Neary uses varying methods of madness to find answers, including a memorable scene that finds him giving his living room a very strange makeover, similar to when Joyce drapes her living room in Christmas lights in the famous Stranger Things episode, “Holly Jolly.”
Stand by Me (1986)
In the coming-of-age classic, Stand by Me, a group of 12-year-old kids on the cusp of adolescence go on a journey to search for a dead body in Oregon during the summer of 1959. After hearing that a boy was killed by a train while crossing the rickety tracks far out in the country, Gordie (Wil Wheaton), Chris (River Phoenix), Teddy (Corey Feldman), and Vern (Jerry O’Connell) decide that finding the body could bring a sense of purpose to their drab lives, but they run into various roadblocks as a group of violent, teenaged boys led by Kiefer Sutherland also search for the body. An adaptation of the Stephen King novella, The Body, Stand by Me is a heartfelt adventure film that expertly captures the growing pains of leaving childhood behind. All four principal child actors give visceral performances, but it’s Phoenix who shines as Chris, a troubled youth who tries to make a better future not only for himself, but for his friends.
Super 8 (2011)
Written and directed by J.J. Abrams, Super 8 follows a band of misfit, filmmaking kids that hunt down aliens in small-town Ohio during 1979. While the nerdy group of friends shoot a scene for their upcoming movie by the town’s train station, they accidentally film a potential alien invasion, and the U.S. government is quick to infiltrate their town with shady intentions. Thanks to a top-notch original script and engrossing performances given by Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Ryan Lee, and Riley Griffiths, the science-fiction thriller perfectly embodies all the awkward and humiliating moments of being an uncool middle schooler while also having to contend with supernatural forces. Featuring Kyle Chandler and a menacing Noah Emmerich, Super 8 is an inventive, action-packed mystery as the kids uncover a sinister plot while continuing their quest to make a fantastic zombie film.
To honor one of the world’s greatest babysitters, Steve Harrington (Joe Keery), it would be criminal not to include John Carpenter’s groundbreaking Halloween on this list. The 1978 slasher film stars Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, the ultimate Midwest babysitter who protects the neighborhood’s children from psychopathic serial killer Michael Meyers by any means necessary. There’s nothing scarier than the boogeyman, and Halloween helped create a new kind of action hero that wasn’t seen before in horror movies. As Laurie puts her life on the line to save the kids, a scream queen was born alongside the now-classic horror trope of babysitters battling evil alongside bedtime stories and cartoons.
The Lost Boys (1987)
The Lost Boys is a wild fever dream filled with demonic teenage vampires haunting the boardwalks in the gritty, Northern California town of Santa Clara. Deemed the murder capital of the world, single mother Lucy (Dianne Wiest) along with her two children, Michael (Jason Patrick) and Sam (Corey Haim), move to the town and quickly get sucked into an underworld of angsty, blood-drinking delinquents. The Lost Boys has gained a massive cult-following thanks to a larger-than-life performance by Kiefer Sutherland as a ferocious, leather jacket-wearing vampire, and Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander’s theatrical portrayals of two obsessed vampire hunters. Overstuffed with cheesy dialogue and dark undertones, it’s a one-of-a-kind horror-comedy dripping with mullets and garlic.
Silver Bullet (1985)
Stephen King tries his hand at telling a story about one of literature’s most beloved monsters in the goofy and enjoyable B-horror movie, Silver Bullet. An adaptation of his 1983 novella, Cycle of the Werewolf, King wrote the screenplay for the movie himself. Spanning over an insufferably hot summer in a town where nothing exciting ever happens, 10-year-old wheelchair user, Marty Coslaw (Corey Haim), becomes convinced a werewolf is murdering town members in a violent rampage. As the body count racks up, Marty is determined to put an end to the monster’s reign and recruits his alcoholic Uncle Reed (Gary Busey) and older sister Jane (Megan Follows) to help kill the deranged werewolf in this satisfying, over-the-top horror film.
The Goonies (1985)
An obvious inspiration for Stranger Things, The Goonies is one of the most beloved films to have come out of the 1980s. Featuring a fresh slate of actors, including Sam Astin, Josh Brolin, Martha Plimpton, and Corey Feldman, the film follows a group of kids who stumble upon a pirate map that leads them down a treacherous path as they hunt for a buried treasure supposedly hidden underneath their town. There to spoil the fun is a dangerous family full of inept criminals, and they go head-to-head with the kids as they also scour the town for gold. Directed by Richard Donner and written by Chris Columbus, the movie originated from a story written by Steven Spielberg. In a full-circle moment, Astin would go on to star in Stranger Things season 2 as Joyce’s love interest, Bob, and he even references some of his iconic lines from The Goonies as he helps the sleuthing kids map out a hidden tunnel underneath the town of Hawkins.
A star was born when a relatively unknown 18-year-old Winona Ryder won the role of Veronica Sawyer opposite bad boy Christian Slater as Jason Dean in the 1989 cult classic coming-of-age film, Heathers. A dark comedy tackling serious issues like suicide, sexual orientation, and depression, Heathers is an important piece of 1980s pop culture, thanks to Ryder and Slater’s fiery portrayal of an angsty couple that made being uncool social outcasts cool. Slater as the goth infused Jason Dean is an obvious nod to iconic teen heartthrob James Dean, and with Ryder at his side, they’re unstoppable as two cigarette smoking, vengeful criminals with killer style.
The Exorcist (1973)
The Exorcist is not for the faint of heart and easily claims the title as one of the scariest moves ever made. Starring Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, a famous Hollywood actress and singer mother, her daughter Reagan (Linda Blair) begins exhibiting disturbing behavior which leads her to believe she’s being possessed by a demon. Desperate for help, Chris seeks out the catholic church to perform an exorcism, and quite literally all hell breaks loose. Filled with revolutionary special effects for the time of its release, the movie proved to be so horrifying and shocking that theaters began handing out barf bags at the beginning of screenings. The Exorcist also demonstrated that horror could be a major box-office draw and that the genre should be taken seriously as a craft, with it going on to win an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Poltergeist is a whirlwind of ghosts, mediums, and cemeteries, and its long-lasting ability to terrify is a testament to the fantastic performances and spooky monsters at the film’s center. Penning the iconic “They’re here,” line, the movie is yet another Steven Spielberg script co-written by Michael Grais and Mark Victon and directed by Tobe Hooper. Following a typical middle-class family living in a nice home in the suburbs, their idyllic living situation turns into a nightmare when ghosts inexplicably begin to haunt their house and go so far as to steal their young daughter away. Featuring Craig T. Nelson and Jobeth Williams as the tortured parents, in addition to unforgettable special effects that include murderous trees and a possessed clown doll, Poltergeist is a timeless supernatural classic.
Vampires vs. the Bronx (2020)
We’re headed out of the suburbs and into the Bronx, where an epidemic of bloodthirsty vampires is breaking out. Vampires vs. the Bronx is a lighthearted comedy-horror film about a trio of kids who take matters into their own hands when it becomes all too clear that something or someone is sucking all the life out of their community and buying up all the properties within the area. It’s an endearing coming-of-age story as the leader of the trio, Miguel Martinez (Jaden Michael), leads the fight to save the Bronx from impeccably dressed vampires while fearlessly chasing them down city blocks and alleyways on his bike during sinister summer nights. The film also features many hilarious supporting roles, including Chris Redd (Saturday Night Live), Shea Whigham (True Detective), and Zoe Saldana.
Pretty in Pink (1986)
A love triangle to end all love triangles, the John Hughes romantic comedy, Pretty in Pink, was extremely controversial at the time of its release with many feeling that the film’s star, Molly Ringwald, chose the wrong boy in the end. While The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles are the more obvious choices, Ringwald does some of her best work in Pretty in Pink as she portrays Andy, a headstrong high school senior from the wrong side of the tracks with a dead beat, depressed father played by a heartbreaking Harry Dean Stanton. The love triangle in Stranger Things between Nancy, Steve, and Jonathon is practically Pretty in Pink 2.0, as Andy is forced to decide between rich kid Blane (Andrew McCarthy) and her oddball best friend Duckie (Jon Cryer). The fantastic soundtrack to the film is also noted to be one of the best of all time, with unforgettable songs like “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “If you Leave” playing a crucial role in the film’s eclectic atmosphere.
Fear Street Trilogy (2021)
Spanning across several horrifying centuries, the Fear Street trilogy packs a bloody punch as it follows a team of high schoolers battling against unspeakable evils in their curse-ridden town. Creatively split up into three wildly drastic films that are set in different time periods, Fear Street: 1994, Fear Street: 1978, and Fear Street: 1666 are all directed by Leigh Janiak. Paying homage to slasher classics like Scream, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street, the trilogy is sure to become a modern-day horror classic with its updated version of underdog heroes fighting against memorable monsters. Based upon the book series under the same name written by R.L. Shine, the series has revitalized the slasher film, while also giving the genre an undercurrent of urgency painted in blood, demons, and scream queens.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial has been placed on a pedestal that no other movie about aliens has been able to reach, thanks to the endearing and unusual friendship between a boy and an extra-terrestrial at the story’s center. Kickstarting the career of several future movie stars, including Henry Thomas and Drew Barrymore, a group of kids in the suburbs discover an alien that’s crashed down onto Earth, and they form an unforgettable bond with the creature as they try to help guide it home. Written by Melissa Mathison and directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie effortlessly captures the essence of being young, and created one of the most iconic film shots of all time as the kids fly through the summer sky on bicycles.
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