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Prepare yourselves, because Stranger Things season 4 is on the way. While we wait for the next Stranger Things fix, here’s a list of eight epic shows and movies to give you that Upside Down vibe and tide you over until we return to Hawkins!
For our first must-watch show, we’re diving into the psychology behind weird events, and who better to encapsulate that than Steven King? Castle Rock is an anthology show (similar to American Horror Story in its set-up) based on the creepy worlds created by the King of horror himself.
The series may not be based on a specific novel, but draws inspiration from a bunch of Steven King’s work, making it the best kind of mashup between weird and creepy. The first season of Castle Rock features a nod to many of the works that inspired Stranger Things, from IT, the Shawshank Redemption, and Cujo, and there’s a more direct link, too.
The actor behind Pennywise the clown – Bill Skarsgard – makes an appearance in Castle Rock, as well. Here, he’s been cast as a mysterious young man found locked away in the bowels of a long-closed-down prison, where he appears to have been forgotten.
But when he’s rescued from his cell, strange things start to happen, proving that just maybe, he was locked up for a reason! Despite Castle Rock being more psychological than Stranger Things, and minus the kids, its roots in Steven King’s many books means that it has wide appeal, and offers a little bit of everything.
In fact, the showrunner, Sam Shaw, describes it as “an all-you-can-eat buffet, we've tried to cater to all tastes... We've tried to construct a story that will be engaging and surprising and a fun ride for viewers, to construct a series that will be welcoming and accessible to any audience.” And they've certainly managed that.
In the small German town of Winden, kids have been disappearing without a trace. But they’re not being kidnapped, there’s another, dark secret at the heart of the disappearances, which slowly connect four families and three universes, not unlike the Hawkins kids who find themselves lost in the Upside Down.
Except here, the Upside Down is an alternate reality and alternate times. Dark is like a scientific Stranger Things on steroids, with a whodunnit twist, and it’s brilliant! Hailed as ‘the German Stranger Things’, Dark was actually inspired by IT and Twin Peaks. The show’s creator explains “The 80s was a big inspiration, and Stephen King - we loved IT.
"But we are more based on science, to be honest, than in Stranger Things, where it’s monsters. We're the dark European brother of Stranger Things!" But that doesn’t mean that the world of Dark is free from monsters – here, the monsters are within us, and things seem normal on the surface.
While this aspect of the unknown adds to the mysterious suspense of the show, it also allows for the contrast between everyday suburbia and the supernatural that has made Stranger Things so successful and addictive. Like Stranger Things, Dark also makes use of the eighties pop culture references, from The Breakfast Club to Back to the Future.
If the idea of alternate universes in foreign settings appeals to you, this show will blow your mind. Counterpart’s premise is in its name – the second version of something. The series follows a UN employee in Germany, Howard Silk, whose agency works to hide a doorway into a parallel universe, as well as a slowly developing war between the two worlds.
To his surprise, Silk realizes that this parallel universe is largely the same as his own, but with subtle differences. It is even populated by the same people, and Silk learns that in the other world, he’s a high-level spy with a nasty streak, and things are about to get political, complicated, and fantastic.
Unlike the other shows and films on this list, Counterpart has the added complexity of JK Simmons really showing his talent by playing two characters... at the same time! And this added complication is made even better by brilliant editing – just don’t be fooled into thinking JK Simmons has a twin! Attention to detail is what really sets this show apart from its contemporaries.
The differences between the universes are subtle and carefully considered. As JK Simmons explains, “We wanted to make a show for smart people, and you want them to really want and need to pay attention. You don't get up and go to the refrigerator without hitting pause when you're watching this show.”
Unlike Stranger Things’ portrayal of real monsters and terrors, Counterpart focuses instead on the unknown, and the age-old question of ‘what if’ – what if you chose a different career or things worked out another way? To complement this, it’s got a dark James Bond feel to it, with sexy espionage and high-stakes political secrets and military interventions.
If you need more 80s nostalgia and kids working against the government, look no further! When Elliot finds a cute alien stranded on earth, it’s the start of an emotional rollercoaster, with the young boy and his siblings desperate to get ET home safely, not unlike the events in Hawkins.
Many fans compare Eleven to E.T., and the arguments are pretty convincing. Not only does Mike’s gang have to protect their friend from government scientists who want to experiment on her, but they dress her up in a wig to pass for normal – just like the kids did to E.T. Like looking in a mirror!
Of course, one of the series’ most impressive sequences was actually a nod to this equally iconic moment in ET: But that’s not the only connection between the film and the series. While E.T lacks the violent other-worldly threats of Stranger Things, it shares the premise that people can be monsters too, and that kids can, in fact, save the day.
Right in the feels! We’ve seen IT before. It’s not just nostalgia and kids saving the day that makes Stranger Things so awesome – we’re also there for the horror! And what’s more horrific than a murderous clown terrorizing children?
IT may have been inspired by a Norwegian fairy tale featuring trolls living under bridges, but Steven King managed to take this premise a step further. Every 27 years in the town of Derry, children mysteriously disappear, lured away by an evil entity posing as a sinister clown called Pennywise.
That is, until the 1980s when a group of kids decides to stop Pennywise and end his reign of terror. The Duffer brothers have been vocal in how IT was a major inspiration for Stranger Things. Not only does the film feature a group of kids trying to slay a monster in the 80s, but they’ve got to do it before their town is destroyed!
Despite giving us major Hawkins vibes, there’s another connection that’s more literal; Flynn Wolfhart was actually cast as Richie! IT is basically a scarier, clownier version of Stranger Things – which could have something to do with the fact that King wrote the book under the influence – maybe he was having a bad trip?
Bad habits are basically the premise of this British TV series, which focuses on a global flu pandemic that’s been designed to solve the problem of overpopulation. But there’s a catch; the conspiracy relies on the virus’ ability to target specific groups of people through genetic engineering – and it’s all explained in a graphic novel discovered by a small group of loyal geeks.
Unfortunately, this means they know too much, and the government needs to keep them quiet, at all costs. Besides Utopia’s love of violence, which probably makes it a bad choice for a young audience (sorry, kids), there’s nothing to fault about this series. In fact, it has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
But it’s just been re-released for American audiences, under the leadership of Gillian Flynn. But what makes it so good? Flitting between the 1970s and the present, this show not only ticks the box for retro timing, but its use of color and an amazing soundtrack make it feel like you’ve just dived into a graphic novel!
The writers have explained that the show is inspired by glorious 1950s technicolor - a whirlwind of yellow, blues, and pinks. Add a classic evil scientist, assassins, and a global pandemic, and you get something that’s not just relatable and clever, but hella entertaining.
If alternate realities aren’t strange enough for you, what about moving between universes while gaining awesome abilities? In The OA, that’s exactly what happened to Prairie, a blind twenty-something who disappears for seven years. When she eventually returns, she’s no longer blind – not only has she seen some messed-up things, but she’s been a lab rat, too!.
Along with three others, she was kidnapped by a mad scientist who is convinced that near-death experiences bring us closer to the Other Side, and he’s willing to kill to prove it. After Prairie escapes, she leads a group of misfits to try and prove that the world holds more secrets than we can imagine.
The OA may only have got 84% on Rotten Tomatoes, but Prairie has a lot in common with Eleven, and in a pinch, you could imagine Prairie as an older, wiser version of El with different powers. Even though it features a mainly teenage cast, this show’s focus on miracles, mortality, and death makes it darker and more disturbing than Stranger Things.
In a world plagued by ghosts, you need someone to restore order. Thankfully, for 1984 New York, there’s the Ghostbusters, who combine their knowledge of science with their love of the paranormal in their ghost-catching business.
Of course, with ghosts come other problems, like a doorway to another dimension, with the potential to destroy the world as we know it! If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because the film partially inspired Stranger Things, and even inspired the gang’s epic Halloween costumes in season 2.
In some kind of an alternate reality (you see what I did there?) we might even consider Stranger Things an origin story for Ghostbusters – a group of geeky kids who find out that in a town like Hawkins, the paranormal is actually pretty normal.
With such a great plot - a group of friends saving the world from monsters and mayhem with science and sass - it’s no wonder the Duffer brothers drew inspiration from Ghostbusters. But did you know that if Dan Aykroyd had stuck to his original script, Ghostbusters would have felt even more like something out of Stranger Things?
In the original plot, the team had proton packs and wands, a la Dungeons and Dragons. We’ll be holding thumbs for a remake based on this premise. Are your favorite things to watch from Stranger Things vibes on this list? Let us know in the comments below.