What started out as a potentially macabre story about children searching for a dead body became a heartfelt tale that an entire generation instantly fell in love with. It garnered award nominations, critical acclaim and box office success all in one fell swoop.
That's right — It's been 30 years since Stephen King's short story 'The Body' was adapted by Hollywood, but the influence of Stand By Me continues to permeate the DNA of every coming-of-age story released since.
To remake Stand By Me would be absolute sacrilege — but with their debut show Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers have achieved the next best thing. The show combines nostalgia for the likes of Stephen King and '80s sci-fi to create a powerful homage that's resonated with a whole new generation.
What Do The Creators Behind Stand By Me Think Of Stranger Things?
The connection between Stand By Me and Netflix's best show yet hasn't gone unnoticed by those involved with Rob Reiner's classic. Will Wheaton, former child star and star of Stand by Me, described Stranger Things as:
“— One of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced in my life as an audience member.”
Stephen King also publicly praised Stranger Things, taking delight in the many nostalgic references hidden within each episode of the show.
To audition for each part, the supremely talented young cast of Stranger Things even had to read lines from Stand By Me, proving that Reiner's iconic film had a direct impact on the show.
Upon closer inspection though, it turns out that the two coming-of-age stories share far more in common than even the Duffer Brothers may have realised when they first wrote the script that took the world by storm.
The Kids In Stranger Things and Stand By Me Are Almost Identical
Imagine the four main characters in Stand By Me, but now throw in Charlie McGee, the psychic girl from Firestarter, and you're basically looking at the kids in Stranger Things.
Gordie Lachance (Will Wheaton)/Will Byers (Noah Schnapp)
Both Gordie and Will begin their journey as quiet, bookish boys grieving the absence of a close family member. Gordie is neglected by his parents who still suffer after his older brother Denny passed away and Will barely sees his overworking mother or runaway father. Initially, the two boys find solace in their friends, spending their days and nights lost in games. However, by the end of their respective tales, both Gordie and Will discover that they're both far braver than even they thought possible, discovering an inner strength that helps them survive when there's no one else to help them.
Chris Chambers (River Phoenix)/Mike Wheeler (Finn Wolfhard)
On the surface, Chambers and Wheeler may not seem that similar. After all, Chris is from a family of criminals and alcoholics ,while Mike clearly comes from a more loving environment. But the two children are both intelligent and resourceful, essentially acting as the leaders of their respective friendship groups. Most importantly though, Chambers and Wheeler are both extremely loyal to their closest companions, ready to defend them at a moment's notice.
Teddy Duchamp (Corey Feldman)/Lucas Sinclair (Caleb McLaughlin)
Duchamp is perhaps more eccentric than Sinclair, but both boys share street smarts and a knack for rejecting what most other children would just accept without question. Both boys are valuable assets to both groups of friends, bringing a combination of both fun and wisdom to the table.
Vern Tessio (Jerry O'Connell)/Dustin Henderson (Gaten Matarazzo)
Finally, we have Vern and Dustin who both appear rather timid at first, due to being bullied about their weight and lisp respectively. However, when the situation calls for it, the two boys will rise to the occasion and prove themselves to be a vital part of their respective friendship groups.
The Two Stories Share A Number Of Uncanny Parallels Too
While the boys from Stand By Me don't venture quite as far as the Upside Down, the similarities between Reiner's classic movie and Stranger Things extend far beyond the characters involved.
Both stories revolve almost entirely round the search for something missing, whether it's a lost friend or a dead body. It's the journey that these groups of friends take that ultimately binds them together, teaching them far more about life than their school teachers ever could.
Along the way, both sets of friends are also chased by scary creatures, although we would much rather come face to face with Chopper the surprisingly adorable junkyard dog than the Demogorgon from Stranger Things. Aside from Stephen King's Pennywise, the creature who lurks in the Upside Down might be the most horrifying creations ever seen on TV.
Parallels between Stand By Me and Stranger Things continue right up the each story's climax, where the two groups of friends are confronted by bullies who threaten them with switchblades. While most kids (and/or every adult I know) would run away at the drop of a hat, these children stand their ground, knowing that they're the only thing that stands between the bullies and what they want most, whether it's a dead body or their friend Eleven.
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Stranger Things and Stand By Me Even Look the Same
One of the reasons that everyone fell in love with Stranger Things so quickly is because of the way that it directly paid homage to a number of '80s classics through its use of music and cinematography.
Part of the show's fun is trying to spot all of the references, some of which are more subtle than others. But anyone who's a fan of Stand By Me would have struggled to miss an eerily similar moment where Finn and co walk down disused train tracks.
In Stand By Me, the iconic shot follows the young boys as they try to outrun a train that almost takes them out for good. In contrast, the Stranger Things counterpart is far less chaotic, although there's still tension in the scene as Eleven struggles to help the boys find their lost friend, Will.
Why Was Stand By Me So Influential On Stranger Things?
In an interview with Variety, creator Matt Duffer directly compared the two projects, revealing that;
"We always wanted to keep the stakes high. When you’re looking back at “Stand By Me,” the stakes feel very real. The kids never feel completely safe, even though there is an element of fun and you love those boys. There’s this consistent danger with Kiefer Sutherland coming after them, the train coming so close to them — we wanted to always keep the kids in real danger, that’s not “Dungeons & Dragons” danger."
Frankly, this is a hugely refreshing approach to take. Hollywood often looks to the future for new material, imagining dystopian worlds that form the backdrop of many summer blockbusters. Yet nostalgia seems to be the driving force in cinema these days, throwing wave after wave of reboots at audiences worldwide.
For the most part though, these reboots fail to live up to expectations, which is why original content such as Stranger Things is such a success. These projects tap into our love of nostalgia through inspired references, rather than simply treading the same ground as their predecessors.
Instead of having to suffer through a lifeless remake of Stand By Me, new generations can relive the true spirit of iconic '80s fare through shows such as Stranger Things. All signs point to Stranger Things kickstarting a whole new wave of nostalgic but original content. Let's just hope they include a gross pie eating contest in Season Two though, otherwise the whole thing will have just been a waste of time.
What other classic Stephen King references did you spot in Stranger Things?