09 Movies like ‘Stranger Things’ to Watch for More Small-Town Terror and Nostalgic Adventure

There’s no place like Hawkins, Indiana, but these movies come pretty close.

 It’s been three years since the third season of Stranger Things aired, and now we’ve officially been welcomed back to Hawkins, Indiana in what is easily the biggest, darkest, and most ambitious season to date with Season 4. With the first seven episodes of the penultimate season launching on Netflix after much anticipation and fanfare, 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 it also ushered in a new wave of supernatural-centric films. If you’ve already binged the first volume of Stranger Things 4, dust off the Christmas lights and enjoy these 17 movies filled with rock and roll, teenage detectives, and of course, monstrous aliens.

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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.

Halloween (1978)

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)

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

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