Steven Spielberg and his acclaimed work in film was a major influence for the Duffer Brothers when they developed Stranger Things. The Netflix sci-fi series set in the ’80s has featured many elements taken directly from Spielberg’s playbook. In fact, the brothers even modeled Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers after one of the filmmaker’s most memorable characters.
Since Stranger Things launched in 2016, it served as a love letter to ’70s and ’80s pop culture. The Duffer Brothers didn’t hide the fact that Spielberg was a major influence alongside Stephen King, John Carpenter, and George A. Romero. The team-up of a young group of friends investigating something well-beyond their initial understanding emulated the tone of The Goonies, IT, and Stand By Me. The kids’ acceptance of Eleven also seemed to mirror the beloved 1982 film, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. But that wasn’t the only alien movie by Spielberg that had an influence on Stranger Things.
The character of Joyce was modeled after Roy Neary, the lead character in Spielberg’s 1977 sci-fi film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The character was played by Richard Dreyfuss, who previously worked with the director on Jaws. Roy was a blue-collar work from an Indiana town that became obsessed after encountering a UFO. He wound up stopping at nothing until he found the truth about his experience. When developing Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers envisioned Joyce having many of Roy’s same traits.
Joyce was making it work as a single mother to her two sons, Jonathan and Will. When Will went missing in the show’s first season, Joyce wouldn’t accept the fact that he was dead, even when a body was found at the quarry. She physically felt that Will was still alive and refused to give up when it came to finding him. Just like Roy, not many people believed Joyce, forcing her deeper into the rabbit hole. When Joyce strung up Christmas lights to communicate with Will while he was in the Upside Down, Jonathan viewed his mother the same way that Roy’s family perceived his erratic behavior when he built a model of a mountain inside of his house.
Stranger Things also made a few direct references to Close Encounters throughout the first two seasons. The Netflix series was written to take place in Indiana as a nod to the Indiana setting of Spielberg’s movie. In addition, the season 2 episode “MADMAX” featured a scene in which Will opened a door to view an eerie sky in a scene that resembled the moment in Close Encounters when young Barry opened his home’s door to view a similarily creepy hued light in the sky. There’s no question that Joyce’s mentality of doing anything to find answers, especially when it comes to protecting her children, has remained ingrained in the character.
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