In between fighting monsters and discovering Russian codes, the kids of
Stranger Things never fail to remind viewers of what it was like to be teenagers and have unlimited opportunities to spend time with friends. While Stranger Things' core friend group grows a bit further apart as they get older, the show's depiction of young friendship has always captured the highs and lows of these childhood bonds. If you still can't get over the relatable moments showcased within the Stranger Things' characters’ relationships, ease your growing pains by watching movies about childhood friendships while you wait for the next season.
Stories of childhood friendships, both in the tween and teenage years, have been a staple of movies and films since the
Little Rascals movies of the 1930s. In the 1980s, stories of kids banding together as a part of growing up, especially fantasy or science fiction ones, were all over the place, from The Goonies to The Lost Boys. Stranger Things is the next generation of this ever-popular genre, and its 1980s-era setting is an homage to the heyday of those types of films.
So, where should a
Stranger Things fan start if they're looking for other coming-of-age stories about tight-knit friend groups going on adventures, both great and small? Here's a rundown of some of the best bets.
Before Sean Astin was Joyce's beau, Bob the Brain, in
Stranger Things, he was a child actor starring in The Goonies as one of several boys who discover an old treasure map. With their homes in danger of being foreclosed, the group tries to seek out the treasure for themselves and become enveloped in an epic adventure they never could have anticipated. From riding bikes through woodsy areas to older teens tagging along with the kids, The Goonies includes similar details to Stranger Things, and its reputation as a legendary '80s adventure film makes the boys' friendships just as poignant as the bonds within the Party.
As adults, longtime friends Samantha, Roberta, Chrissy, and Teeny reunite in their Midwestern hometown for the birth of Chrissy’s baby. Samantha, the narrator, flashes back to the summer of 1970, when the girls experienced changing bodies, family secrets, and the strengthening of their friendship. Given how many nostalgic friendship movies there are starring boys,
Now and Then stands out as the rare take on adolescent female friendship.
Ava DuVernay’s adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle’s seminal classic story of Meg Murray’s journey to find her father and bring him home is magical. This coming of age tale features a family of misfits and their friends on an incredible journey through time and space, discovering the depths of their own bravery and their limitations along the way.
One of the films
Stranger Things will almost certainly reference once the show makes it to 1987, The Lost Boys is a cult classic of ‘80s fantasy. Starring Jason Patric and Corey Haim as Michael and Sam, this story is about a California town besieged by a plague of vampires. The crew at the center also includes Corey Feldman as Edgar Frog, who, along with his brother, Alan (Jamison Newlander), are vampire hunters. Sam and Michael become tight with after Michael is infected by the local crew (headed by Kiefer Sutherland) and begins to turn. Like most Stranger Things stories, it’s a race against the clock to save one of their own and defeat the monsters living among them.
With New York City as her playground, 11-year-old Harriet has limitless opportunities to spy on her neighbors in
Harriet the Spy. While her unflattering notes on classmates eventually gets her into trouble, Harriet's best friends Janie and Sport support her eccentricities and she does the same in return. Being different in middle school can be tricky, and while Harriet has to learn that having quirks doesn't negate feelings, she finds her way back to her friends in a way that — believe it or not —might make you a tad nostalgic for junior high.
Based on the popular book series,
Diary of a Wimpy Kid follows protagonist Greg as he and best friend Rowley begin middle school and try to navigate being small fish in a large pond. The boys of Stranger Things had a rude awakening when they realized that dressing up for Halloween wasn't cool anymore, but in Greg and Rowley's case, they've entered junior high already in the depths of nerdiness. Sometimes you only have your closest friend to rely on, and these two are proof of that.
Perhaps one of Hollywood’s most beloved portrayals of young friendship,
The Sandlot is to baseball as Stranger Things is to Dungeons & Dragons. In 1962, shy new kid Scotty Smalls decides to crash the local boys' ongoing baseball game despite lacking athletic skills. Still, the others grow to accept him, and their summer turns into a quest to retrieve a baseball signed by Babe Ruth from a backyard with a terrifying dog. The movie's end reveals that the boys drifted from each other as they grew, but it leaves viewers with the sense that the characters recognize the impact these friendships left on their adult selves. 08 The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Maybe you're one of those kids whose childhood friendships never lasted and you didn't find your people until high school. In
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Charlie's mental health has prevented him from feeling like a regular kid, but starting high school introduces him to step-siblings Sam and Patrick. The rest is history as the older kids take Charlie under their wing and bring them into their eccentric friend group. Charlie's time with them encourages him to confront his past and feel optimistic about the future.
Another 1980s adventure classic,
Stand by Me sends four friends in the 1950s on a journey to find the body of a missing boy. As it's based on a novella by Stephen King, it has a darker side, but it emphasizes the purity and devotion of young friendships in a way that particularly fits Stranger Things' mix of severe drama and childhood joy. Enjoy singing the titular song on a loop after you've watched the movie.
The quintessential 1980s era Brat Pack movie, this story about five kids from separate cliques spending one Saturday together in detention is a stone cold classic. It’s a touch older than the
Stranger Things crew (the kids range from sophomores to seniors), but The Breakfast Club is the classic story of friendships that bridge the divide between their perceived differences, the same way friendships like Steve and Dustin’s do.
As the daughter of a funeral director, 11-year-old Vada has an obsession with passing on from life, so it isn't too surprising that her only friend is allergy-prone Thomas J. With nothing but Thomas J. and her overactive imagination to fill the suburban summer of 1972, Vada roams the town with the same freedom that the kids of Hawkins have. Her friendship with Thomas J. takes a heartbreaking turn, which some people unfortunately have to experience at an early age.
Not every coming of age story needs to be about a passel of boys on fantasy quests to keep you riveted. The recent 2018 film,
Skate Kitchen, focused on a pack of NYC skateboarding teen girls was one of the best films to come out of Sundance that year. The film stars Rachelle Vinberg as Camille, a shy Colombian American girl adopted into a skateboarding gang, where she learns the pressures of fitting in and the complexities of female friendships as she begins to rebel against her traditional upbringing. 13 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley are some of literature's most beloved friends, but the bumpy path that solidified the Golden Trio is always sweet to revisit in the first of the book series' film adaptations.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone captures how friendship can form both instantaneously and gradually, regardless of your age. While the group's bond is sidelined in later movies, this one emphasizes the three recognizing each other's strengths, which is unique to see from such young characters. 14 The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants
The four teenage friends in
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants were destined to be in each other's lives from before birth, as their mothers met in a prenatal exercise class. The movie follows their first summer spent apart as the girls visit new places, confront family drama, and explore romantic relationships. Their history together fuels their desire to stay close, but they learn that as they grow, they may not understand or accept the others' experiences as well as they did before. This also plays into the other boys on Stranger Things not quite recognizing what Will has experienced in the Upside Down.
Stephen King’s seminal classic,
IT, is one of the clear inspirations for the Stranger Things gang. The tale of a group of preteen boys and their token gal pal, plus the monster that turns up in the sewers once every generation spans decades, with Part 1 about them as kids and Part 2 as adults. For those looking for the Stranger Things vibe, stick to Part 1. Just be prepared to be very, very scared.
Filmed over the course of 12 years,
Boyhood follows a Texas boy's childhood and teenage years that include his parents' divorce and second marriages, starting at a new school, and trying to make friends. Its focus is more on family than friendship, and while it's a time capsule of the 2000s rather than the '80s like Stranger Things, Boyhood reminds viewers that even the simplest memories may have played a part in who they are today.
Stranger Things, Mike and Eleven's friendship transformed into an innocent, kindhearted romance that first love dreams are made of. Their natural bond is similar to that of Moonrise Kingdom's Sam and Suzy, whose precocious personalities lead to an intense connection with each other. Their relationship is idealized in the same way that Mike and Eleven's romance begins, and like summer vacation, it definitely has an endpoint. But the value of this story is the exhilaration of finding someone who gets you, whether that’s platonic or romantic.
Boyhood, Lady Bird's selling point revolves around family, but part of the film also details Lady Bird's friendship with Julie and their rough patch midway through senior year of high school. Chances are that you've known your high school friends forever and that growing pains are inevitable as the prospect of college appears. Sometimes people don't quite fit into your future, but on the other hand, some are able to maintain strong relationships with childhood friends, and these two girls show viewers that doing so is worth it. 19 The Color of Friendship
Kicking off an era of iconic Disney Channel Original Movies,
The Color of Friendship sends a white exchange student growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa to the home of an African American family in the United States. South African student Mahree accepts the racial divide of Apartheid without really questioning it, while American student Piper is initially disappointed about not hosting a Black student. The girls eventually bond after realizing how much they have in common, but the ongoing political tension in South Africa teaches them a lesson about the differences in their experiences.
After growing up together, the kids in Hawkins see two of their own move away, a particularly devastating change in a reality, especially one without social media or FaceTime. In
Aquamarine, best friends Claire and Hailey dread the latter having to move away by the end of the summer, as they've clung to each other to the point of codependency. A mermaid who reaches land to avoid an arranged marriage is the girls' inspiration to make the most of their remaining time together. 21 The Muppets Take Manhattan
Your favorite Muppets movie speaks volumes about your personality.
The Muppets Take Manhattan is a strong choice, as it tackles a large friend group parting ways to try finding individual success and happiness. When their post-college musical act fails to find traction on a New York stage, the Muppets head in different directions, even singing a song about how difficult it is to say goodbye.
While the kids of
Stranger Things become obsessed with the alternate dimension of the Upside Down, Jesse's friendship with new girl Leslie leads to the creation of their own secret world called Terabithia. Leslie also introduces him to new beliefs and perspectives of the world before tragedy forces Jesse to learn how selfishness may negatively impact a relationship. Not every childhood friendship is able to translate into adulthood, and sometimes the reason why is sadly out of kids' control; Bridge to Terabithia explores that. 23 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood
While a present-day storyline of
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood features Siddalee's conflicts with her mother Viviane, the movie also travels back to the 1930s to explore the childhoods and later lives of Vivi and her three best friends. The point of the flashbacks is to explain why Sidda's adult perception of her mother is so negative, but Vivi's friends are the ones to encourage Sidda to understand things from Vivi's eyes. 24 Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
Everyone has that one friend who seems like they can do anything, and
Ferris Bueller's Day Off reminds you to learn a thing or two about life from them. In it, the unstoppable Ferris convinces his shy best friend Cameron to join him in cutting school and embarking on a Chicago adventure. By the time the day ends, Cameron is encouraged to stand up for himself more. Life moves pretty fast, so take the time to appreciate these old friendships and what you can learn from them. 25 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
There’s a reason Spider-Man is one of the most popular of the Marvel characters, and it’s because he’s what happens when superheroes and coming-of-age stories meet headfirst.
Into The Spiderverse takes the story a step further by reimagining Miles Morales' story as a teen friendship adventure in which Miles teams up with multiverse versions of himself — from Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) to Peter Porker (John Mulaney). A brilliant mashup of the genres with incredible animations, this is one teen friendship story you won’t want to miss.