The Netflix Sci-Fi Thriller From Stephen King That Led To Stranger Things

By Sckylar Gibby-Brown | Published

If you’re a fan of the streaming sensation Stranger Things, then you’re going to want to add the 1984 film, Firestarter to your movie watch list. After all, this classic Stephen King story is one of the Duffer brothers’ major inspirations in the creation of the science-fiction-horror-drama that took the world by storm in 2016.


The Duffer Brothers created Stranger Things as a blend of investigative drama and supernatural horror, infused with a sense of childlike wonder and nostalgia for 1980s pop culture.

Their work draws heavily from the thematic and directorial styles of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, David Lynch, Stephen King, Wes Craven, and H. P. Lovecraft, as well as Cold War-era experiments and conspiracy theories about clandestine government programs.

While the series pays homage to the entirety of this eclectic collection of muses, there are some very clear parallels between the Netflix series and the classic Firestarter.

Firestarter is a 1984 American science fiction thriller horror film based on the Stephen King novel from 1980. The movie explores the harrowing journey of a young girl with pyrokinetic abilities, pursued by a clandestine government agency intent on exploiting her powers (see the similarities yet?).

Directed by Mark L. Lester, the film features a star-studded cast including David Keith, Drew Barrymore, Martin Sheen, and George C. Scott.

The Shop

Firestarter begins with college students Andy McGee (David Keith) and Vicky Tomlinson (Heather Locklear) who participate in an experiment conducted by a secret government agency known as The Shop.

They are administered a low-grade hallucinogen called LOT-6, which endows Vicky with telepathic abilities and Andy with the power to control others’ minds, though using this power causes him severe physical strain.

Now married, Andy and Vicky have an eight-year-old daughter named Charlie (Drew Barrymore), who possesses pyrokinetic abilities and can foresee the near future.

Their idyllic life shatters when Vicky is brutally murdered by agents from The Shop, who also kidnap Charlie. Andy rescues his daughter, and they spend a year on the run, evading the relentless pursuit of the agency, which escalates as Firestarter unfolds.

Critically Panned

Firestarter drew barrymore

Initially, John Carpenter was slated to direct the film, with Bill Lancaster penning a screenplay that Stephen King himself approved.

However, due to the financial disappointment of Carpenter’s The Thing, Universal Pictures replaced him with Mark L. Lester. Stanley Mann was brought in to craft a screenplay for Firestarter that closely adhered to King’s original novel.

Firestarter received mixed reviews upon release. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a 38 percent approval rating based on 34 reviews, with the consensus noting its reliance on familiar tropes and highlighting George C. Scott’s performance and the special effects.

King Was Disappointed


Critics like Roger Ebert criticized Firestarter for its lack of compelling characters and unconvincing performances, particularly pointing out Drew Barrymore’s underdeveloped role. Stephen King, who initially approved the project, later expressed his disappointment, calling it “one of the worst” adaptations of his work.

Although, he praised one specific scene where Charlie is taught to cook bread into toast, and said he wished he’d thought of it for his novel.

Stream It Now


Despite its critical reception, Firestarter has maintained a cult following and has grown steadily in popularity, especially after the world realized the story was an inspiration for Stranger Things. Its steady audience led to further adaptations, including the 2002 miniseries Firestarter: Rekindled and a 2022 remake produced by Blumhouse Productions.

You can stream Firestarter on Netflix.