If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Stranger Things is a shrine to the tentpoles of the 1980s. And epics like E.T. and Star Wars didn’t just imbue impressionable young minds like the Duffer brothers with the imagery that now suffuses their Netflix megahit. They also set the template for a new scale of cinematic success. Forty years ago, movie studios established the model for the summer blockbuster: high-budget, higher-box-office spectaculars that could then become bankable franchises. Today, Stranger Things embodies a new kind of summer blockbuster—one experienced not at the multiplex, but from the comfort of one’s couch.
In other words, the resemblance between Stranger Things and its ancestors isn’t merely aesthetic. It’s also structural, and increasingly widespread. The traditional summer blockbuster is hardly extinct, and certainly doing better than the mid-budget fare that was already endangered before the pandemic shut down theaters. In 2022, though, the event releases we’ve been trained to expect as days lengthen and temperatures climb are no longer confined to a single medium. And while it’s no surprise a streaming-native outlet like Netflix would lead the charge, more traditional entertainment companies have started to follow suit. The shift has been gradual, catalyzed by everything from the general rise of streaming to the trailblazing success of Game of Thrones. By now, though, it’s official: The summer blockbuster has a new home on TV.
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