Stephen King first got the idea for Doctor Sleep in 1998 at a book signing when somebody asked him what happened to Danny Torrance from his novel 'The Shining'. This was a question King had often asked himself, as well as what would have happened to Jack Torrance had he found AA. When people kept repeating the question, King always jokingly replied that Danny eventually married the girl from Firestarter (1984). However, King eventually started thinking for real about how old Danny was and where Wendy was now, and decided to find the answers with a sequel, but it was a tall order.
Mike Flanagan had to convince Stephen King that, despite his own distaste for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining (1980), audiences were more familiar with that version, and largely preferred it to King's own The Shining (1997). As such, this film had to be a sequel to Kubrick's film and include some direct references to it.
When writing Doctor Sleep, Stephen King had to be reminded of things from The Shining he'd forgotten. Although most of his books exist in a shared universe (The Shining's Dick Hallorann appears briefly in IT, just to name one example) it's one of the few direct sequels he's written in his career.
Most elements from The Shining (1980) were recreated with duplicate sets and lookalike actors, though three shots were reused: the aerial shot of the water and the island and the the two shots after it of the car driving on the mountain road. The shots were degrained, recolored as day-for-night, and had snow digitally added.
In the scene where hospital cat Azzie jumps on the desk in front of Dan, before following her to what should be an empty room, he puts down the magazine he's reading. It's the same January 1978 issue of Playgirl Magazine his father, Jack Torrance, read in the lobby of The Overlook while waiting for Stuart Ullman and Bill Watson on Closing Day in The Shining (1980).
Ewan McGregor is roughly the same age (less than 2 years older) as Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance in the original The Shining (1980). He is also five years older than Jack Nicholson was when he made the original film.
Actress Rebecca Ferguson revealed in a 2019 interview that, while horror in general is not one of her favorite movie genres, she is a huge fan of the novels by Stephen King: "I don't see why we wouldn't want to make films out of everything that he writes. It's so adaptable. It's so understandable. It's so relatable and the imagery, it's like you don't really have to make scene images anymore, you just have the book." She also added that although she doesn't like violence directed at children, she happily made an exception for this film.
When Dan Torrance interviews with Dr. John, the room is identical to Stuart Ullman's office in The Shining (1980) where Jack Torrance interviewed for the role of caretaker of the Overlook right down to paint color and the little American flag on the right side of Dr. John/Mr. Ullman's desk.
There are a few Dark Tower references in the film: the bus line that both Danny and Abra take is called Tet, the baseball player's number is 19, the place where one of the True Knot's victims is killed is called Lemerk Industries, and Dick Halloran refers to Ka when talking with Danny about Karmic debts.
The Shining (1980) took several liberties with the Stephen King novel of the same name (one of the reasons why King himself disliked it), so audiences are generally split between fans of the book, and fans of the adaptation (although the latter group is arguably the biggest). According to Ewan McGregor, the biggest challenge was to make a sequel that would satisfy both these groups.
The young girl at the beginning of the film, Violet, is played by Violet McGraw. McGraw also starred in Netflix's The Haunting of Hill House (2018) series where she played a young Eleanor Crain. Henry Thomas who plays the ghost of Jack Torrance in this film, also starred in The Haunting of Hill House as McGraw's on-screen father, Hugh Crain.
Rose describes Snakebite Andi's powers as "pushing." In Stephen King's book Firestarter, Andy McGee (played by David Keith in Firestarter (1984)) was given the psychic ability to "push" by a government program.
This marks the second time in as many years that Ewan McGregor has played the older version of an iconic role: in 2018 he played Christopher Robin (2018) in the Disney movie of the same name. As well, McGregor is most well-known for playing a younger version of an iconic role, namely Obi Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels as Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999) for example.
In the scene where Danny is speaking to Dr. John about his missing watch, Danny refers to him treating a boy for "Goochers" disease. "Goocher" was a word used by the boys in the movie "Stand By Me," another movie adaptation from a Stephen King story.
Many of Rose's accessories are trinkets from various children Rose has killed, including bracelets, hairbands, toys, and even a bicycle chain (woven into her hair). Ferguson wanted to wear "trophies" of her victims, hidden in plain sight.
Other than a few establishing shots in Colorado, the original Shining was filmed almost entirely at Ellstree Studios and takes place entirely in the state of Colorado. Doctor Sleep was filmed largely on location and spans several states, including New Hampshire, Ohio, and Iowa. This mirrors the themes of the two novels: The Shining largely deals with isolation and confinement, whereas Doctor Sleep deals with pursuit and escape.
The mental 'cabinet' where Abra and Rose store all their memories is similar to the 'memory warehouse' from Dreamcatcher (2003), a previous adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Both concepts are extremely similar to the 'memory/mind palace' made popular by Sherlock (2010) and Hannibal (2013). It is a mental technique for storing information that dates back to ancient Rome.
In the novel Daddy Crow does not have any special "shine." Instead, his role as a tracker goes to Barry The Ch**k (changed in the movie to the less offensive "Barry The Chunk.") His romantic relationship with Rose The Hat is the same as in the movie, however. As well, he is not specifically Native American in the novel. In many Native American myths and legends the crow is a trickster figure who can bridge the worlds of the living and the dead (inspired, no doubt, by the crow's appetite for carrion.)
The poster for "Joe Collins Live" outside the movie theater when Andi is leaving references a character from The Dark Tower book series. Joe Collins, a.k.a. Dandelo, is a creature like the True Knot - an emotional vampire - but feeds on laughter instead of fear.
The second Stephen King film adaptation of 2019 by Warner Brothers after It Chapter Two (2019) where a Scottish actor portrays an older version of a character previously played by an American child actor.
With the exception of Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), the entire True Knot is made up of actors from Flanagan's previous films. Met Clark (Short Eddie) was a stunt performer (and the on-set medic) for The Haunting of Hill House.
Hallorann says "Ka is a wheel, Doc." This is a direct mantra from the Dark Tower book series. It means that "destiny is a wheel," and that it brings us back to the same place to face our mistakes and defeats until we learn from them.
The original The Shining was set in the United States, and featured a predominantly American cast (with the exception of Philip Stone), but was filmed in England. This film was produced in the United States, but features several more European-born or foreign-born actors: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Carel Struycken, Alex Essoe, Cliff Curtis, and Zackary Momoh.
The fourth Stephen King feature film adaptation released in 2019, following Pet Sematary (2019), It Chapter Two (2019) and In the Tall Grass (2019), and the third theatrically released film. Apart from that, no less than 14 short (TV) movies and two series based on his work were released in the same year.
Doctor John's office is a near-exact replica of Ulman's office in The Shining, meant to show that Dan and Jack each had the same point of inflection: a job interview that would define their lives. Dan finds purpose, whereas Jack loses his soul.
The sound design of The Shining was heavily influenced by David Lynch's sound mix for Eraserhead (1977). The remake and this sequel have both featured actors from Lynch's television series Twin Peaks: Miguel Ferrer and Carel Struycken.
Steven Spielberg met Stanley Kubrick on the set of the original Shining, which led to Spielberg taking over A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. That film featured Jude Law, who has been friends with Ewan McGregor since they were roommates during acting school.
Ewan McGregor also starred in the Star Wars prequels opposite Natalie Portman. Portman had previously appeared in Mars Attacks! (1996), as the daughter of Jack Nicholson's character. In Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), she played the mother of Mark Hamill's character. Hamill appeared in Sleepwalkers (1992), written by Stephen King. He has also voiced The Joker, a character previously played by Nicholson.
The bus company "Tet Transit" is a reference to The Dark Tower book series, where the heroes form company called the "Tet Corporation." In those books, a Ka-Tet is a group of people drawn together by fate for a purpose.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
According to director Mike Flanagan, the performance of Jacob Tremblay during the first take of his death scene was so intense that it surprised and scared the other actors, including Rebecca Ferguson, who was so horrified she was stammering and "couldn't get her lines out". When the scene was over, a grinning Tremblay jumped up, covered in fake blood, high-fived his father and walked over to the craft service to get a snack, leaving Ferguson and the rest of the cast "shell-shocked and traumatized".
When Dan first meets Abra in person, she suggests that he pose as her uncle to avoid looking suspicious. She subsequently calls him "Uncle Dan" as a term of endearment. In the novel, it's revealed that they are, in fact, related: Abra's mother is Dan's half-sister, the result of an extramarital affair Jack Torrance had shortly before losing his job as a teacher.
When Rose the Hat is in the astral plane flying above the city the eerie choral music seems to echo The Wizard of Oz, suggesting Rose is the 'wicked witch' of this story. Stephen King is known for including Wizard of Oz references in his novels.
At the end of King's novel Danny, Billy and Abra lure the True Knot to the Overlook but it has long since burned to the ground, leaving only a wooden platform. In the film the Overlook still stands and everything that takes place inside is new material added by Mike Flanagan, though the boiler exploding is taken from the original novel of The Shining.
In the film, the True Knot like to instil fear into their victims before they feed on their 'steam'/'shine' of innocents as they feel it purifies it. In It, Pennywise believes that frightened flesh has a better taste and equally likes to instil fear into his victims as fear 'salts' the meat.
The end of Kubrick's The Shining was different to the novel. The destruction of The Overlook by the boiler exploding is what happened in the novel, and the " False face" dialogue between Abra and Dan is taken straight from the equivalent conversation between Danny and Jack in the novel.
In the final act the Overlook Hotel attempts to posses Dan and turn him against Abra. This mirrors a scene in the original novel The Shining, in which Halloran (who isn't killed by Jack) is briefly seduced by the spirit of the hotel, which tries to turn him against Danny. As well, in the novel Jack experiences a final moment when he is no longer under the spell of the hotel and accepts his death in the exploding hotel.
Abra has multiple posters from the Rooster Teeth series RWBY in her bedroom, a show in which characters have special powers (known as Semblance). She also has a poster and figurine of the character Emerald from RWBY, whose power allows her to enter a person's mind and modify sensory information, similar to Abra's Shining.
The scene in which Danny first helps a patient 'sleep' takes place inside room 217. This was the equivalent of room 237 in the novel 'The Shining' but was changed for the 1980 film as the actual hotel owners were afraid guests wouldn't want to stay in room 217 after the film.
In the novel Rose The Hat initiates Snakebite Andi into the True Knot after Andi leaves a theater showing Raiders Of The Lost Ark. In the movie the scene takes place after Andi leaves a theater showing Casablanca. It was while preparing to film Raiders that Steven Spielberg first met Stanley Kubrick, and subsequently cast The Shining cast members Scatman Crothers and Philip Stone in The Twilight Zone and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and worked in references to the film in Jurassic Park and Ready Player One.
The scene in where Rose the Hat sneaks into the mind/bedroom of Abra she digs around some filing cabinets which are actually memories stores in Abra's mind. We see Abra do the same to Rose. In the movie Dreamcatchers we also see someone's memories stored as files in a library type room. Also in this same scene Rose has to partially de-glove her hand to escape, which is similar to what happens on Gerald's Game. There are three actors in Dr. Sleep that also appear in Gerald's Game.
Ewan McGregor comes back as a ghost to help give guidance to Abra Stone to use her Shining at the end of the movie. Ewan McGregor played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars franchise prequels. Obi-Wan came back as a force ghost in Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980) to help guide Luke Skywalker during his Jedi training.