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‘Stranger Things’: All the Pop Culture References and Homages, Episode by Episode

From “Aliens” and “Jurassic Park” to Stephen King and Rob Lowe, here’s a guide to what you might have missed.

"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Stranger Things 2"

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Stranger Things 2”

Columbia Pictures, Netflix

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from Season 2 of “Stranger Things.”]

Matt and Ross Duffer have never hidden their inner cinephiles, and Season 2 of “Stranger Things” brings a slew of new homages to horror, action, and adventure films. On top of those are all the ’80s pop culture references essential when making a series set in that decade. Here’s an episode-by-episode breakdown of all the references and homages in the second season (sans music, which will be included in another post).

“Chapter One: MADMAX”

  • “Mad Max” (1979) – The Australian dystopian film starring Mel Gibson inspired Max’s (Sadie Sink) high-score name.
  • “Terminator” (1984) – The title appears on the Hawkins movie theater marquee. The film would have premiered two days before the events of the season begin, which happens to be October 28, 1984.
  • “Ghostbusters” (1984) – The paranormal comedy would have premiered earlier that summer and inspired the main foursome’s Halloween costumes. And yes, nobody wanted to be Winston.
  • Aliens – The film will not have premiered until 1986, but that doesn’t stop the Duffer Brothers from making numerous references to the classic, beginning with casting Paul Reiser this season as Dr. Owens.
  • “E.T.” – Dr. Owens offers Will (Noah Schnapp) Reese’s Pieces.
  • “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” – The scene where Will opens the door is a direct reference.
  • H.P. Lovecraft – The shadow monster is reminiscent of the creatures dreamed up by the horror author.
  • “Goonies” – The film is part of that ‘80s “kids who go on adventures without parental supervision” genre that inspired “Stranger Things” and starred Sean Astin as a young boy named Mikey. Here, he plays the love interest to Joyce (Winona Ryder).

The Goonies

  • “Mr. Mom” (1983) – The comedy stars Michael Keaton as an engineer who suddenly becomes a stay-at-home dad. The Byers rent the home video for movie night.
  • “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1985) – New guy Billy (Dacre Montgomery) and his hair are modeled after Rob Lowe’s character whose name is also Billy from the popular Brat Pack film.
  • Dragon’s Lair – This popular laserdisc video game took the world by storm and featured animation by Don Bluth. Other ‘80s games featured are Dig Dug, Centipede, Galaga, Asteroids, and Pac-Man.
  • Bo Derek – Sheriff Jim Hopper (David Harbour) sarcastically says, “I want a date with Bo Derek,” referring to the actress who was a huge sex symbol at the time having starred in “10” and appearing in Playboy.
  • Brands – Joyce makes Jiffy Pop popcorn for movie night. And the Hollands serve Kentucky Fried Chicken, which was founded in 1930, so this isn’t strictly an ‘80s reference, but Steve (Joe Keery) finds it “finger lickin’ good.”
Natalia Dyer and Joe Keery, "Stranger Things"

Natalia Dyer and Joe Keery, “Stranger Things”

Courtesy Netflix

”Chapter Two: Trick or Treat, Freak”

  • “Nightmares and Dreamscapes” – The kids agree to meet at the Maple Street cul-de-sac for trick-or-treating. “The House on Maple Street” is a Stephen King short story from the collection.
  • “Halloween” – Max scares the boys in her Mike Myers costume.
  • “E.T.” or “Charlie Brown Halloween Special” – Eleven dresses as a sheet ghost.
  • “Friday the 13th” – A guy dressed as Jason Voorhees scares Will later.
  • “Nightmare on Elm Street” – Nancy (Natalia Dyer) is named for a character in the film whose friend is Tina. The “Let’s Get Sheet-Faced” party is held at Tina’s house in the series.
  • “Animal House” – There’s a toga-wearing dude at party.
  • Madonna – Madge’s hit “Like a Virgin” debuted in 1984, along with a scandalous performance at the first-ever MTV Video Music Awards. One partygoer is dressed as this version of Madonna.
  • “Karate Kid” – Another costume, this time of Johnny the Cobra Kai bully.
"Risky Business" and "Stranger Things 2"

“Risky Business” and “Stranger Things 2”

Warner Bros., Netflix

  • “Risky Business” – Steve and Nancy’s couples costume was an odd choice. He opted for the more fully dressed Tom Cruise, while she dressed as Rebecca DeMornay’s Lana, a prostitute.
  • “Can’t Buy Me Love” – When Nancy gets punch spilled on her white ensemble, this is reminiscent of Amanda Peterson’s character getting wine splashed all over her expensive white outfit that she had “borrowed.” This incident is the catalyst for her and Patrick Dempsey’s nerd character to get together. Mirroring this, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) is there to help Nancy home after she passes out.
  • “Terminator” – Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) watches an ad for the film on TV.
  • All My Children” – El catches Susan Lucci as Erica Kane on the soap.
  • “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” – Winona Ryder starred in the film and played Mina Harker, who dances with Dracula at one point. On the show, she dances with Bob, who is dressed as Dracula.
  • Maine – Bob suggests that Joyce move with him to the house his parents are selling in Maine. This is where Stephen King is from and where he sets his stories.
  • Valley girl speak – Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) test out saying “totally tubular” with Max during trick-or-treating.
  • Presidential election – Election day is only a few days away, and we get glimpses of Reagan/Bush and Mondale/Ferraro campaign signs on a couple lawns.
  • Brands – El uses Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup, Dustin waxes poetic about the nougat in the 3 Musketeers bar, and Will compares his strange experience with the Upside-Down world as being stuck between two slides of a View-Master, a stereoscope toy.

Continue to next page for “Goonies,” “Indiana Jones” and more>>

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