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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

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”Chapter Three: The Pollywog”

Dart, "Stranger Things"

Dart, “Stranger Things


  • Aliens – The cat knows something is wrong in the movie and in the scene when Dustin first brings the pollywog in with his trap.
  • “Gremlins” – Dustin’s pollywog is basically his Mogwai. It’s cute at first, but not understanding its alien nature means it gets out of control easily and can turn evil.
  • “E.T.” – There’s a toy version on Dustin’s shelf.
  • “Yertle the Turtle” – Dustin’s pet tortoise is named after the Dr. Seuss character.
  • “The Three Musketeers” – Inspired by his favorite candy bar, Dustin names his pollywog Dart after the young protagonist D’Artagnan, who joins the famous trio, in Alexandre Dumas’ novel.

  • “Anne of Green Gables” – Hopper reads El a passage from the L.M. Montgomery novel, which is about an orphan who finds a home with two adult siblings.
  • “The Thing” – How the Shadow Monster invades Will is reminiscent of The Thing, which also likes the cold.
  • Brands – Nancy sees a guy with a Walkman, Sony’s personal cassette player, which inspires her to go to the electronics store RadioShack, where Bob works to pick up supplies. We also see Joyce trying to deal with a VHS-C, which is a compact VHS tape use in camcorders that can be played on a regular VCR with an adapter.
  • ”Chapter Four: Will the Wise”

  • Dungeons & Dragons –  It’s Will’s drawing of himself as his character Will the Wise that inspires the idea of him drawing the “now memories” he shares with the creature.
  • “The Evil Dead” (1981) – Eleven opening the trap door in a cabin is reminiscent of the trap door from Sam Raimi’s film.
  • Brands – The anagram word game Boggle is on the shelf in El’s cabin. Later, we see Mrs. Henderson putting Meow Mix (that looks suspiciously like Cheerios) out for Mews. The cat food brand was founded in 1974.
  • “Alien” – While the cat Jonesy survived on the big screen, sadly Mews (who is also an orange tabby) did not last in the Henderson household, having been consumed by Dart. Incidentally, the ‘80s TV show “Alf” featured an alien who always wanted to eat the family’s cat.
  • ”Chapter Five: Dig Dug”

"Stranger Things"

  • “It” – Nancy and Jonathan have matching scars on their hands from drawing blood to lure the Demogorgon in Season 1. That matches the scars the characters in “It” have after their blood oath.
  • Baby Fae – Lucas’ dad is reading a newspaper with a headline about Baby Fae, the little girl who got a baboon heart transplant on October 14, 1984. Sadly, she died on Nov. 15 that year.
  • “E.T.” – Instead of Reese’s Pieces as a lure, Dustin uses a trail of bologna and then later chunks of raw meat to lure Dart.
  • “Mad Max 2: Road Warrior” – The guy at the arcade refers to Max as “Road Warrior” when she comes in to play Dig Dug.
  • “Goonies” – Sean Astin goes back to his “Goonies” roots when he looks at Will’s map and exclaims “pirate treasure” while looking a the X marking the spot. The 1985 Richard Donner film featured a bunch of boys seeking the treasure of 17th century pirate, One-Eyed Willy, and a treasure map.

Read More:‘Stranger Things 2’ Original Score is Now Streaming (and It’s Just As Good as the Original) — Listen

  • “Family Feud” – The game show plays on the TV that El’s mother is sitting in front of.
  • Brands: The arcade guy is eating a bag of retro-packaged Chee-tos. There’s also a flyer for the Q*Bert video game on the cork board behind Max when she finds out what happened to Will. The logic puzzles that Bob brings over are several Hi-Q Hexed ones, and the cube is Soma Cube that was made by Parker Brothers.
  • “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” – A painting and a statue of the White Rabbit are in the nursery that was meant for Jane.
  • ”Chapter Six: The Spy”

  • “The Exorcist” – Joyce demanding help for Will is very similar to Regan’s mom demanding her child be helped.
  • “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” – In the film, Indy and Willie are mutually attracted but pride prevents them from giving in to the other first, so they both stay in their respective rooms to toss and turn and mutter to themselves. When Indy does go to her room though, it’s to find a secret passage. Here, Jonathan and Nancy haven’t quite admitted their feelings to themselves, much less each other. They do the separate rooms and muttering thing too, but do eventually get together. The Billie Holiday song that plays over the scene is very much in the same era as “Temple of Doom.”


  • “Alien” and “The Thing” – Will’s hive mind is very much like the Xenomorphs. There’s also a scene in which Dr. Owens watches on the monitor the men go to burn the vines and the line “Stay frosty, boys,” is said in homage. Incidentally fire is how you can harm The Thing, which can withstand extreme cold.
  • “Stand by Me” – Dustin and Steve walking along the railroad tracks is a reference to the Rob Reiner film that is a huge influence on the series and a callback to Season 1.
  • “The Mist” – The fog rolls in during the junkyard scene before the demodogs arrive.
  • “Aliens” – As Dustin & Co. hunker down in the bus to wait for Dart, a lot more arrive than planned. This is similar to how the Marines planned their stand.
  • “Jurassic Park” – The demodogs move much like the velociraptors do in Jurassic Park, and they even sneak up on Steve from the side when he’s focused on the one in front of him. That’s how you corral your prey!
  • Brands: Lucas’ little sister Erica (Priah Ferguson) plays with his He-Man action figure, the hero of the cartoon “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” which debuted in 1983. Later, Steve reveals the secret of his hairstyling to Dustin: Faberge Organics shampoo and conditioner with four puffs of the Farrah Fawcett spray. Heather Locklear was an early spokesperson for the hair care brand as well.


Continue to the next page for Care Bears, Stephen King, and Dusty’s ‘do>>

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