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‘Stranger Things’ Season 3: All the Pop Culture References and Homages, Episode by Episode

From Phoebe Cates and New Coke to "Dawn of the Dead" and "Jaws," here’s a guide to what you might have missed.

"Stranger Things"

“Stranger Things”


[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for Season 3 of “Stranger Things,” including the finale.]

Another season of “Stranger Things” brings another slew of opportunities to drop pop culture references by avowed cinephiles, the Duffer Brothers. Set in 1985, Season 3 includes plenty of nods to the decade, in addition to various horror and sci-fi films that influenced the more monstrous elements from the Upside Down.

Here’s an episode-by-episode breakdown of all the references and homages in the third season, beyond the Eggo waffles and Dungeons & Dragons that fans already know and love. Unless the songs have particular significance to the story, they won’t be mentioned here but are included in this separate soundtrack post.

“Chapter One: Suzie, Do You Copy?”

  • “War Games” (1983) – A popular trope in movies that involve high security or nuclear weapons, the real-life two-man rule (or two-keyed lock) shows up at the beginning of the Matthew Broderick hacker movie “War Games” when two soldiers are tasked with turning two keys simultaneously to launch a missile. Here, they turn both keys in order to power the powerful device that can break through to the Upside Down.
  • Cassette Tapes- In Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) room, she has cassette tapes for Corey Hart’s “Boy in the Box” album (which is heard on the soundtrack) and Bryan Adams’ “Reckless,” which yielded several hits including “Summer of ’69” and “Run to You.”
  • “Magnum P.I.” – The Tom Selleck-starring series about a private detective in Oahu, Hawaii ran from 1980-1988. The famous scene that Jim Hopper (David Harbour) is watching where Magnum tells himself, “Work the lock. Work the lock. Don’t look at the dogs,” is from the pilot episode, which means that it’s a rerun in 1985.

  • “Day of the Dead” (1985) – The third in George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead Series,” the movie premiered on July 19, which is why the kids are watching a sneak preview screening since this season takes place over the course of several days leading up to the Fourth of July. The zombie outbreak is a subtle nod to the Mind Flayer’s infection that will take hold of many residents of Hawkins over the course of the season.
  • R.E.M. – A poster for the band’s debut album “Murmur” is on Jonathan Byers’ bedroom wall. They were one of the more popular alternative bands of the time, eschewing standard rock flourishes like the guitar solo or use of synthesizer.
  • “The Evil Dead” (1981)- A poster for Sam Raimi’s classic comedy-horror film can be see on Jonathan’ bedroom wall. Foreshadowing!
  • R2-D2- A version of the “Star Wars” droid is one of the toys that Eleven makes march out of Dustin’s (Gaten Matarazzo) room.
  • Farrah Fawcett hairspray – Dustin wields the can of branded hairspray as a weapon. Last season, his hair mentor Steve had recommended him Farrah Fawcett products.
"Stranger Things" and "Gremlins"

“Stranger Things” and “Gremlins”

Netflix, Warner Bros.

  • “Gremlins” (1984) – Dustin brings home a series of inventions home from camp, including an electric hammer called The Slammer. In “Gremlins,” inventor Randall Peltzer (Hoyt Axton) has created a similar device.
  • “X-Men” comics – Dustin names his ham radio Cerebro, after the device that Professor X uses to find mutants.
  • “Stand by Me” (1986) – Billy (Dacre Montgomery) calls one kid “lard-ass” at the pool, which is the show’s reference to the pie-eating story that Gordie (Wil Wheaton) tells in Rob Reiner’s 1986 coming-of-age film based on the Stephen King 1982 novella “The Body.”
  • New Coke- Coca-Cola reformulated to create this sweeter version, also known as Coke II, that actually performed better in blind taste tests, but once New Coke hit the market in April 1985, cola drinkers were not fans. Within three months, the company reissued the rebranded Coca-Cola Classic, and Coke II was eventually discontinued in 2002.
  • “Tender Is the Storm” – Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono) is seen reading this standalone Joanna Lindley novel at the community pool. It’s the second romance novel that she’s seen reading after last season.
Cara Buono, "Stranger Things"

Cara Buono, “Stranger Things”


  • Phoebe Cates – When Dustin describes his girlfriend Suzie, whom he met at science camp, he tells his pals, “Think Phoebe Cates, only hotter.” The actress had been the It Girl from films such as “Gremlins” and “Private School,” but it’s her emergence from a pool in a red bikini in 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” that forever sealed her fate as a fetishized dream woman at the time.
  • “Cheers” – Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) recreates a date night with Bob (Sean Astin) by watching “Cheers,” specifically the interaction between Sam and Diane, one of TV’s iconic will-they-or-won’t-they couples, a dynamic that Joyce and Hopper share.
  • “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1978) – Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) takes a message from a woman named Doris Driscoll, complaining about diseased rats. In the 1978 Philip Kaufman film, Brooke Adams plays protagonist Elizabeth Driscoll opposite Donald Sutherland. Based on the novel by Jack Finney, “Bodysnatchers” is one major influence on the story this season of the Mind Flayer taking over the people in Hawkins one by one.
  • Brands – Hopper can be seen eating Tostitos, which went into national distribution in 1980.
"Stranger Things" and "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers"

“Stranger Things” and “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers”

Netflix, United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock

“Chapter Two: The Mall Rats”

  • Mall rats – Indoor malls have existed since the mid-’50s, but they didn’t become the cultural hubs with terrazzo tiles, multiple levels, and fountains until the ’80s. The term “mall rat,” referring to a person who habitually spends time at the mall for more than just shopping, was first used in 1982. The mall is also a key setting for one of “Dawn of the Dead,” which will be referenced later.
  • “Alien” – The Mind Flayer deploys a face-hugger type of extension, much like the one the Xenomorph uses, to attack Billy.
  • Madrid skateboards- Max Mayfield (Sadie Sink) rides this type of skateboard that started in the ’60s and were popularized in the ’80s, even appearing as one of Marty McFly’s skateboards in “Back to the Future.”
  • “The Endless Summer” (1966)- A poster for the seminal surf movie is on the wall of Max’s bedroom.
  • Can’t Stop – This board game of multicolored markers and dice challenges players to claim three columns before the other players can. The box for this game can be seen on Max’s bedroom shelf.
  • Atari – After guessing that Mike (Finn Wolhard) lied to Eleven, she says he’s probably playing Atari with Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). The cartridge videogame console system was popular at the time.
  • “Wonder Woman” – Max introduces Eleven to comic books that (gasp!) feature a female hero who has her own superpowers.
  • “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” – The rats eating fertilizer (and later Mrs. Driscoll doing the same) is a clever wink to the plant pods that aliens had assimilated on Earth and used to create “pod people.”
  • “The Thing” (1982)- A poster for John Carpenter’s remake can be seen in the Wheeler basement. This is foreshadowing for what is coming.
"Stranger Things" and "Jaws"

“Stranger Things” and “Jaws”

Netflix/Universal Pictures

  • “Jaws” (1975) – Cary Elwes – an ’80s icon for starring in Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” – plays Mayor Larry Kline, who is inspired by Amity Island’s avaricious Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) in “Jaws.” While Vaughn doesn’t want the island’s economy to suffer from the fear of shark attacks, Kline doesn’t want protests against the new mall to affect his chances for reelection. Either way, both men are hinging their fortunes on the Fourth of July and give speeches to that effect.
  • “The Evil Dead” franchise – The black spidering veins effect on Billy’s arm looks a lot like how the poison from the Deadites spread in a body in the Sam Raimi franchise.
  • “Daisy Bell (Bicycle Built for Two)” – The song that Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) recognizes on the children’s horse ride machine and from the Russian secret code recording is a popular song that dates back to 1892. It’s been featured in “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in which HAL 9000 sings the song during its gradual deactivation, and in 1986’s “The Hitcher” Rutger Hauer’s creepy character John Ryder hums the song.
  • “Jaws” (1975) – When Hopper stumbles out of Enzo’s drunk and carrying the bottle of chianti, he brags about how he’s untouchable since he’s the chief of police. In “Jaws,” Roy Scheider’s character Martin Brody drunkenly slurs, “I can do anything I want, I’m the chief of police,” while pouring himself more wine.
  • “The Blob” (1958/1988) – After Driscoll’s rat combusts and becomes a pool of blood and goo, the goo oozes through the cage’s bars, down to and across the ground, locomoting much how the alien amoeboidal entity did in “The Blob.” Also, in a flip on the formula, The Blob didn’t like the cold, whereas The Mind Flayer doesn’t like heat.
  • Brands – In the 1980s, Sugar Smacks cereal was rebranded as Honey Smacks, which Hopper can be seen eating. Behind him is the Parker Bros. word dice game “Spill & Spell.” The mall features a few shops that no longer exist: Waldenbooks was a staple in malls but was liquidated in bankruptcy in 2011, and Claire’s is no longer as prevalent after filing for bankruptcy. In the boys’ hangout, the tile word game “Upwords” can be seen.

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