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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”


“Chapter Seven: The Bite”

  • “Back to the Future” (1985) – Having a movie theater at the mall where all the action takes place is pretty handy, especially for “Back to the Future,” which was released the day before the events of the this season’s epic finale. Team Scoop Troopers sneak into the movie after escaping the Russians underground, and later, Steve and Robin discuss the how Lea Thompson’s character wants to sleep with Michael J. Fox’s character, not realizing that he’s her son from the future.
  • “Evil Dead” (1981) and “Evil Dead II” (1987) – When it comes to remote cabins and horror, the Sam Raimi films starring Bruce Campbell as Ash Williams are classics. This is similar to how the gang is trapped in the cabin when the Mind Flayer attacks. Jonathan also arms himself with ax, which is reminiscent of the film. Also, when cutting off one of the Flayer’s limbs, it also crawls off, like Ash’s evil hand does.
  • “The Thing” (1982) – Just in case the references weren’t clear enough, Lucas compares his unpopular love of New Coke to “The Thing” remake. “It’s like Carpenter’s ‘The Thing,'” he says. “The original is a classic; no question about it. But the remake is sweeter, bolder, better.”
  • Brands – The cereal aisle in the store the kids break into displays many limited-time cereals that preyed on young consumers, such as Pac Man cereal (1983), Smurfberry Crunch (1983), Mr. T cereal (1984), Rainbow Brite cereal (1985), G.I. Joe Action Stars (1985), Ghostbusters cereal (1985).


  • “Magnum P.I.” – At the carnival, the ride operator tells Hopper, “Not on your life, Magnum.” His mustache definitely evokes that Tom Selleck look, but his shirt is more pastel than the bold Hawaiian prints that the detective preferred.
  • “D.A.R.Y.L.” (1985) – Appears on the theater’s marquee. Released on June 14, the film is about a government-created AI robot who looks like a 10-year-old boy that is released by a kind scientist and gets taken in by a foster family.
  • “Return to Oz” (1985) – Appears on the theater’s marquee. Released June 21, this live-action sequel stars Fairuza Balk as Dorothy, who escapes from electroshock treatment and then is swept away by a river and wakes in Oz with her chicken Billina.
  • “Cocoon” (1985)- Appears on the theater’s marquee. Released on June 21, the movie is about retirement home residents who become rejuvenated through an alien life force in a swimming pool.
  • “Fletch” (1985) – Appears on the theater’s marquee. Released on May 31, the film features one of Chevy Chase’s most iconic roles as a reporter who is hired by a millionaire to kill him.
  • “The Stuff” (1985) – Appears on the theater’s marquee. Released on June 14, this Larry Cohen horror satire is about a sweet, creamy substance like ice cream that has no calories but is addictive. It’s revealed later that it’s a parasitic organism that takes over a person’s brain.
  • Hall of Mirrors trope – Grigori gets confused while pursuing Hopper through this funhouse room. This staple of movie chases heightens the confusion since the pursuer often doesn’t know what’s real or not. It doesn’t always take place at amusement parks (see: “Enter the Dragon”), but it often does in films such as “The Lady From Shanghai,” “The Man With the Golden Gun,” and “The Guest.”
  • “Gremlins” (1984) – A toy stuffed Gremlin can be seen as a prize at the carnival.
  • “Dawn of the Dead” (1978)- The second of George A. Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” series, this one takes place in a mall where many of the survivors are hiding out. Not only does it also include display cars on the main floor (like the one that Eleven tosses at the Russians with her powers), but Robin & Co. also slide down the middle partition of the escalator, just like they do in the film.
"Stranger Things" and "Dawn of the Dead"

“Stranger Things” and “Dawn of the Dead”

Netflix and United Film Distribution

“Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt”

  • “Alien” – Eleven digging out the baby Flayer from her bite wound is reminiscent of the iconic “Alien” chestburster scene, in which the baby Xenomorph runs off. Fortunately, Hopper stomps on this one.
  • “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (1983)- Dustin refers to Nancy’s group as the Griswold Family because they’re driving around in a station wagon, just like the Griswolds did in this road trip comedy.
  • “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) – There’s a poster of this classic film on the wall of Suzie’s (Gabriella Pizzolo) bedroom.
  • “Jurassic Park” (1993) – When Max, Eleven, and Mike cower behind a display at The Gap, hiding from the Mind Flayer, this echoes when the kid is hiding from the velociraptors in the kitchen.
"Stranger Things" and "NeverEnding Story"

“Stranger Things” and “NeverEnding Story”

Netflix and Warner Bros.

  • “A Wizard of Earthsea” (1968) – This is the first of the Earthsea quadrology of fantasy novels by Ursula K. Le Guin. Considered a classic of children’s literature and later embraced by a wider audience, the novel is a Bildungsroman about a wizard named Ged who must come to terms with his powers, the darkness that he unleashes into the world, and even death. The novel has themes of cultural anthropology, feminism, and Taoism.
  • “The NeverEnding Story” (1984) – Based on the Michael Ende novel of the same name, this West German fantasy film tells the story of 10-year-old bookworm Bastian who is reading a magical book about a young warrior who must stop a dark force called the Nothing from taking over a mystical world. Dustin and Suzie duet on the eponymous song by English pop singer Limahl. When she thrusts her fist in the air, she’s mimicking Bastian’s pose while riding the luck dragon Falkor.
  • “Superman III” (1983)- In “Superman III,” computer programmer Gus (Richard Pryor) can’t insert both keys to boot up a computer. He improvises by using a passed-out security guard and some string. Here, Joyce must turn both keys using a belt as an extension for one arm since Hopper is down by the device.
"Stranger Things" and "Superman III"

“Stranger Things” and “Superman III”

Netflix and Warner Bros.

  • “Back to the Future” – The first shot of the “Cutting Edge” newscast starts on the clocktower, an important plot point from the time-travel film. Coincidence? Probably not.
  • Satanic Panic – In the 1980s, there were a series of moral panics that arose around Satanic ritual abuse in the United States and the U.K. Anything with demonic imagery, ranging from heavy metal albums and Dungeons & Dragons, were deemed suspect.
  • “The Apartment” (1960) – One of Robin’s three favorite films she cites to get the video store job. This classic Best Picture winner by Billy Wilder stars Jack Lemmon as an ambitious insurance clerk who lets senior-level management use his apartment for their extramarital affairs.
  • “Hidden Fortress” (1958) – One of Robin’s three favorite films. It’s one of Akira Kurosawa’s most visually stunning adventure films starring Toshiro Mifune. This film heavily influenced George Lucas when he was conceiving “Star Wars.”
  • “Children of Paradise” (1945) – One of Robin’s three favorite films. Made by Marcel Carné during the German occupation of France during World War II, this is a two-part epic that tells the story of the 19th-century courtesan Garance, who is loved by four men.
  • Video Store Movies – The video rental store was a popular place to work (just ask Quentin Tarantino), but there are too many movies in this scene to list all of them. Here are a few of the more featured ones: “Firestarter,” “16 Candles,” “Scarface,” “The Outsiders,” “The Jerk,” “Private School,” “Vacation,” “Animal House,” “Return of the Jedi,” and “Back to the Future.” The last three are Steve’s favorites.
  • “Family Ties” – In trying to describe “Back to the Future,” Steve refers to Michael J. Fox as Alex P. Keaton, his character from the sitcom “Family Ties,” which ran from 1982-1989.
  • Phoebe Cates- Just in case viewers got to the end of the series without knowing who Phoebe Cates is or looking her up, Steve knocks over a cardboard cut-out of her from the iconic swimsuit scene from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.”

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