Stranger Things thrives on nostalgia. The series takes viewers back to the 1980s, and asks a recurring question: remember all this stuff? Season 3 is no exception – it’s loaded with references – some very easy to spot, others a bit more subtle. Now that the new season is streaming on Netflix, we figured we’d dive into all the references we spotted, but be warned: this is going to be spoiler-heavy. If you’re ready to be spoiled, check out the Stranger Things 3 references below.
Day of the Dead
In the first episode, several of the Hawkins kids flock to the movie theater to catch a screening of George Romero’s Day of the Dead. It’s during this screening – specifically during the opening scene – that Will Buyers senses the presence of the Mind Flayer, who may not be gone after all. The Day of the Dead screening lines-up with the setting of summer 1985, but it also represents something else: the third entry in a series, which makes it appropriate for the third season of Stranger Things.
Dawn of the Dead
While we’re on the subject of George Romero zombie films, let’s not forget Dawn of the Dead. The second entry in Romero’s original zombie trilogy is set firmly within the walls of a mall – which is also the setting of a good chunk of Stranger Things 3.
Back to the Future
A poster for the time travel comedy is spotted early in the season as the kids are leaving their Day of the Dead screening. The film ends up coming back in a big way near the season’s conclusion, as a drugged Steve and Robin find themselves watching the Robert Zemeckis flick, only to be completely baffled by its paradoxes, storyline, and title.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
When Dustin returns from camp in the first episode, he brings with him a giant contraption he’s created – a personal radio tower that enables him to communicate with his long-distance girlfriend. The cobbled-together device, and its function – communicating across vast distances – immediately recalls a similar device put together by E.T. to “phone home” in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
This 1984 right wing fantasy flick finds Soviet soldiers invading a small town – which is the same thing that happens in Stranger Things 3. Those damn Ruskies have set up shop in Hawkins, and the season leans into this reference by having Dustin flat-out say the title of the film when he realizes there are evil Russians afoot.
The gooey, growing form the Mind Flayer takes on early in the season recalls the look of the Xenomorph from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi-horror classic. In addition to that, there are two difference sequences where characters are crawling through air ducts that resemble the infamous, terrifying scene in Alien where Dallas crawls through darkened shafts, trying to find the monster – only for the monster to find him first.
This is actually a ’90s reference, not an ’80s reference. Go figure. The nerdy camp Dustin returns from is called Camp Know-Where, which is more than likely a reference to the 1994 family comedy featuring Christopher Lloyd – star of the aforementioned Back to the Future.
The Thing gets several callbacks this season. Most notable is when Lucas compares New Coke to Carpenter’s horror remake, stating that the original is still great, but there’s something special about the new version. The rest of the kids seem horrified at this comparison – they really don’t like New Coke. There’s also plenty of body horror, specifically involving people melting as they turn into something monstrous – a running theme in Carpenter’s movie.
Prince of Darkness
Another John Carpenter film that comes to mind this season is Prince of Darkness. A scene where Steve and Dustin find several glass containers filled with strange, green liquid immediately recall the large glass tube filled with green water from Carpenter’s film. Then there’s also the plotline involving people becoming possessed in order to usher in a bigger, more nefarious plan, another plot point of Prince of Darkness.
The 4th of July setting of this season invokes memories of Steven Spielberg’s immortal summer blockbuster. On top of all that, there’s a mayor character who is willing to put lives in danger for money (he doesn’t wear that cool anchor-adorned blazer, though). And just in case you weren’t picking up on the Jaws references, the season has Hopper’s character get drunk at one point and say, “I can do anything I want – I’m the chief of police!” Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody drunkenly says this same exact line in Jaws.
When the poor possessed Hawkins residents explode and melt into crawling purple goo, they look nearly identical to The Blob featured in Chuck Russell’s 1988 remake (and the 1958 original).
2001: A Space Odyssey
Dustin, Steve and Robin are able to discover the evil Russians are hiding out in the mall when they hear a Russian transmission featuring music from a coin-operated child’s ride within the building. That music happens to be “Daisy Bell”, the song that the psychotic computer HAL sings as he’s being shut down near the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
In an attempt to update himself and get with the times, Hopper buys himself a Hawaiian shirt, after seeing another mustachioed gentleman – Tom Selleck’s Thomas Magnum from Magnum, P.I. – wearing one on TV.
The Karate Kid
Who did giggly girls swoon over in the ’80s? Why, Ralph Macchio, of course! Eleven and Max comment on Macchio’s dreaminess after spotting his visage in a teen magazine.
Nightmare on Elm Street
This might be a stretch, but I’m going for it! During one of her dream-like astral projections, Eleven ends up in front of a white suburban house with a big red door. A house that looks very similar to the house in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street. The address of the house that Eleven sees is 1438. That’s one number off of the address of the Elm Street house – 1428. Coincidence? Intentional? You decide!
Breaking with Moscow
There’s an advertisement for the book Breaking with Moscow in the window of a the mall bookstore in an early episode. The book, published in 1985, was the true account of a former Soviet official who defected to help the U.S. This is a not-so-subtle tip-off to a plot line to come later in the season, in which Russian scientist Alexei decides to help the American characters stop the evil Russians.
Another Kubrick music reference. After the possessed Billy escapes following a brutal battle with Eleven, “We’ll Meet Again” – which so famously played at the end of Dr. Strangelove – starts playing.
Hopper is able to get the drop on one of the Russians at one point, holding him at gun point. The Russian scoffs, however, boldly stating he knows Hopper won’t shoot him. When Hopper asks why, the Russian replies: “You’re a policeman. Policemen have rules.” This scenario, and line of dialogue, is nearly identical to a moment in Die Hard when John McClane gets the drop on a henchman, who taunts McClane by saying, “You’re a policeman. There are rules for policemen.”
One of the chief villains this season is a hulking Russian bad guy with a flattop haircut. The way the baddie moves – stiff and robotic – is clearly meant to invoke Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original Terminator film. And in case you don’t pick up on that right away, the show has Hopper jokingly refer to the character as Arnold Schwarzenegger at one point.
The greedy mayor character this season can be seen sporting a blue shirt with a white collar, a polka-dotted tie, and suspenders – a near-identical look to Gordon Gekko in Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. Oddly enough, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps isn’t referenced. Must have been an oversight.
During an establishing shot of the secret underground Russian tunnels, the camera pans across a group of soldiers marching in lockstep. The composition of the shot is lifted directly from Star Wars: A New Hope involving Stormtroopers.
Night of the living dead
To keep out an approaching threat, the Hawkins kids, secluded in Hopper’s cabin, begin boarding up all the windows and doors, a la the characters in Night of the Living Dead.
Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn
When our heroes need to gather weapons to fight off unspeakable horrors, where do they run? Why, to the work shed, of course. Just like hero Ash in Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn.
This season’s obsession with goo and people becoming possessed gives off a vibe similar to Larry Cohen’s famous B-movie The Stuff. There’s even a shot of a movie theater marquee advertising the film.
The NeverEnding Story
One of the highlights of the entire season involves Dustin and his girlfriend Suzie belting out the entire theme song of The NeverEnding Story. The scene just keeps going, on and on, growing more and more incredible with each passing second.
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