Breaking Down the Many Stranger Things References You Might Have Missed

15 minute read

Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things.

In an era filled with reboots that don’t always work, Stranger Things managed to capture countless cultural touchstones of its time with an original story. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer have confirmed they’re including references on purpose, and the second season is no exception.

From the casting to the visual lingo, the new season was chock full of Stranger Things 80s references. Season 2 even worked in a joke about all the nods. After Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) tells Max (Sadie Sink) what happened to Will (Noah Schnapp) in 1983, she says “I really liked it. I just felt it was a little derivative in parts.”

As unique as the second season was, the Duffers are nothing if not deferential when it comes to their influences. Some nods, like Ghostbusters, were impossible to miss. The show gave other references, like the nod to Children of the Corn, less airtime.

Here are 31 of the major ones we noticed throughout Stranger Things season 2.

1. Ghostbusters (1984)

Netflix; Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Episodes one, two, three

The most in your face reference was inarguably Ghostbusters. Of course, the boys in their proton packs biking and singing along to the movie’s theme deserves to be the song of fall, winter, spring and summer. But how else was the blockbuster baked into the season about something strange in the neighborhood? Look no further than Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo).

Close watchers will note that the Ghostbusters superfan makes a joke about “crossing the streams” on Halloween night in episode two. Then in episode three, we see he has a “Ghostbusters Certificate of Anti-Paranormal Proficiency” certificate hanging on his bedroom wall. The trap that Dustin (who goes as Stantz for Halloween) uses to stow his new pet is straight out of Ghostbusters. There’s also the strikingly similar way he anxiously approaches the trash can where Dart is rattling around. It owes a lot to this Ghostbusters scene when Stantz moves nervously toward the gooey green Slimer. And finally when it’s time to rise to action, Lucas says, “it’s judgment day.” Stantz and Winston say the same exact thing in Ghostbusters.

2. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Netflix; Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Episode one

In episode one, when the door to Will’s house creaks open, he stares in horror at the blazing red sky and the crackling lightning. This has got to be a stylistic reference to the iconic Steven Spielberg movie scene when wee little Barry Guiler stands in front of a door as ominous orange light floods in.

It’s not the first time the movie got a shout out. In the first season, people also compared Joyce’s flashing Christmas lights to the communication system in the movie’s grand finale.

3. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)

Netflix; Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Episodes five and nine

There are more than a few shots and scenes on the show that nod directly to this famed movie. For starters, it just doesn’t get more Indiana Jones than the image of Hopper’s silhouette in the underground tunnel. And in true Jones fashion, he also goes back for his hat in episode five.

The Duffers even told TIME that the scene when Max (Sadie Sink) drives to the pumpkin patch is essentially a shot-for-shot remake. “That’s exactly like Short Round in Temple of Doom,” Ross Duffer said about Jonathan Ke Quan’s character. That’s not the only Jonathan Ke Quan moment on the series. In the finale, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) drives the Shadow Monster out of Will with a fire poker. Jonathan pulled a similar move on Indiana Jones, except he used a torch. What’s more, the episode six scene when Nancy and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) consider whether to stay in separate rooms at Murray’s house plays out a lot like that Doom scene between Willie Scott and Indiana Jones.

4. The Goonies (1985)

Episode five

Bob (Sean Astin) is the one who figures out that Will’s interconnected drawings actually form a map of Hawkins. Explaining the “game,” Mike tells Bob the objective is the find the X. Bob the brain’s response: “Yeah? What’s at the X? Pirate treasure?” It’s a clever nod to his role in The Goonies, a frequent touchstone for Stranger Things. In the adventure comedy, a young Astin played Mikey, who funnily enough, was hunting for the ancient pirate treasure stolen from One-Eyed Willy. You better believe he used a treasure map.

5. The Terminator (1984)

Episodes one and two

Season 2’s story begins on Oct. 30, 1984. James Cameron’s now-iconic The Terminator premiered on Oct. 26, 1984. (Note what appears on the movie theater marquee in episode one.) And just like Arnold promised, this one comes “back” with a quick taste of the movie trailer as Eleven’s flipping through the channels in episode 2.

6. Aliens (1986)

Even in reference-filled Duffer Brother-world, it doesn’t get more obvious than using the same actor in a somewhat similar role or the same line. In Aliens, Paul Reiser played a deceitful government scientist who tells people to trust him while mostly looking out for himself. This experience probably came in handy when he played sketchy company man Dr. Owens who busts out that old Dr. Brenner (Matthew Modine) line from season one: “I need you to trust me.” In the sixth episode, a Hawkins soldier also invokes the famous Aliens quote “stay frosty boys.”

Episodes one and six

7. Jaws (1975)

Netflix; Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Episodes one and six

We see a Jaws poster featured in the Byers house a couple of times, but the most overt homage to this movie is Hopper himself. In season 1, ​Hopper comes across as a much more broken Chief Jim Brody from the shark movie — a former city cop who wants to keep kids safe from a ravenous creature. What makes Hopper so much like Brody is that he’s motivated to keep the town safe for the sake of the children.

Monsters aside, the other annoyance the film shares with the Netflix series: really silly crimes in a boring town. In the movie, the cop fields a complaint about kids karate chopping picket fences. In Stranger Things season 1, it’s kids stealing garden gnomes. Season 2? A farmer tells Hopper a rival poisoned his pumpkins. (Of course, this turns out to be connected to the Monster, but it’s still in the silly small town crime zone.)

8. It (1990)

Netflix; Bob D'Amico—ABC/Getty Images

Episode eight

Lucas is known for carrying around his fairly useless slingshot. His weapon of choice could be a reference the first adaptation of the horror novel It. Beverly Marsh launches a slingshot at the killer clown Pennywise​. How fitting, also, that the actor who plays Mike starred in the 2017 hit reboot film It too.

9. Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty in Pink (1986)

Netflix; Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Episodes two and nine

The influence of John Hughes is all over this show. The fact that resident cool kid Steve (Joe Keery) deigned to date studious Nancy already landed us in the Hughes zone in season 1. But season 2’s ending brought it all home as the Snow Ball alluded to high-stakes dances like the one in Pretty in Pink.

The show also subverts the social status tropes from this genre. Nancy chooses love over popularity when she gravitates from Steve toward Jonathan. And she even throws Dustin a bone with some encouraging advice on the dance floor.

10. C.H.U.D. (1984)

Netflix; New World Pictures/Getty Images

Episodes five and nine

The underground tunnels that Will maps with crayons play a major role in this season, from Hopper’s rescue to one of the missions in the finale. Those Demodog tunnels could be a callback to the New York City subway-dwelling toxic waste monsters that the government covered up in C.H.U.D.

11. Tank’s “Filth Hounds of Hades” (1982)

Netflix; Kamaflage Records

Episode nine

Fans got a kick out of newcomer and Zac Efron lookalike Billy (Dacre Montgomery). The metal head was a Metallica fan, but he also has what looks like a poster for this popular album from this lesser known English metal band. The ferocious dogs on the cover could be a possible wink at the Demodogs ripping people apart in Hawkins.

12. The Exorcist (1973)

Netflix; Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images
Netflix; Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Episode nine

In a mom move straight out of the sick kid playbook, Joyce (Winona Ryder) cranks the heat way up to get the monster virus out of Will in the finale. When he’s writhing around in protest and getting violent with his own mother, it’s hard not to think of this classic film about a little girl who is possessed by the antichrist.

13. Frankenstein (1931)

Netflix; Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Episode two

In episode two, Eleven watches this one when she’s waiting for Hopper to come home for their scary movie Halloween plans. The black and white movie featured Maria as the naïve kid who befriends the monster. Who does Eleven feel is the more relatable character here? Text the Duffers and let us know when you hear back.

14. E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982)

Netflix; Sunset Boulevard/Corbis/Getty Images

Episodes two and five

Between Eleven’s wig and those search party flashlights, season 1 was filled with references to this heartwarming movie about an otherworldly creature-human friendship. Season 2 went a bit lighter on the nods, although Eleven dresses as a ghost, Dustin makes a friend in episode three and we find out that Will loves Reese’s Pieces. You could even chalk up the way Dustin baits Dart with deli meats to the fact that the peanut butter candy did the trick in E.T.

15. Dazed and Confused (1993)

Film and Television

Episode two

Four words. Party in the woods. They’re not the first group of suburban youths to do it, and they won’t be the last. But the soiree Steve and Nancy attend has a strong Dazed vibe.

16. Karate Kid (1984)

Netflix; Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

Episodes two and five

One way Stranger Things connected with non-sci-fi fanatics was with plotlines about the social drama of school. And popping up in surprising ways was this hit martial arts movie that dealt with kids who bully outsiders, a theme throughout the Netflix series. From the way Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) ties her blindfold on like Johnny Lawrence’s headgear to the costume one of the kids at the cool kid party was wearing, there’s no way the Duffers didn’t watch this movie.

17. The Shining (1980)

Netflix; Warner Brothers/Getty Images

Episodes one and two

The scene in the The Shining that follows the doomed family on their way to the Overlook hotel looks a little like the shot of Joyce and Will’s car trip to Hawkins Lab in episode one. If that’s not horrifying enough, the similarities continue. The most terrifying California transplant to ever pick someone up from the video arcade, Billy, studied the horror film’s villain — another total heartthrob Jack Torrance — for inspiration. It showed. In episode two, after Max grabs the wheel to swerve away from the kids away in their Ghosbusters costumes, the way he says “that was a close one huh!” is creepily Jack-like.

18. Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982)

Episode two

MJ dominated the ’80s with the monster hit music video for “Thriller,” which features dancers as a bunch of very talented zombies who ruin date night. The season first opens on glowing gravestones decorating a Hawkins lawn for Halloween, featuring a skeletal hand reaching out from the ground that echoes the gravesite scene of this iconic music video. And at Tina’s party in episode two, someone also dresses as the King of Pop from the 1982 “Billie Jean” video.

19. The Thing (1982)

Netflix; Universal/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Episodes one and four

Everywhere you look, you’ll find explicit references to this John Carpenter movie. A sampling: a Hawkins’ lab worker goes to town on the assorted mix of Upside Down growths with his flame-throwing device in season 2, recalling the movie scene Mr. Clarke watched at home in season 1. Also, in The Thing, the alien invades other life forms to spy on everyone, so Will hosting the monster inside his innocent little body makes him a bit like a powerful entity that could shapeshift to look like its victims. Another somewhat Thing-like Stranger Things thing: the Hawkins lab experiment where the nerdy guy creates a swirling smoke effect.

20. Lord of the Rings

Netflix; Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock

Episode four

Will has a wizard thing. There’s that drawing hanging on his bedroom wall when Joyce is comforting him, and his role in the Dungeons and Dragon game is Will the wise, which serves as the title of episode four. They even named a street “Mirkwood” after the forest in the J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic book series. In season 1, Chief Hopper specifically told the kids “this isn’t some Lord of the Rings book.” But like Will, Gandalf is temporarily pronounced dead in Fellowship of the Ring before he comes back in The Two Towers. Sorry Hopper, but some of these nuggets seem pretty Tolkein-y to us.

21. Gremlins (1984)

Netflix; Warner Bros. Pictures/Amblin E/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Episode three

The Duffers teased a major Gremlins influence. In the Joe Dante movie, cuddly monsters transform into reptile monsters out to ruin everything. Stranger Things builds on this trope with a heartwarming take on the cute creature turned deathly threat with Dustin’s relationship to Dart.

22. Poltergeist (1982)

Netflix; Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/Getty Images

Episode five

While the rest of us wait for a birthday alert for a convenient excuse to reconnect with old friends on Facebook, Eleven simply blindfolds herself to beam into the void via TV to see what they’re up to. The Duffer brothers could be drawing a parallel to Poltergeist. Both the visual and Eleven’s power have quite a bit in common with the movie, where the television set also works as a medium for Carol Anne, a human channel for supernatural beings.

23. Super 8 (2011)

Netflix; Paramount/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Episode six

The Duffer brothers have already told us that they don’t only geek out on ‘80s references, so this could be a contender. In season 2 the Stranger Things kids return to the abandoned junkyard and bus. The way the Demodogs attack the roof invites comparison to the alien attack in this Spielberg movie.

24. Shawshank Redemption (1994)

Episode six

The episode six scene where Steve and Dustin peer through the dark underground tunnel Dart created could be reminiscent of work by a man who looms large over the show: Stephen King. In a pivotal scene from the author’s Shawshank Redemption, a warden takes down a poster of Rita Hayworth to discover a dark escape route. The shots are strikingly similar.

25. Resident Evil (1996)

Netflix; Legacy/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Episode nine

When Eleven is facing off against the gate in the finale, Hopper plays defense and shoots at the Demodogs. The visuals could be a hat tip to this sci-fi horror video game, in which the player has to kill off zombie dogs. This isn’t he only video game Stranger Things references, as the Duffers have spoken about Silent Hill and The Last of Us as their nerd inspiration.

26. The Mist (2007)

Netflix; Dimension Films/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Episodes one, two and six

Some of the weird weather — like the mist that appears to spell trouble throughout the season — could be a way the show shares DNA with the Stephen King adaptation The Mist. Side note: Mrs. Wheeler also listens to Barbra Streisand sing about “misty water-colored memories” in “The Way We Were” in the tub in the finale. Maybe it’s nothing, but there’s a lot of mist happening.

27. Escape From New York (1981)

Netflix; Avco Embassy/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

Episode seven

To the tune of Jon Bon Jovi’s “Runaway,” Eleven arrives in the big city in search of Kali, another one of Dr. Brenner “science projects.” There, she takes a much tougher crew for a spin. From the cackling Axel’s hair to the wasteland vibe, top to bottom, we’re firmly in Escape territory. While the movie’s protagonist Snake Plissken didn’t have as much fun when he encountered the “crazies” in post-apocalyptic New York, the episode’s indisputably a pastiche of the cult hit.

28. Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989)

Everyone relies on Will’s drawings of the season 2 monster. The town illustrator prodigy thing might reference some original kids who nailed the art form. In this Godzilla movie, redditor October 103197 notes that a psychic character draws an illustration that predicts the monster.

Episode four

29. Witness (1985)

Episode nine

Name-checked in an interview the Duffers gave to Wired, this movie features Harrison Ford as a police officer smoothly leading a lovely barnyard dance. The show may have tapped his Amish dance partner Rachel (Kelly McGillis) in the film for inspiration for the way the timid middle schoolers work the room in the finale.

30. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Episode six

Mike references the Death Star in episode three and he’s very attached to his Millennium Falcon toy that Eleven moved around with her mind in season 1, but the connection to the galaxy far, far away doesn’t stop there. When Mike desperately tries to warn everyone that the Hawkins lab “soldiers” fell right into the Shadow Monster’s trap, the “graveyard,” he screams “it’s a trap!” This moment could be calling back to a similar scene in The Empire Strikes Back when Princess Leia warns Luke he’s waltzing right into Darth Vader’s trap. She also screams, “it’s a trap!”

31. Mad Max (1979)

Episode one

In the first episode, we learn that Max (Sadie Sink) is the gamer behind the handle “Mad Max” beating the boys. The name comes from the title of the Mel Gibson sci-fi flick movie. If you had any doubt this is an overt reference, the video arcade employee even calls her “road warrior,” which was the title of the 1981 sequel.

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