Stranger Things is obviously successful thanks to its own superb story-telling, but its references to classic slices of pop culture, TV and films genuinely make it feel you’ve fallen through The Upside Down and landed in the ’80s.
Creators The Duffer Brothers’ wear their cinematic influences on their sleeves, and as a result, Stranger Things 2 goes hard on the nods. Here’s the pick of the bunch.
Episode 1: MADMAX
Like new character Max’s arcade high-score name, this episode title borrows its name from the 1979 film Mad Max – which stars Mel Gibson as a highway patrolman living in a dystopian Australia. Like the film’s title character, Max’s brother Billy drives a very fast car, and both of them probably identify strongly with his thorny bravado.
The Hawkins local cinema displays a sign for The Terminator, which comes out two days after the show is set in 1984.
St Elmo’s Fire
The Duffer Brothers have said they based character Billy’s look on Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire – and funnily enough, he’s also called Billy.
Episode 2: Trick or Treat, Freak
Four months before the October 1984 setting of Stranger Things 2, Ghostbusters was released, changing the Halloween costume game forever.
In E.T., the cute alien wears a ghost sheet outfit for Halloween. In Stranger Things 2, Eleven continues to play a similar alien/outcast role to E.T., and that’s underlined by her Halloween costume idea, which is exactly the same.
When Steve and Nancy go to a Halloween party, you can see toga-clad lads, zombies and more. These two, however, go as Rebecca De Mornay and Tom Cruise from the film Risky Business.
— Stranger Facts (@UpsideDownFacts) October 29, 2017
At the same cool kids’ party, one of the teens dresses as the Cobra Kai kid, Johnny. In another repeated reference to that film, Eleven ties up a blindfold (to enter the void and spy on people) in a look that recalls of Daniel’s iconic bandana in Karate Kid.
In this 1982 horror film, the titular Poltergeist enters the world through a TV’s white noise, just as Eleven uses a white noise channel to enter the void.
Episode 3: The Pollywog
In Gremlins, Billy‘s mogwai famously starts off very sweet, but gets a bit rancid when it’s had a bite to eat and some late nights. The same applies to Dustin’s little discovery, Dart, which goes from adorable little slug to cat-killing monster.
The Garbage Pail Kids
Another one related to Dustin’s pollywog: he finds it in a garbage can, much like the way Dodger encounters little alien creatures in a garbage can in the much derided 1987 sci-fi The Garbage Pail Kids. The only difference being that the Garbage Pail Kids are helpful little critters, while D’Artagnan goes nasty and eats Dustin’s cat.
Episode 4: Will the Wise
Eleven’s telekinesis has been compared to the Stephen King character’s before, but in this episode her telekinetic tantrum is closer than ever to the way Carrie loses control of her powers in anger. In the scene where she confronts Hopper about his rules – a scene in which she mentally lobs a book at him and breaks all the hut’s windows – she recalls the scene from Carrie where the titular character throws sharp objects at her oppressive mother, before unwittingly destroying her own house.
Episode 5: Dig Dug
Just like in It, Nancy and Jonathan Byers took blood-oaths to cement their commitment to defeating the monster together back in Season One. Here, they hold their palms out to see how the scars are healing.
Joyce Byers’ new partner, Bob, was played by Lord of The Rings star Sean Astin – who offered invaluable help during the crusade to fix Will. In this scene, Bob works out where Will’s drawing fits in the map he’s drawn, and says that ‘x marks the spot’ – a reference to his treasure hunting role in The Goonies as a child.
One of Indiana Jones’ trademark moves is the way he reclaims his fallen fedora hat, particularly while escaping a dangerous situation. When Joyce and Bob help rescue Hopper from the tunnels under the pumpkin patches, he grabs his hat in a similar way when he leaves – cementing him in the viewer’s mind as the show’s gruff Indy figure.
Will takes Indy’s role later on, though, in episode 9. When he’s being exorcised by Joyce, Jonathan and Nancy, Nancy pokes him with a red-hot poker – in the same way, Short Round uses a burning torch on Indiana Jones to wake him from a trance in The Temple of Doom.
Episode 6: The Spy
Stand By Me
Steve and Dustin form a formidable duo throughout Season 2, particularly when they’re trying to catch the escaped monster Dart. In the woods, they walk on a train track in an obvious nod to the film adaptation of Stephen King’s ‘The Body’, Stand By Me.
Episode 7: The Lost Sister
Season 2’s most divisive episode, ‘The Lost Sister’ saw the show turn its focus away from Hawkins and to Eleven’s adventures with fellow Hawkins lab prisoner Kali – aka Eight. She joins Kali’s Warriors-resembling gang to avenge some of the wrongs they endured at the lab.
If the way Eleven force-chokes her former abuser doesn’t recall Darth Vader, you’re watching it wrong. There’s another Star Wars shoutout in episode 6, when Mike reacts to the death of the soldiers at the hands of the shadow monster’s Demadogs by screaming: “It’s a trap!” – instantly recalling a classic Star Wars line.
Episode 8: The Mind Flayer
In both Jurassic Park and Stranger Things 2, someone must make their way through a powerless facility to find the breakers and get the power back up and running. In Jurassic Park that character is Muldoon; in Stranger Things it’s Hopper. They use exactly the same line to enquire about their whereabouts: “Where are the breakers?”
The change of villain between Stranger Things and Stranger Things 2 is a similar jump that Alien made with Aliens. In both franchises, the first follows a shadowy stalker threat, while the second shows all hell breaking loose when a group of that monster attacks. Playing a similarly nebulous role in both franchises, Paul Reiser links the two, especially when he uses a monitor to witness others’ deaths. In the case of Stranger Things 2, he watches the death of Bob as the demadogs roam the corridors of the Hawkins lab.
A more direct reference to the film appears in episode 6: an Aliens line is used by one of the soldiers ambushed by Demadogs in the tunnels – “Stay frosty, boys.”
Episode 9: The Gate
When Joyce is trying to get rid of the monster inside of Will, he picks her up and chokes her – just like the possessed Regan beats up her own mother in The Exorcist.