Ever since it debuted in 2016, Stranger Things has trafficked in nostalgia, pop culture references, and obvious homages to some of the most beloved movies and TV shows of all time. This season is no different, and is filled to the brim with a ton of obvious (and not so obvious) Easter eggs that are really fun to spot. We’ve created a list of the most fun, strangest, and most deep cut references for you to enjoy!
The Movie Theater
1985, the year Stranger Things 3 is set, was a massive year for movies. In the season’s very first episode, Stranger Things pays homage to this with a marquee at the new Starcourt Mall multiplex that features multiple ’85 hits. Included: Day of the Dead (which the kids are sneaking in to see), Back to the Future, Cocoon, and Fletch. We’ll be revisiting a few of these later.
The Russians Are Coming
A major thread this season involves the Soviets discovering the Upside Down, which allows for nonstop Cold War movie homages. the season invokes the serious political misunderstandings of Fail Safe; the Upside Down brainwashing of Billy seems to lean into the plot of The Manchurian Candidate; and every claustrophobic moment in the Russians’ underground bunker gives off major The Hunt for Red October vibes. As we get later into the season, you can even feel the influence of the Charles Bronson movie Telefon, as mindless sleeper agents from the Upside Down begin to attack Hawkins, Indiana.
“He’s like tripendicular, ya know?”
As the kids of Hawkins, Indiana have finally hit their teens, it should come as no surprise that this season is filled with teen movie nods. The first of which arrives when we get our opening glimpse of the mall and the neon-hued madness within it. It smacks of Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High—fitting, as they were two of the first ’80s movies to delve into the realities of teen life in America. We know it’s the wrong decade but it also gives us some major Clueless vibes, too.
The Title of the Second Episode
This episode takes its name from Kevin Smith’s classic comedy Mallrats. It’s a particularly appropriate title as the narrative focuses on the kids, the mall, and the rats which seem to be linked to the nefarious goings on happening in the small town.
Hopper’s Date Attire
Everyone’s favorite cranky dad channels the ’80s detective show Magnum P.I. throughout this season with some unexpected fashion choices for a date with Joyce. His flowered shirt and mustache are serving pure Tom Sellick and we can’t get enough.
The Underground Lab
The season’s second episode ends with a massive reveal that the Russians are apparently based underneath Starcourt Mall. This is a great throwback to the Day of the Dead reference on the banner of the theater, as the cult zombie movie is set almost entirely in an underground military base.
The Hawkins Post
The Duffer Broswere effusive in the lead-up to this season about how Chevy Chase’s 1985 comedy thriller Fletch would be a big influence. It led to many people (including us) thinking that Jake Busey would be taking on the law-breaking journalist role, but it was actually Nancy Wheeler who ended up being the Fletch analog here. Plenty of the time in the Post bullpen leans into the journalistic landscape that’s also reflected in Fletch.
The Jock, the Nerd, and the Basket Case
The Breakfast Club is one of the most beloved of all teen movies and Stranger Things 3 takes on the classic tropes that it set up with the Scoops Ahoy-centered team-up of Steve Harrington (The Jock), Dustin (The Nerd), Robin (The Basketcase). There’s also plenty of Breakfast Club-style deep and meaningful chats that lead to self-discovery, honesty, and friendship.
Kids vs. Russians
While Mike and Lucas deal with the trials and tribulations of teenage dating and Will just tries to play Dungeons and Dragons, Steve, Dustin, and Robin are committed to cracking the case of Russian influence in Hawkins, Indiana. The clear influence here is John Milius’ 1984 war movie Red Dawn, which sees a group of American teens fight the Soviet Union during WWIII.
Max’s Reading Habits
One of the best parts of this season has been Max and Eleven’s burgeoning friendship. During a sleepover, the former shares some of her favorite comics with her new bud. The titles that the pair enjoy are Wonder Woman #324 and #326 and Green Lantern #185; Eleven takes a particular shine to Diana Princess of Thymescaria and her badass adventures.
Operation Child Endangerment
Though the Scoops Ahoy trio quickly come up with a plan to beat sneak into the Russians’ secret lair, it turns out that they’re all a bit big for their Die Hard-inspired scheme of acquiring the blueprints for the building and traveling through the air vents. Luckily, Lucas’ sister Erica is just the badness they need and does her very best Bruce Willis impression enabling the kids to reach the lab.
An Out-of-Time Movie
There are plenty of ’80s references this season, but we’re pretty sure that we caught a solid reference from a fave ’90s film as Nancy and Jonathan faced the wrath of their potentially possessed boss, Don, at the Hawkins Post. The Faculty features a similar bodysnatchers-laden storyline in which teachers at a local high school are taken over by evil aliens. One of the most memorable moments sees the staff taking the kids into the office for an inspection; this was reflected almost directly on Stranger Things as a sweaty, anxious, Don orders them into his office.
Cary “Goddamn” Elwes
One of Stranger Things‘ biggest casting gets is Carey Elwes. Not only is he in one of the most beloved fantasy films of all time, The Princess Bride, but his character Larry Kline, the nefarious mayor who is willing to put his town at risk for financial gain, is a riff on Jaws’ dodgy mayor who puts the citizens of Amity at risk for the Fourth of July celebrations. (He is also named Larry.)
Hawkins’ Very Own Terminator
There are plenty of threats this season, but one of the most obviously influenced by classic movies is the Russian assassin sent after Hopper. He’s basically the Terminator, from his jeans and leather jacket, a penchant for huge guns and apparent near-immortality, it’s clear that he’s cut from the same cloth as the Austrian action star. Plus the fact that Carey Elwes’ Mayor Larry tells Hopper, “He’s Arnold Schwarzenegger,” as the cop hassles him for a name.
A Familiar Lingerie Brand
Plenty of the stores in the Starcourt Mall are pop culture references in their own right simply due to the fact that they were shops that have rarely been seen since 1985. But the set designers actually included a nod to the famed American porn actress Linda Lovelace, who starred in the 1972 flick Deep Throat and is, of course, the namesake of Lovelace lingerie.
At Least It Wasn’t a Garbage Compactor
The next ’70s shout out is an iconic George Lucas movie you might have heard of… yes, we’re talking about Star Wars. When Erika, Steve, Robin, and Dustin head into the Russians’ underground lair, they get caught in a military-grade lift. Their response to being trapped in the small and potentially fatal space might remind you of a classic sequence from A New Hope.
This season, the show is more concerned with the Russian threat than the monsters of the Upside Down. But as Erica, Steve, Dustin, and Robin head down into the subterranean labs under Starcourt Mall, we do a get a nod to the frozen transport containers that hold the Dino DNA in Jurassic Park.
The Foreshadowing Poster Collection
These two seemingly simple nods are actually really cool foreshadowing to the last act of the show. Both The Evil Dead poster in Jonathan’s room and The Thing poster in the Wheeler’s basement hint at what is to come, as we get an army of possessed Hawkins zombies ready to attack, plus the heavily The Thing-inspired monster from the Upside Down.
Max and El vs. The World
In one of the sweeter homages, El and Max finally answer their annoying boyfriends’ phone calls and head over to the Wheelers’. It’s their hooded jackets and mode of transportation (bikes, of course) that gave us total E.T. vibes.
The Hospital Horror Sequel Trope
Stranger Things has always loved a horror movie reference and as the kids fight their way through the local hospital trying to survive the brutal new monster that has emerged from the Upside Down, the show calls back to two classic horror sequels. Halloween 2 and Hellraiser 2 begin in the clinical white wards of hospitals and this intense sequence harks back to both as Nancy and Jonathan battle through the empty corridors.
“Go to Hell!”
Speaking of Hellraiser, Nancy gets to relive an iconic Pinhead-centric moment as she attempts to destroy the beast from the Upside Down. During the chase, she screams “Go to Hell!” at the rat monster, echoing the memorable line from the Clive Barker classic.
It’s probably not a coincidence that Mike Wheeler’s big sister is named after one of the most iconic final girls of all time. This season, she really lives up to her namesake with a whole bunch of badass moments and nods to both Nancy Thompson and the film she was introduced in, Nightmare on Elm Street.
Billy’s entire body-bucking journey with the Mindflayer feels like a homage to the classic Kurt Russell/John Carpenter collaboration, from the body horror nature of the possession to the constantly shifting, shape-changing, mind-bending monster that is terrorizing him and Hawkins.
Though The Goonies may have been absent from the marquee of the Starcourt Mall theater, this season does take a truly memorable scene from the film and amps up the horror to full effect. With Billy on the loose, the kids decide they need to see if he’s truly been taken over by the Mindflyer by luring him into the Sauna. In the classic Amblin movie, the Goonies are stuck under the country club in the wishing well when they hear the local bully above. After trying to convince his erstwhile girlfriend Andy to come up, he’s tricked by the bucket coming up and what he thinks is Andy’s voice, but it turns out only to be the varsity jacket that he gave her earlier in the movie. Stranger Things takes this moment and inverts it, with Mike, Lucas, and Will luring Billy into the local pool’s sauna, thinking he’ll find one of them there only to find a dummy, trapping him in the room and exposing his connection to the Mindflayer.
All Work and No Play Makes Jonathan a Dull Boy
Jonathan Byers definitely takes a backseat in this season, but he does have some cool horror-drenched moments as the kids face down against the newest monster in the hospital. As we pointed out, the whole setting is its own homage, but Jonathan running around with an ax and smashing down a door to try and save Nancy screams The Shining to us. We also get some major Jack Nicholson vibes from Dacre Montgomery’s Billy, especially during the sauna sequence.
A Dreamy Duet
The final episode harbors one of the biggest surprises, and a first for the Stranger Things cast, as we get a musical number courtesy of Dustin and his mysterious girlfriend Suzy. In an attempt to help save Hawkins, Dustin recruits his boo to help, but she has a condition: they have to sing the theme of The Neverending Story, which is apparently a number they’re both really familiar with.
What were your favorite pop culture and cinema references this season? Let us know in the comments and make sure to check out our Season Three spoiler conversation too!
Images: Amblin, The Kubrick Estate, Warner Bros., Lucasfilm, Netflix, Universal Pictures, Entertainment Film Distributors, New Line, Bryanston Distributing Company, 20th Century Fox, Tristar Pictures