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What’s Playing at STRANGER THINGS 3’s Movie Theater?

The following contains spoilers for Stranger Things 3. Proceed with caution.

What a cool thing to happen to a little town! Hawkins, IN, one of the more secluded of ‘burgs in the Midwest, got a big, huge shopping center complete with a big multiplex theater. Starcourt Mall might be a secret front for clandestine Russian experiments, but it’s fun for the kids! And one of the most exciting things for our heroes is access–thanks to Steve–to any movie they want to see. Provided it’s playing at the mall, of course.

Several movies show up either on-screen or on marquees in Stranger Things 3. That got us thinking: what are the odds all of these movies would play in Hawkins at the same time in 1985? Most of them probably could have, but one definitely could not. So let’s get into it!

Stranger Things 3 takes place over the span of a little over a week, culminating in the July 4 extravaganza/mall explosion. That is a very short amount of time. Release dates are finicky things, after all. So let’s go through the movies on the marquee in episode eight:


The earliest movie name-checked, in terms of release date, is Fletch, the Chevy Chase comedy about an investigative reporter who goes undercover a lot. Not only is this a reference to what Nancy Wheeler does when investigating the rats, but it could also conceivably still play at the multiplex. It came out May 31, so if it was especially popular, it might stick around.

Next we have two movies released on June 14: D.A.R.Y.L. and The Stuff. D.A.R.Y.L. is a movie about a robot kid (name an acronym for “Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform”) created for government espionage but he just wants to be a regular kid. This is, of course, apropos to Elle. The Stuff is a horror-satire about tasty goop that turns people into zombies and then melts their body. It’s a pretty direct inspiration to the body horror elements of the season.


The following week, June 21, 1985, saw the release of Return to Oz and Cocoon. The former is a terrifying children’s movie about Dorothy escaping a mental hospital and returning to Oz, which is now under the control of an evil, faceless queen. Naturally a fair amount of subtext regarding our heroes there. Cocoon is about a group of elderly people rejuvenated by aliens. Cocoon was a big hit.

And finally on the marquee, the movie Dustin and Erica take a drugged Steve and Robin to is Back to the Future. Back to the Future was the number one movie of 1985 and opened on July 3, which is exactly the day they go see it in the show. The movie itself inspires Steve to ram the Todfather’s car into Billy’s car. Probably.

So, it’s certainly conceivable Hawkins would have all of those movies at once. But here’s the real kicker: the first movie they watch, the one we see them sneak in to see in episode one, could not have played in Indiana when it did.

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead was a modestly budgeted follow-up to his zombie hit Dawn of the Dead. Romero took a smaller budget in order to release the movie unrated rather than cut some of his gore to receive an R. This is important because, at the time, a lot of movie theaters–usually in smaller markets–would refuse to show unrated movies. There was a stigma around “unrated” as though it were porn or something.

In addition, Day of the Dead had its premiere on June 30, 1985, before a small limited release on July 3. It didn’t get a national release until July 19. There’s a note on the Day of the Dead poster in the episode that it’s a “special preview screening,” but that would have to be verrry special indeed. Since Stranger Things 3 begins roughly a week before July 4, that’d have the gang sneak in to watch it before its premiere. Which was not in Indiana.

Yes, this is very pedantic and yes, I’m aware Day of the Dead is thematically relevant to the events of Stranger Things 3. But there’s also no way that movie could have played in small-town Indiana, probably at all, but definitely not before July 19, well after the events of the season.

And since I’m in a pedantic mood, it seems Hawkins is particularly esoteric with its movie choices. Because apparently that theater never got enormous hits like Rambo: First Blood Part II (released May 22 and the number two grosser of the year); the James Bond movie A View to a Kill (June 13); Secret Admirer (June 14); Pale Rider (June 26); or St. Elmo’s Fire (June 28).

Oh, and what about The Goonies?! One of the movies most associated with inspiring Stranger Things opened June 7 and became the ninth-highest grosser of the year. You’re telling me The Goonies never played in Hawkins, but Fletch and D.A.R.Y.L. did?

And now my pedantry has ended.

What did you think of Stranger Things 3? Join us for theories, breakdowns, and more in our spoiler discussion post!

Images: Universal, Laurel Entertainment, Netflix, Fox

Kyle Anderson is the Editor at Large for Nerdist. You can find his film and TV reviews here. Follow him on Twitter!

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