Just like the previous seasons before it, Stranger Things 4 is stuffed to the gills with pop culture references and callbacks to ’80s movies and pop culture. And we’ve compiled all the best bits you might have missed, episode by episode. Although we should note, that since the horror movie references are so strong this year, they’re getting their own separate list.
Now pause your J ane Fonda workout video and put down that Tab Cola, and let’s take a trip in that Wayback Machine. A trip to Hawkins, Indiana. And California. And Utah. Then Nevada. It’s going a lot of place this year, ok?
Chapter One: “The Hellfire Club”
When we first see Mike Wheeler back home in Hawkins towards the start of Chapter One, he’s got a Conan the Barbarian movie poster hanging on his wall, showing Arnold in all his musclebound glory. We can just hear him reciting his “ what is best in life” speech just looking at it.
While carpooling to work, Robin and Steve are listening to “ Object of My Desire” by Starpoint. And they make the first of two references on this show to Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Phoebe Cates’ infamously “paused on VHS” topless scene in the movie.
Suzie, Hacker genius and Dustin’s girlfriend, hacks into the Hawkins High School school computer and changes her “Dustybun’s” grades. This is a reference to Matthew Broderick changing his grades in War Games. And also his changing his absences in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which came out in 1986, when Stranger Things 4 takes place). We guess this was the Broderick specialty in the ’80s.
Speaking of John Hughes movies, when Eddie Munson points out the school caste system in a rant in the cafeteria, he pretty much boils it down to the character breakdowns from The Breakfast Club – the jocks, the freaks, the nerds, the popular kids, and the criminals.
Joyce is selling Encylopedia Brittanica’s by phone, and she makes a snarky remark about another popular 80s “order by phone” series. She’s alluding to the Time/Life books. The most famous of these was Mysteries of the Unknown, which ran ads on daytime TV nonstop in the ‘80s.
Hawkins High’s Dungeons & Dragons club is called the Hellfire Club. A name that has roots in 18th century Europe. But these nerds? They would have likely heard the name first in the pages of Uncanny X-Men. In the ’80s, they introduced the Hellfire Club as mutant antagonists.
When Mike Wheeler tries to find an alternate for the Hellfire Club’s D&D game, we hear the guitar chords of the song “Play With Me” by Extreme. This is actually anachronistic, as the song wouldn’t get released until 1989, when it was famously featured in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. We forgive the Duffers though. It’s a cool song.
Eddie Munson cites a Newsweek article talking about the link between Dungeons & Dragons and Satanism. As wild as that sounds, there was a real “Satanic Panic.” When Eddie lords over The Hellfire Club’s D&D game, you can hear the Kiss classic “ Detroit Rock City” play over the scene.
Another song we hear during the D&D game is “ I Was a Teenage Werewolf” by punk rock legends The Cramps. It first appeared on their debut 1980 album Songs the Lord Taught Us.
Local celebrity, singer Tammy Thompson, is dressed head-to-toe in a Madonna “ Virgin Tour” look. Pretty much every young girl in America was mimicking Madonna’s fashion in some way during this era. Ironically, a few months from when this show takes place, Madonna would change her look completely.
Dustin says “Never tell me the odds” in this episode, which every Star Wars fan can attribute to Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.
Chapter Two: “Vecna’s Curse”
Max had a The Endless Summer poster in her bedroom. The movie came out in 1966, but was a cult touchstone film for lovers of surf culture by the ‘80s.
Speaking of surfer culture, when we see Elle and Will in school in California, they’re surrounded by kids in OP/Ocean Pacific clothes. This brand was hugely popular in the ‘80s, spreading surfer culture well beyond state lines.
Hawkins basketball star Jason Carver name drops ThunderCats, which was at its peak in popularity in 1986.
Family Video is full of movie posters and promotional items for movies of the era. We see posters for Weird Science, The Last Dragon, Teen Wolf, and Tom Hanks’ The Man With One Red Shoe. There are also cardboard standees for Gremlins, Raiders of the Lost Ark, European Vacation, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, and Beverly Hills Cop. Robin and Steve’s “morning video” is the 1965 epic Doctor Zhivago.
There’s a metric ton of popular arcade games in view at Roller Mania too, like Ms. Pac-Man, Asteroids, Galaga, and Zaxxon.
When the gang goes through their customer’s video rental history looking for drug dealer Reefer Rick, they figure out who he is by finding rentals for all the Cheech and Chong stoner comedies. (And Fast Times gets another mention).
When Max is watching TV, we see a young Courteney Cox on screen. Given that this is 1986, it’s likely the show she’s watching was the short-lived pseudo superhero show Misfits of Science.
We hear the Talking Heads’ song “ Psycho Killer” as the gang set up shop at Family Video.
Chapter Three: “The Monster and the Superhero”
Jonathan tries to get the boys to go see Police Academy 3: Back in Training. But Will says that he heard “it sucks.” (It kinda does). Somehow, there were seven of these movies back in the day.
When Jonathan, Will, and Mike are watching TV, we hear the theme song from the Saturday morning Ewoks cartoon.
Eddie’s metal band made up of Hellfire Club members has Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden t-shirts. We also see a banner with the logo for speed metal legends Motörhead hanging in the garage.
Dustin makes a remark about putting on Cerebro, yet another X-Men reference. This time to Professor X’s machine which enhances his mutant mind.
Eleven giving up her “superhero” powers to live a normal life, but then realizing she needs to get them back for the sake of the world, seems like a nod to 1981’s Superman II (and also Spider-Man 2).
Chapter Four: “Dear Billy”
We see a My Little Pony poster in Erica’s room. Stranger Things 3 already established Erica as an OG Pony-fangirl.
There’s an “old” Tom Cruise poster in Nancy Wheeler’s room, probably from his All The Right Moves/Risky Business era. There’s also an REM poster in Jonathan’s room in Chapter Four.
Jonathan calls the agents protecting them“Ponch and John.” This refers to the motorcycle cops from the TV show CHiPs. This show had a killer disco-tinged theme song.
The sanitarium where Victor Creel is housed is very much like the one from the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Chapter Five: “The Nina Project”
Owens tells Eleven that to the scientists at Project Nina, she’s “more popular than Madonna. Yet another Material Girl shout-out.
Joyce and Murray having to land their single-engine plane they don’t know how to fly is a nod to I ndiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.
Chapter Six: “The Dive”
We hear Duran Duran’s 1981 hit “ Girls on Film” while the kids are in the car heading to the cemetery. This is the alternate 12″ “Night Version,” beloved by Duran Duran fans.
In Utah, Suzie’s big sister Eden is styled to look just like Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club.
Skull Rock, where Eddie Munson hides, is the name of a location in the Disney animated classic Peter Pan. The movie came out in 1953, but was re-released to theaters in 1982.
Eddie makes a Lord of the Rings reference when he talks about following Dustin to Mordor. Poor Steve has no idea what Mordor is. We guess he’ll find out when the movie comes out in 15 years.
Suzie has posters for The Muppet Show and The Wizard of Oz on her bedroom wall. The boys make up a story about a new “American Nintendo” console. The NES had just hit the U.S. in February of 1986.
Chapter Seven: “Massacre at Hawkins Lab”
Robin utters the classic video store employee catchphrase “be kind, rewind.” To you youngins’ out there, we used to have to rewind VHS tapes before returning them or get fined. It was kind of a drag.
Steve, Robin, Nancy, and Eddie communicate with Dustin, Erica, and Lucas via Nancy’s kid sister’s Lite Brite. This was a wildly popular toy in the ’70s and ’80s. Some of us still can’t get the jingle out of our heads.
Chapter Eight: “Papa”
As the kids try to pull Nancy away from Vecna’s clutches in the Upside Down, they rummage through Eddie’s music choices looking for the right song. Robin asks if he has “Madonna, Blondie, Bowie, Beatles?” But Eddie’s only got Iron Maiden’s 1983 album Piece of Mind. Interestingly, the band’s ghoulish mascot on the cover is named Eddie.
Not exactly an ’80s reference, but the Russian lab full of confined Demodogs and other creatures from the Upside Down is very reminiscent of a similar scene in 1997’s Alien: Resurrection. A movie that Winona Ryder also starred in.
When fugitive Eddie is running around the trailer park, he wears a Michael Myers mask from the original two Halloween movies. This is the second direct callback to the classic slasher franchise this season.
At the army supply store, Robin sees her crush Vicki shopping around, in an outfit that is highly reminiscent of the one worn by Molly Ringwald in the John Hughes 1984 classic Sixteen Candles.
Chapter Nine: “The Piggyback”
When Joyce and Hopper are looking for fresh clothes to wear in Yuri’s hideout, they find ill-fitting yellow Hulk Hogan T-shirts. This was in the midst of his WWF wrestling superstardom.
It wouldn’t be Stranger Things without a Star Wars callback. And this season, Murray gets to say the most Star Warsy of quotes, “ I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”
Eddie wailing on his guitar to lure away the Demobats is the Metallica classic “Master of Puppets,” from the 1986 album of the same name. In the show’s timeline, the album would have come out mere weeks from the events of the show. Which makes Eddie’s learning the song so well even more impressive.
We knew from episode one of this season that the Duffer Brothers loved Conan the Barbarian. But the biggest Conan Easter egg came in Stranger Things 4‘s finale, when Hopper picks up a sword to fight the Demogorgon, it’s the exact same sword from Conan the Barbarian. How it got from ancient Cimmeria to Russia is anyone’s guess.
And just like every season of Stranger Things has a Star Wars reference, they also have a Stephen King reference too. In this episode, it was Lucas reading to a comatose Max from his 1984 novel with Peter Straub, The Talisman.
Stranger Things’ final season will feature a time-jump, so we’re at least getting to 1987. But maybe it’s 1988, or 1989? Could we close out the decade in the show’s final go-round? Maybe we should prepare for some Batman and New Kids on the Block references. We will find out when Stranger Things 5 hits in 2024.
Originally published on May 27, 2022.