Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.
One of the best parts about watching a new season of Netflix’s Stranger Things — besides jumping on the ’80s nostalgia bandwagon and solving a new mystery from the Upside Down — is trying to spot all of the pop culture references that showrunners Matt and Ross Duffer slip into each episode.
But while some of the references are easy to pick up on — like the group’s outing to the opening night of Day of the Dead — others, like a throwaway line from Stand By Me, elude easy notice.
Here are some of the notable movie references from the third season of Stranger Things.
Day of the Dead (1985)
Referenced in episode 1
In one of the first scenes of the season 3 premiere — after spending some quality time with Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) — Mike (Finn Wolfhard) heads to Hawkins’ newest attraction, Starcourt Mall, to meet up with Will (Noah Schnapp), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) for the opening night of Day of the Dead. Day of the Dead was the third installment in director George A. Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead series and was described by Romero as a “tragedy about how a lack of human communication causes chaos and collapse even in this small little pie slice of society.”
This theme plays out later in Stranger Things season 3 when the three groups of Hawkins’ main players — El and her crew, the ice cream shop kids and the grown-ups — fail to communicate what they’ve learned about the Russians and the mysterious Mind Flayer shadow monster until it’s almost too late.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Referenced in episodes 1 and 8
It doesn’t take long for the parallels with Fast Times to come into play. In the season’s first episode, Zac Efron lookalike Billy (Dacre Montgomery) struts by a group of eager Hawkins housewives — including Mike’s mom, Karen Wheeler (Cara Buono) — at the pool in nothing but a red bathing suit as The Cars’ “Moving In Stereo” plays. The scene is a gender-flipped recreation of the iconic Fast Times dream sequence in which Phoebe Cates’ Linda Barrett emerges from the pool in a red bikini to the same song.
Later, Dustin insists that his girlfriend from Camp Know Where, Suzie, is hotter than Phoebe Cates. Of course, the rest of the group finds this claim difficult to believe. In one final nod to Cates, in the finale, Steve knocks over a cardboard cutout of her Fast Times character while interviewing for a job at Family Video.
The sailor-inspired uniform Steve is forced to wear while working at Scoops Ahoy — complete with hair-ruining hat — also brings to mind the pirate garb that Fast Times‘ Brad Hamilton (Judge Reinhold) must sport for his job at Captain Hook Fish and Chips.
Stand By Me (1986)
Referenced in episode 1
Remember that famous scene in Stand By Me when Gordie (Wil Wheaton) tells the story about David Hogan (Andy Lindberg) — a.k.a. Lard-Ass — competing in the pie-eating contest? Well, considering the Duffer Brothers’ reverence for the work of Stephen King, it doesn’t seem coincidental that “lard-ass” is the insult Billy chooses to hurl at the boy he spots running at the pool while on lifeguard duty.
The Evil Dead (1981) and Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness (1993)
Referenced in episode 1
When Nancy wakes up panicked that she’s going to be late for work at the Hawkins Gazette, there’s an Evil Dead poster hanging on the wall in Jonathan’s room.
The show throws in another reference to director Sam Raimi’s franchise of cult horror classics in the final scene of the premiere when Billy is dragged through the old steel works by an unseen force before grabbing for dear life onto a doorframe. In the end, Billy’s efforts are futile and he disappears screaming into the darkness just like Evil Dead‘s Ash (Bruce Campbell) is sucked through the portal in Army of Darkness.
Star Wars: A New Hope (1977) and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)
Referenced in episodes 1 and 8
When Dustin radios to his friends that he’s back in walkie talkie range while returning from Camp Know Where, he checks in as Gold Leader. This seems like it could only be a reference to the callsign of doomed rebel squadron leader Jon “Dutch” Vander (Angus MacInnes) during the Battle of Yavin in A New Hope.
Fast-forward to the scene in the finale when Steve and Robin are interviewing for jobs at Family Video and Steve names the “one with the teddy bears” — a.k.a. Ewoks — as his favorite Star Wars movie for the Duffers’ nod to Return of the Jedi.
The Fly (1986)
Referenced in episodes 2 and 4
Although the Duffers appear to pay homage to several of “body horror” master David Cronenberg’s movies in season 3, the one that seems to have influenced them the most is The Fly. In today’s world, to “Cronenberg” something means to turn it into a grotesque being that resembles one of the mutilated creatures from the director’s movies. So when Hawkins’ rats begin horrifically transforming into writhing masses of sentient blood and guts in episode 2, it seems likely that the town has a Cronenberg situation on its hands.
But it’s the closing minutes of episode 4, when both Billy and Mrs. Driscoll began exhibiting the physical effects of the Mind Flayer inhabiting their bodies, that truly recall Dr. Seth Brundle’s (Jeff Goldblum) gruesome transformation into a man-fly hybrid in Cronenberg’s 1986 movie inspired by George Langelaan’s 1957 short story.
Billy’s pleas for Max to help him after the group traps him in the sauna also sound eerily similar to Brundle’s when he’s realizing that his science experiment has gone horribly wrong.
Referenced in episodes 1, 2, 3 and 4
Billy’s car-crash-turned-body-invasion storyline definitely sports similarities to the character arc of Rose (Marilyn Chambers) in Cronenberg’s Rabid. Just as Billy spreads the Mind Flayer infection throughout Hawkins, after a motorcycle crash leads to Rose developing a taste for blood, she becomes patient zero for a zombie outbreak that makes people vulnerable to attacks by those closest to them.
The Dead Zone (1983)
Referenced in episode 3
Cronenberg rears his head once again when El begins using her powers to spy on Billy and finds him about to feed Heather (Francesca Reale) to the Mind Flayer. She later tunes into Heather’s headspace and sees her submerged in Billy’s ice-filled bathtub begging for help before she’s sucked away into the watery depths. Although El is seeing what’s currently happening rather than the future, these visions share many similarities with the premonitions that Johnny (Christopher Walken) begins having after emerging from his coma in The Dead Zone. Both characters sense that others are in danger by using their respective powers and then try to help them.
Eleven and Max discovering Billy’s bloodied bathroom is also reminiscent of the Dead Zone scene in which Johnny and Sheriff Bannerman (Tom Skerritt) find Frank’s (Nicholas Campbell) bloodied body in the bathtub.
The Karate Kid (1984)
Referenced in episodes 3 and 5
Who else happens to be featured in the issue of SuperTeen magazine that El is reading at the beginning of episode 3 than ’80s teen heartthrob Ralph Macchio, the one and only Karate Kid. The bandana-around-the-head look that Lucas rocks beginning in episode 5 is also clearly inspired by Daniel-san’s style.
The Shining (1980)
Referenced in episodes 3, 4 and 5
The Duffer Brothers’ homage to Stephen King continues with yet another nod to The Shining. When El tries to find out what happened to Heather using her telepathic powers, the way the red door to Heather’s house materializes in her vision looks a lot like the Shining scene when blood bursts out of the elevator doors, except in reverse.
In the next episode, the moment when Billy smashes through the glass window of the sauna door and tries to attack Max with a shard of tile is reminiscent of Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) infamous door breakdown in The Shining. The Duffers even told actor Dacre Montgomery that they wanted a villain like Jack Torrance when they cast him in the role of Billy.
We get another door scene connection when a flayed Bruce (Jake Busey) punches through the window of the hospital room door in pursuit of Nancy and Jonathan, and greets them with a menacing, “Hi there,” a.k.a. the Stranger Things version of “Here’s Johnny!” The creepy way in which Bruce chases Nancy through the hospital while calling after her also brings to mind Jack’s hunt for Wendy (Shelley Duvall) in The Shining.
Jurassic Park (1993)
Referenced in episodes 4, 7 and 8
After Erica (Priah Ferguson) helps Dustin, Steve (Joe Keery) and Robin (Maya Hawke) break into the storage room where the Russians are keeping their secret supplies, Steve’s removal of the mysterious test tube is extremely similar to the Jurassic Park scene in which Nedry (Wayne Knight) steals the dinosaur embryos. Not to mention that when Dustin and Erica enter the room full of test tubes, it’s pretty much interchangeable with the room in which that movie’s embryos are stored.
Erica’s journey through the air ducts also brings to mind the harrowing sequence in which Alan (Sam Neill), Ellie (Laura Dern) and the kids (Ariana Richards and Joseph Mazzello) escape from the Velociraptors in a similar fashion near the end of the movie.
On top of all that, there’s that whole Mind Flayer monster-chasing-the-car scene that’s shot in much the same way as Jurassic‘s famous T-Rex chase sequence.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Referenced in episode 4
When Erica is getting ready to crawl through Starcourt Mall’s air ducts, she expresses concern that the Russians’ secret storage room will be guarded with booby traps — specifically, spikes in the wall. It seems likely that she may have gotten that idea from watching Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) nearly meet his end after getting trapped in a room with that exact pitfall in Temple of Doom. Since the second installment in the Indiana Jones trilogy came out in 1984 and season 3 takes place in the summer of 1985, it makes sense that this would be on the forefront of Erica’s mind.
The Thing (1982)
Referenced in episodes 4, 5 and 7
When El, Mike, Max, Lucas and Will are trying to come up with a plan to figure out if the Mind Flayer has taken over Billy’s body in episode 4, Mike mentions that the Mind Flayer likes the cold because it allows it to stay dormant inside its host body. Mike then suggests trapping Billy in the sauna and turning the temperature up in order to try to activate the Mind Flayer. In John Carpenter’s The Thing, MacReady (Kurt Russell) figures out that the Thing “wants to go to sleep in the cold” and wait for the rescue team that will inevitably come for their crew to reawaken it. He decides to set their base on fire to prevent that.
In episode 5, we see a poster for The Thing hanging on the wall in Mike’s basement. And in episode 6, Lucas gives a speech comparing the difference between the original 1951 Thing and Carpenter’s remake to classic Coca-Cola and the ’80s-reformulated New Coke: “The original is a classic, no question about it. But the remake…sweeter, bolder, better.”
The Mind Flayer’s ability to inhabit the bodies of the citizens of Hawkins without anyone else being any the wiser also evokes the nightmarish body-invasion talents of the Thing, while the grotesque true forms of both monsters are similar, as well.
The Terminator (1984)
Referenced in episodes 5, 6, 7 and 8
The Russian assassin’s hunt for Hopper and Joyce) definitely seems to nod at the Terminator’s (Arnold Schwarzenegger) search for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) and Reese (Michael Biehn) in James Cameron’s ’80s sci-fi classic. Up until the moment when Hopper manages to throw the agent — who also looks similar to Schwarzenegger’s iconic character — into the key, it even kind of seems like he may be Terminator-levels of indestructible.
The Godfather (1972)
Referenced in episode 5
The Godfather came out about a decade before the Stranger Things‘ kids’ time, but some of the show’s adults were clearly influenced by it. When Hopper uses his police badge to commandeer the yellow convertible from unsuspecting 7-Eleven customer Todd, its license plate reads “TODFTHR.” There’s no mistaking this reference to the titular character in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 mafia masterpiece.
Die Hard (1988)
Referenced in episodes 5 and 8
After managing to get the jump on the Russian assassin in the basement-turned-laboratory of the Hess house, Hopper threatens to put a bullet through his head if he doesn’t drop his gun. “You won’t do that,” the assassin responds. “You are policeman. Policemen have rules.”
This line is a nearly word-for-word callback to what one of the German terrorists tells John McClane (Bruce Willis) in Die Hard. The beginning of the two fight sequences that follow these respective conversations are almost identical as well.
Hopper’s gibe that they can invite the nice Russian guard over and “share some laughs” also echoes the famous John McClane line, “Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs,” while Murray’s journey through the ducts mirrors McClane’s own vent-crawl.
First Blood (1982)
Referenced in episode 6
Alexei tells Hopper that he reminds him of a “fat Rambo” — the machine-gun-toting Green Beret character made famous by Sylvester Stallone — after Hopper suggests that he will singlehandedly be able to get him into the underground Russian base. But as Murray translates, Alexei doesn’t even think that “thin Rambo” could get him there.
Back to the Future (1985)
Referenced in episode 7
When Dustin and Erica are in desperate need of a place to hide while they wait for Steve and Robin to come down from whatever drug the Russians injected them with, they decide to sit them down in front of a screening of Back to the Future, which is playing at the Starcourt Mall movie theater. Robin then offers a pretty succinct explanation of the cult classic’s confusing title: “He has to go back to the future because he’s in the past. So, the future is actually the present, which is his time.”
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)
Referenced in episode 8
Although the Lord of the Rings movies didn’t come out until the 2000s, J.R.R. Tolkien’s book trilogy was already a classic by the time the ’80s rolled around. And when the Scoop Troop squad of Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica jump in the car to drive to Dustin’s radio tower, Dustin tells Steve to head to Weathertop, a reference to the hill in Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo is stabbed by one of the Nazgûl.
National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)
Referenced in episode 8
“Griswold Family,” the code name Dustin assigns to the group made up of El, Mike, Will, Lucas, Max, Nancy and Jonathan in the finale, is pulled directly from one of the most popular comedies of the decade, National Lampoon’s Vacation. You can almost hear Chevy Chase’s voice calling out “Griswolds!” every time Dustin uses the callsign.
The Neverending Story (1984)
Referenced in episode 8
Dustin and Suzie’s rendition of The Neverending Story theme song is one of the Duffers‘ more overt season 3 movie references and gives viewers a nice reprieve from the otherwise heavy finale. Like Stranger Things, The Neverending Story is another franchise that leaves viewers longing for the carefree days of childhood — even if the childhoods of both the Hawkins’ kids and Bastian (Barret Oliver) are far from carefree.