- The third season of cult Netflix series “Stranger Things” is set in 1985.
- Seasons 1 and 2 were filled with 80s movie and game references, including “Aliens” and “The Goonies.”
- We take a look at all the 80s references in season 3, including a potential “IT” easter egg, references to “Die Hard” and “The Terminator”.
- Warning: This video contains spoilers.
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The cult Netflix series Stranger Things is back and darker than ever. The last series was set in 1984, but this one jumps forward to 1985, following the group of now young adults. Seasons 1 and 2 were filled with great Easter eggs and references. We’re going to look at all the ones in season 3.
And yes, spoilers are coming.
1985 was a strong year for cult cinema. Box-office hits included The Goonies, Brazil, and Teen Wolf, so we expected some strong cultural references from Season 3.
The most obvious one is Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future.” This features obviously in Episode 7 when Dustin and his group hide in a screening of the movie to escape the Soviets. First, we see a poster, then segments of the movie playing on the projector. But did you spot an earlier reference, in Mrs Driscoll’s house in episode 2? The camera pans from a ‘Kit-Cat’ clock on the wall, to Nancy and Jonathan. It’s in the title sequence for “Back to the Future,” as well as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift’s music videos.
There are also some visual parallels between Joyce visiting Mr Clarke in his garage, with Marty visiting Doc.
There’s been a poster for “The Thing” on the Wheelers’ basement wall since season 1, but the movie gets a name-check this season by Mike and Lucas in episode 3.
In episode 1, the gang sneak into a screening of George Romero’s “Day of The Dead.” It’s billed as a ‘sneak preview’ as the movie premiered on June 30th 1985 but had a widespread release on July 19th. So the Hawkins Middle AV club really would have been some of the first people to watch it.
We also see a poster for “The Evil Dead” on Jonathan’s bedroom wall in this episode, originating from 1981.
Fans will be keeping a close eye out for the “IT” Easter egg. In Season 2, Bob Newby’s childhood story seemed to recall the events of Stephen King’s “IT”. In season 3 episode 7 Alexei is shot in the fairground by Grigory. At the same time, a red balloon is popped by someone winning a prize. Could the red balloon pop be a nod to “IT?”
The series makes heavy reference to “The Goonies.” Dustin also near-repeats one of the most famous lines from the film: “holy mother of god,” when arriving at the bottom of the elevator in episode 5.
Interestingly, “The Goonies” and “Stranger Things” both starred Sean Astin who played Bob Newby in season 2, and appears in a brief season 3 flashback.
The Soviet threat in season 3 brings up some interesting parallels with 80s cold war movies. The opening scenes resemble that of 1983’s “WarGames.” In episode 5, Dustin recalls the movie “Red Dawn”, in which a group of teenagers attempt to defend their town from a Russian invasion.
In episode 3 Dustin mentions to Steve that they’re likely to spot an undercover Soviet because he is carrying a duffel bag. And he’s sort of got a point. Name any big action movie from the mid-80s and this trope comes up. “Rambo: First Blood II” – Soviets! “A View to a Kill” – the Soviets! “Rocky IV” – Dolph Lundgren… as a Soviet! The plotline of Soviets taking over a shopping mall has parallels to Chuck Norris’ 1985 film Invasion USA, in which the action star takes on a mixture of Latin american and soviet agents.
In episode 5 when one of the Soviets shoots at Joyce and Hopper, he follows the car out into the garden in a robotic way. The scene looks very similar to the end of the cop-shop shootout in “The Terminator” (1984). The mayor in episode 4 even makes a joke about one of the killers being Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Also in episode 4 is the most obvious “Die Hard” reference. Hopper holds a gun to Grigory’s head. Grigory says that Hopper won’t dare shoot him because “policemen have rules” – an exact quote a henchman says to John McClane, with the same spray of machine gun fire after. Something more subtle, perhaps, is Dustin getting stuck in the air vent in episode 4.
Mid-80s horror fans will love the funhouse sequence in episode 7. When Hopper enters, you can hear a taunting, spooky voice say “do you dare face the challenge of the funhouse?” It sounds eerily like the trailer voiceover from 1981’s “The Funhouse,” a horror film set at the fair. The hall of mirrors moment plays out like 1983’s fantasy “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” also set at the fairground.
The Mind Flayer seeps and oozes into host bodies, much like how “The Blob” moves around in the 1988 movie. The way it hugs onto its victim’s face is similar, as well as its veiny, sticky tendrils.
And that creepy hospital scene in episode 5? It has a bit of a “Halloween II” feeling about it.
Episode 6 features a rather gruesome scene where Steve and Robin are being interrogated by the Russians. Torture equipment is brought in along with an administrator in a white overall. Personally, this reminded me of the torture scene in the 1985 Terry Gilliam film “Brazil.”
In episode 8, Billy’s car lights flash on as he prepares to smash into Jonathan and Nancy. These shots look very similar to the 1983 horror film “Christine” about a man possessed by his car. Also when he enters the mall, Billy appears to be dressed like Kurt Russell in 1986’s “Big Trouble in Little China.”
In the same episode, Steve and Robin are in the video rental store, where we can see lots of posters and front covers of VHS tapes. There’s “Max Max,” “Animal House,” “Car Wash,” as well as a poster in the window for 1984’s “Scarface.” Steve knocks over a cardboard cut-out to 1982s “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” which, in itself, is a very Ridgemont High-slapstick thing to do.
THE NEVERENDING STORY
We couldn’t talk about movies without mentioning “The Neverending Story”. In episode 8, Dustin calls his girlfriend Suzie to ask what Planck’s constant is, in order to unlock a door. She forces him to serenade her with the theme tune to “The NeverEnding Story.” It was released in April 1985 so it would have been a current cinema movie. Also note how on the wall of Suzie’s bedroom she has a poster for “The Wizard of Oz,” another escapist fantasy. She’s reading “A Wizard of Earthsea” by Ursula Le Guin, so these two visual clues tell us that she’s interested in the fantasy genre.
Two popular 80s TV shows feature in this season. In episode 1, Hopper is watching Magnum PI, a show about a charismatic private investigator. There’s also a short snippet of Cheers, where Jocye is eating a TV dinner alone. She thinks about Bob commenting on the romantic tussle between between Ted Danson (Sam) and Shelley Long (Diane). Could this be a parallel to Joyce and Hoppers’ sexual tension?
FASHION AND STORES
The shopping mall was a central part of American life in the 80s. Jess Royal explained in “Stranger Things: Worlds Turned Upside Down” that the production wanted to stay true to all the products on sale, so actually built a mall as the set. The sets have depth to them because they are genuinely filled with products. Classic 1980s US brands are in situ. There’s The Gap, JC Penney, Waldenbrooks, Sam Goody. And we’re told that Taco Bell and Espirit are coming soon.
The mall has a similar layout to the 1986 movie “Chopping Mall,” where three mall security robots turn rogue and start killing teenage employees.
There’s the book ‘Breaking With Moscow’ behind Steve and Dustin in an episode three scene. This is a genuine 1985 release by former Soviet Foreign Minister. Arkady N. Shevchenko. It foreshadows Alexei’s storyline.
In episode 1’s first scene, after the credits, the camera pans over two cassettes. One is by Bryan Adams, and the other is Corey Hart – very much the 1983/84 heartthrob.
It’s also in this episode that we see music posters on Jonathan’s bedroom wall. There’s one for R.E.M. Specifically, their 1983 release ‘Murmur.’ Even though the band was formed in 1980, they didn’t achieve mass popularity until 1987, which means Jonathan caught them in their cult period.
80s-era music fills the season. We catch parts of Madonna’s “Material Girl,” REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” The Cars’ “Moving in Stereo,” Foreigner’s “Cold as Ice” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”
The season has noticeable product placement of Coca-Cola, specifically New Coke, which was a limited edition run in 1975. Netflix executives even visited the Atlanta Coca-Cola archives to study the packaging and advertising.
Look closer at some of the books and magazine covers throughout the season. In episode 1 Mrs Wheeler is sat poolside reading Johanna Lindsey’s ‘Tender Is The Storm,’ a sensationalist romance novel from 1985. She also reads a book by the same author in season 2 episode 9.
In episode 3, Max shows Eleven a copy of Superteen featuring a double page spread of Ralph Maccio, “The Karate Kid,” which came out in 1984.
In Max’s bedroom we see a poster for the 1960s cult surf film “The Endless Summer.” The poster reads “Follow The Surf Around the World from Malibu…” which potentially foreshadows later surfing scenes in California with Billy.
The editions of Penthouse magazine that Alex and Eleven discover in Billy’s drawer in episode 3 are genuine historical editions. In episode 4, Max is also reading mid-80s editions of Wonder Woman and Green Lantern.
In episode 7, the group loots a store. It’s the same store that Eleven stole from in season 1.
This time, she sits in front of a fridge full of Eggo waffles preparing to enter the Upside Down. In previous seasons we have seen her go straight to grab them, but in season 3 the situation at the mall is so desperate that she barely even looks at them.
In Mike’s basement we see retro board games, like Upwords, which was invented in 1981.
I don’t know about you, but Dustin’s toys coming to life reminds me of the front cover of Stephen King’s 1985 collection Skeleton Crew. The cover features a cymbal-clapping monkey. The collection of stories features one, “The Monkey” about a cursed toy.
Will appears in his wizard costume for the first time during Dungeons and Dragons, and it’s a dead-on match with the drawings of ‘Will the Wise’ we saw on the wall in season 2 episode 4.
The funfair scenes in episode six give us two 80s references. The first is the ride The Gravitron, a popular ride introduced in 1983, and a stuffed toy Alexei wins of Woody Woodpecker, who was a kids TV staple in the mid-80s.
Produced by Ju Shardlow