Every '80s Pop Culture Reference in 'Stranger Things'

The Netflix show has a heavy dose of 1980s nostalgia, and we've got you covered.


Netflix’s new supernatural thriller series Stranger Things feels like it’s being broadcast from an old VHS tape, not a streaming platform. Lovingly nostalgic, the show stands on the shoulders of the era’s genre titans, including Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, and Stephen King, and heavily references their work among many others.

There are narrative allusions to a lot those filmmakers’ sci-fi classics, including monster’s symbiotic biology (Alien), a sensory deprivation tank (Altered States or Minority Report), using photographs to uncover clues (Blowup), otherworldly characters wandering around a house alone (E.T.), using lights as a form of communication (Close Encounters), or a score lifted from Assault on Precinct 13 or The Fog, just to name a few. But there are also specific references within the world of the show that are not only cultural markers for the characters, but honorable nods from the show’s creators to their favorite influences.

As full-fledged ‘80s enthusiasts, we collected all of them. Beware, there are spoilers below.

“Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”

X-Men #134

A BMX race all for a rare comic book.


After the boys leave Mike’s house on BMX bikes, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) challenges Will (Noah Schnapp) to a race back to Dustin’s house; the winner would get a comic of their choice. Will promptly beats Dustin to his house and demands #134 of X-Men, a 1963 comic that features the legendary “Phoenix Saga.” In a bit of ingenious but complex foreshadowing, the telekinetic Dark Phoenix teams up with the X-Men to defeat the supervillain Mastermind by pinning him to a wall with her mental powers… just like El (Millie Bobby Brown) does to the monster in Chapter 8 of Stranger Things.


During a flashback, Joyce surprises Will at his “Castle Byers” hideout in the woods with tickets to director Tobe Hooper’s suburban ghost story, which excites Will because it’s rated-R. After Will disappears, Joyce can hear him speaking from the Upside Down dimension through the walls of her house, just like the Carol Anne character in Poltergeist.

The Lord of the Rings / The Hobbit

"Well, 'The Hobbit'."


Will disappears near the dark road that Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin, and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) named Mirkwood after the elven forest in author J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth books. When Chief Hopper questions the boys about the forest, referencing The Lord of the Rings, Dustin stubbornly corrects him and says Mirkwood is from The Hobbit. Also, the password to enter Castle Byers is “Radagast,” a reference to Radagast the Brown, a wizard and ally of Gandalf in The Hobbit.

The Thing

Mike’s parents must not be as protective as Joyce Byers ( Winona Ryder), because a poster for filmmaker John Carpenter’s seriously rated-R classic](https://www.inverse.com/article/17334-a-brief-history-of-chainsaws-in-horror-movies-and-video-games) hangs in Mikes basement. The movie, about an alien the infiltrates a remote Antarctic research facility, is known for its practical effects, whose designs heavily influenced Stranger Things.

“Chapter 2: The Weirdo on Maple Street”

Michael Myers

While trying to figure out where El came from, Dustin says she might have escaped a local mental hospital just like Michael Myers, the iconic killer from John Carpenter’s Halloween.

The Evil Dead

"Take that off your wall, it's obscene."


It’s interesting to ponder whether Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) actually saw director Sam Raimis 1981 cult horror classic in his suburban Indiana town, or whether the poster for The Evil Dead that hangs on his wall is there for simple fan service. Either way it’s plausible, as 1983 was smack in the early VHS era.

The Dark Crystal

A poster for Jim Henson’s incomparable 1982 fantasy film hangs on Mike’s wall. The film sometimes gets confused with another 1980s fantasy film, Labyrinth, which starred David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King. Peter Gabriel’s cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” can be heard in the closing moments of Chapter 3.

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” (The Clash)

While driving to Indianapolis to visit his father, Jonathan Byers hears the song from The Clash’s 1982 album “Combat Rock,” which reminds him of the time he listened to the song with his missing brother. Later, in Chapter 4, Joyce hears Will singing the chorus to the song via the walkie talkie while trapped in the Upside Down.


"Ready are you?"


When Mike brings El around his house, he picks out a Yoda action figure from The Empire Strikes Back and takes on the green Jedi’s backwards speech, saying, “Ready are you, what knows you of ready?” He also explains to El that Yoda uses the Force to move things with his mind, just like her.


"May Be Too INTENSE For Younger Children"


The biggest influence on Stranger Things has to be Steven Spielberg, so it’s no surprise that Will has a poster for Spielbergs 1975 monster classic hanging on his wall. Like the shark from Jaws, the monster from Stranger Things is first seen when attracted by blood.

“Chapter 3: Holly, Jolly”

The Millennium Falcon

El would make a great Han Solo.

To test El’s telekinesis, Dustin challenges her to make Mike’s Millennium Falcon toy levitate before letting it fall to the ground. Later in the episode, El is seen levitating the toy — which is most likely the 1980 Empire Strikes Back Millennium Falcon reissue from Kenner Toys — with ease.

Masters of the Universe

*When El explores Mike’s house while he’s at school and his parents are away, she stumbles upon the opening sequence — with its iconic “I have the power!” line — for the animated series He-Man and the Masters of the Universe*, another show rich in fantasy symbolism and ghoulish creatures.

The X-Men / Green Lantern

**Much in the same way the show borrows pop culture references to explain itself, Dustin uses superhero analogies with Mike and Lucas to wonder whether El was born with powers like the X-Men or acquired them like Green Lantern.

“Chapter 4: The Body”

“Atmosphere” (Joy Division))

In a diegetic montage, Jonathan Byers listens to the song “Atmosphere” by Joy Division whilst lamenting the supposed death of his brother, Will. Jonathan must have been a pretty big Joy Division fan, as the song was only available in the U.S. as a 1980 B-side single with the song “She’s Lost Control” until it was released in the band’s 1988 compilation album Substance.

Heart of Darkness

"The horror. The horror."


*During Nancy Wheeler’s English class, her teacher reads from chapter 3 of [Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness*](https://www.inverse.com/article/6374-six-actors-replaced-in-popular-movies) with the words “What is evil?” written on the blackboard. He begins with the passage, “The brown current ran swiftly out of the heart of darkness, bearing us down towards the sea with twice the speed of our upward progress; and Kurtz’s life was running swiftly, too…” before trailing off.


"It's a nasty mutt."


The other major influence on Stranger Things is the work of author Stephen King, whose face can be seen on the dust jacket of the book read by the faux state policeman/secret government agent guarding the supposed body of Will Byers. When Chief Hopper (David Harbour) goes to investigate, he tries to make small talk, saying, “I love that book, it’s a nasty mutt,” referring to the rabid dog in King’s 1981 book Cujo.

“Chapter 5: The Flea and the Acrobat”

All the Right Moves

Dueling Tom Cruise movie references.


*Steve Harrington (Joe Keery) stops by Nancy’s house to ask her on a date to see the 1983 movie All the Right Moves because it features her lover boy from Risky Business,” Tom Cruise, whom Steve says people say he resembles. After Nancy (Natalia Dyer) rebuffs his offer, because she and Jonathan have plans to hunt the monster, Steve sings the Bob Seger song “Old Time Rock n Roll” in reference to Cruise’s iconic lip-synching scene from Risky Business*.

Dungeons & Dragons

These kids are experts


The show starts off with a rousing — and foreshadowing — round of the beloved role-playing board game Dungeons & Dragons. In Chapter 5, Dustin, Mike, and Lucas use the “Vale of Shadows” chapter of the game’s Expert Rulebook to explain the Upside Down, the alternate dimension where Will is trapped, saying it’s “a dimension that is a dark reflection or echo of our world.” They also refer to the monster as a D&D creature called the Demogorgon.


This influential popular-science miniseries and book from 1980 written and hosted by astrophysicist Carl Sagan was recently remade by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Mike and the gang use the show’s references to theoretical alternate dimension in the scene after Will’s funeral to ask their teacher Mr. Clarke to try and find a way to get to the Upside Down. Mr. Clarke also references American physicist Hugh Everett’s many-worlds interpretation of quantum physics.

“Chapter 6: The Monster”

“You read any Stephen King?”

The King homages don’t stop. When Hopper and Joyce go to visit Terry Ives, El’s potential mother, who was subjected to MKultra experiments in the 1970s. To explain how Terry claims that her daughter was “special” and born with “abilities,” Terry’s sister Becky asks Hopper and Joyce if they’ve read any Stephen King, inadvertently referencing his novels Firestarter and Carrie, about girls who develop mental powers.

“Chapter 7: The Bathtub”

Great American Ghost Stories by Hans Holzer*

1983 or 1990?


In what has to be the only anachronism within the world of the show, a copy of American paranormal researcher Hanz Holzer’s 1990 book Great American Ghost Stories can be seen on a shelf when Hopper, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy try to contact Mike and the gang via walkie talkie. We’ll let this one slide.


When trying to figure out whether to trust Hopper’s walkie talkie pleas, Dustin keeps saying “Lando” over and over, a reference to Billy Dee Williams’s character Lando Calrissian’s double-cross of Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back. Earlier in Chapter 6, Dustin also used a Star Wars metaphor when questioning whether he, Mike, and Lucas should fight the creature without Elle, likening it to “R2-D2 going to fight Darth Vader.”

The Thing (Again)

Mr. Clarke watches the film with an unnamed lady friend, telling her the films gruesome effects were just “melted plastic and microwaved bubble gum,” when Dustin calls him at 10 p.m. on a weekend asking for detailed instructions on how to build a sensory-deprivation tank for El.

“Chapter 8: The Upside Down”

Anne of Green Gables

"It's such an interesting world."


While venturing into the Upside Down to find Will, Hopper sees a child’s stuffed animal, which makes him think back on the memory of reading L.M. Montgomery’s 1908 novel Anne of Green Gables to his dying daughter, including the quote, “It just makes me feel glad to be alive — it’s such an interesting world.”

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