This article is filled with Stranger Things season three spoilers. Do not go further if you haven’t viewed the episodes to which each section refers. Instead, we would recommend our spoiler-free review until you’re all caught up.
It’s summertime in Hawkins, Indiana and that can only mean one thing. Your Stranger Things season three Easter egg and reference guide is here! As our US chums did for Stranger Things season two, they’ve collected all the references to 80s media, past seasons, and anything else that sounds interesting that they could find. They’ve arranged the list by episode so read along at your leisure. And as always: be sure to point out anything that that may have been missed.
Now, to the Stranger Things season three discoveries!
Stranger Things season 3 episode 1: Suzie, Do You Copy?
– The season opens with a brief prologue on June 28, 1984, before jumping a year later to 1985.
– Summer 1984 is when Red Dawn came out. This movie begins with the implication of Soviets invading the heartland. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
– It’s probably a coincidence but that initial shot of the Soviet laser shooting through the wall felt like an amped up version of the scene from Real Genius (with a dash of the 12 Monkeys time machine).
– While he isn’t named yet, we get a glimpse of the guy who will likely be this season’s “terrifying unstoppable Soviet baddie.” If this were actually 1985, perhaps he could have been played by Dolph Lundgren.
– The tall Russian strangles that one scientist like Darth Vader at the beginning of Star Wars.
– Tapes visible in front of Eleven’s boombox include Corey Hart’s Boy in the Box, a very timely June ‘85 release, and that’s the album that the Mike/Eleven makeout jam “Never Surrender” comes from.
– Eleven has on her walls, posters of a generic dinosaur and a butterfly. But they look clearly like Godzilla and Mothra. Likely not a coincidence.
– Take note that Hopper is watching Magnum PI. Much later we can catch excerpts from an episode of Cheers, and the Sam/Diane dynamic seems to be on the menu for Hopper/Joyce.
– The Starcout Mall is absolute perfection, and there are plenty of relics throughout (Sam Goody anyone?), but it’s really great that one of the first things you see is a “Camera Repair” shop, which helps hammer home just how much has changed in the last 30+ years.
– In fact, a running theme of this season is how the mall is causing traditional storefronts to close down, just as how in our present day the internet (and specifically Amazon) have helped bring about the death of the mall.
– In the movie theatre you can spot posters for Cocoon (June 21, 1985) and Back to the Future (July 3, 1985), and the kids sneak into a screening of Day of the Dead, which opened smack in the middle of those two releases (June 28, 1985). John Harrison’s synth-y Day of the Dead score certainly smacks of the Stranger Things opening credits, too. Also it hints of a zombie-like invasion coming withDay of the Dead.
– In Will’s bedroom there’s a poster for the original The Evil Dead, as well as one for REM’s seminal album, Murmur. Inescapable mid-80s stalwarts Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack their frantic “get ready for work” montage, with “Workin’ for a Living.” That tune is a 1982 release, but the band was about to have a good summer with multiple hits from the Back to the Future soundtrack. And do you not honestly think of Back to the Future when you hear Huey Lewis and the News now? Yeah, a welcomed on-the-nose wink.
– Dustin’s “Gold Leader returning to base” is an oblique Star Wars reference, both to the original movie and to Lando’s callsign in Return of the Jedi during the Battle of Endor.
– There’s plenty of Ghostbusters paraphernalia in Dustin’s room, but one appears to be a certificate from a specific “how to be a Ghostbuster” book.
– Dustin has an R2-D2 toy. Also he has a monkey holding symbols, which is the cover of Stephen King’s Skeleton Crew.
– Dustin naming his invention Cerebro is…we don’t have to tell you what this means. You read Den of Geek, right?
– Dustin compares his mythical Suzie to Phoebe Cates, which any boy of the ‘80s could you tell you is high praise after Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
– The inclusion of Jake Busey just has to be a nod to Gary Busey, who was doing his “best work” in the ‘80s, right?
– Radioshack being out of business feels like a meta joke. Is “Save Downtown” flyers a nod to “Save the Clocktower?”
– Karen is drinking a “New Coke” poolside as she waits for Billy’s appearance. The April 1985 marketing gimmick was famously a failure since everyone preferred the taste of the original formula. Karen must be on the tail end of her supply since “Coca Cola Classic” returned to shelves by summer of that year.
– Billy calling that poor kid “lard ass” is more than just a random bit of bullying, power tripping, assholery. It’s a deliberate reference to the infamous pie eating contest in Stand by Me. This doesn’t mean Billy is referencing that, the show is, Billy wouldn’t know about Stand By Me because that movie wasn’t released until 1986.
– Poor Joyce Byers has to watch Cheers by herself and is missing Bob Newby. Interestingly, Bob is shown in a flashback lamenting the breakup of Cheers’ starcrossed couple, Sam and Diane, wishing they would “just get back together again already,” but 1984 was only the start of the famous break-up in season 2. Plus some Stranger Things viewers might be wishing the same thing for Hopper and Joyce rather than for Bob himself.
– Other great music cues in this episode include the Stray Cats “Rock This Town,” Cutting Crew’s “(I Just) Died in Your Arms,” The Cars’ immortal “Moving in Stereo,” and the insufferable, miserably awful garbage that is “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon.
– The Hawkins Post Editors are kicking around an idea on Iran, no doubt focusing on the attempted release of American hostages in Lebanon in 1985, but it almost felt like an accidental homage to current events.
– The exploding rats in the abandoned mill feels like a riff on “Graveyard Shift,” Stephen King’s 1970 shortstory about mutating rats in a forgotten sub-basement waiting to devour poor bastards.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 2: The Mall Rats
– The strange beings backlit in blue approaching Billy sure feel like an intentional nod to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie this show has thrown PLENTY of love to over the years.
– They also are shown in flashback to hug his face, a la Alien, which has been the Mind Flayer’s M.O. since the first season.
– The army of people implied to take human forms of their hosts, including Billy, is very evocative of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, the original movie of which was also a Cold War story about the terror of Soviet, collectivist invasion.
– Hopper is enjoying a delicious bowl of Honey Smacks cereal, which was formerly known as Sugar Smacks before that was determined to maybe not be the best thing.
– And of course he’s having a blast singing along to Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” during his moment of parental victory.
– Max has an Endless Summer poster in her bedroom, which makes perfect sense. Less impressive for its time, perhaps, is the poster for 1982’s The Thing on Mike’s basement wall. The John Carpenter film was reviled in its time but went on to become a sci-fi cult classic.
– People protesting outside town hall is like the protests before the mayor about closing the beaches in Jaws, only now they want the mall closed instead of worried about a shark.
– Mayor Larry Kline kinda acts like an even skeevier version of the mayor from Jaws, doesn’t he? The Jaws mayor’s name was even Larry Vaughn. And although the casting of Cary Elwes (like Matthew Modine and Sean Astin in earlier seasons) is meant to evoke 80s nostalgia for The Princess Bride, that movie didn’t come out until 1987. The effect still works, though.
– Larry Kline is also wearing a similar blue and white striped shirt to Larry Vaughn wears in Jaws. He is also obsessed with Fourth of July celebrations… like Larry Vaughn.
– Of course the science teacher is a Weird Al fan. He’s rocking out to “My Bologna,” a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona.” That one is from 1979… it’s a surprise that he isn’t listening to what was Al’s then new release, Dare to be Stupid, which hit stores just a week or so before this season of Stranger Things takes place in 1985.
– The exploding rats becoming weird gelatinous…things…feels like The Blob. And while the 1958 movie boasts Steve McQueen and one of the most unforgettable theme songs in movie history, the look of the little “blobs” here feels like the actually quite darn good 1988 remake.
– The “infection” on Billy’s arm sure feels like “Deadite poisoning” in The Evil Dead franchise.
– There’s a Taco Bell “coming soon” to the Starcourt Mall. Sure, this is some handy product placement, but also, there was a time when Taco Bells were not quite as ubiquitous as they are today.
– That shopping montage set to Madonna’s “Material Girl” is fun, but again, there’s something vaguely Stranger Things-y about Nile Rodgers’ production and the synths on that song.
– There’s also a Sam Goody music store, and yes, that is exactly how they looked. We also spotted glimpses of an Orange Julius establishment, the dear departed Waldenbooks, and the mall mainstay Hot Dog on a Stick.
– The science teacher having a tabletop recreation of the town in his garage for experiments feels like Doc Brown’s garage in Back to the Future.
– Hopper’s new shirt for his date is inspired by watching Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I. He buys the same shirt.
– “I can do anything I want, I’m the chief of police,” is what drunken Chief Brody says while pouring himself a tall glass of wine in Jaws.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 3: The Case Of The Missing Lifeguard
– Madonna “You Must Be An Angel”
– Ralph Macchio. Eleven also wears her Karate Kid bandana again.
– The shot of Billy’s car that Eleven sees while astral projecting feels very much like John Carpenter’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Christine. (license plate pce235)
– The first girl infected is named Heather. Coincidentally, the name of Winona Ryder’s breakout film was also Heathers, in which the first girl to die was named Heather. Could be a coincidence, but…
– Upon finding Penthouse magazines in Billy’s bedside table, Max reacts by saying, “Gag me with a spoon!” This phrase was one of many adapted from “valleyspeak,” a California manner of speech associated with white girls in the San Fernando Valley in the early 80s.
– It would be really easy to turn Billy’s musical tastes into just some half-assed hair metal nonsense, but instead, dude has a poster for Tank’s debut album Filth Hounds of Hades on his wall. Respect.
– Dustin says when they’re hunting Russians that they’re looking for someone “tall, blond, not smiling,” which feels like a direct Rocky IV reference. That’s Ivan Drago to a tee, who’s movie opened on Nov. 27, 1985… so they cheated a little.
– Dustin and Steve accidentally stumble upon a Jazzercise class when looking for Russian spies. The physical-fitness-as-fun franchise may have gotten its start in earlier decades, but Jazzercise was popularized by Olivia Newton John’s music video for “Physical” in 1981, which this scene is very reminiscent of.
– Robin discovers that the intercepted code refers to deliveries coming in from the Chinese restaurant and Kaufman shoes, which is likely a nod to director Philip Kaufman, who is known for his work on the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which definitely inspired the season and this episode in particular.
– Both this episode title, and the asshole mocking Nancy with “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Fertilizer” are playing on Nancy Drew books.
– Dustin is rocking a Weird Al shirt this episode. It MAY be from his In 3D album.
– Castle Byers has piles of old issues of Dragon magazine.
– This episode ends on a serious Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe. And zombies!
– Don McLean’s “American Pie” was already a classic in 1985 (it came out in 1971), but one that never goes out of style.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 4: The Sauna Test
– Readers, get us the issue numbers of those DC Comics!
– Poor old Doris is giving us some serious Evil Dead vibes in this episode.
– Larry claiming that his Russian spy friend is “Arnold Schwarzenegger” telegraphs how Terminator-y this guy is about to become.
– Robin has to correct Steve when he says Dustin can “bend like Gumbo.” She knows he means Gumby, the 50s claymation character that experienced a revival in the 80s thanks to an Eddie Murphy Saturday Night Live sketch in 1982.
– Being unable to squeeze through the air vents, even with a child, feels a bit like a joke at Die Hard’s expense with its giant air ducts a few years later.
– The mysterious containers the Russians are keeping open the same way as power cells on the Nostromo in Aliens.
– What is the Sauna Test from? A riff on The Thing, perhaps?
– Those ICEE cups were everywhere in the 80s.
– Billy’s Mind Flayer transformation has a distinctly lycanthropic vibe, as does his loping off into the night. The hair on the back feels especially pointed in the American Werewolf in London direction.- The song playing at the end is Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again.” Which also plays at the end of Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, a film all about Cold War tensions escalating in bizarre ways.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 5: The Flayed
– Mike isn’t thrilled to be sitting in the “way back,” as station wagon passengers often called the third row seating. The sideways-facing fold-down seats were a common feature in the family vehicles of the 80s even though they’d never meet today’s safety standards.
– “I’ll shoot the daylight out of you” feels like a nod to The Living Daylights (1987), which had its own super tall, evil Russian henchman.
– The way evil Russian henchman composes himself and fires his gun looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984).
– The Russians’ lair beneath the mall looks straight out of one of Ken Adam’s many bad guy layers from Bond movies with Russian villains, most evocatively You Only Live Twice (1967) and Moonraker (1979) with its bad guy shuttle bus service (although they weren’t Russian in those).
– The Heathers allusion is confirmed when they break into Heather’s home and find chemicals on her counter. Our heroes note no one could drink these and live… no one human. The first Heather is killed in the Winona Ryder film by drinking chemicals Winona passes off as hangover medicine. She then begins choking and dies… but you know, in a funny way!
– If we’re not mistaken, that’s Bronson Pinchot as Todd, the driver of the yellow convertible commandeered by Hopper at the gas station. Pinchot played Balki from Perfect Strangers (1986), a TV show centering around “funny accent” immigrant humor that would shock audiences with its political incorrectness today. If it’s not him, it’s definitely a remarkable lookalike.
– Todd’s attire is definitely taken from Crockett on Miami Vice.
– Dustin mentions that the green goo found in the containers might be a power source similar to Prometheum, which in DC Comics Victor Stone used to create the bionic components of Cyborg. Nerd bonus points to Robin who recognized the reference.
– Dustin is an OG Brony, although that term did not exist in the ‘80s. His knowledge of My Little Pony lore might be unusual for boys his age in the 1980s, but Dustin clearly is no first level nerd. And he’s right to call Erica out on her equally geeky obsessions.
– Well done with the Kit Kat Kash Giveaway label in the hospital snack machine! The contest which gave away $150,000 in prizes via stickers inside the foil wrapper with a $25,000 top prize did indeed run in 1985.
– The news editors combining to form a giant blob is very reminiscent of, well, The Blob, and also The Thing where the human you know turns into an evil monster.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 6: E. Pluribus Unum
– As has been used before, the slime-oozing Mind Flayer screaming inches from Nancy’s face is straight out of Alien 3. It’s technically not an 80s movie itself, but the franchise certainly was.
– The Russians call Hopper “Fat Rambo.” Rambo: First Blood Part II came out on May 22, 1985. That’s the one where he goes back and wins the Vietnam War for us. What a sweetheart.
– A worker at the Independence Day Fun Fair is shown wearing a 1982 World’s Fair t-shirt, a quite believable circumstance considering that year’s festivities was held in the not-too-distant city of Knoxville, Tennessee.
– The Gravitron was a very popular carnival ride in the 1980s and is still around today, though less common. Besides spinning riders until they puked, there was plenty of unsafe daredeviltry to be had on this ride, and those who would attempt to sit up or come away from the wall were likely to injure themselves, a fate Hopper is lucky to have avoided. (Seriously, some editors recall the floor dropping out from under them and still being forced to the walls.)
– Pointer Sisters’ Neutron Dance plays as Alexei almost drives away from his captors and was recorded in 1983, but it became a top ten hit in 1985 after being featured on the Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack.
– The R. Crumb illustrated poster for “The Conspiracy Stomp” is a perfect item to be hanging in Murray’s kitchen. It may not be of the 80s, but neither is Murray. The 1969 concert featured the likes of Abbie Hoffman, the cast of Hair, and – no joke – fifty live turkeys.
Stranger Things season 3 episode 7: The Bite
– This applies to earlier seasons too but the fair is the Roane County fair. There is no Roane County, Indiana. There’s a Roane County, Tennessee.
– Trees moving in the distance that only the little girl mentions feels like a broad reference to the Jurassic Park movies, and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, in particular.
– The opening sequence of an attack at the cabin in the woods is right out of The Evil Dead with shades of Night of the Living Dead too (which was the movie that eventually led to 1985’s Day of the Dead). The boarded up windows look like George Romero’s 1968 zombie classic while Nancy and Joanthan grabbing axes and boomsticks is pure Sam Raimi. What does Ash suggest in Army of Darkness? Oh yeah, get an axe.
– The deer head on the wall takes on an Evil Dead II vibe this time.
– The mouth-within-a-mouth effect of the Mind Flayer is very evocative of H.R. Giger’s Alien designs.
– Cutting off a piece of the Mind Flayer which then crawls around the floor of the cabin in the woods is also like Ash’s hand in Evil Dead II.
– John Mellenkamp’s R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. (1985)
– Back to the Future takes a central role in this episode. On the marquis in the lobby, you might also notice that Cocoon, Fletch, D.A.R.Y.L., The Stuff, and Return to Oz are playing in other theatres. There is also a Pee-wee’s Big Adventure poster.
– Atari sign is also in the movie theater.
– Steve refers to Michael J. Fox in Back to the Future as Alex B. Keaton, which is the name of snot-nosed yuppie in Family Ties, the sitcom he was on before going back to 1955.
– There is fun use of Alan Silvestri’s Back to the Future sting when Dustin is dropping some plot revelations to Mike on the radio, but this is in the actual series as it is playing on the movie screen behind him.
– Robert D. Orr, who was governor of Indiana from 1981 to 1989, has his name on sign upon entering Indiana.
– Mr. T cereal was popular in the ‘80s, but it was when Pee Wee Herman ate some in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure in 1985 that it really became popular. Other entertainment tie-in cereals spotted: Smurf-berry Crunch, Ghostbusters Cereal, G.I Joe Action Stars Cereal, Rainbow Brite Cereal, Pac Man Cereal, and Donkey Kong Cereal.
– When El is blindfolded and focusing at the grocery store, she’s in front of a freezer with Eggo waffles.
– Lucas actually takes time to debate the aforementioned New Coke vs. Classic and Carpenter’s The Thing vs. the original.
– Time Out, the classic arcade chain from the ‘80s, shows up in the background as Steve, Dustin, Robin, and Erica flee the Russians.
– Big Top Funhouse where Hopper leads the Russians is a classic maze of obstacles that will be familiar to many carnival-goers of that era. It’s actually still around today!
Stranger Things season 3 episode 8: The Battle Of Starcourt
– Removing the “parasite” in El’s leg is very Alien.
– Steve and company are jamming to is Howard Huntsberry’s “Your Love,” which is also a tune used to save the day by the heroes of Ghostbusters II (1989).
– Hopper and Joy going behind enemy lines while dressed as Russians feels like it’s taken out of a dozen ‘80s comedies, including Stripes (1981).
– Murray Bauman crawling under the enemy as Hopper seals him into his vent looks a lot like Lance Henriksen’s Bishop in Aliens being sent on a mission via sliding through a pipe.
– Hopper turns down a date on Friday night with Joyce because that’s the night Miami Vice comes on and it is apparently El’s favorite show. If only (sobs) Hops could be there to watch it with his daughter. (wails)
– Is it me or does the Mind Flayer look like a Resident Evil boss in this episode the way it drops down from ceilings and what not?
– Dustin gives those in the Wheeler station wagon the code name “Griswold Family,” no doubt because their vehicle of choice bears a striking resemblance to that used by the Griswolds in National Lampoon’s Vacation, which came out in 1983.
– Dustin and Suzie perform a rousing rendition of Limahl’s Never Ending Story from the movie of the same name, a 1984 fantasy classic.
– Evil Russian receives similar scars on his face as Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator 2 (1991) while battling Hopper at the end.
– The newscast at the beginning of the coda starts on a clocktower, which is a nod to Back to the Future.
– News cast also shouts out the Satanic panic of the 80s.
– The Family Video store employee is the arcade employee from season 2. His name is Keith and he’s played by Matty Cardarople.
– There is a Firestarter (1984) poster at the video store where Steve and Robin are applying for jobs. The movie is of course the Stephen King adaptation that was also a pretty major influence on Eleven in the first season.
– The movies Robin names as her favorites are Billy Wilder’s masterpiece The Apartment (1960), Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958), which was a major influence on Star Wars, and Marcel Carné’s Children of Paradise (1945).
– Steve’s favorite movies are Animal House (1978), Return of the Jedi (1983), or the new one with the teddy bears, and Back to the Future (with another Alex B. Keaton/Family Ties shoutout). The video store clerk also refers to Star Wars as “A New Hope,” which he would have been very unlikely to do in 1985.
– Oh look, it’s Phoebe Cates in her Fast Times at Ridgemont High glory! That cardboard cutout in a video store would cause some triggered tweets today… as would a video store still being open.
– There is also a Breakfast Club (1985) poster at the video store, which is fast work for ‘80s VHS given it opened on Feb. 15, 1985.
– Dustin saying Max and Lucas should be on Carson is of course a reference to Johnny Carson, the host of The Tonight Show from 1962 until 1992.
– The season closes in Russia with a look at one of Stranger Things‘ most enduring villains: the Demogorgon.