Warning - MAJOR SPOILERS for Stranger Things season 2 ahead!
Strangers Things season 2 is now on Netflix, bringing back Eleven and the rest of the gang as they continue to fight off the invading monsters from the Upside Down. Heavily inspired by the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as the work of Stephen King, Stranger Things wears its homages on its sleeve, using them to capture the atmosphere of the era.
Set in 1984, the series includes a copious amount of references to the pop culture of the day. Some of these references are overt, others more subtle, but they all come together to create the heavy vibe of nostalgia that permeates throughout Stranger Things.
Here is Every Pop Culture Reference (That We Found) in Stranger Things Season 2:
Chapter One - MADMAX
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania - The opening scene of Stranger Things season 2 takes place not in Hawkins, Indiana, but rather the city of Pittsburgh. This city was home to director George Romero when he filmed Night of the Living Dead in 1968, giving birth to the modern zombie genre. Throughout this season, Will is also referred to as “Zombie Boy.”
Mad Max - The title of the episode as well as the new character, Max’s name on the Dig Dug leader boards. George Miller’s film, Mad Max, had its U.S. release in 1980, just four years prior to the setting for Stranger Things season 2.
Reagan/Bush ‘84 - A campaign sign for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 re-election campaign is seen in The Wheeler’s front yard. He would go on to win the election in a landslide.
Dragon’s Lair - The game that Dustin is playing at the arcade is 1983’s Dragon Lair, a laserdisc video game in which player takes control of the knight, Dirk the Daring in his quest to rescue Princess Daphne. The game is best remembered for utilizing cell animation by famed animator Don Bluth (The Secret of N.I.M.H., All Dogs Go To Heaven) as opposed to the more widely used 16-bit animation style.
Dig Dug - While playing Dragon’s Lair, Dustin learns he’s lost his spot at the top of the leader boards for Dig Dug to the mysterious gamer, MADMAX. This game, first created for arcades in 1982 before being ported to the NES in 1985, has gameplay which features characters fighting monsters underground. (Hmm…)
The Terminator - As seen on the marquee, this 1984 film is showing at the local cineplex in Hawkins, having released on October 26th, just a week prior to the events in Stranger Things season 2. The film was rated ‘R’ so it’s unlikely that any of the kids went and saw it (unless, like with Poltergeist in season 1, a cool parent agreed to take them).
“Date with Bo Derek” - Sheriff Hopper wishes for a “date with Bo Derek”, an actress who made her first major film appearance in 1979’s 10 and went on to become one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1980s.
Red Dawn - A known conspiracy theorist comes to Hopper insisting the Russians are attacking, explaining that they’re deploying children with psychic powers to attack the U.S. This fear of the Russians invading crops up throughout season 2 of Stranger Things, stoking the same fears as are seen in the 1984 film Red Dawn starring Patrick Swayze and Lea Thompson in where the Russians invade Colorado and a group of teens, nicknamed The Wolverines, must fight them off.
The Shining - Stranger Things pulls much of its inspiration from the works of Stephen King, but these shots of Joyce driving along winding roads to Will’s appointment at Hawkins Lab are reminiscent of the opening shots of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining.
Reese’s Pieces - When asked by Dr. Owens what his favorite candy is, Will responds with Reese’s Pieces, the very same candy which prominently features in Steven Spielberg’s E.T.
The Goonies - Like this 1985 classic, Stranger Things centers on a group of kids involved in a wild adventure, so it’s perfect casting that original Goonie, Sean Astin plays Joyce’s new boyfriend, Bob Newby.
Family Video - At one point, the neon sign of a Family Video is visible in the background, and with home videos became a booming industry in the 1980s, these video rental stores popped up all over the country. Family Video, shockingly, remains in operation today, managing to outlast other video rental chains like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video.
Mr. Mom - Speaking of home video, of the movies Jonathan rents for their movie night, Bob chooses the Michael Keaton comedy, Mr. Mom. Having released in the theaters the year prior, it would certainly be available on home video at the time of this episode.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind - The influence of directors like Stephen Spielberg are weaved throughout both seasons of Strangers Things, and in this first episode of season 2, when Will opens his front door and sees the Upside Down, the shot is almost identical to one from Spielberg’s 1977’ sci-fi film, Close Encounter of the Third Kind.
Music From This Episode: Devo's "Whip It"; Oingo Boingo's "Just Another Day"; The Romantics' "Talking In Your Sleep"; Scorpions' "Rock You Like A Hurricane"; Gary Paxton's "Spooky Movies"; Prehistoric Wolves' "Every Other Girl"