Warning! SPOILERS ahead for Stranger Things season 3.
Stranger Things season 3 is now on Netflix, and it contains a number of references to 1980s movies. One of the reasons for Stranger Things' success is its nostalgia factor, and that's something season 3 heavily plays into with its 80s inspirations, ranging from the likes of John Carpenter and Stephen King to Star Wars and more.
The third season of Stranger Things hit Netflix on July 4, and although reviews have had some caveats, it's largely another hit for the streaming service. Setting the action in 1985, it once again finds Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown), Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Will (Noah Schnapp), and the rest of the gang attempting to battle the deadly Mind Flayer from the Upside Down, while dealing with the dangers of growing up at the same time.
There are plenty of Easter eggs and references to the era for fans to enjoy in Stranger Things season 3, including the appearance of New Coke, Corey Hart's music, and all of these 80s movie references. Did you spot them all?
Day Of The Dead
George A. Romero's work is a big influence on Stranger Things season 3, with the victims of the Mind Flayer turning into zombie-like creatures you might expect to find in his films. That's set up very early on with Stranger Things' first 80s movie reference in its new run of episodes, as Mike, Will, et al go to see Day of the Dead at Starcourt Mall. It's here Will begins to feel the Mind Flayer's presence again, immediately establishing the connection between the monster and zombies.
The third film in Romero's Night of the Living Dead series, Day of the Dead wasn't released until 19 July, 1985. However, there were preview screenings held on July 3, which explains how the Stranger Things kids were able to see it in the run-up to July 4.
Back To The Future
Back to the Future was the biggest movie of 1985, so it makes a lot of sense for Stranger Things season 3 to reference it. The first nod comes just before the kids head in to see Day of the Dead, with a Back to the Future poster on the wall. However, it becomes much more important later in the season, with Dustin, Erica, Steve, and Robin hiding out in a screening of the film. The fact much of the action afterward takes place in a mall parking lot feels like a homage as well.
John Carpenter has been a major influence on Stranger Things from the very beginning, with the show referencing everything from his movies to his music, including The Thing. There's a poster for his version of The Thing glimpsed early in season 3, and that's paid off later on.
Not only is there a discussion about which version of the movie is better in episode 7, but the design of the monster in this season of Stranger Things, which is a gloopy, disgusting mess, is heavily indebted to The Thing.
The creature design in Stranger Things season 3 doesn't just reference The Thing, but another movie with two versions: The Blob. As we see the rat turn into a slimy substance in its cage, slip through the bars, and then coming together to form the Mind Flayer, it's reminiscent of both the 1958 and 1988 takes on The Blob.
The Terminator is one of the biggest influences on Stranger Things season 3, and where its love of 80s movie references arguably goes a little too far, because it builds an entire character around it. In the third episode we're introduced to Grigori (Andrey Ivchenko), who bears a startling similarity to Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It's not just in terms of appearance, but actions too. Grigori rides a motorcycle, is completely relentless in his pursuit of Hopper, and is extremely strong and skilled in combat. It's done in a very knowing fashion, but it's so on-the-nose that it is a little ridiculous.
Released in 1984, Red Dawn takes place in an alt-history version of the United States, and finds the country being invaded by the Soviet Union and its allies from Cuba and Nicaragua. The bulk of the plot, however, is focused on a group of high school kids who attempt to resist the occupation using guerilla warfare.
If that sounds familiar, it's because it forms a huge part to the Russian storyline of Stranger Things season 3. It's less a Stranger Things 80s movie reference, and more Stranger Things almost directly adapting elements of the plot.
The Empire Strikes Back/Return Of The Jedi
Of course the kids from Stranger Things love Star Wars, so it's not much of a surprise to see the franchise get a few shout-outs across the course of Stranger Things season 3. In the first episode, Dustin has an R2-D2 toy, while he refers to himself throughout as "Gold Leader", which is a reference to Lando Calrissian's callsign in Return of the Jedi. That gets another reference in the Stranger Things season 3 finale, when Steve says Star Wars is one of his three favorite movies, citing the one with the teddy bears, i.e. Ewoks.
Although not as overtly referenced, the actual structure of the story of Stranger Things season 3 feels like it's inspired by The Empire Strikes Back. The way Stranger Things splits its main characters up into different groups is reminiscent of that, while Hopper and Joyce's final scene together is visually similar to Han and Leia's "I love you/I know" moment.
The Karate Kid
The Karate Kid was released in 1984, putting it in the right time frame to be a big deal culturally in Stranger Things season 3. That plays out when Eleven takes an interest in Ralph Macchio, who is featured in one of Max's teen magazines. It's a fun reference, and adds to their bonding time. Later, we see Lucas wearing a Karate Kid-inspired outfit, which isn't just a nod towards the film's popularity, but also Max's crush on its star.
The Breakfast Club
It'd be hard to make an 80s-set TV show with a bunch of misfit kids without referencing at least some of John Hughes' work, and Stranger Things season 3 contains something of a nod to The Breakfast Club. When Steve and Robin are opening up to each other, and she reveals her obsession with him but he never noticed her, it feels a lot like the dynamic between the group in The Breakfast Club. It's very much setup to be like Andrew and Allison's relationship there, with the outcast and the jock getting together at last, but the film smartly subverts this trope when Robin reveals she's a lesbian, and the pair remain friends instead.
The Evil Dead I & II
In Stranger Things season 3, the kids find themselves trapped inside Hopper's cabin while under attack from the Mind Flayer, which calls to mind Sam Raimi's horror series The Evil Dead. Both the original Evil Dead and its sequel, The Evil Dead 2, featured a group of people fighting for their lives while in a cabin in the woods, so it's impossible to ignore the influence on Stranger Things here.
Two Rambo films had been released by the time of Stranger Things season 3, with one just a couple of months earlier, so it makes sense that it's among the 80s movies referenced by Stranger Things this year, albeit with just a small, fun call out. When Hopper is running around with a gun, Alexei refers to him as "Fat Rambo". He obviously hasn't seen the Hellboy remake.
The Neverending Story
The Neverending Story makes for one of the most surprising - and best - 80s movie references in Stranger Things season 3. With Dustin having finally made contact with his girlfriend Suzie, she agrees to help him if he does the thing she likes, which turns out to be a rousing rendition of the movie's eponymous theme song.
Dustin and Suzie both sing it at the top of their voices, while everyone else looks on bemused and the situation around them becomes increasingly dire. The song, originally performed by Limahl, was a big hit in the U.S. at the time, and could well be again now after Stranger Things season 3.
Fast Times At Ridgemont High
Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was released in 1982, is referenced a number of times across Stranger Things' third season. The Starcourt Mall is inspired by the mall from that film, and the Scoops Ahoy! outfits worn by Steve and Robin are like the pirate costumes worn by Judge Reinhold at Captain Hook's Fish & Chips. Dustin, meanwhile, compares his girlfriend Suzie to Fast Times star Phoebe Cates, and in the Stranger Things season 3 finale, Steve bumps into a cardboard cutout of Cates' famous bikini scene from the movie.
Best of all, though, is when Billy is working as a lifeguard and walks past the women ogling him, soundtracked by The Cars' "Moving In Stereo", which is playing in the aforementioned pool scene featuring Cates.
Die Hard wasn't released until 1988, but that didn't stop Stranger Things season 3 from paying homage to the action movie. When Dustin attempts to go into the vent, the idea and shot is a direct riff on the Bruce Willis movie. Die Hard is then given another shoutout in Stranger Things season 3, when Hopper gets the drop on Grigori. Pointing a gun to his head, the Russian is confident that Hopper won't shoot him because "policemen have rules", which is a quote from an almost identical scenario involving John McClane in Die Hard.
It wouldn't feel like Stranger Things without a reference to the work of Stephen King, which was such a major influence on the first season in particular, and season 3 delivers on that front towards the end. When Billy announces his presence outside of Starcourt Mall by blaring his car's headlights into the darkness, it's a homage to the 1983 movie Christine (based upon King's book, and directed by John Carpenter), which centers around a car possessed by an evil spirit.
Stranger Things season 2 already had some Gremlins nods, but they're continued in season 3. At the carnival, there's a stuffed mogwai on offer as a prize, while it's yet another Phoebe Cates connection as she was one of the stars of that movie too.
National Lampoon's Vacation
National Lampoon's Vacation was released back in 1983, putting it well within Stranger Things season 3's wheelhouse for referencing. Although there aren't many similarities between the two, when Dustin is communicating via radio with the rest of the gang towards the end of the season, the callsign he uses for them is "Griswald family". The movie is later referenced at Family Video, with an advert for it on the counter in the store.
The Cineplex References
The cinema in Starcourt Mall is, as you might expect, a treasure trove of 80s movie references in Stranger Things season 3. As well as Day of the Dead and Back to the Future being featured, there are a number of other 1985 movies being advertised. There are posters for some big releases, including Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (which was released on August 9) and Disney flop The Black Cauldron (released on July 24). We also get to see some of the other films currently playing, which include Cocoon, Return to Oz, The Stuff, Fletch, and D.A.R.Y.L.
The Family Video References
As with the cinema, the inclusion of rental store Family Video, where Steve and Robin go to work after the destruction of Starcourt Mall, allows for Stranger Things season 3 to include a number of 80s movie references. As well as Return of the Jedi and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it also has a poster for Firestarter, which was a big influence on Eleven's character, and one for The Breakfast Club too, with other 80s films spotted including Sixteen Candles, The Outsiders, and Scarface.