I love Stranger Things. And apparently, so does everyone else.
Despite how we see it now, the rampant critical acclaim of Netflix’s Stranger Things was unprecedented upon its release. What began as a homage to 80’s synth pop, jean jackets, and sci-fi movies culminated in a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and became Netflix’s third most-watched season of original content.
So now we have to ask: what was it that pushed Stranger Things over the edge of indie film territory, and into pop culture appeal? Was it the soundtrack? The stellar casting? Steve Harrington’s hair? Maybe, but the response might also have something to do with nostalgia, and Stranger Things certainly had plenty of that.
You might have caught some of them, but here are 10 references you may have missed in Netflix’s monstrous hit.
No surprise here; thematic shades of E.T. are all over Stranger Things. We see it in the cinematic shots of the series—kids on bicycles, anyone?—but it’s also stunningly prominent in the parallels between Eleven and E.T. As an “alien,” so to speak, Eleven and E.T. share a fixation on one type of food (leggo my eggo), have both dressed up in blonde wigs to blend in, and are both in hiding from shadowy government figures.
2. Dungeons and Dragons
I think we all picked this one up. The series opens with Mike, Will, Lucas, and Dustin coming to the end of a D&D campaign in which Will fails to kill a mythical creature called the demogorgon. Not only does this act as foreshadowing for what immediately follows the scene, when Will gets captured by the Demogorgon, but they literally refer to the unknown creature from the Upside Down as the demogorgon for the rest of the series.
The demogorgon in Stranger Things has a few nods to Ridley Scott’s aliens. It leaves a lot of goo in its wake, and (SPOILERS!) it likes to incubate its victims with smaller creatures by forcing its victims to swallow them.
They’re kind of like…worms. Or snakes. It’s gross.
4. Stephen King
I’m put Stephan King down as a category in a vague sense, because Stranger Things has horror motifs that were typified by King during his prolific career as a horror writer. Mainly, Stranger Things takes its cues from King’s novels Firestarter and Carrie. In both cases, Eleven’s telepathic and occasionally erratic powers, along with her abusive and watchful upbringing, align her with Carrie White and Charlie McGee.
5. Star Wars
This one is a bit more obvious, as the characters often say the references directly instead of hiding them under cinematic quality. Eleven has “jedi powers,” Mike owns a Yoda action-figure and talks about the Force, and when Lucas thinks Eleven has betrayed the group he calls her “Lando,” after the Star Wars character who betrays Han Solo in The Empire Strikes Back.
6. Nightmare on Elm Street
Episode 8 of Stranger Things has Nancy and Jonathan trying to go head-to-head with the monster, luring it into Jonathan’s house with a brigade of traps and eventually setting it on fire. Sound familiar? It should—the climax of the 1984 Nightmare on Elm Street played out in a similar way.
7. The Goonies
Everyone loves a good ragtag group of misfit kids. And we see a lot of similarities in the playful and mischievous behaviour of the Goonies squad to the Stranger Things crew. The main rule: no adults allowed. (As a lover of Stranger Things, I’m willing to point out that we do have Joyce and Hopper involved, but they act pretty autonomously for the majority of the show and are in their own separate ‘clique’).
X-men has misfits, yes, but we’ll give that to The Goonies instead. A trickier reference to the Marvel comics actually happens in the first episode, when Dustin and Will are talking about an X-Men comic; the specific issue they argue about is actually volume 134, in which “Jean Grey mentally snaps…and inadvertently unleashes the Dark Phoenix, a cosmic force beyond her control,” which is a tip of the hat to what we see with Eleven later in the series.
9. The Thing
The 80’s horror movie The Thing makes a few appearances in Stranger Things. This one is like Star Wars, in that there are a couple of casual mentions you can spot if you’re looking for them. In Mike’s basement there’s a poster for the movie on one of the walls, and when Dustin calls Mr. Clarke for information on how to build a sensory deprivation tank (which is the most awkward and amusing phone call on the show), guess what Mr. Clarke is watching? That’s right: The Thing.
10. Minority Report/Fringe
Last but not least, I’m going to throw up a debatable one. When the characters on Stranger Things make a sensory deprivation tank for Eleven to help heighten her telepathy and enter the Upside Down, some people got flashes of the 2002 movie Minority Report. Specifically, when Spielberg’s pre-cogs lay in their own sensory deprivation tanks to get flashes of the future.
Now, as we’re talking about Spielberg here (whose other movies are a big influence on the show), it’s probably a homage to him. But! For anyone who watched the hit TV series Fringe—did you not get flashbacks of psychic Olivia Dunham concentrating in a sensory deprivation tank? I did. I really did.
So, did we miss anything? Let us know if you caught something strange that we missed, and bonus points for the more obscure the reference is!
-Contributed by Lorna Antoniazzi