Stranger Things is the perfect summer binge watch – fun, suspenseful and beautifully shot, with heroes and heroines that make you say, “she looks like this person I know” – and then they’re up against a super creepy monster. It’s the kind of show that makes you feel sad when it’s over (there are already rumblings about a second season). Kate Hudson called it “all kinds of awesome.” Plus the music is cool.
From the opening sequence, Stranger Things evokes the beloved ’80s filmmaking of Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Wes Craven, John Carpenter, Ridley Scott, John Hughes and others. The show’s creators, Matt Duffer and Ross Duffer, point to everyone’s favorite ’80s films, but don’t hawk the references wholesale. The Duffer brothers just drop fun Easter egg hints and move along, apart from their casting of ’80s and ’90s darlings Matthew Modine and Winona Ryder, who create a sense of nostalgia in all of their scenes.
There are many, many throwback moments in Stranger Things, but here’s our favorite ’80s movie references from the show:
Stranger Things revolves around a little girl with special powers reminiscent of Drew Barrymore‘s Charlie McGee in Firestarter. Eleven or “Elle,” played by Millie Bobby Brown, has escaped from a lab run by Dr. Brenner (Modine), where they use her powers for top-secret spy-type stuff.
She isn’t a pyro, but you still don’t want to tick her off – she can kill big guys with guns and throw motor vehicles with just a little concentration. In a tip of the hat to Firestarter, Elle gets a nosebleed after she uses her powers, just like Charlie’s telekinetic dad Andy (played by David Keith) in the classic Steven King horror film.
E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, 1982
Steven Spielberg’s E.T. permeates Stranger Things. Elle is other-worldly, and she bonds with a little boy who decides to take her in and hide her from his mom (this time the basement instead of the closet). The pair go on bike rides with their friends – shot just like the E.T. sequences – she and America’s most beloved alien both play dress up with blonde wigs and overly girly dresses.
The little boy, Will (Noah Schnapp), who goes missing in the first episode, tries to “phone home” from another dimension, and like E.T., gets sicker and weaker the longer he is away from his world.
The pack of kids at the heart of the story brings to mind Goonies and relies on its popular ’80s theme – kids who save the day thanks to their faith in friendship.
In particular, Gaten Matarazzo’s portrayal of Dustin riffs off of Jeff Cohen’s Chunk. In this case, Dustin is smart and diplomatic – more likely to save the day than to cause trouble. Though in true Chunk fashion, he goes on a quest for food while they’re hiding from the bad guys, resulting in a year’s supply of chocolate pudding.
There’s also an element of Stand by Me, with the kids venturing out on their own and even a walking-down-the-railroad-tracks shot pulled straight from the 1986 film.
Star Wars, 1977 and Raiders of the Lost Arc, 1981
Another hero, police chief Jim Hopper, is a terrific combo of Han Solo (the attitude) and Indiana Jones (the hat).
When one of the kids in the gang, Lucas, thinks Elle is lying, he calls her “Lando,” referencing Lando Calrissian in the Star Wars franchise.
Pretty in Pink, 1986
Goonies meets Pretty in Pink when the gang dresses Elle in her wig and pink dress and offers a big reveal where everyone thinks she looks “pretty,” but it’s really the teenage characters and high school problems that evoke John Hughes’ various dramas.
Joe Keery’s hair brings us back to a young James Spader, though his character, Steve Harrington, isn’t nearly as slimy as Steff. He’s a rich kid and a smooth talker, but turns out to be a good guy under all that mousse.
Little Shop of Horrors, 1986
The monster in Stranger Things looks a lot like the carnivorous plant in the classic musical. It doesn’t sing, but it eats people Venus flytrap style and is from another world. It also seems to have hatched from a gooey egg straight out of Alien.
Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984
The Netflix sleeper hit and the classic horror film share heroines named Nancy; they also look alike and are both smart, brave and determined to kill the monster. Both Nancys try to lure the creature out of its world, set a trap for it and light it on fire, with mild success.
Eventually, Elle confronts the monster in a scene that feels like something out of 1986’s Labyrinth, “You have no power over me!” But to find out what happens, you’ll just have to watch.