The second season of Stranger Things — released like a movie sequel as “Stranger Things 2” — made its debut on Netflix last Friday. If you’re a big fan of the series, you’ve probably already watched all nine new episodes. If so, join us as we dive into a ranking of the best movie references made by the Duffer Brothers in their return to Hawkins, Indiana.
Stranger Things loves to feature actors known for iconic ’80s movie and TV roles, and Paul Reiser’s addition to the series for Season 2 is one of the most notable. Early on, his part as a doctor working for the government-affiliated Hawkins Lab calls to mind his bureaucratic character from Aliens, James Cameron’s 1986 sequel to Alien, which was an obvious influence on Season 1. Then, in episode six, there’s a direct homage to the movie when a bunch of soldiers are similarly ambushed by alien creatures, all witnessed by Reiser’s character in another room.
There are a few nods to this sequel/prequel to Raiders of the Lost Ark, released the summer before Season 2’s 1984 setting. One is Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) going back for his hat in the tunnels, a la Indiana Jones. Another is Winona Ryder’s character burning her possessed son in an effort to get him to snap out of his condition, a la Short Round doing the same to a hypnotized Indy. But biggest of all is the moment in episode six when teens Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) almost exactly remake the Temple of Doomscene where Indy and Willie Scott talk to themselves about the other in separate rooms before giving into their romantic urges.
One of the most blatant references is to another summer 1984 hit, as Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Will (Noah Schnapp) all dress up as Ghostbusters for Halloween. But it’s not just the logos on their jumpsuits that should have fans recalling the paranormal comedy classic. When the boys split up to look for Dustin’s new pet in the middle school, the sequence evokes the three initial Ghostbusters’ hunt for Slimer in a ritzy hotel. If that’s not enough, the slime that Sheriff Hopper and his deputies find in the pumpkin patch and on trees in the woods is reminiscent of the movie’s own goop.
Another major new character is played by Sean Astin, who made his feature film debut in this classic kids’ adventure released in 1985. The first season of Stranger Things had plenty of its own nods to The Goonies, but this time there’s an actual Goonie on screen. In one scene, Astin even gets to make a meta reference to his own movie when his Bob “The Brain” character is helping his girlfriend and her family with a puzzling map. After being told they’re trying to locate the location of ‘x,’ he wonders aloud if it leads to pirate treasure — precisely what he and his fellow Goonies were searching for in the movie.
Yes, the new season of Stranger Things sort of implicitly references a movie that just came out last month. Technically, the whole series has been influenced by Stephen King’s original 1986 novel (maybe also by the 1990 TV miniseries adaptation), but now there’s a feature film for extra comparison, a feature film that just so happens to costar Stranger Things actor Finn Wolfhard. In season 2, the boys (including Wolfhard’s character) welcome a red-haired girl into their group, played by Sadie Sink. Also, Bob “The Brain” tells Will a story about a scary clown from his youth that sounds like it’s inspired by It‘s villain, Pennywise.
Another classic from summer 1984 gets a nod in the form of Lucas’s new pet, D’Artigan, aka D’Art. What he thinks is some kind of pollywog turns out to be a baby “Demogorgon” creature, kind of like the terror dogs of Ghostbusters, which he eventually classifies as “Demodogs.” In Gremlins, a young man is gifted a cute little Mogwai creature, which is also much more dangerous a pet than it seems. However, unlike D’Art, even when the titular Gremlins appear, the original Mogwai, Gizmo, remains. Lucas’s new pal is slimier and less adorable but also seems initially to be averse to bright light, though this turns out more to be an issue with heat.
One of a few movies referenced in Stranger Things season 2 that was released prior to the year of the show’s setting, this 1973 horror classic is about a little girl possessed by a demon. The movie is evoked in a few scenes involving Will’s possession by an entity from the “Upside Down” dimension. At one point, Will taps out a Morse code message to let his friends and family know he’s still inside his body, similar to the girl calling out for help indicating her presence. Later, the possessed Will reaches up and chokes his mother, just as little Regan in The Exorcist does to hers.
One of the easiest and most fun ways for a show like this to make movie references it to have a costume party, and since Season 2 is set around Halloween, we were in luck for cool nods to The Karate Kid, Halloween, Friday the 13th, Animal House and more. But the most significant besides the boys in their Ghostbusters costumes are teen sweethearts Nancy and Steve (Joe Keery) in a couples costume inspired by this 1983 movie starring a young Tom Cruise. Unfortunately, Steve doesn’t go with the iconic shirt and undies look from Risky Business, settling instead on a more clothed getup opposite Nancy’s perfect Rebecca De Mornay outfit.
One more summer 1984 movie, this one arriving late in the season, Red Dawnappears to get a nod when conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman (Brett Gellman) tells Sheriff Hopper about how the Soviets are invading their small town. He believes the psychic child Eleven to be from Russia, too. In Red Dawn, it’s up to a band of teens to go up against their local threat, if not completely win World War 3, and that’s not unlike the young heroes of Stranger Things having to defeat the invading creatures from the “Upside Down.” The monsters are not communists, of course, though their world was opened up when the government tried to psychically spy on the Soviets.
You can’t miss the two references to The Terminator, which opened in theaters the weekend before the events of Stranger Things season 2. We see the title on the marquee of the local cinema, and then we see a commercial for the James Cameron-helmed sci-fi classic. But while there aren’t really any other nods to the first movie, its 1991 sequel, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, does appear to be referenced. One character actually says the words “judgment day,” while the scene when Eleven decides not to kill a man who gave her mother shock treatment because his kids are present is similar to a change of heart moment in the blockbuster sequel.