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References In Stranger Things Only True Fans Understood

Stranger Things has been a hodgepodge of cultural references since the very first episode, but the second season of the Duffer Brothers' sci-fi horror show ratcheted up the winks and Easter eggs even more. Here's an exhaustive list of references that only true fans will get. Spoilers ahead!


Dustin is a fan favorite for his constant optimism and relentless affection for his friends, but fans of the classic movie Gremlins had even more reason to love him—his raising of a pupal Demodog that he nicknamed D'artagnan. Dart's hatred of the heat lamp is a pretty direct parallel to "good" gremlin Gizmo's light sensitivity. And when Dart eats Dustin's cat (which has to be an Alf reference), it's only after Dustin feeds him—and then finds him in the boy's bathroom next to an open toilet stall. (You know that thing about getting gremlins wet and feeding them, right?) 

Thankfully, Dustin's faith in his monstrous pal is rewarded when his former pet lets him and his friends pass—a lot like how Gizmo is the only good Mogwai of his species. Still, just to make sure that attentive fans hadn't missed the direct parallels to the movie, when Dart first escapes into the school, a musical sting plays that's almost note-for-note the main Gremlins theme.


There are a ton of '80s movie influences in Stranger Things 2, but Aliens is the film that connects the strongest.

We'll start with Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, delivering a performance in which nearly every moment is a reference, callback, or direct subversion of his role in Aliens (and one moment referencing Diner). Like Burke in Aliens, Owens seems perpetually sketchy, constantly avoiding the responsibility for his own actions, while positioning himself as the only sane voice in a sea of madness. He even watches a crew of heavily armed mercenaries on camera as they invade a labyrinthine series of corridors in order to fight multiple versions of the creatures that appeared in the original—exactly like Burke in Aliens.

While we're talking about Aliens, do we even need to mention the visual similarity of Eleven's new curly black hair? Ripley's not the only black-haired protagonist battling monsters like the one that almost killed her before, and who nonetheless descends an industrial elevator prepared to battle a massive mother creature that's trying to kill the only people she loves.

The Goonies

Since we're talking about blatant hints at famous actors' past roles, we'd be remiss not to mention Sean Astin as Bob Newby, Joyce's new beau. While he's sometimes recognized as Samwise in The Lord of the Rings, kids of the '80s will recognize Astin as Mikey Walsh, the optimistic, treasure-hunting leader of The Goonies—a movie that's ingrained into the DNA of Stranger Things. Astin even gets a particularly memorable line when he asks if the X at the center of Will's root maze is "pirate treasure" like the type that Mikey once hunted.

We also get another sweet reference in Steve Harrington's journey into the tunnels with the kids (minus Will) as he wears a red bandana. Steve, like Mikey's big brother in The Goonies, is a jock with a heart of gold—and a penchant for red bandanas and doling out life advice to his younger charges.

Steven Spielberg

To say the Duffer Brothers are indebted to Steven Spielberg is putting it lightly—there's a metric ton of Spielberg references in both seasons of the show, but especially Jurassic Park during "The Mind Flayer," in which Joyce, Will, Mike, Hopper, and Bob try to escape the facility. The Demodogs almost move like Velociraptors, and Bob's quest to reboot the system without getting eaten has some painful familiarity for Samuel L. Jackson's character Ray Arnold in Jurassic Park. Plus, Steve's solo faceoff against a Demidog in an earlier episode, only to be immediately surprised by another one to his side, is as blatant a "Clever girl" reference as you can get.

To jump from dinosaurs to aliens (lower-case "a" this time), there's another direct swipe of a classic Spielberg movie as WIll steps outside the Arcade to look directly at the Mind Flayer in the Upside Down, a direct reference to a famous shot from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Oh, and one more: Poltergeist (although technically directed by Tobe Hooper with input by Steven Spielberg) has a few more references in the new season. Eleven enters the Upside Down by listening to static on the television, while Joyce presses her face up against the TV while trying to figure out what happened to her son on Halloween.

Stephen King

Let's jump from Steven Spielberg to Stephen King as we talk about the Duffer Brothers' other biggest influence. The King references run rampant this season: Bob talks about living in Maine, terrified of a clown that haunted his dreams, while Steve's Goonies-esque expedition into the tunnels (kind of like Sewers in a way, hm?) takes a lot of visual inspiration from King's terrifying novel.

Eleven has a lot in common with both Carrie in Carrie and Charlie in Firestarter. Like Carrie, she's dealing with puberty, crushes, and telekinetic powers. Like Charlie, Eleven is holed up in a cabin with her father figure as they attempt to evade the nefarious government operatives looking for them. Even Eleven's final battle against the Mind Flayer is visually laced with the Firestarter movie, with rich reds flowing behind her as she unleashes her powers.

Finally, if we're going to talk about small towns beset by bizarre permutations of mist that hide dinosaur-like creatures whose origin is shrouded in mystery... well, it's hard to know if we're talking about Stranger Things 2 or King's twice-adapted story The Mist. Last but not least, it's impossible not to watch Steven and Dustin traipse down a railroad tracks in "The Spy" talking about girls, life, and feelings without hearing Ben E. King's classic song, used to such memorable effect in the Stephen King-inspired movie Stand By Me.

Video Games

Video games play a big role in the lives of the Stranger Things kids, but the games they play have an even bigger impact on the story at large. For example, in episode 1, Dustin and Lucas play Dragon's Lair, but Dustin can't beat Lucas' high score. The scene ends with Lucas telling Dustin, "You'll get there someday. But until then, Princess Daphne is still mine." Lucas and Dustin eventually end up competing over the affections of new girl Max—who eventually ends up with Lucas, not Dustin, mirroring the video game competition. We'll see if Dustin actually does get there someday.

Another of the kids' favorites is Dig Dug, a classic game about a player navigating strange, unexplained tunnels as he's menaced by mysterious monsters. Hopper definitely seems like the Dig Dug man when he goes in to investigate the Mind Flayer's root tunnels, but the parallels don't stop there. Hopper actually fails to clear out the hub in the tunnels, and has to be rescued by Joyce, Will, and Bob. It's only when Steve and the kids venture into the tunnels that they're able to complete the mission. Attentive viewers wouldn't have been surprised, though...that's the group that includes Max, the current high score record holder of Dig Dug.

Steven Spielberg, part two

We're back to Spielberg, but we can't keep talking about Stranger Things 2 without mentioning one of the director's most famous sequels, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Nancy drives a hot poker into Will's side to drive out the possession (we'll get to that next) of the Mind Flayer, an exact reference to Short Round doing the same thing to free Indy from a murderous rage. Not only that, the scene of Max driving the car to the pumpkin patch while wearing wooden blocks on her feet is a direct reference to Short Round driving, at least according to the Duffers. Oh, and we almost forgot Hopper going back for his hat after being attacked by vines in the Mind Flayer tunnels.

While we're on the subject of season 1, we'd be remiss if we skipped over some of the references to E.T., a guiding light for the first season. Eleven offers to dress up as a ghost, just as E.T. did to go out on Halloween, while Will's favorite candy just so happens to match Spielberg's favorite wrinkly alien's tastes.

Mad Max

Like the boys in the previous season, Max's personality is shaped by the pop culture she enjoys, but it also reflects her own character. Her name on the Arcade high scores say MADMAX, an obvious reference to George Miller's series of films. The Arcade manager even nicknames her "Road Warrior," the sequel to Mad Max, a sequel nickname for a character in a sequel herself. But the parallels get more blatant—notice how often she's in a speeding car racing down the road as it's driven by a giggling sociopath?

One more for good measure—Max, Lucas, Dustin, and Steve building a tricked out school bus out of junkyard materials is a pretty Mad Max thing to do. And hey, is Steve pouring "Guzz-oline" on the meat to trap the Demidogs?

The Invisibles

The seventh episode of the new season, "The Lost Sister," proved contentious, with some fans loving the side story as Eleven reunites with her psychic sister, and others feeling it was a frustrating detour. Love it or hate it, the episode was almost a direct adaptation of the classic cult comic The Invisibles, penned by writer Grant Morrison and drawn by Steve Yeowell and Jill Thompson (among others).

The Invisibles follows a group of castoffs fighting against a shadowy conspiracy that might be the government or the world's oligarchy or bug aliens from space (it's a fairly dense text). Kali's group matches the Invisibles in ideology as she tells Eleven about who they are and where they come from, but that's not all. In the comic, each character is given a codename, a pattern that's mirrored in Kali's group. In Stranger Things, there's Kali, Funshine, Axel, Dottie and Mick, all of whom bear at least a passing resemblance to the designs and characters of the comic, with Dottie almost a direct visual adaptation of Ragged Robin.

Eleven's nickname subverts expectations, as Kali is one of the few characters to call her by her birth name—for all intents and purposes, "Jane" is the codename for Eleven, since that's how the audience and the other main characters know her.

The Invisibles part two

By the way, for anyone thinking it's a stretch to connect The Invisibles with Stranger Things, take a look at the graffiti in the above picture. King Mob is the leader of The Invisibles, while O'Bedlam is a homeless shaman that affects events behind the scenes, and teaches a wayward youth the true meaning of family and how to harness their inner power. Kali ends up a little bit O'Bedlam and a little bit Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back when she teaches Eleven to harness her powers.

"The Lost Sister" has more in common with The Invisibles than codenames and visual references, however— the overall goals of Kali's group line up perfectly with the Invisibles. Both are punk outcasts fighting against The Man (in Stranger Things perfectly epitomized by a suspicious cop with a note-perfect '70s mustache, along with all those pesky government spooks) by committing crimes and using mind-bending psychic powers. More than that, Eleven's entrance into the group mirrors the POV character from the first volume of The Invisibles, Jack Frost. Both are struggling against the expectations of their parent figures, thrust into a confusing war, and leave the group confused and seemingly distant. Still, in the comics, Jack Frost eventually comes back, so if the parallels continue, we should expect to see Kali and her punk warriors in future seasons.


Ghostbusters is central to the plot of the season, as the boys dress like their favorite characters (even if they end up arguing about having two Venkmans) for Halloween, but the movie's got a larger influence on the show. Like in Ghostbusters, an otherworldly evil has invaded their city/town and even possesses one of the characters to help open a mysterious gate in order to force itself into our world. Plus, Dustin even mirrors his heroes by capturing a gluttonous beast (D'artagnan) with a replica Ghostbusters trap.

'70s-'80s Horror

While Stranger Things has always dabbled in horror tropes, season 2 had a haunted truckful. For starters, Will's horrific possession by the Mind Flayer ends with a ear-splitting shriek straight out of Invasion of the Body Snatcher. Even while Will's possessed, the horror doesn't stop with blatant references to The Exorcist as Joyce tries to rid her son of the otherworldly sickness. It even involves a black-veined child grabbing someone by the throat, which has become as inextricable from possession movies as black contact lenses and garbled Latin. There's also a more subtle reference to The Thing when Will first wakes up after being possessed by the Mind Flayer — the camera lingers in front of and behind him like he's an object impersonating a person, rather than the character we've grown to love. Though the show's other reference to The Thing was one of the details Stranger Things got wrong about the '80s, this scene was still a striking moment.

On the slasher side of things, we've got a Nightmare on Elm Street reference when Eleven first pierces her way through the stretchy elastic barrier between the real and the dream-like reality of the Upside Down—although the familiar scene is subverted when it's Eleven that bursts through, rather than the burned visage of Freddy. In "Trick or Treat, Freak," Max even jumps out at the boys while wearing a Michael Myers mask from Halloween, a movie about a babysitter stalked by a remorseless killer—Steve should be so lucky as to fight one human killer rather than a pack of Demodogs.

'80s references

One of the central appeals of Stranger Things is that the characters are as shaped by their love of pop culture as the audience. By flipping through the channels of her beloved television, Eleven has all sorts of reflections of her life, but likely none that resonate as strongly as the Punky Brewster episode that flashes briefly by in "The Lost Sister" as Punky, a little girl adopted by a gruff older man, is scared of seeing the doctor. It's really no surprise that it's the episode that pushes Eleven back towards her own gruff adopted father, Hopper.

While we haven't really discussed Max's sociopathic brother Billy much so far, there's plenty to dig into, reference-wise. There's his heavy Top Gun-esque homoerotic rivalry with Steve (including his penchant for open shirts and oiled chests), his St. Elmo's Fire-inspired wardrobe (even using the same name as Rob Lowe's character Billy), but the deepest cut is probably his connection to Joel Schumacher's cult classic The Lost Boys. The movie's focus on California, dangerous driving, and very sexually-charged rivalries makes it an easy fit for Billy, but the show's subversion of The Lost Boys' sweeter sibling dynamic makes it more purposeful. Try and watch Kiefer Sutherland vamping it up in Santa Carla and then watch Dacre Montgomery's flirtatious fight with Steve and not pick up a thematic connection.