Let’s be real here — Stranger Things is a show that anyone can fall in love with. The Netflix original mega hit touches the hearts of every nerd who loves sci-fi, horror, and thrillers, but it also speaks to those who love an ’80s romantic comedy, a dramatic coming-of-age stories and classic Hollywood blockbusters. While part of the reason the show speaks to a versatile group of people is because it’s just so. damn. good., Stranger Things also gives shoutouts to some of the most influential film directors and flicks to give an extra little treat to all the movie buffs out there watching.
Stranger Things is a pop culture minefield! Did you spot them all on your first watch? If not, we are here to help. Here are 16 of our favorite film references on Stranger Things.
1. The Evil Dead (1981)
If you know your ’80s horror history, then you know we have to talk about The Evil Dead directed by Sam Raimi. While there aren’t too many references to this film throughout the first season, it’s still an important film from the decade and therefore the refs are important. You can see the official poster of the 1981 film in Jonathan’s (Charlie Heaton) bedroom when he gets a scolding from his dad Lonnie (Ross Partridge) about how “inappropriate” the movie is. TBH, Jonathan’s dad would probably have a heart attack if he saw some of the horror films from this decade.
2. E.T. (1982)
The brains behind Stranger Things clearly love E.T because this movie is referenced all throughout the first season. The most obvious one is Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) getting all dolled up in a dress and wig much like the alien does in the 1982 movie. Another similarity is when the boys find El in the middle of the field — it’s just like the scene where E.T. is discovered.
In fact, E.T. and Eleven are very alike. They are intrigued by certain technologies (the TV in particular) and have a sweet tooth. While E.T. doesn’t pick and choose when it comes to sweets, Eleven loves her Eggos!
3. Alien (1979)
Stranger Things borrows similarly terrifying characteristics for their creature from the 1979 film, Alien. In the the show, we see these ugly slug-like creatures that can latch onto people’s faces. As if that isn’t scary enough, we also learn in episode eight these creatures use humans as incubators. In the older film, Sigourney Weaver‘s character Ellen Ripley and her crew fight off aliens that grab onto your face, AKA “facehuggers”. Seems like déjà vu to me!
4. Carrie (1976)
Does Eleven’s telekinetic powers remind you of a certain popular horror film? In the 1976 film, Carrie, based on the novel by horror icon Stephen King, the titular character played by Sissy Spacek had telekinetic powers, too. Eleven also looks innocent just like Carrie. Looks can be decieving.
Once Carrie and Eleven are provoked, the lights flicker or the kitchen silverware stars flying across the room. These girls are not ones you want to mess with.
5. Star Wars Episode V: Empire Strikes Back (1980)
Stranger Things is not shy about its love for the Star Wars flick. One of the most obvious references to spot is the “Lando” analogy the boys would make when accusing Eleven of being a possible traitor.
Furthermore, Mike (Finn Wolfhard) introduces his Yoda action figure to El and she also gets praise from the boys for having “Jedi-like” powers (which, yeah, she totally does). This film reference is loud and clear.
6. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Horror legend Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street get a shoutout too. In one episode, Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan try their hardest to bait the other worldly creature into his room — thinking they can stop the madness the creature is putting their town under. Their self-made booby trap and fire mechanism screams all things Freddy Kruger.
Nancy is legit named after the main character in the 1984 flick and in A Nightmare on Elm Street, we see Nancy, played by Heather Langenkamp, rig her home in a similar way so that she can catch Freddy Kruger and set him on fire.
Need more evidence that Stranger Things was taking major notes from Wes Craven? The monster loves to creepily push its claws up against the wall… does that remind you of anyone else?
7. Poltergeist (1982)
The first episode of Stranger Things feels like it took a page straight out of Tobe Hooper’s 1982 supernatural classic, Poltergeist. In the show, we meet Joyce (Winona Ryder) whose son, Will (Noah Schnapp) vanishes after coming across a creature from another dimension known as the “Upside Down.” Joyce hears her missing son trying to communicate with her through the walls of her home, similarly to Carol Anne (Heather O’Rourke) in the movie.
8. The Goonies (1985)
The kids of Stranger Things contributed to the show’s massive popularity because their friendship rang nostalgic for many ’80s film fans, but especially those who loved one very special movie… The Goonies.
The friendship between the nerdy and adventurous Mike, Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) seems to be a nod to the 1985 film The Goonies. The movie is about a group of boys saving their homes from being demolished, but the show takes on a much more serious scenario where the kids’ mission is to save their missing friend and protect their new friend. They’re also big time Dungeons and Dragon game fans, just like the boys in The Goonies.
9. Jaws (1975)
Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, is referenced in a few times during the Netflix show. One of the more hidden references comes when you look closely in Will’s room: you can see a glimpse of a Jaws poster hanging on his wall.
Additionally, the scene where the police chief, Jim Hopper (David Harbour), is writing up a police report while chatting with Joyce is shot in a similar fashion compared to the one in the film. Seriously, watch them side-by-side and it’s pretty obvious.
10. Firestarter (1984)
Eleven has a few things in common with Charlie McGee (Drew Barrymore), the protagonist in the 1984 film Firestarter, based on another book written by Stephen King. Like Charlie, El is being chased by the government because they want to take advantage of her psychic ability. Both characters were born with their psychic powers because of experimental testing by corrupt agencies.
Even El’s nosebleeds pay homage to the film! Charlie’s father in Firestarer gets nosebleeds whenever he tries out his hypnosis powers. There are some clear parallels.
11. Pretty in Pink (1986)
Not all of the film references found on Stranger Things are horror or sci-fi related. John Hughes’ movies were influential during the 80s and have stayed iconic to this day.
His film, Pretty in Pink get a nice shout out in the show. Like the ’80s rom-com, Stranger Things tells the story of Nancy, a popular girl who has to choose between her high school sweetheart Steve Harrington (Joey Keery) and the affections from the outsider cutie, Jonathan. The show is also riddled with teenage angst. John Hughes would probably be proud.
12. Little Shops of Horrors (1986)
Though Stranger Things is not a musical, it does reference one unique horror/musical, the 1984 classic Little Shop of Horrors. We already talked about the monster’s similarities with the one in Alien with its web-like pod, but it can’t be ignored that it also looks like a terrifying Venus Fly Trap plant similar to the one in the musical.
To reiterate, the creature does not sing or dance.
13. Minority Report (2002)
Here is a reference for you that doesn’t come from the ’80s but still is quite significant to point out. El is lowered into what looks like a bathtub (or pool) so she can go back to the “Upside Down” dimension. This scene looks eerily similar to the one in Minority Report where “precogs” would be put into a tub to help predict future criminal events. The precogs and El also wear similar contraptions on their heads that measure brain activity.
14. Scanners (1981)
If you are not super familiar with David Cronenberg‘s movie Scanners, this reference may not pop out to you. Much like Firestarter, Scanners is also a movie about a someone who is telekinetic being hounded by the government. The biggest homage to the 1981 flick is the scene when El faces off with government agents and uses her powers to stop them by squashing their heads, making them bleed out their eyes. Gross? Yes. But El still proves she is a boss and that’s all that matters in the end.
15. The Shining (1980)
This reference is small to overlook but it’s a big homage to one of Stanley Kubrick’s films, The Shining, an adaptation of the book by Stephen King. A determined Joyce destroys her wall with an axe in order to get to her son. This is a reference to the iconic scene where the murderous, insane Jack Torrence (Jack Nicholson) takes an axe to the wall as he hunts down his wife and his kid.
16. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
If you watch the show, you’re probably inspired to decorate your room with multi-colored Christmas lights, like what Joyce does when she learns her son is communicating to her through electricity. The lighting spectacle is a homage to the climactic scene in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Joyce’s actions also closely resembles that of Richard Dreyfuss’ character, Rory Neary, when he gets a premonition.