Stranger Things Season 3 can be described as an 8-hour movie, but Netflix’s nostalgic sci-fi throwback to the ‘80s is still a TV show. However, the new season, which is set in the summer of 1985, is packed with references to movies from the ‘80s, including a handful of films that are actually pretty important to the plot. Listing all of them — especially the more subtle allusions — take about as much time as it takes to walk down the endlessly long hallway of a top-secret Soviet base, so instead, we’ll just highlight the seven best ‘80s movie references you’ll find on this side of the Upside-Down.
Best of all, if you’ve finished your Stranger Things binge, these movies can totally be what you binge next.
Day of the Dead (1985)
In the Season premiere, Mike, Lucas, Will, and Max abuse Steve’s access to the Starcourt Mall’s back passages in order to sneak into the cineplex so they can watch George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead for free. It’s a good movie, and it foreshadows the horde of zombie-like slaves that the Mind Flayer will soon unleash upon Hawkins, Indiana.
More interesting, though, is that the Duffer Brothers did their homework. It appears that the gang sees the film a couple of days before the Fourth of July, which would mean they were seeing Day of the Dead before it was released on July 3, 1985. But, it’s not a continuity error because when they walk by the poster, we briefly see that it’s apparently a “sneak preview.” This happened in real live, as a Hicksville, Long Island, radio station held an advance premiere screening of Day of the Dead on June 30, meaning it’s not inconceivable that Hawkins would get one in early July.
You can rent Day of the Dead on Amazon right here.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
The iconic 1982 comedy gets several shout-outs in Stranger Things Season 3, and it’s perhaps not that surprising that most of them allude to actress Phoebe Cates’ memorable movie moment. When Karen Wheeler and the other moms are ogling Billy (who may still be 17 years old when Season 3 takes place) as he walks out to the pool for his lifeguarding job, the Car’s song “Moving in Stereo” is playing. A classic tune, yes, but also the same song that’s playing in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when Cates’ character gets out of the pool.
Later in Season 3, Dustin claims his girlfriend Suzie is hotter than Phoebe Cates, and Steve, who spent most of the season wearing a dumb sailor outfit that wasn’t too dissimilar from the pirate costume Judge Reinhold’s character needs to wear in Fast Times, knocks over a cardboard cutout of Cates while trying to get a job at the video rental store.
You can rent Fast Times at Ridgemont High on Amazon right here.
Red Dawn (1984)
The 1984 film Red Dawn follows a group of high schoolers as they fight Soviets who have taken over their small Colorado town. Season 3 of Stranger Things follows a group of high schoolers, plus some college-age teens and a few adults, as they foil a plot by Soviets who have secretly invaded their small town. It’s not an explicit name-drop, the way some of the other memorable ‘80s movies references in the season are, but you can’t have kids fighting communist Russians in smalltown America in the mid-‘80s without it being some sort of Red Dawn allusion
You can rent Red Dawn on Amazon right here.
Back to the Future (1985)
Back to the Future hit theaters on July 4, 1985 — the exact same date as the Battle of Starcourt in the final episodes of Stranger Things Season 3. After escaping from the subterranean Russian base, Dustin and Erica hide in a screening that apparently wasn’t sold out on the opening night, although perhaps that’s understandable, given the big Fourth of July fair that was taking place nearby. In any case, the pair try to get Steve and Robin, who are stoned out of their minds on Russian interrogation drugs, to just lay low and watch the movie. Steve and Robin wander off, which must say more about how strong those drugs were than it does about Back to the Future because that movie is a stone-cold classic that you could watch any time.
You can rent Back to the Future on Amazon right here.
The NeverEnding Story
In a moment in the Season finale which was either hilarious or momentum-killing, depending on your appreciation of ‘80s pop and a certain cult classic movie, Dustin and his new girlfriend Suzie sing the theme song to the 1984 fantasy film The NeverEnding Story. Originally sung by the English pop singer Limahl, the theme song is probably the second-most iconic part of the film, the first being when the main character, Bastian, rides on the back of a flying, dog-like “luckdragon” named Falkor. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, 16-year-old Gaten Matarazzo, who plays Dustin, said he hadn’t heard the song before reading the script for the episode.
You can rent The NeverEnding Story on Amazon right here.
One of the best allusions to an ‘80s movie in Season 3 of Stranger Things is also one of the smallest. In the final episode, after the Starcourt Mall is kaput, Steve and Robin attempt to get new jobs at a video rental store. On one of the walls, there’s a poster for the 1984 film Firestarter, which is based on Steven King’s 1980 book of the same name.
Firestarter is a big, big influence on Stranger Things, and it has been since the beginning. The film and book are both about a young girl who has supernatural powers as a result of secret experimentation — just like Eleven, although Firestarter’s Charlie (played by a young Drew Barrymore) has pyrokinetic, rather than telekinetic abilities. Still, pretty neat to see Stranger Things give an explicit shout-out to one of its bigger influences.
You can rent Firestarter on Amazon right here.
Honorable Mentions: The Thing/Invasion of the Body Snatchers/The Blob
Finally, an extra, special nod to three classic horror movies of the era, all of which feel like they influenced the monster in Stranger Things Season 3 in various ways. The Mind Flayer takes over residents of Hawkins, not unlike the titular Body Snatchers from the 1978 version of the paranoia-inducing alien invasion film, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, which was a remake of the 1956 movie of the same name. (Also, let’s face it, 1978 is basically “the Eighties” when it comes to cinema. Alien came out in 1979, but we don’t really think it’s a ’70s movie, right?) Once the Mind Flayer has no more use for its victims’ corporeal forms, it has them explode into a blobby mush of gore and viscera, which is reminiscent of the Blob from the 1988 remake of The Blob. The Blob attacked a movie theater in its movie, and the Stranger Things monster comes pretty close.
Finally, the Stranger Things monster is also similar to another strange thing. John Carpenter’s 1982 horror classic The Thing (which was also a remake of a ‘50s horror movie like the two previous films), is a natural inspiration for the visual appearance of the monster, but Lucas also invokes both versions of The Thing in his defense of New Coke.