The major influences on the Netflix series sequel, plus more relevant stuff to see.
The first season of Stranger Things was a smorgasbord of nostalgic movie references. Set in the fall of 1983, the Netflix series paid very blatant homage to such favorites of the era as E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Alien, The Goonies, and more. There’s even a video showing the scenes from the influences and the show side by side. We can assume there will be one for the sequel, Stranger Things 2 (aka Stranger Things Season 2).
Until then, here’s a list of the 13 movies that you need to watch to fully appreciate the latest nine episodes — most of them are very obvious inspirations and most of them were released in 1984, the year of the season’s setting. But don’t expect to find Firestarter or any other movies that were already heavily referenced in Season 1. If we missed anything, let us know and we’ll add to the extra credit mentions at the end.
Release Date: March 9, 1984
No mermaids are introduced in Season 2, but there does appear to be a parallel between the series and this Ron Howard fantasy film. Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is found by Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) and given shelter in his home. She’s told to stay put and watch TV, but she wanders out anyway. If there’d been a department store shopping spree, the connection would be certain, but otherwise the sequence does feel familiar.
Release Date: April 13, 1984
It’s unlikely the kids (or anyone else) of Hawkins, Indiana, would have seen Penelope Spheeris’s ode to punk outcasts, but the Chicago gang that Eleven gets involved with in “Chapter 7: The Lost Sister” would love it. Only mohawked Axel (James Landry Hebert) and hip chick Dottie (Anna Jacoby-Heron) look like characters from the movie, but when they all walk in slow motion together, they evoke a similar shot in Suburbia.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
Release Date: May 23, 1984
Last year, when the Duffer Brothers revealed Season 2 would be set in 1984, they admitted there would be some love shown towards this Raiders of the Lost Ark sequel. While nobody has their heart ripped out and there’s no dangerous rope bridge, there is a screwball romance bit between Nancy (Natalia Dyer) and Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) that’s an exact copy of a scene in Temple of Doom between the title hero and his love interest, Willie Scott. There’s also a moment where the Indy-like Hopper goes back for his hat while in the tunnels.
Release Date: June 8, 1984
Even without the boys dressing up as Ghostbusters for Halloween, the influence of this paranormal comedy is certain. You’ve got demon dogs on the loose — “Demodogs,” as Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) calls them — and a possessed friend, but most notable is the sequence where the kids split up and search for the baby Demogorgon (“D’Art”) in the middle school, mimicking the Ghostbusters’ search for an unwanted guest at a ritzy hotel. Earlier in the season, also, Hopper and his deputies investigate pumpkins and trees that have been slimed.
Release Date: June 8, 1984
The boys must have missed this Steven Spielberg-produced movie released the same weekend as Ghostbusters, as that would explain why Dustin thought it a good idea to keep a strange creature as a pet. The Demogorgon pollywog isn’t nearly as plush-toy cute as Gizmo, the Mogwai that spawns deadly Gremlins (it reminds me more of the creatures in the Ghostbusters-like Evolution), but it does similarly seem to hate bright light (actually heat).
Red Dawn (1984)
Release Date: August 10, 1984
The whole situation of Stranger Things began because of an attempt to spy on the Soviets, so it’s not a stretch to see additional Cold War paranoia allegory in the series. At the start of Season 2, we meet conspiracy theorist Murray (Brett Gelman), who thinks Eleven is a Russian girl and the Soviets are infiltrating the small town of Hawkins. Could he have gotten the idea from this movie about a Soviet invasion of a small Colorado town and the kids who fight back?
Release Date: August 15, 1984
There aren’t any direct references to this, as far as I can tell, but it is a movie released in 1984 with a plot that’s relevant to the premise of Stranger Things — probably more so to the first season. Dennis Quaid stars as a psychic who had been part of a scientific research study, similar to Eleven, and also uses his ability to enter another realm. But for him that realm, in case you can’t tell from the title, involves dreams.
Release Date: August 31, 1984
You really shouldn’t bother with this sleazy erotic film unless you want to see something that Hopper might have been watching in 1984. His celebrity crush is apparently Bo Derek, star of Bolero and wife of its director, John Derek, and likely he prefers the actress in her 1979 breakthrough, 10, but may have also caught this big Razzie winner before it was widely known to be awful. This is to watch purely for historical context, of course.
The Terminator (1984) and Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)
Release Dates: October 26, 1984, and July 3, 1991
One of the only movies directly referenced in Stranger Things 2 is The Terminator, which opened the weekend before the show’s setting. We see the title on a theater marquee in Hawkins and a commercial for the movie while Eleven watches TV. But its first sequel is given more of an homage, not necessarily when a character says the words “judgment day” but definitely when Eleven decides against killing a man when she realizes his family is with him.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (1985)
Release Date: November 1, 1985
The first season of Stranger Things was heavily influenced by A Nightmare on Elm Street (which didn’t even open until after the main events of the second season). Fittingly, its follow-up may have inspired the plot of Season 2, specifically the part about the monster entering the real world by half-possessing the body of a young man. If intentional, though, the Duffer Brothers didn’t bother aping any of Freddy’s Revenge‘s homoerotic subtext.
Release Date: July 18, 1986
Given the influence of Alien on the first season of Stranger Things, naturally the second pays tribute to its sequel, Aliens, despite its being released two years after the events of the show. One sequence in which a military squad is ambushed and slaughtered by Demodogs as others witness the incident via radio and tracking monitor is straight out of the James Cameron-helmed sci-fi action horror blockbuster. To make it even clearer, Paul Reiser is present in both.
Release Date: September 8, 2017
The first season of Stranger Things took inspiration from Stephen King’s 1986 novel “It,” and that influence continues through the second season. The boys even have a red-haired girl in their party now, and Bob “The Brain” (Sean Astin) tells a story from his youth that sounds like a Pennywise reference. The link should be clearer to fans this season, though, because of the recent release of the It movie, which also stars Stranger Things regular Finn Wolfhard.
Extra Credit: The Exorcist (1973), Mad Max (1979), Mr. Mom (1983), The Lost Boys (1987)