The 'Stranger Things 2' Pop Culture References You May Not Have Noticed



Why, oh why do I do it to myself?

I watched Stranger Things 2 in a day, and while I absolutely loved it, I’m regretting not savouring it and taking my time to enjoy it.

What makes Stranger Things such captivating (and addictive) TV, is not the fantastic storyline and genuinely convincing acting, but the plethora of glorious 80’s pop culture references that pay homage to a number of trends, films and TV shows that make that nostalgia-filled ride oh so rewarding.

Some of them are subtle, and some of them are not so subtle, but here’s a few of the ones I enjoyed that you may not have noticed.



The influence of James Cameron’s Aliens is pretty evident throughout the series.

The most obvious is the casting of Paul Reiser as Dr. Owens, the scientist responsible for all the goings on in the Hawkins Lab. You might not know, however, that he also played Burke in the 1986 sci-fi classic – the guy who tried to convince Sigourney Weaver’s character to go back to the facehugger’s planet.

And there’s a scene in episode six where he’s using TV monitors to guide the group through the Upside Down tunnels that’s almost identical to one in Aliens, with him even saying “stay frosty, guys” – a direct line from the movie.

Also, the demodogs and the xenomorphs are eerily similar, don’t you think?

The Exorcist

Will’s struggles throughout Stranger Things 2 are very reminiscent of Linda Blair’s demonic possession in The Exorcist, particularly in the last episode when he’s strapped to the bed and is able to muster up some kind of demon super-strength.

Blair’s character, Regan MacNeil, also screams ‘help me‘ several times in the film, showing that she’s still alive somewhere, which Will similarly does by tapping out the words ‘here’ and ‘close gate’.

Mad Max

A pretty obvious one, but Sadie Sink’s gaming alias ‘Mad Max’ is a direct reference to the film of the same name.

Halloween Costumes

There’s a number of familiar Halloween costumes seen throughout the show, most notably Jason Voorhees and his infamous mask, as well as Max’s Michael Myers Halloween mask.

And how could we forget the group’s Ghostbusters costumes?

Steve and Nancy also pay homage to a film with their costumes, dressing up as Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay’s characters from the 1983 hit, Risky Business.


There’s a small E.T doll on a shelf at Dustin’s as well as Eleven trying to convince Hopper to take her trick or treating by wearing a white bed sheet with two eye-holes, which is a direct nod to everyone’s favourite extraterrestrial who at one point does the exact same thing.

It/Stephen King

Stephen King has several influences on Stranger Things 2, especially when it pertains to Bob.

Bob suggests to Joyce that she should move to Maine with him, which is where Stephen King is from and where he sets nearly all of his stories.

Then there’s the story of ‘Mr. Baldo’ that he tells Will in the third episode,”The Pollywog.” Mr. Baldo was a horrifying clown that terrified Bob when he was a child, until he scared him off by telling him to ‘go away’. This is a pretty obvious nod to Pennywise the Clown, another of Stephen King’s classic novels.

The Goonies

This is another pop culture reference courtesy of Sean Astin’s character, Bob. Astin played Mickey in The Goonies, which also happened to be about a group of socially awkward adolescents and their misadventures in various holes and caverns.

There’s more subtle references too, particularly in episode 5 where Bob is helping Will, Mike and Joyce discover the whereabouts of Hopper in the Upside Down tunnels.

Bob asks: “What’s at the X? Pirate treasure?” which is a nice little allusion to the whole plot of The Goonies where the gang go in search of gold on a pirate ship.

The Warriors

Eleven’s sister Eight leads a gang of misfits much like the gang members found in the 1979 cult film The Warriors.

Also, Steve Harrington’s nail infused baseball bat is like many of the weapons featured in the film.

The Empire Strikes Back,

Mike’s toy Millennium Falcon, of course.

Video Games

The arcade is one of the main hangouts for the crew, and the scene where Will has his first frightening episode.

It’s also the place for some classic 80s video games, such as Dragon’s Lair – which Dustin struggled with – as well as Centipede, Galaga, Asteroids, and Pac-Man.

Dig Dug was another throwback too, which is incidentally the name of episode 5, which is pretty relevant due to the predicament that Hopper finds himself in during the episode.

St. Elmo’s Fire

Billy looks a lot like Rob Lowe’s character from the 1985 coming-of-age film, doesn’t he?


There’s a few X-Men references that you probably noticed when you were watching, including Eight’s ability to make people see what she wants (like Charles Xavier) and the conflict Eleven faces within herself much like Jean Grey’s Dark Phoenix storyline.

The most obvious reference, however, comes when Eight is teaching Eleven to tap into her bad memories in order to move a huge freight train and unlock her full potential.

This is very similar to James McAvoy’s Professor X teaching Magneto to move a satellite dish by tapping into his fears and anger.


Stranger Things 2 is rife with great 80s music, from The Clash and Van Halen to Bob and Joyce dancing to “Islands in the Stream” and Chief Hopper listening to singer-songwriter Jim Croce.


Dustin’s ‘pollywog’ is much like Mogwai from Gremlins, particularly in its formative stages.

It seems nice at the beginning, but after mutating through a load of eating, it turns into an evil little nightmare hellbent on causing as much destruction as possible.

The Terminator

The film can be seen playing at the Hawkins cinema, whilst we catch a glimpse of the trailer when Eleven is channel-hopping on Hopper’s TV.

I miss watching it.

Might have to do it all over again.

Images via Netflix

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