9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (2023)

It’s back, demonerds! As "Stranger Things 4” gets its long-awaited release, we take a look at some of the top inspirations behind the show

In movies and TV, pop culture references allow creators to pay homage to the influences and fellow creatives that inspire them. They’re also an opportunity to connect with an audience on a deeper level, showing an understanding and appreciation for the world that has shaped them.

When it comes to ’80s references, few modern-day series do it better than Stranger Things. Created by Matt and Ross Duffer, the Netflix show—set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana—has been praised for its attention to detail in the setting of its supernatural storyline.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (1)

To celebrate the long-awaited release of Stranger Things 4 (May 27), we take a look at some of the biggest pop culture influences behind the new season, and explore some of the iconic references (and Easter eggs!) through the series so far.

1980s pop culture references in Stranger Things

From vintage denim, mullets, and bomber jackets, to interior set designs complete with wood paneling and floral wallpaper, style is one of its most recognizable tributes to the decade. But the show’s wardrobe and design choices are just one of many ways we see the ’80s honored throughout the seasons.

You’ll find a whole host of pop culture references in the Stranger Things—from a soundtrack featuring hits from the likes of Madonna and David Bowie to Eleven’s obsession with Eggo Waffles. Each of these details alone might seem insignificant but, together, they construct an entire world in which Stranger Things fans are able to immerse themselves and make an otherwise unlikely storyline believable.

The show writers also draw from classic '80s movies and iconic characters for their own storylines. But, what inspired the latest season, and what does it mean for the new episodes?

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Movies and series that influenced Stranger Things 4

The Stranger Things writers made sharing their inspiration for season four a regular feature as part of their Video Store Fridays series. In their final Tweet, the writers shared a whiteboard filled with movie references that they describe as “the DNA that makes up season four”.

Karate Kid, Edward Scissor Hands, The Descent, and Forrest Gump are a few of a long list of well-known titles that feature on the board.

(Video) Every Stranger Things Movie Reference Revealed by the Duffer Brothers (Seasons 1-3) | WIRED
9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (3)

Giving a breakdown of the official season trailer, the Duffer Brothers also discuss some of their influences for what the creative duo describes as their “more horror leaning season” in line with the maturing of its protagonists, so it’s no surprise that a number of them belong to the same genre…

Read on to learn some of the creative inspiration behind the new season: spoilers ahead!

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

From the Mindflayer to Demogorgons, Stranger Things has had its fair share of villains from the Upside Down—and things look set to get even darker in season four.

When it came to creating their “big new baddie” for the new season, Vecna, the Duffer Brothers took to the iconic and “very dark” antagonists that terrified them growing up for inspiration.

According to the pair, Vecna (named after a Dungeons & Dragon villain) is influenced by a combination of supernatural villains including Pennywise from Stephen King’s IT, Pinhead from Hellraiser, and, one of cinema’s most well-known monsters, Freddy Krueger from A Nightmare on Elm Street.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (4)

References to Freddy Krueger don’t stop there—they refer to it as “a season so deeply inspired by the Nightmare series." So much so that actor Robert Englund, who originally played Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, will also appear in the new season as “disturbed murderer" Victor Creel.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (5)

2. Game of Thrones

While the ’80s are undeniably a huge inspiration for the creators of the show, inspiration for Vecna’s look also came from Game of Thrones’ supernatural villain, the Night King. The pair even share the same prosthetic makeup artist, Barrie Gower. According to the team, Vecna’s costume is made using 90 percent practical effects.

In more comparisons to the HBO hit, the Duffer Brothers refer to the latest season of Stranger Things as their “Game of Thrones season”, perhaps hinting at an ambitious storyline that spans continents and points in time.

(Video) Stranger Things 4 | 80’s Pop Culture References & Easter Eggs
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3. The Shining

In another nod toward a classic 1980s horror, the writers were keen to introduce a haunted house to the series with the Creel House—the old home of one of the season’s aforementioned villains, Victor Creel, and his family.

Drawing comparisons to events that unfolded in The Shining’s Overlook Hotel, the Creels’ life gets turned upside down after moving into the haunted Hawkins house in the 1950s.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (7)

In a Creel House teaser trailer, what starts out as a picturesque portrayal of family life descends into a picture of a father with two lifeless children lying on the floor in front of him. It’s a shot that directly references an equally harrowing scene with Grady Twins from the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s iconic psychological horror.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (8)

More iconic ’80s influences and Easter eggs in Stranger Things so far

While the references hinted at in Stranger Things 4 reflect the show’s creators leaning into the darker side of the horror genre, all of the seasons are packed with references and Easter eggs from iconic 1980s adventure, comedy, sci-fi, and horror movies. Let’s take a look at some of the acclaimed titles that have inspired Stranger Things

4. The Goonies

A tight-knit group of small-town kids taking on a greater evil—sound familiar? The Goonies has been a core inspiration for Stranger Things throughout the seasons.

Although the Stranger Things gang arguably has more to contend with than criminals in search of treasure, the parallel between the two plots is clear, and it’s something we’re likely to see continued in the new season. The Duffer Brothers refer to the challenges the core group of friends faces in the next phase of their life as a key emotional conflict in the newer episodes.

(Video) Stranger Things Season 4: Every Movie Reference You Missed

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (9)

5. Ghostbusters

No list of ’80s comedy-sci-fi inspiration would be complete without the mention of Ghostbusters—its likeness to Stranger Things is clear when you consider that both storylines center around the hunt for supernatural beings, with a dose of humor.

The creators paid tribute to the franchise in the second season when main characters Lucas, Mike, Dustin, and Will dressed up in the iconic Ghostbuster outfits for Halloween. Subtle nods also continue into season four, with Easter eggs like an “I’ve been slimed” Ghostbusters button already appearing in the trailer.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (10)

6. Back to the Future

Set in the summer of 1985—the year Back to the Future was released—season three is rammed with Easter eggs from the classic time travel movie, starting with a Back to the Future movie poster up in the mall cinema in episode one.

One of the more notable nods comes in episode seven where some of the gang lay low in the cinema while Back to the Future plays on the big screen, followed by a series of events reminiscent of the comedy/sci-fi—including a mall parking lot with speeding cars.

Some fan theories also suggest the references could hint at time travel being a theme in season four.

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7. WarGames

The attention to detail is what makes Stranger Things stand out from the crowd, and the name of the arcade in the second season is a perfect example.

First seen in the season two premiere, the Palace Arcade in Hawkins gets its name from the 20 Grand Palace Arcade that features in the 1983 Cold War sci-fi, WarGames—a film about a computer hacker who accidentally almost starts World War III.

(Video) All The '80s References You Missed In 'Stranger Things' Season 3 | Pop Culture Decoded

Like many movie references in Stranger Things, little nods to WarGames appear throughout the series, including small Easter eggs like a shot of the film in VHS form along in the background of the Byers’ household.

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8. E.T.

Another recurring influence, references to Stephen Speilberg’s E.T. can be spotted throughout all the seasons. From Eleven’s homemade ghost costume in season two to the figurine of the iconic TV alien in Dustin’s room, E.T.’s influence is undeniable (ScreenRant shares a long list of times ET references crop up through the seasons).

The initial plot outline itself even appears to mirror that of the movie: a protagonist (Eleven) forced to adapt to a world they’re not used to and spend a good portion of time hiding in their best friends’ bedrooms in the process.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (13)

9. Gremlins

Gremlins is another classic ‘80s title you’ll find multiple references to. They range from subtle Easter eggs—like boxes of the Gremlins on sale—to the less so, like the time Dustin finds himself caring for a growing Demogorgon, just like Billy with the Gremlins in the 1984 horror/fantasy.

9 Iconic Movie and Pop Culture References in Stranger Things | Blog | Domestika (14)

Which movies, TV shows, and other pop culture references do you think have influenced Stranger Things? Share your favorites in the comments.

Learn more behind-the-scenes facts from movies and TV

- Learn about iconic inspirations behind the epic Star Wars saga with a breakdown of art and myth influences referenced in the movies.

- From Star Wars to Toy Story, discover ten of the best movie Easter eggs hidden in classic films.

(Video) Stranger Things: Every Movie Reference You Missed

- Discover the skills needed to make your own movie or TV show by exploring all of Domestika's online movie, video, and TV courses.

FAQs

Is Stranger Things considered as a pop culture? ›

If those words read like gibberish to you, then you're behind on one of the largest pop culture sensations of the decade: “Stranger Things.”

What movie is Stranger Things connected to? ›

Stranger Things pays homage to Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, the second installment in the franchise.

What movies does Stranger Things 4 reference? ›

  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
  • Hellraiser (1987)
  • Stephen King.
  • David Lynch.
  • Silence of the Lambs (1991)
  • The Dark Phoenix Saga (1980)
  • The Gate (1987)
  • The Ring (2002)
31 May 2022

What is the most famous line in Stranger Things? ›

Perhaps the most famous quote from Stranger Things, “Friends don't lie” has been a beacon of guidance for young Eleven.

What is Stranger Things inspired by? ›

Stranger Things is inspired by a 'true' story.

The show was originally called 'Montauk' and took inspiration from an alleged US Military programme named The Montauk Project which, legend has it, included experiments on children involving mind reading, mind control and time travel.

Why is Stranger Things so iconic? ›

Stranger Things' enormous success can be attributed to many factors, as it is a production that has been critically acclaimed, among many things, for its plot, direction, performances, and outstanding atmosphere, set in the 80s, right down to the smallest detail.

What Is a Stranger Things pop up? ›

"Guests are immersed into an original "Stranger Things" storyline...[it] combines the special effects of a 3D Universal Studios ride with a telekinetic escape room." "Immerse yourself on your own adventure with Eleven, Michael, Dustin, Lucas, Max and Will for a very special episode starring none other than you."

What are 5 facts about Stranger Things? ›

41 Stranger Things Facts That Will Turn Your World 'Upside Down'
  • Millie Bobby Brown is British. ...
  • She Actually Shaved Her Hair! ...
  • Stranger Things is Based on Real Life (Kinda) ...
  • The Cast Can Sing! ...
  • Steven Spielberg Inspired the Makers of the Show. ...
  • Stranger Things was Rejected Over 15 Times.
11 Jul 2022

Which movies inspired each season of Stranger Things? ›

"Stand By Me", "E.T.," and "Firestarter" also inspired themes throughout all four seasons of the show.

What horror movies influenced Stranger Things? ›

When it comes to horrifying suspense, 1979's Alien and its sequel are two of the best films of all time. Stranger Things uses the same kind of scary suspense and also replicates some character designs from the iconic horror franchise.

Is Stranger Things based on a true story? ›

There's actually more truth to Stranger Things than you may think. Stranger Things might be a supernatural drama but the beloved series is based on a CIA experiment that actually happened.

What movie did Stranger Things copy? ›

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) Close Encounters of the Third Kind, besides being among Steven Spielberg's best films, is a frequently-cited inspiration for Stranger Things.

What movie talks about the stranger? ›

The Stranger is a 2022 Australian psychological crime thriller film written and directed by Thomas M. Wright, starring Joel Edgerton and Sean Harris.
...
The Stranger (2022 film)
The Stranger
Based onThe Sting: The Undercover Operation That Caught Daniel Morcombe's Killer by Kate Kyriacou
14 more rows

Is Stranger things 4 inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street? ›

Stranger Things' fourth season hasn't been shy about paying homage to Wes Craven's seminal 1984 horror movie A Nightmare on Elm Street and its many sequels.

What was Eleven's first word? ›

And that's only the average – in the first episode, Eleven only says three words: "No", “Eleven” and “Eleven”. The other episodes?

Can Byers iconic lines? ›

"When you're different, sometimes you feel like a mistake. But you make her feel like she's not a mistake at all. Like she's better for being different." —Will Byers.

Why is it called Stranger Things? ›

The show was originally supposed to be based in Montauk.

They later came up with the name "Stranger Things," in part because it sounded like the Stephen King novel, "Needful Things." A list of the show's alternate titles is somewhere out there.

Who is Eleven from Stranger Things inspired by? ›

The Duffer Brothers based the character of Eleven on survivors of the Project MKUltra experiments, with influences from E.T. and the idea of being an outsider.

Is the demogorgon real? ›

No. The Demogorgon, also known as the Monster, is a predatory humanoid creature that originated from the parallel dimension known as the Upside Down. It is a fictional character in TV series Stranger Things.

Is Stranger Things the most popular show? ›

In yet another record for a premiere weekend, Netflix said “Stranger Things 4” took the number one spot in 93 countries, while Stranger Things was the top ranked TV in 83 countries. Netflix released the first seven episodes of the latest season. The remaining installment will air July 1.

Why Stranger Things is the best series? ›

Though the main characters of Stranger Things are kids, the series is quite adult with deeply written roles and an excellent cast. The young actors bring maturity beyond their years to the leading roles. Millie Bobby Brown is show-stopping as Eleven, the girl with mysterious psychokinetic abilities.

Why is Stranger Things 13+? ›

Mature Content in Stranger Things

There is kissing, sexual references, and talking about sex in Stranger Things Season 4.

Where is the Stranger Things pop up at? ›

Netflix has opened a pop-up shop at The Grove, a major retail complex in Los Angeles. At Netflix's new shop, visitors can peruse and purchase costumes from some of the streamer's biggest hits, including Stranger Things, Squid Game, and Bridgerton.

What was the opening message on Stranger Things? ›

But given the recent tragic shooting at a school in Texas, viewers may find the opening scene of episode 1 distressing,” the message states. “We are deeply saddened by this unspeakable violence, and our hearts go out to every family mourning a loved one.”

Who was the killer in Stranger Things? ›

While he lives in the Upside Down, Vecna can psychically reach into the human world, kind of like the Mind Flayer's connection with Will. He makes his presence known in Hawkins by murdering the town's teenagers in a truly gruesome fashion, all through mental connections (which is especially terrifying).

What mental illness does Stranger Things have? ›

Max Mayfield, another character, has been transformed by the demons she encounters, while chief of police Jim Hopper continues to deal with his anger issues and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The show has also addressed some major mental health issues that the world needs to become aware of.

What are the powers of 11 Stranger Things? ›

Biokinesis: Eleven could manipulate the bodies of living creatures to a certain extent, as shown when she disintegrated the Demogorgon. This ability is rooted from the primary telekinetic power. Resurrection: Eleven can resurrect deceased characters.

Is Stranger Things based on another movie? ›

Matt Duffer listed E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial as an inspiration for Stranger Things, and it's no surprise as the similarities are pretty obvious.

What inspired the Stranger Things logo? ›

'80s as Inspiration

The logo was created with the ITC Benguiat font designed by New York typographer, Ed Benguiat. It was chosen, according to Michelle Dougherty at Imaginary Forces, to look like a Stephen King novel font meets a title sequence of Alien (which was designed by Richard Greenberg).

What is the most popular monster in Stranger Things? ›

Demogorgon

Named after the Dungeons and Dragons antagonist, this iconic Stranger Things monster is probably the most notable monster and earned the number two spot for good reason. The murderous, violent creature doesn't have a mind of its own and obeys the Mind Flayer.

Who is the scariest character in Stranger Things? ›

1) Vecna. Vecna, AKA Henry Creel (Jamie Campbell Bower and Raphael Luce), is a human who transformed into a monster when banished to the Upside Down by Eleven. He is covered in gross, raw-looking flesh and monstrous tentacles. Vecna is responsible for several mysterious murders during the fourth season.

Is Hawkins lab a real place? ›

Standing in as the fictional Hawkins National Laboratory, the old Georgia Mental Health Institute (GMHI) was established in 1965 by Emory University and the state of Georgia on the grounds of the Briarcliff estate, the former home of Asa G.

Was Hawkins real? ›

The setting of the fantasy series has piqued the interest of fans who want to visit Hawkins, the town located in Indiana, USA where the action takes place. Except that this town is fictional.

Where is Hawkins real life? ›

While the fictional town of Hawkins isn't filmed in North Carolina – it's actually filmed in the bordering state of Georgia – real bodies of water, streets and other places in Durham have been name-dropped as landmarks in the madeup town. The intersection of Kerley and West Cornwallis in Durham.

What are the Durham references in Stranger Things? ›

Other Durham roads mentioned in Stranger Things

Other Durham roads and parks are mentioned as references in the show –– such as Forest Hills Park, Mt. Sinai Road, Randolph Road and others. Hawkins is an amalgamation of Durham, Montauk and other eerie towns the Duffer Brothers watched in horror films growing up.

Is there a Rick and Morty reference in Stranger Things? ›

👀 Did You Spot the "Rick and Morty" Reference in Stranger Things Season 4? Stranger Things season four includes a mention of Rick and Morty character Rick Sanchez. See when the Easter egg pops up here.

Why are there so many D&D references in Stranger Things? ›

Stranger Things follows a group of outcast kids in the '80s, so it's natural that Dungeons & Dragons is involved. The gang is seen playing D&D in the very first episode, but it is more interesting how Stranger Things incorporated D&D monsters into its story.

Why is hops in Russia Stranger Things? ›

Hopper appears to have been captured in Hawkins and then rendered to Russia as a political prisoner.

What did the Russian letter say in Stranger Things? ›

Open twelve day P.E.T.T. No govt, pls. Kind regards, Enzo.” The letter, which was sent by a proxy, was used to confirm to Joyce that Hopper was alive as well as to provide a number to contact Enzo — which Joyce promptly did.

Where is Hawkins in real life? ›

While the fictional town of Hawkins isn't filmed in North Carolina – it's actually filmed in the bordering state of Georgia – real bodies of water, streets and other places in Durham have been name-dropped as landmarks in the madeup town. The intersection of Kerley and West Cornwallis in Durham.

Do they say the F word in Stranger Things 4? ›

Stranger Things did not introduce the “f-word” until part-way through its second season, but then used it six times in Season 2, and five times in Season 3, and nine times in Season 4.

How much IQ does Rick have? ›

He is over 300. "And considering his advancements in Science Fiction technology. His IQ would be well over 500. "Rick is the smartest man on earth.

Is there 003 in Stranger Things? ›

1978. While Francine was on her way back to her room after an experiment, she saw Ricky in the hallway of the lab. After reacting with confusion, she pulled back his hand and saw the "003" tattoo stamped on his wrist.

Who was 001 in Stranger Things? ›

Who Plays 001 on 'Stranger Things'? Dr. Martin Brenner, played by actor Matthew Modine, conducted experiments on a number of children at Hawkins Lab.

Who is the villain in Stranger Things 4? ›

Who is Vecna? The big bad of Stranger Things season 4 is a humanoid monster with black skin and movable vines that protrude from his entire body. While he lives in the Upside Down, Vecna can psychically reach into the human world, kind of like the Mind Flayer's connection with Will.

Why is Stranger Things so popular? ›

Stranger Things' enormous success can be attributed to many factors, as it is a production that has been critically acclaimed, among many things, for its plot, direction, performances, and outstanding atmosphere, set in the 80s, right down to the smallest detail.

Who is 11 DND? ›

Eleven – Mage

Seeing as Eleven is a talented and powerful hero with supernatural powers that connect her to an underworld, and allow her to save or destroy the world, she's the only pick to hold the mantle of magical Mage in the Stranger Things universe. No other D&D class would fit this Stranger Things hero.

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