This could be the reason why we either love or hate Stranger Things: it is crammed with oh so subtle pop culture references, coming from contemporary cinema to the glorious 80s. So many of them in fact that the following recap is far from being exhaustive.
Let's start with the most obvious ones...
We knew it already: the four Hawkins kids love dressing up as the Ghostbusters crew, which was just out at the time of the story. That's an easy reference to catch, but other nods to pop culture are more subtle. The hunt starts here.
Invited to a Halloween party, Nancy and Steve have to dress up. It looks like they've just smartened up, but actually, their attire is a reference to Risky Business, a movie released in 1983 in which Tom Cruise plays a high schooler falling for prostitute Rebecca De Mornay. And that's not all.
When Jonathan turns up for the party, he meets a girl wearing heavy black and white makeup and sporting wild jay-black hair. "Kiss?" he blurts. Fail. She's in fact dressed up as Siouxsie Sioux, founder and singer of the British punk band Siouxsie and the Banshees.
It would have been a pretty obscure hipster reference at the time, no wonder he missed it.
On the other side of Hawkins, Eleven is bored to death in Sheriff Hopper's winter cabin and tries to negotiate with him so that she can go out on Halloween. Her cunning plan to avoid being spotted is to wear a white bedsheet with two holes where the eyes are, a direct reference to E.T the Extraterrestrial.
There is no need to explain newcomer Max' choice of video game champ nickname though, is there?
And then there's The Goonies. Ever since Netflix started Stranger Things in summer 2016, it has constantly been compared to Richard Donner's movie and for good reasons: Sean Astin, who plays Bob, was leader Mickey in The Goonies.
When at the Byers' in episode 5, Will, Mike and Joyce ask Bob to help them find sheriff Hopper, stuck in the Upside Down. Studying the map Will has drawn, Bob asks: "What's at the X? Pirate treasure?" It sounds innocuous enough, but in fact, it's all about the story of The Goonies, in which a gang of kids goes in search of the gold hidden in a pirate ship.
Still not convinced? Well, what if we told you that in the last episode when they are all roaming the Shadow Monster's tunnels under Hawkins, Steve Harrington is wearing a bandana, just like Brandon does in The Goonies, in which he, too, was is supposed to be just babysitting.
OK, we're in for a ride, but there's so many of them we'll just have to make some sort of cull there.
First, there's the Alien franchise. In addition to Sean Astin, another character starts in Stranger Things 2 and that's Dr. Owens, played by Paul Reiser. You might remember him as Burke, the kind-looking, reassuring-sounding insurance guy trying to convince Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) to go back to the facehuggers' planet. In Stranger Things 2, he plays a very similar role right from the start.
A bit later, in episode six to be precise, we see said Dr. Owens guiding his hit squad through the Upside Down tunnels through TV monitors. This scene is nearly an exact copy of what happens in Aliens. To top it all, one of lab guys says: "stay frosty, guys," which is a direct quote from James Cameron's movie.
Stranger Things 2 once again pays tribute to Rob Reiner's Stand by Me. In episode six, Steve and Dustin (a pairing that works surprisingly well), are walking along a rail track dropping bits of raw meat to attract Demogorgon pups (Dustin insists on calling them Demodogs). This scene is reminiscent of a similar one in the first season but also, strongly, of Stand by Me.
Many scenes in Stranger Things 2 reference cult Hollywood movies this way. In the first episode, for instance, Will steps out of his house into a wasteland in another of his "episodes." This scene is near identical to another in Steven Spielberg Close Encounter of The Third Kind, out in 1977.
One might doubt that the scene in which Steve and the kids are surrounded by Demodogs could be a reference to Jurrasic Park, but it is a true influence in the series.
Case in point: when Hopper, Joyce and the others are trapped in the lab mid-season, the sheriff asks: "Where are the breakers?", which is a word for word quote from Muldoon in Jurrasic Park.
Other references to the more contemporary cinema can be found in Stranger Things 2, such as Joss Whedon's The Cabin in the Woods, a horror flick featuring hordes of supernatural creatures escaping from a supposedly secure lab. Compare this to the Demodogs leaping out of the Earth and smashing the "certified unbreakable" lab windows to pieces.
Oh, and in the movie, the characters are following their escape through TV monitors, by the way.
In the same vein, the fact that Shadow Monster that's taken over Will can only thrive in freezing temperatures reminds us of The Thing by John Carpenter, in which an extraterrestrial entity attacks a group of scientists in Antarctica.
The scene featuring Eleven attempting to communicate with her biological mother, in this kind of dark halfway place we've come to recognize by now, matches the oniric places in Under the Skin, directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson. It's the same darkness, the same reflections of the characters on the ground, in short, it's quite possible it somehow influenced the Duffer brothers.
There's even something of Harry Potter to be seen in the link between Will and the Upside Down and in the way he feels the pain the Shadow Monster feels when Dr. Owens sends his troops to burn it. A parallel can be established between that and Voldermort's reaction to his Horcruxes being destroyed, but it could just be coincidental.
Will's performance when in the thralls of demonic possession, can also be compared to Linda Blair's, Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist.
In the controversial seventh episode, Eleven moves a huge freight train carriage with the power of her mind, egged on by co-lab rat Kali. This scene is a take on X Men: First Class, when Charles Xavier helps Magneto move a satellite.
In this episode, Kali can make herself and her friends appear invisible, a mental ability she also shares with Charles Xavier in the Marvel universe.
And let's not forget this second season's boss, the spider-looking Shadow Monster that takes over Will's body and mind. This reminds us of the nightmarish universe of H.P. Lovecraft and his mythical Chtulu, but it is also a reference to Maman, a pretty famous sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. Check it out, they do look alike, don't they?
Fun fact: this creepy sculpture was apparently the main influence behind Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, an adaptation from The Double, a novel by Nobel prize winner Jose Saramago.
All those 80s little details
Stranger Things wouldn't be so successful at bringing back the 80s without a multitude of little details representative of the atmosphere of the times.
First of all, there's the actual TV set: Eleven, who's got nothing much to do in Hopper's cabin apart from learning how to use a broom, spends her time in front of the screen. As she's channel- hopping with her mind, we see a trailer for Terminator, about to be released in 1984. We also recognize a well-groomed woman as being Susan Lucci, star of landmark soap opera All My Children that ended in 2013.
In the seventh episode, the bad guy Kali and Eleven are planning on teaching a lesson is also sitting in front of the TV. He's watching Punky Brewster, a sitcom about an orphan girl adopted by an old grouch. Could it be Eleven and Hopper by any chance?
Music wise, the soundtrack is flawless and so is the Duffer brothers' choice of tunes. There's the Clash, of course, Will and Jonathan's fav band, while Nancy seems to prefer Blondie (there's a poster of her on her bedroom wall). There are also tracks by Devo and Van Hallen, to name but a couple.
At the Halloween party, a girl is dressed up as Madonna, then at the top of her fame, while a guy in the street dressed himself up as Jason Voorhees, the baddie in Friday the 13th. Not quite a musical reference, but still something worth mentioning.
In episode five, at the Sinclairs' home, Lucas' dad is reading the newspaper at the breakfast table. One headline reads "Baby Fae’s Baboon Hear." This is a reference to the amazing case of Stephanie Fae Beauclair, the first baby ever to undergo a heart transplant. The catch was that the heart she received came from a baboon. The surgery itself was a success but she died a few weeks later.
The toys used as props in the second series also refer straight to the 80s. There's the Challenger model at Lucas' for one (that lift off in 1983). There's a small E.T doll on a shelf at the back at Dustin's and a huge Star Wars Millenium Falcon at Mike's. And that's saying nothing of the arcade games our young heroes spend their pocket money on, such as Dragon’s Lair and Dig Dug, hugely popular in the 80s.
Season 2 of Stranger Things is available in full on Netflix right now.