Anyone who spent time in the ‘80s can tell you about the multitude of pop culture Easter eggs in Stranger Things - and there’s a wide variety of memorable examples to choose from. But it’s all the less obvious pop culture references in Stranger Things that are seamlessly slipped into the plot of the series that truly mark it as a hallmark of homages.
The Duffer brothers have gone out of their way to insert as much nostalgia into their series as possible without bogging it down, and through the seasons they seem to have perfected the formula, with the Starcourt Mall in Season 3 almost earning a place as a character. Stranger Things manages the difficult task of feeling old and new at the same time.
There may be no more direct homage to the ‘80s than the presence of Sean Astin, an actor who has appeared in several iconic movies throughout his lengthy Hollywood career, including The Goonies.
The Duffer brothers’ Netflix series definitely cribs a number of notes from The Goonies, and Astin himself can’t help but make a callback to his childhood performance in Season 2 of Stranger Things. When the cast is trying to decipher Will Byers’s manically-scrawled maps in episode 5, Astin’s Bob Newby remarks, “What’s at the X? Pirate treasure?” It doesn’t take a film historian to catch the reference, and the Duffer brothers confirmed it was an intentional homage.
You don't have to look much farther than the two most noteworthy movie monsters of the ‘80s to find the key influences for Stranger Things’ Demogorgon. The creature is an obvious homage to the Xenomorphs of the Alien franchise, with its oddly distended limbs and strange skin, but it also borrows some traits from a rival villain: the Predator.
Not only does the Demogorgon’s face open up in a horrific display of ferocity reminiscent of the Predator, it also makes a terrifyingly familiar clicking noise to communicate.
There’s a long history in pop culture of psychic powers being depicted as causing nosebleeds, but most believe that the trope got its start in 1984’s Firestarter, a film based on a Stephen King novel of the same name. In that case, it’s the victims of a young female with mental powers who bleed from their nostrils, but over time the trend has turned towards the psychics themselves leaking fluid whenever they push their abilities too far.
Stranger Things’ Eleven is just another in a long line of telekinetics who need a tissue every time they melt a mind.
In 1982’s Poltergeist, young Carol Anne Freeling is sucked into the spiritual world through a portal, but her family is able to communicate with her through the use of electronics - in this case, a television tuned to an empty channel.
That’s a pretty direct parallel to what Joyce Byers has to deal with in Season 1 of Stranger Things, in which her son Will is trapped inside the “Upside Down.” Joyce has to talk to her son through elaborately-placed Christmas lights and thus has to put more effort into the process than the Freelings ever did, but it’s an unquestionably traumatic experience for both families.