The best '80s pop culture references in Stranger Things season 3
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Stranger Things season 3.
Stranger Things season 3 is great for a lot of reasons.
First — and most importantly! — it gave us an excuse to cancel our fourth of July plans that guaranteed a nasty sunburn to stay inside and binge-watch all day long while still providing a fireworks performance to rival your local one. It also satisfied the craving for thoroughly creepy horror with a giant creature made of melted human flesh, organs and bones (in case you needed more inspiration for your nightmares). And it turned back the clock to go full nostalgia with a ton of ’80s pop culture references, songs, and Easter eggs. Really, did you expect anything less?
Throughout all eight episodes of Stranger Things season 3, the Duffer Brothers sprinkled in so many iconic ’80s homages that it can be hard to remember (or even notice!) them all. In case you may have missed one or two (or 10 … ), EW rounded up the best pop culture references in the latest season. Did you catch them all?
“Never Surrender” by Corey Hart plus
Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Eleven’s (Millie Bobby Brown) make-out session in the season premiere had the perfect ’80s soundtrack with this song. It was so good, Mike stopped kissing to belt out the words. Romantic!
Bryan Adams and Corey Hart cassette tapes
Eleven’s shelves feature more music from Hart, as well as some tapes of Bryan Adams. She’s certainly got a specific taste in ’80s pop stars, and there’s no way it came from her dad Chief Hopper (David Harbour). Maybe her BFF Max (Sadie Sink) had already started influencing her before their big shopping trip.
What year is it? There may be a remake of Magnum P.I. currently airing on CBS, but in Stranger Things, Hopper is enjoying the original Tom Selleck series while relaxing at home.
Day of the Dead
Thanks to Steve (Joe Keery) getting a job slinging scoops of ice cream at the mall over summer break, Mike, Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin), Will (Noah Schnapp), and Max are able to sneak into the movie theater and watch their favorite new movie over and over again … for free! George Romero’s 1985 zombie horror movie is the group’s new obsession, and it eerily foreshadows the adventure their friend Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is going to encounter later in the season down in the Russian bunker.
“Hot Blooded” by Foreigner
So this may not technically be an ’80s song (it actually came out two years earlier in 1978) but its popularity remained in the ’80s. And it fit quite perfectly in the scene where Billy (Dacre Montgomery) — before the Mind Flayer infected him — appreciates Mrs. Wheeler (Cara Buono) as she shows off her sexy new swimsuit at the public pool.
Taking us back to happier times, when Joyce (Winona Ryder) flashed back to a memory of watching TV with Bob (Sean Astin), the comedy that cracked them up was Cheers. Bob’s fantasy of the characters Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) finally getting back together was shared by many Cheers fans throughout the show’s run, making the couple one of the most iconic will-they-won’t-they pairings in TV history.
“Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon
Hopper’s frustrations over his teenage daughter Eleven making out with her first boyfriend just a few feet away in her room was hilarious to watch. Couple that with this classic ’80s jam and you’ve got the perfect scene.
All those “Nancy Drew” nicknames and jokes that Nancy (Natalia Dyer) suffered at the hands of her misogynistic, bone-headed male superiors at the Hawkins Post were insufferable. But they definitely were of the time. While the character of the young female detective was around in books dating all the way back to the ’30s, it wasn’t until the ’80s that a more mature, professional version of Nancy Drew was introduced in the series The Nancy Drew Files. So either Nancy’s older male co-workers were spending their free time reading young adult books or they put in a lot of effort to make their jokes extremely accurate. Either way, Nancy deserved better.
“(I Just) Died In Your Arms” by Cutting Crew
Mrs. Wheeler almost cheated on her husband with Billy, but it’s a good thing she didn’t: infidelity aside, she didn’t know that Billy would have killed her and made her a part of the Mind Flayer’s disgusting weapon made of melted people, organs and bones instead of just giving her a night to remember in a motel room. This iconic jam played as she made a decision that not only saved her marriage but also her life as she stayed in and never met up with Billy.
Dustin’s science camp girlfriend Suzie (Gabriella Pizzolo), the one who lives out in Utah and is “hotter than Phoebe Cates,” had all his friends wondering if he just made her up to seem cool. But it turned out she was real, and meant more to Dustin than the Fast Times at Ridgemont High actor. In the season finale, the life-size cut out of Cates that Steve ran into in the video store was a nice callback to this repeated reference.
“You Don’t Mess Around With Jim” by Jim Croce
This is another pre-’80s track, but we’re including it for a different nostalgic reason: The 1972 track is what Hopper rocked out to during his instantly GIF-able dance scene back in season 2. This time, there wasn’t any dancing but he did happily sing along after successfully scaring Mike into staying away from Eleven so Hopper could finally have some quality time with his daughter. Was it right? Definitely not. Was it hilarious to watch? Sure was.
“Weird Al” Yankovic
Viewers ears may have perked up thinking they recognized “My Sharona” in the background when Joyce went to visit her son’s science teacher for some intel on why her fridge magnets suddenly stopped sticking. And although that would have been a great nod to Ryder’s iconic dance scene to the song in Reality Bites, it was actually “My Bologna,” Weird Al’s 1979 parody version. Sure, the song was a shave away from landing in the most tubular decade, but Weird Al mania was in full swing during the ’80s. Further cementing the Stranger Things love of all things “Weird,” Dustin wears a T-shirt in episode 3 featuring the cover of the musical comedian’s 1984 album “Weird Al” Yankovic in 3-D. And the man, the myth, the legend himself, Weird Al, threw some love right back to the show on Twitter.
“Material Girl” by Madonna
Eleven and Max’s trip to the mall to figure out El’s personal style was set to this classic ’80s bop. It might be a little on-the-nose for a shopping marathon, but hey, let the girls have their fun.
“Cold As Ice” by Foreigner
Another 1970s gem, but has there ever been a more perfect needle drop than this moment when Eleven dumps Mike for lying to her? Remember: friends don’t lie, and boyfriends definitely should never lie.
SuperTeen and Tiger Beat magazines
After Max and Eleven’s epic takedown of their boyfriends (or in Eleven’s case, her ex-boyfriend), their girl-bonding includes reading these classic teen magazines. And of course, Karate Kid‘s Ralph Macchio in all his glory is the centerfold.
When Steve and Dustin try to find the secret Russians infiltrating Starcourt Mall, they think they’ve spotted one thanks to his long blonde hair, big build, and mysterious duffle bag. Turns out he was just the Jazzercise instructor, giving us another classic ’80s Easter egg. Those leg warmers! Those hip thrusts!
Back to the Future
Michael J. Fox’s seminal film was great in its own right, but can we just have Steve narrating every iconic ’80s movie from now on? Especially if he’s been drugged with truth serum. “Wait, wait, the hot chick was Alex P. Keaton’s mom?” She sure was, Steve. And outside the movie theater, while Steve and Robin (Maya Hawke) are thirstily slurping down what looks like the most delicious water ever, eagle-eyed viewers can also spot posters for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Cocoon. And later there were more movie Easter eggs in the finale, with posters for Firestarter, Sixteen Candles, and more in the Family Video store.
Turns out that Magnum P.I. isn’t the only TV show Hopper loves. When Joyce asks Hopper out before their mission takes a turn for the worse down in the bunker, he tells her that he usually watches Miami Vice with Eleven so they need to plan their long-awaited date for an earlier hour. Unfortunately, he’ll never get the chance to go on that date or watch another episode of Miami Vice again. Unless he actually survived that big explosion?
Wonder Woman and Green Lantern
Now, this isn’t exclusively ’80s, but Eleven and Max reading Wonder Woman and Green Lantern comic books definitely feels right for the time.
When Russian scientist turned ally Alexei (Alex Utgoff) insults Hopper, he came up with a pretty creative one: Fat Rambo. It both references the popular 1982 movie and hits Hopper right in the gut — literally.
When Dustin and Erica (Priah Ferguson) crawl through air vents down in the Russian bunker, it was a great homage to Die Hard. But Dustin’s idea was totally his own, since Die Hard didn’t come out until 1988 — three years after Stranger Things season 3 takes place.
Is it just us or did that practically invincible Russian hitman played by Andrey Ivchenko chasing after Hopper and Joyce look and act a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator?
The NeverEnding Story theme song
Stranger Things season 3 had so many incredible music moments, but hands down the best one came in the finale when Dustin and his girlfriend Suzie — aka Dusty-bun and Suzie-poo — wowed us with a rousing rendition of The NeverEnding Story theme song. It was epic.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
Leave it to Dustin to come up with the most perfect call signs in a time of crisis. When the Mind Flayer attacks, the group has to split up and Dustin refers to Eleven’s group as the “Griswold Family” from this 1983 classic.
In 1985, Coca-Cola introduced a revamped version of its classic formula, calling it simply: New Coke. Lucas proves to be a big fan of the cola, calling it “delicious” as he chugs a can. In real life, the American public sided with the rest of the gang, never warming to the change, making the new formula a failure.
Speaking of Lucas’ love of New Coke, he leans on another pop culture reference to make his case. “It’s like [John] Carpenter’s The Thing,” he declares of the 1982 cult horror flick. “The original is a classic, no question about it. But the remake?” he asks, taking a swig. “Sweeter. Bolder. Better.”
Stranger Things season 3 is now streaming in full on Netflix.