Compiled by the Higgypop Professor of the 1980s, Gareth Bellamy. He's so old, he can remember the 70s!
If you were lucky enough to remember the 80s, 'Stranger Things', the smash-hit Netflix series now released for its second season, is chock full of references to 80s music, tv, film and fashion. Even if you don’t remember the 80s, or you weren’t even born then, it's fun to try and pick out all the nods to that decade in the show. How many are you picking up in Season 2?
Spotted any 80s references in Stranger Things season 2 we've missed out? Let us know in the comments at the bottom of the page.
The episode title itself, Madmax, whilst a nickname for one of the new characters, takes us back to one of the great 'indie' films some of us enjoyed on home video rentals in the early 80s. Although recently updated, the original version of Mad Max starred a young Mel Gibson in the title role of a policeman in a post-apocalyptic Australia. Officially an 18 certificate, but most video lending libraries would let you rent anything apart from hardcore pornography provided you were old enough to ride your bike to their store in the first place. Hence a generation of young kids in the 80s watching all manner of films they were far too young for.
Signs seen on Mike's lawn, and later at the school, for the 1984 US election places this season very accurately in October 1984 – the date of the election itself was 6th November 1984.
Whilst the world of politics doesn't have much impact on the storyline of Stranger Things, it does set the wider context and help those of us who can remember that far back to get a sense of what was going on in the world at the time. In summary, it was Cold War-tastic. Reagan was campaigning for his second term in 1984. Whilst in the UK we were 'enjoying' the glorious reign of Margaret Thatcher. America was ramping up pressure on the Soviet Union, and sometimes it seemed like nuclear war could break out at any time. In the world of Stranger Things, this manifests itself in the fact that 11 has been reported as being a Russian child with 'psyonic/psychic' abilities.
The boys desperately searching for coins to take to the arcade is an abiding memory for those of us who first got a computer gaming fix in arcades. Trying to balance gameplay and the novelty of new games with value for money was a tricky line to tread.
The Arcade also plays a key role in such 80s film classics as Tron (1982), WarGames (1983) and The Last Starfighter (1984).
A revolutionary game at the time as the game showed full motion animated cartoon video at a time most arcades games were based on either basic wireframe 3d imagery, or simple sprite animation with very limited colour depth and resolution. The player could basically jump between different scenes stored in a video disc. Sounds great, but, the game was very tricky to play, more expensive than most games, hard to track down, and prone to technical breakdowns. But, for a little while, it was the game we all wanted to see in our arcades.
A classic arcade game released by Atari in 1982. The plot, as it is, consists of having to kill underground beasties either by an air pump or dropping rocks on them. The game continues to see action on numerous re-releases, including on Xbox Live Arcade and Steam.
Regularly appearing in the 'top 100 games of all time' lists, Centipede first appeared in the arcades of 1980. A seemingly simple shoot-em-up, the player has to attempt to destroy a centipede as it wiggles its way down the screen towards the player. Snake on the Nokia phone can be seen as a Centipede variant, and it's safe to assume every computer or gaming format has had its own version of Centipede.
Another very accurately timed reference as the film was officially released on October 26th 1984 in the USA. The film is a great match for Stranger Things as, like the series, it is another science fiction story featuring an alternate dimension and, in the case of The Terminator, a rather imposing cinematic 'monster' in the form of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When Sherrif Hopper arrives at the station, he mentions how he wouldn't mind 'a date with Bo Derek'. Younger viewers might miss this reference, but in 1984 Bo Derek is what we old folk would have termed a 'sex symbol'. She achieved this status by appearing in the 1979 film '10' as an idealised woman for the star of the film, Dudley Moore. She was famously pictured in one scene running along a beach, in slo-mo, wearing a revealing, for the time, swimsuit.
You must remember that in the years before the web, before people like Nicki Minaj had their wares on display, seeing beautiful women in a state of undress was a very rare thing. So the impact it had on the female-admiring population of the world at the time was perhaps more profound than it would be today.
Reds Under The Bed
The conspiracy nut, Murray who we meet as he's reporting to Hopper about a Russian spy in Hawkins is referencing a couple of things.
Since the rise of the Cold War in the 1950s some people in the USA were worried about their country being taken over by Russian-sympathisers and agents from within, the so-called 'Reds under the bed' phenomenon. No evidence exists that this was ever a real threat, but paranoia can do strange(r) things to people.
Secondly this man's concern about a Russian invasion of the US references the plot of...
A 1984 film directed by John Milius, in which a group of American high school children resist an invasion of Russian paratroopers. Co-written by slightly unhinged, gun enthusiast John Milius.
Challenger Space Shuttle
On the wall of Mr Clarke's science lab is a display about the Challenger shuttle. The Challenger was the second of NASA's space shuttle fleet, and first flew in April 1983. At the time the series is set, it would have recently returned from its sixth mission to space. After the manned Apollo missions to the moon finished in 1972, excitement about space travel subsided during the late 70s. The shuttle programme returned a sense of excitement about space, and America's technological leadership over the Soviet Union. Nasa even spoke of hundreds of shuttle flights taking place by the year 2000, with space tourism becoming an affordable reality for many. So the class of Stranger Things, like many others in America and across the world, would have been celebrating the success of the Shuttle.
Tragedy would strike Challenger in January 1986 when it exploded during launch, killing all seven crew. What is relevant here is that NASA ran a huge public relations exercise to find a teacher to join this crew, meaning school children everywhere were excitedly following the launch to see someone they could perhaps relate more closely too, an ordinary teacher, fly into space. That interest turned to horror in seconds as millions watched the shuttle explode live on TV.
Joyce Byers, played by Winona Ryder, meets her new boyfriend, Bob Newby, played by Sean Astin, at her workplace at the general store. After a bit of a friendly snog in the store room, he has to return to work. As he leaves, they talk about what film they'll watch that night at 'movie night'. He says he doesn't like horror films as he 'hates scary movies'. Whilst not a horror as such, Astin was a key cast member of 80s classic The Goonies, chock full of scary moments. Is this line a nod to Astin's famous role?
Children of the Corn
When Hooper investigates the 'vandalised' pumpkin patch, he notices some movements in the field of corn next door. The 1984 horror film Children of The Corn, based on a Stephen King short story, features numerous shots of people being chased through corn fields. The plot of the film is about a mysterious entity which entices the children of a small town in the Midwest to ritually sacrifice anyone aged over 18.
There are already many parallels noted between Stranger Things season 1 and both the film and book of Stephen King's The Shining. Joyce wielding an axe is season 1 and tearing her wall apart whilst not sure if she's losing her mind is clearly riffing on Jack Nicholson's iconic performance as Jack 'Here's Johnny!' Torrance.
We think the scene in this first episode of season 2 where Will is wired up for an ECG exam by Dr Owens reflects the scene in the novel of The Shining where Danny Torrance has a similar exam due to his parents concern about his visions, his shining.
Finger Lickin' Good
When Steve and Nancy drop round for a delicious KFC dinner with Barb's parents, Steve mentions the KFC catchphrase of the time, 'Finger Lickin' Good', a tagline the internationally renowned fried chicken experts dropped in 2011.
Mike is asked to donate more toys as a punishment, 'But you already took my Atari!' he wails. Although the Atari home game console originally came out in the late 70s, it was still a popular in 1984, though the age of the home computer was now in the ascendent.
The film Bobby chooses to watch at the Byers film night. It's a 'comedy' released in 1983 starring Michael Keaton as a stay-at-home dad who, shock horror, takes on the chores of his wife, who is now working. You can picture the scene as he attempts to change nappies, do the washing up and even use a vacuum!
An obscure Stranger Things reference here is that the film stars Teri Garr who played a leading role in Spielberg's UFO masterpiece Close Encounters.
St Elmo's Fire
The new character Billy, sporting an incredible mullet hairdo (and an earring in a later episode) is mimicking the look of Rob Lowe in this 1985 coming of age movie that also starred Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Andie McDowell and Andrew McCarthy - a veritable who’s who of the Brat Pack film genre.
Sean Astin as Bob Newby
Astin, whilst perhaps best known for starring in the Lord of the Rings films as Samwise 'Sam' Gamgee, has clearly been cast because of his starring role as Mikey in classic 80s film The Goonies. The Goonies was acknowledged as a key influence for season 1 of Stranger Things, not least a bunch of kids embarking on a scary adventure as a metaplot of both stories. So landing a Goonie for Stranger Things is great casting.
Paul Reiser as Doctor Owens
Reiser is often associated with comedies, he's recently been doing sterling work in the Amazon comedy/drama series Red Oaks, another series that is based in the 80s and is chock full of 80s references – check it out after finishing Stranger Things!
He rose to fame after appearing in the 1982 drama Diner, he popped up again as a detective in Beverley Hills Cop, but it's his role as sleezebag company man Carter Burke in Aliens (1986) that puts him on our 80s reference radar. In Aliens, Burke puts the cash value of a captured alien as higher than that of his fellow humans. What a scumbag. So the minute we saw him as Dr Owens alarm bells started ringing.
Devo - 'Whip It' plays when the children are in the arcade.
Devo are a 'post punk' band formed in the US in 1973. Although they had a lengthy career, 'Whip It', released in 1980, is the track which they're most famous for. Despite the fact it only got to No. 51 in the UK charts, it's considered a classic of early 80s music. People aren't really sure about the meaning of the song as it seems to consist mainly of nonsense lyrics, apparently it's a reference to solving your problems by just 'whipping it'. Others thought the song was about something a bit more fruity.
Oingo Boingo - 'Just Another Day' plays over a montage of life in Hawkins after the scene at the arcade.
A band that made very little impact in the UK, active from 1972-1995. Famous for contributions to film soundtracks, in addition to film scorer Danny Elfman once being a member of the band. Elfman composed the scores for the majority of Tim Burton's films.
The Romantics - 'Talking in Your Sleep' plays when Steve and Nancy are talking in Steve's car.
A Detroit based rock band formed in 1977. They did little to worry the charts this side of the Atlantic. This track was covered by top 80s British popsters Bucks Fizz, who managed to get it to the dizzy heights of 15 in the pop parade in 1984.
Scorpions - 'Rock You Like a Hurricane' plays when new boy Billy drives up to school.
Scorpions, German rock band most famous for their global smash 'Wind of Change', a track about the geopolitical changes which rocked the world in the late 80s/early 90s rather than flatulence. Rock You Like a Hurricane is taken from their 1984 album, Love at First Sting.
Gary Paxton - 'Spooky Movies' plays in the store when Bob visits Joyce Byers.
Gary Paxton was a producer, writer and performer active from 1959 until his death in 2016. Many people would know him for producing the definitive old school Halloween classic 'Monster Mash' by Bobby Pickett.
Warren Klein & Niki Oosterveen - 'Every Other Girl' playing in the headphones of the lab technician in the Hawkins Lab. No, we haven't heard of these guys either!
On To Episode Two
Halloween. A night when the barrier between our world, and other worlds, gets so thin, sometimes it breaks and things from beyond can enter our domain. Why should the town of Hawkins be any different during the season of the witch?
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