‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

The Stranger Things squad is back — returning to Netflix for Season 3 on July 4 — and this time the unlikely heroes of Hawkins, Indiana are headed into the summer of 1985, hitting the downtown mall, enjoying the local carnival, and doing their damndest to stop more Demogorgons from decimating their world.

Stranger Things frequently reflects 1980s pop culture history, while also being heavily influenced as a show by said pop culture, containing both moments that directly reference actual movies, TV shows, and games from the past and scenes that act as loving homages. So while the boys are dressing up like Ghostbusters and naming the Upside Down creatures after D&D monsters, the show itself is also constantly calling back to the ‘80s – even with several of its very purposefully cast adult characters.

Given this, we’re looking back at what some of the biggest properties in 1985 were – various stories and sagas that not only would have likely have made huge impressions on the characters from the show, but possibly influenced Season 3’s blueprint to boot. Will the kids bring up any of these films? Will they dress up like any new heroes? Let’s travel back to the summer of ’85 and check out what was big.


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

Richard Donner’s awesome ‘80s adventure about wise-cracking kids trying to save their seaside Oregon neighborhood from Mind-Flaying – er – real estate developers, is nostalgic royalty and Stranger Things is overflowing with Goonies-influenced antics and chemistry, including Season 2’s inclusion of Goonies star Sean Astin as Joyce’s ill-fated boyfriend, Bob.

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As of June 1985, the Stranger teens would have had a chance to actually see The Goonies in theaters and perhaps think, “Hey, that ragtag ensemble of children in the movie may be hunting treasure and not interdimensional demons – but the similarities are still striking! And that main kid looks like the kid version of our dead buddy, Bob!”


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

Gun-toting, buffed-out action stars were just reaching their pumped-up peak in 1985 – particularly Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger. With Arnold landing The Terminator in ’84, and then Commando in ’85 (granted, in October), he was just breaking into true super-stardom.

Meanwhile, Stallone floored fans with both Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV in 1985. Since it’s the summer, these kids would have only seen Rambo though, and – honestly – if we’re talking “one-man-army carves through his enemies like a hot knife through butter” then there’s no one more ’80s iconic than John Rambo, his red headband, and his massacring M60.

In fact, even though the story-so-far has taken place before Rambo and Commando, there have been nods (Lucas’ headband, gearing up montages, etc) to both films.


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

It certainly wouldn’t be Summer ’85 without Robert Zemeckis’ pitch perfect time-travel tale, Back to the Future – an exemplary blend of sci-fi, humor, and heart. Depending on what part of the summer Season 3 begins in (BTTF came out July 3, and the trailers make it clear the 4th of July is included), the Stranger squad could either be flying in McFly afterglow or eagerly trying to see the movie.

If they do watch it though, will one of them try and come up with a time travel solve for Hawkins’ latest Upside Down debacle? Could this series, given the extent of Eleven’s powers and the implications of crossing through a mirror dimension, start to dabble in space/time manipulation? By this point, not just with Back to the Future but also with The Terminator, time travel was on the frontlines of pop culture.

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‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

By 1985, many moviegoers knew who John Hughes was, in the wake of the filmmaker penning National Lampoon’s Vacation and writing and directing Sixteen Candles, but The Breakfast Club, which came out that February, mirrors the Hawkins gang the most, telling the story of high school students from different walks of life finding common ground, and friendship, during a day of detention.

Most notably, you’ll find Breakfast Club elements in Steve, the popular rich kid, now being good friends with the likes of Dustin and the other “losers.” Normally, this type of character would have devolved into a villain by now, but they chose to redeem Steve at the end of Season 1 and then also not have him not be a vile idiot in Season 2 after being dumped by Nancy. Steve is definitely living his best Breakfast Club life.


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

Stranger Things creators, the Duffer Brothers, already handed EW a list of movies that greatly influenced Season 3, and they’re all over the place. Some come from earlier in the ‘80s, some later. Some even from the ‘90s.

But mixed in with Fast Times at Ridgemont High (there is a prominent shopping mall in Season 3) and grotesque horror classics like The Thing and films from David Cronenberg’s cult catalog is Romancing the Stone – which came out in ’84. The rushed, and nowhere near as good, sequel, Jewel of the Nile premiered in ’85 though. So how do these these swashbuckling rom-coms figure into Season 3’s tapestry?

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Well, there are quite a few love connections in Stranger Things. From Mike and Eleven to Nancy and John to Lucas and Max (and maybe even Hopper and Joyce), Season 3 definitely seems to be about everyone growing up, moving on, and trying to leave the past behind. Especially since that past is quantifiably terrifying.


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

A holdover from Fall of ’84 (it opened in November of that year, after the brunt of Season 2’s events, minus the Snow Ball) A Nightmare on Elm Street’s idea of deadly dream invasions intersects with a lot of Stranger Things story elements – from Eleven’s cross-dimensional trips to Will’s tragic connection to the Upside Down and the visions he’s constantly cursed with.

Plus, we know how much the O.G. Things quartet loves Halloween so this film would have been right up their alley and we wouldn’t be surprised if one of them made more than a few Freddy Krueger references.


‘Stranger Things’: The Movie Influences of 1985

Summer of ’85 sci-fi flick D.A.R.Y.L. (which stands for Data-Analyzing Robot Youth Lifeform) never reached “classic” status or remained within our popular lexicon, but it’s all about secret government projects and people trying to help out an outcast kid (in this case, a robot) fit in/find a family/achieve a goal.

It smacks not only of Eleven and the MKUltra Project, but also Will’s side effects from the Upside Down and how he’s never really been the same since being trapped there in Season 1.

Stranger Things 3 premieres July 4th on Netflix. 

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