The first season of Netflix's hit Stranger Things was a loving homage to cinema from the 1980s, most notably Steven Spielberg classics. Stranger Things Season2 was more of a pastiche, pulling liberally from sources including Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back and the Indiana Jones series. So what '80s classics will showrunners the Duffer Brothers pull on for Season 3?
That's a tricky question to answer, most notably because they've just started working on breaking the story for the next installment. We've gotten some hints and teases (that massive, monstrous Mind Flayer looming over Hawkins Middle School in the final shot of Season 2 definitely indicates we're not done with the villainous smoke monster quite yet), but it's possible even the Duffers don't know exactly what easter eggs they'll be dropping in quite yet.
So let's help 'em out!
1. The Goonies
Stranger Things has liberally cribbed from Spielberg's fantasy classic for everything from the relationship between the older and younger kids, to using the movie's star, Sean Astin, in a memorable role during Season 2. But Season 3 should be a big one for Goonies because the movie came out in 1985. Why is that a big deal? Though we don't know for a fact when Stranger Things 3 will take place, the first season was set in November of 1983, while Season 2 jumped forward a year to October/November of 1984. The Duffers have confirmed that we'll continue that progression (those kids aren't getting younger, you know), so chances are if they stay on schedule we'll move forward to the Fall of 1985.
Quick caveat: the movies the Duffers pull from aren't strictly tied to the year the season is set in: Gremlins, Ghostbusters and The Terminator get referenced in Season 2, and came out in 1984; but Aliens wasn't released until 1986 (and is arguably the main inspo for the entire back half of Season 2); and Empire Strikes Back came out in 1980, yet the Duffers copy/pasted Luke's story arc from that movie and applied it to Eleven's (Millie Bobby Brown) arc in the unfairly maligned seventh episode.
Back to Goonies, though: I don't expect the pirate ghost that MacGuffins the plot of the movie forward to show up in Season 3, since it doesn't fit with the mythology of the show; but it's possible that a monstrous (but kind) character like Sloth (John Matuszak) could show up to fill the Dart sized hole in Dustin's (Gaten Matarazzo) heart. Whatever happens, given this has been such a touchstone for the series, I'd be shocked if ST3 didn't reference the flick in some way, at least with another actor showing up (Josh Brolin isn't busy, right?)
2. The Breakfast Club
Hear us out on this one: yes, Stranger Things has leaned heavily into the nerd references over sci-fi and action adventure '80s tropes and genres. But one major thing will definitely happen in Stranger Things 3, whether they jump forward to 1985, or 1986... Everyone will be in high school together — possibly even the previously home-schooled/home-tortured Eleven. That's a huge opportunity to lean more into the John Hughes-ian vibes ST has previously played with only on occasion, and what better movie to start with that 1985's Breakfast Club?
Giving all the kids detention because they raised a ruckus at school ("There's a monster, everyone run for your lives!") is a pretty easy leap to make — and letting Billy (Dacre Montgomery) do the classic fist pump to "Don't You (Forget About Me)" would be classic. Make it happen, Duffers.
3. Fright Night
Like pirate ghosts, it would be a little off game if Stranger Things started mixing in vampires, but there are two crucial reasons (beyond the fact that it's a horror movie that came out in 1985) that pulling from Fright Night would make a lot of sense. First, there's the theatrical poster, showing a vampire looming out of the clouds that looks exactly like that frightening final Season 2 shot. Second, there's a lot of crazy, weird s--t that's gone on in Hawkins, and chances are people are going to start investigating.
The plot of Fright Night involves a kid in a regular town who discovers his neighbor is a vampire, and enlists a TV vampire hunter to help him out. We had a touch of folks not quite believing the Hawkins cover story in Season 2 with Murray Bauman (Brett Gelman), but is it that much of a stretch to think there could be other monster hunters than Steve's (Joe Keery) kids somewhere in America?
4. Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome
They introduced a character nicknamed Mad Max (Sadie Sink) in the Season 2 premiere. Yes, they're gonna reference Beyond Thunderdome (hopefully by remaking Tina Turner's awesome end credits song).
5. Back to the Future
This is an odd one. One of the biggest movies of 1985, and one of the great classic sci-fi movies of all time, it seems like a no-brainer to reference in some way on Stranger Things. Except for the fact that it's about time travel, which so far doesn't seem to be remotely part of the mythology of the show. They could time travel, but like vampires and pirate ghosts, it seems unlikely. Chances are Dustin will trade his hoodie for a Marty McFly vest, and someone will get covered in manure (and maybe Billy will sleep with Nancy's Mom, which would be SUPER GROSS AND ILLEGAL), but that's it.
6. Real Genius
Science hijinks seem part and parcel with Stranger Things' DNA, so 1985's hit sci-fi comedy Real Genius would make a lot of sense to reference, even if those main characters are a little older than Mike (Finn Wolfhard) and Will (Noah Schnapp). Look forward to the scene where Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) fills their school with popcorn.
7. Pet Sematary
Spielberg isn't the only Steve who has heavily influenced Stranger Things. Stephen King's fingerprints are all over both seasons, including references and plot points from Firestarter and Carrie, as well as the whole "horror comes to a small town" vibe. There are a number of movie adaptations of King's work that came out in the '80s The Duffer Bros could use as scare fodder, but for my money the most obvious one is Pet Sematary. Season 2 ended with Dustin stuffing a dead demodog in a refrigerator. As Chekhov said, if you introduce a dead demodog int he Season 2 finale, it has to pay off in Season 3. And what's more horrifying than a carnivorous beastie hunting you for food? A half rotting one, pulling itself out of the grave.
8. Return of the Jedi
Yes, this came out in 1983, not '85. But the Duffers clearly looked to successful sequels for Season 2 inspiration (beyond Aliens and Empire Strikes Back, they've also said they were heavily inspired by Terminator 2), so it would make sense to check out successful for threequels for Season 3.
Only problem? There's not a lot of those in existence. Star Wars has been part of the mix since Eleven lifted that Millennium Falcon toy in Season 1, and as mentioned was the entire plot of Season 2's seventh episode. So when looking at how to stick the landing in Season 3, the Duffers could do worse than George Lucas' (at the time) final entry in the trilogy. In a way, it would make sense. We met the monstrous Demogorgon in Season 1, a la Darth Vader in the first Star Wars movie. We learned that the Demogorgon was just a pawn of a greater entity, the Mindflayer, a la the introduction of the evil Emperor in Empire. So in Season 3 we'll most likely finally see our band of heroes fight the Mindflayer head on.
Does that also mean we'll see Dustin's connection to Dart, the sort of good Demodog introduced in Season 2, help turn the Demos against their master, just like how Darth Vader eventually saved Luke from Emperor Palpatine's attacks at the end of Return of the Jedi? It would be pretty cool, if so (though there's a more likely possibility, below).
Just no Nancy (Natalia Dyer) in a Slave Leia bikini, please. Thanks.
9. The Fly
This is a random guess (versus all the very educated guesses before this), but 1986 brought us David Cronenberg's classic horror movie, The Fly. It would make a certain sort of sense to see the human monsters of Seasons 1 and 2 end up literally mixed up with the actual monsters as horrifying human/Upside Down denizen hybrids. Yuck.
10. Return to Oz
I'm throwing this 1985 Fairuza Balk starrer on this list mainly because The Wheelers — a gang of monsters who roll around on legs and arms made out of wheels — are still the most nightmare inducing things I've ever seen in my entire life. If Strangers Things 3 can figure out a way to work them in, I will A) be impressed, and B) never sleep again.
11. X-Men #200
Okay, look, this isn't a movie. I know that. It's a comic book. But one of the earliest references in Stranger Things was to X-Men #134, the issue that introduced the psychically powered, world-changing Dark Phoenix — previewing the introduction of Eleven a little later in the episode. Over the course of two seasons, the Duffers have homaged movies, but also never let go of the show's comic book roots, X-Men in particular. Shades of plotlines involving the sewer dwelling Morlocks were everywhere in Season 2 (Decider reporter Brett White has a good round-up of references, here); and there's every chance we'll get a very, very, very, very loose adaptation of one of the most classic X-Men issues of all time in Season 3.
That would be the aforementioned X-Men #200, "The Trial of Magneto." Released right at the end of 1985, the issue threw the villainous Magneto in front of an international court to pay for his crimes. By the end of the issue, Magneto had proved his worth as a hero, and promised his dying former rival Professor Xavier that he would try to be good, and take care of the X-Men.
In Season 2 of Stranger Things, we learned that the similarly silver haired villain Dr. Martin Brenner (Matthew Modine) wasn't dead, as was strongly implied at the end of Season 1. He was in hiding, and aside from a few visions courtesy Eleven's sister Kali (Linnea Berthelson) never showed up in the flesh.
But if I was to venture an extremely strong, educated guess, I'd say that we'll definitely see the return of Dr. Brenner in Season 3, and in a situation where he's either literally or figuratively put on trial for his crimes: torturing young psychically gifted children and training them to become murderous weapons. And if I was to venture another educated guess, I think we'll find him flip to become an anti-hero by the end of the season, promising to take care of his former wards while an old friend dies in his arms.
If it's Hopper (David Harbour), we riot.
[Side note: those visions in episode 7 were heavily inspired by Luke's visions of Darth Vader while training with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back. So following that logic (and the Return of the Jedi section above), we could see Brenner sacrificing his life for Eleven, to save her from the Mindflayer in Season 3. But I like the X-Men theory, better.]
Stranger Things 3 is currently in development. You can stream seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, right now.