Stranger Things: 15 Easter Eggs And References You Completely Missed
Since season one premiered on Netflix in the summer of 2016, Stranger Things has become nothing short of a pop cultural phenomenon. Filled with instantly iconic characters, gripping emotional sequences and action scenes alike, and so many pitch perfect ’80s references, the little series no one saw coming filled a void in our current television landscape that we didn’t even know needed to be filled.
Yet, despite all the mysteries presented by the series’ complex sci-fi premise, it’s perhaps the previously noted faithful replication of all things 1980s that keeps so many fans talking and analyzing each and every frame. Much of the discussion surrounding the upcoming second season has centered around what ’80s touchstones will be referenced and paid tribute to this time around now that it’s 1984 in Hawkins, Indiana.
While we may not know many of the ’80s works that season 2 will address, we do know a whole lot of the ones that season 1 referenced— some of which even the most eagle-eyed ’80s fan may have missed.
15. CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE DEMOGORGON KIND
Tiny children are completely curious by nature, so it’s not really a surprise when they wander off and try to learn things all on their own. In sci-fi and horror media, however, that’s possibly the worst possible thing any children could do.
Look no further than the clear Close Encounters of the Third Kindreference Stranger Things makes in its third episode, “Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly”. Young Holly Wheeler, fascinated by the randomly twinkling Christmas lights, wanders away from the oblivious adults in the kitchen and stumbles upon the Demogorgon trying to break through Will’s bedroom wall from the Upside Down.
Similarly, in Close Encounters, young Barry Guiler finds himself drawn to the bright lights on the other side of the front door that signal the aliens’ arrival and opens the door to try and find the source himself.
14. ELEVEN AND ET’S TV HABITS
Whether you live in a state of captivity hidden away from the world while being turned into a murder machine or whether you’re from out of this world, it stands to reason that you would have no experience with TV and the many bizarre commercials and shows that populate it.
Eleven’s traumatic experience with TV certainly reflects that, though the scene owes a great deal of credit to a similar moment in Steven Spielberg’s E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.
When Eleven watches TV for the first time, she finds herself having a PTSD-like episode when she sees a commercial for Coca-Cola, recalling some of the harrowing exercises Dr. Brenner forced her to complete.
Similarly, when E.T. watches TV for the first time, he finds himself quickly terrified by a Tom and Jerry sketch involving Tom being on fire, transfixed by a scene of a UFO pulling people into its orbit.
13. JUSTICE FOR STEF?
Undeniably the most unexpectedly popular character from the show (and also, without question, the most overrated), Barb is a character that many Stranger Things fans feel as though the series still needs to provide justice for in season 2. Yet, long before there was a need for #Justice for Barb, there was a character who was pretty much Barb in every way imaginable, except her name was Stef.
A quirky outsider character with a sharp tongue, over-sized glasses, and fiery red hair, Stephanie “Stef” Steinbrenner is to The Goonies everything Barb Holland is to Stranger Things.
Even more interesting, in addition to all their archetypal similarities, the two characters are also barely parts of their respective media, representing more of a type of character (The Quirky Female Friend) than an actual fully fleshed out character.
12. JOYCE’S SHINING MOMENT
All work and no play makes Joyce a dull girl? At least, that seems to be the parallel that Stranger Things tries to suggest. Mentally exhausted and driven to the point of hysteria, Joyce Byers is told time and again that she is going crazy for believing there’s any way that her son could be communicating with her from wherever it is he may be.
In one of her most impassioned frenzies, she takes an axe and hacks her way through her home’s wall, staring out through the wreckage in confusion when she realizes that Will isn’t there.
It’s this particular imagery of the violent chopping and the framing of her face by ragged wood panels that seems to suggest a reference to Jack Nicholson’s famous turn as the rage-fueled, axe-wielding Jack Torrance in The Shining.
11. ELEVEN’S FIRESTARTER EXPERIENCE
The identity of the organization occupying Hawkins Power and Light remains one of the biggest mysteries Stranger Thingshas yet to answer, but what is clear about this looming threat is this: much of the entire plot, ranging from its establishment to Eleven’s treatment within it, work in perfect parallel with the film Firestarter.
Firestarter includes a mysterious government agency known as “The Shop” that wants to turn a young girl into a killing machine. It also focuses on elements such as telepathy, telekinesis, bloody noses induced by considerable physical toil, a child being taken away from family who had been part of an experiment.
Each of these traits, among many others, went into the making of Eleven as we know her.
10. STAND BY STRANGER THINGS
Certain visuals are just too good to pass up when there’s a metaphorical meaning attached. Rivers represent journeys of the self, sunrise signals the beginning of something new, and train tracks present an easy to follow metaphor for characters who find themselves at a crossroads.
In Stranger Things, Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Eleven travel along the train tracks in Hawkins while trying to determine Will’s location based on the shifting gravitational pull on their compasses. Inevitably, their efforts fall short, due to the dramatic reveal that Eleven has been working to keep them from learning the truth the whole time.
Similarly, while the Stranger kids travel together to find the friend they hope to be alive, the group of preteen friends in Stand By Me travel along the winding train tracks in search of a boy they believe to be dead, all while their friendship is falling apart at the seams.
9. WILL AND ELLIOTT’S FIRST IMPRESSIONS
First impressions are pretty hard to forget, and rarely does anyone get a chance to correct any misgivings that may have been felt in that first moment.
In the case of Stranger Things, even though the Demogorgon is heard and not seen, the monster’s first impression is sufficiently traumatic. Framed in dark shadows and providing eerie growls and hissing noises, the Demogorgon’s entrance traumatizes both the viewer and poor Will Byers, who stands wide-eyed and cast in a disarmingly bright light just before the Demogorgon takes him.
Similarly, when Elliott is first discovered by E.T., their interaction is unsettling and unexpected, taking place in the middle of night and with E.T. not coming fully into the light, and only Elliott’s aghast reaction to go off of.
8. TEAM PUDDING VS. TEAM ICE CREAM
Every friendship group has them: the one friend who prioritizes food above almost everything else.
In the case of Stranger Things, it’s Dustin Henderson. Whether it’s leftover pizza, a hidden stash of snacks, the uncanny ability to tell whether Nilla Wafers are real or not, or an out of this world level of excitement over finding the school’s secret stash of Snack Pack chocolate pudding, Dustin loves food, and he clearly isn’t afraid to show it.
Add to it his adorably curly hair and cutesy chubby cheeks and you’ve got the makings of a tribute to a great ’80s film icon, Chunk from The Goonies, who had a similarly zealous reaction upon finding a store of ice cream…only to realize there was a dead body in the freezer, too.
7. WILL’S VERY OWN FACEHUGGER
A hallmark of so many works of science fiction is the creation of a monster so grotesque that it can never be unseen.
For Stranger Things, it’s definitely the Demogorgon, but it’s also the world that the Demogorgon is responsible for and lives in– the Upside Down. While trapped there, poor Will Byers seems to be kept alive in some paralyzed state by a tentacle-like creature sealed over his mouth. The disgusting goo attached to this only makes the face-clinging being all the more disgusting and omnious…
It is also all the more familiar to fans of the genre everywhere, who undoubtedly can see how the series drew the inspiration for this moment from the Alien franchise’s facehugger Xenomorphs.
6. STRANGER PEAKS
Cliffhangers are perhaps the best way to guarantee that your audience tunes back in next season, and while Stranger Things had its fair share of them at the end of season 1, one suspenseful moment in particular seems to have taken a page out of the book of another cult hit show.
At the end of the season 1 finale, Will excuses himself to the bathroom with a cough, staring at himself long and hard in the mirror before he vomits up a disgusting slug-like creature, signaling that things are far from back to normal in the Byers home.
Similarly, at the end of Twin Peaks season 2, Agent Dale Cooper/BOB stares into his reflection in the mirror, before bashing his head right into it and laughing maniacally.
5. ELEVEN IS ONE WITH THE FORCE
As geeky children of the 1980s, it was pretty much all but guaranteed that the Stranger kids would be obsessed with Star Wars. Who wasn’t?
However, what you might have missed was the sheer volume of the references. The recurring motif of Eleven being like Yoda appears in the beginning and end of the season, including Mike’s own small Yoda action figure and his insistence to Will that Eleven is “more like Yoda” than a wizard.
At one point, Dustin repeatedly worries that they’re going to be betrayed just like Lando Calrissian betrayed Han Solo and company in Empire Strikes Back. Of course, Eleven has fun all on her own by levitating Mike’s toy Millennium Falcon just because she can.
4. DUSTIN AND CHUNK’S TOO CLOSE ENCOUNTERS
As we’ve already established, Dustin Henderson works as a pretty close mirror of Chunk from The Goonies. Adorably awkward and fond of food, the two often get themselves into more trouble all on their own than they would face otherwise.
This can be seen when Dustin is held at knifepoint on the cliffs by the cruel bullies Troy and James, all as a way of getting revenge for Eleven humiliating Troy by making him pee himself in school. This violent threat mirrors the portion of The Goonies in which a sobbing Chunk is kidnapped by the villainous Fratellis, who threaten to shove his hand into a blender if he doesn’t comply with their wishes.
Thankfully, our comical heroes both make it out of everything more or less unscathed.
3. ELEVEN, PHONE HOME
Introducing characters who will be important to each other is a make or break point for any piece of media. You have to pack a whole lot into one small moment, establish the stakes, acknowledge any concerns, and so much more all before the characters can get to know each other.
Luckily for Stranger Things, E.T. provided the perfect example to follow. When Mike and the gang run into Eleven in the middle of a storm while looking for Will, it’s undeniably significant. The moodiness of the weather only further registers the shock and confusion on everyone’s faces, and the beacon of the flashlight highlights Eleven’s importance as though with a spotlight.
Likewise, when Elliott first truly meets E.T. in the cornfield, the alien is hidden at first among the stalks, but soon comes face to face with the young boy in wide-eyed, flashlight-accentuated terror. In each scene, everyone is on a level playing ground, totally at a loss as to what to expect, and wonderfully unaware of what amazing things will come next.
2. EXTRATERRESTRIAL TRANSPORTATION
Good things really do come in small packages. At least, that certainly seems to be the case for Stranger Things‘s Eleven and everyone’s favorite extraterrestrial, ET.
The iconic characters prove their true colors as reliable friends time and again, but in certain situations, their otherworldly skills prove just how valuable an asset they each are. In ET, you’d have to look no further than the time in which ET helps Elliott and co. flee the authorities following them by lifting their bicycles into the sky so they can fly to safety.
In Stranger Things, the situation, while reversed, couldn’t be a clearer parallel, as Eleven uses her telekinetic skills to flip a large Hawkins Power and Light van into the sky so that Mike and his friends can hurry away from the scene in one piece.
1. JEAN GREY AND ELEVEN’S SIMILAR ORIGINS
Foreshadowing is a great dramatic tool used in works of literature, film, and television alike, and as it turns out that Stranger Things foreshadowed much of its own plot in the very first episode’s opening minutes. As the boys are racing home, Will gleefully exclaims that he wants a copy of X-Men #134. This issue, as it turns out, features the transformation of X-Men member Jean Grey into Dark Phoenix.
Dark Phoenix is an extremely powerful, telepathically and telekinetically gifted alter ego who engages in highly destructive battles, including one in which she pins the supervillain Mastermind to the wall.
She is similar to Eleven, who is also all powerful and telepathically and telekinetically gifted. Eleven dispatches of the Demogorgon by pinning it to the wall and using all of her power to destroy it… and, possibly, herself.