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Nine ’80s Movies STRANGER THINGS Still Needs to Reference

Stranger Things season one (at the time, just a one-off miniseries) was a delight for fans of early ’80s nostalgia, thanks to the Duffer Brothers’ many references to their favorite sci-fi and horror films within the show. We call that “meta,” baby! With season two on the way–no doubt armed with its own set of new references–it was announced that the show would have a third season, and probably a fourth and final season as well, taking place in 1985 and 1986, respectively. Luckily, tons of great sci-fi and horror movies came out in those years, and we have ideas about which will be the likeliest Stranger Things touchstones.

(This is an unranked list, but there are definitely movies that seem more likely than others.)


Back to the Future

This one seems like the gimmiest of gimmes. Perhaps the quintessential ’80s sci-fi movie and ’80s comedy, Back to the Future blended a typical teen adventure with weird time travel. Stranger Things has the character of Steve, who is basically Marty McFly and Biff Tannen put together anyway.


This is one of those movies that maybe not everyone remembers, but is certainly on the radar of the Duffers. It’s about a trio of outcast kids who get together to build themselves a functional space craft using force field technology they found. They end up in outer space aboard a ship of pop-culture hungry aliens. It’s a delightful movie, directed by Joe Dante, and would certainly make for great emulation on Stranger Things.

Fright Night

Thus far, Stranger Things has kept it very much in the sci-fi horror realm, but they’ve always thematically tied everything to Dungeons & Dragons. I’d love to see the show veer toward the Gothic, and one of the better examples of kids-fighting-classic-monsters movies of the ’80s is Tom Holland’s Fright Night. Can you imagine Dustin or Mike or Nancy teaming up with a has-been horror host to fight whatever vampire-human analog comes from the Upside Down? That would be *pizza chef kiss*.

Night of the Creeps

This would be a great choice for Stranger Things. Fred Dekker’s cult classic sees alien slugs infecting people in a small town on prom night and turning them into zombies, leaving only a few high school doofuses and their dates (not to mention a badass policeman) to take them out. Transpose Hawkins Laboratory experiments for alien slugs and you could pretty much do this as an entire episode.



This is another one that seems like a no-brainer. Perhaps no more badass a sci-fi/horror movie has ever been made, and if we’re getting to the final season of Stranger Things, we may as well bring in some military grunts to help take out whatever nasties come out of the portal to the Upside Down. Even if they don’t go full-Colonial Marines with this season, there’s plenty they could emulate, and I’d be very, very surprised if we don’t hear the line “short, controlled bursts” at least once.

Flight of the Navigator

This is one of those Disney movies that would be way too dark for kids today. A 12-year-old finds a weird alien spacecraft with a robotic AI running it and the two become friends and travel all over the place, but when he returns to Earth, the boy learns he’s been away for 15 years, his family’s all way older, and he hasn’t aged a day. This would be a trippy thing to do on Stranger Things and with the love of the characters so strong, I doubt they’d re-cast for the purposes of this, but I’d be impressed if they went for it.

The Fly

Come on! Weird experiments? Mad scientist? A person slowly becoming a monster over time? This would be perfect for Stranger Things to tackle in its final season, and man if they somehow got Jeff Goldblum to be in the show in any way, I’d die a thousand happy deaths. Someone has to become Brundlefly. They have to, I say!

Short Circuit

I’m gonna go ahead and say there’s no way they’ll do anything like this movie, but they could. I mean, in the midst of a town breaking down because of rampant monsters, if a friendly, helpful robot happened to be involved, I probably wouldn’t hate it.

And an anachronistic longshot…

The Monster Squad

Yes, this movie came out in 1987, after the year in which the show’s fourth season would take place, and yes this movie goes head-on into the traditional Gothic horror realm even more than Fright Night does, but if you don’t want Dustin to say “Demogorgon’s got nards” then you have neither a heart nor a head.

And that’s our list! Are there any “no doy” movies you think we missed? Do you want to see other ones not listed here, be they longshots or shoo-ins? Let us know in the comments!

Images: 20th Century Fox, Disney, Columbia, Paramount, Universal

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He writes the weekly look at weird or obscure films in Schlock & Awe. Follow him on Twitter!

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