What's your favorite '80s reference in Stranger Things?

·4 min read
(Clockwise from bottom-left): Ghostbusters (Columbia Pictures); Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard in Stranger Things (Netflix); E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Universal Pictures); Gabriella Pizzolo in Stranger Things (Netflix); Winona Ryder in Stranger Things (Netflix); Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things (Netflix)
(Clockwise from bottom-left): Ghostbusters (Columbia Pictures); Millie Bobby Brown and Finn Wolfhard in Stranger Things (Netflix); E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (Universal Pictures); Gabriella Pizzolo in Stranger Things (Netflix); Winona Ryder in Stranger Things (Netflix); Noah Schnapp in Stranger Things (Netflix)

The long-awaited fourth season of Stranger Things is almost here. And since the Netflix hit essentially doubles as a time machine, transporting audiences several decades into the past, we naturally decided that the latest AVQ&A should ask: What’s your favorite ’80s reference in Stranger Things?

Ghostbusters

Putting Mike, Will, Dustin, and Lucas in Ghostbusters costumes during Stranger Things may have been obvious (the movie was released in 1984, the same year season two is set). But it’s the adorable execution of this entire Halloween sequence that really makes the reference work. Starting with Joyce and the rest of the parents taking polaroids of the boys’ homemade outfits (“Hold up the proton blaster!”) and ending with the devastating revelation that no one else at school dressed up (“Who ya gonna call? The nerds!”), this scene perfectly captures the warm nostalgia and knowing humor that first made Stranger Things into one of TV’s greatest coming-of-age epics. Plus, the two Venkmans? Flawless. [Alison Foreman]

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Winona Ryder

“I myself am…strange and unusual.” When Lydia Deetz uttered these words in Tim Burton’s horror-comedy Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder could never have known that three decades later it would double as an audition. Among the Duffer brothers’ brilliant moves in conceiving Stranger Things was casting Ryder, the late-’80s It Girl from Lucas and Heathers, as headstrong single mother Joyce Byers. The actor might just understand balancing absurdity and horror better than any icon from that era. While there are blasphemers among us who consider her dialed-to-11 paranoia as Joyce too theatrical, her fearless performance (the unforgettable Christmas lights freak out!) has been my favorite part of Stranger Things and is the show’s cleverest nod to the ’80s. [Jack Smart]

The NeverEnding Story

There’s so much to enjoy about The NeverEnding Story theme song singalong, a welcome moment of levity during one of Stranger Things 3's most intense moments and a chance for Gaten Matarazzo to flex his Broadway roots. Not only did it pay tribute to a classic, but everything about it—Susie’s (Gabriella Pizzolo) floral nightgown!—just screamed ’80s. Hopper probably would have appreciated wrapping up the musical portion a bit more quickly, but it was a delight for the rest of us. [Mary Kate Carr]

Dungeons & Dragons

This isn’t exclusively an ’80s touchstone, since many of these monsters and evil gods continue to trouble adventurers to this day. But I’m a total sucker for the Stranger Things convention of naming all of the series’ major antagonists after Dungeons & Dragons monsters. Season one’s Demogorgon was a deeper cut than the subsequent Mind Flayer, but I’m especially excited for this year’s villain. The new baddie is picking up the name “Vecna”—he of the hand and eye that have tempted so many would-be heroes into evil over the years. [William Hughes]

E.T.

There are obviously a ton of E.T. references throughout Stranger Things. Early on, Eleven bums around Mike’s empty house and checks out the TV for the first time, just like that lovable alien, and, in season two, she dresses exactly like E.T. does when trick-or-treating. But I’m partial to the recreation of this bike chase from Speilberg’s classic. Both scenes show kids riding through ’burbs as big-bad adults are hot on their trails. Stranger Things reverses the payoff, though. Instead of the gang flying over said big-bad adults when all seems lost (if that moment in the movie doesn’t still make you well up all these years later, we don’t know what to tell you), it’s the opposite: Eleven’s mind trick makes the fast-approaching surveillance van flip over our noble youngsters, allowing them to pedal away. [Tim Lowery]

All the ’80s needle drops

Stranger Things captures the ’80s vibe perfectly with its soundtrack. You’ve got choice cuts by The Go-Gos, Wham!, and Duran Duran, and, as Mary Kate pointed out, The NeverEnding Story theme song. My personal favorites? Madonna’s “Material Girl” dropping during Eleven and Max’s shopping montage in season three and everything during the Snow Ball in season two’s finale, from Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” to Olivia Newton-John’s “Twist Of Fate.” [Saloni Gajjar]