Stranger Things Season 3: Top ’80s Nods, Best Moments, and Season 4 Theories

Stranger Things Season 3

Stranger Things Season 3. Image via IGN

The wife and I binged Stranger Things Season 3 over the course of three days. Here are all of the hit show’s nods to the ’80s along with top moments and theories about that post-credits scene and Season 4.

Hard to believe it’s been more than 20 months since we had Stranger Things in our lives. Season 2 gave us the unexpectedly refreshing pairing of Steve “Hair” Harrington and Dustin but also took us on that weird side-quest for Eleven. This might be recency bias but Season 3 >>> Season 2.

The nearly 2-year “hiatus” paid off. It was worth it, folks. The Duffer Brothers doubled down on Steve and Dustin, but added in new characters Robin and Lucas’s little sister Erica to keep things fresh and they succeeded.

At the time, I didn’t even know that Robin was played by Maya Hawke, the daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. I’d just watched Gattaca for the first time mere days before Stranger Things Season 3. Gattaca stars Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. It was how they first started dating. Yada yada yada, Maya. I literally witnessed Maya’s prequel.

The teaser arc featuring Steve and Robin and the eventual payoff was priceless. There were two relationships that had the iconic ‘will they or won’t they’ dynamic that Sam and Diane had on Cheers and that numerous sitcoms have copied with lucrative results.

The show directly references this in a flashback in which Bob (Sean Astin) and Joyce (Winona Ryder) watch Sam and Diane on Cheers. Then, we watch Joyce and Hopper (David Harbour) do the whole Sam and Diane dance while Bret Gelman‘s character Murray Bauman calls them out for it.

Those were my favorite storylines. But, the biggest or maybe funnest part of the show was pointing out the nods to ’80s movies and tv shows. That probably makes me a basic bitchboi but I’m all out of fucks. Here are most of the references mixed in with top moments and what’s in store for S4.

NOTE: There are spoilers sprinkled in here and there, so if you haven’t seen it, what the hell are you doing? 

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Grigori = The Terminator

Grigori is the Russian thug… goon… enforcer who wears dark clothing — usually black leather — has a flat top, rides a motorcycle, and wields serious weaponry. He’s the muscle. My wife pointed out that he looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger and I kind of brushed it off then Mayor Kline (Cary Elwes) mentioned it and it clicked.

Sincere apologies to my wife. In my defense, we’re almost done with Season 2 of The Sopranos and she didn’t recognize two fairly prominent characters who’ve been in almost every episode. So…

I also got a T2: Judgment Day vibe when Nancy Wheeler walks down the hall of the hospital carrying flowers.

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T2 came out in ’91 and Arnold was carrying a box of flowers so the connection is very weak. I will say that holding flowers downward foreshadowed Old Lady Driscoll‘s fate. According to this site, carrying downward means

“…embarrassment about receiving or carrying flowers. Usually accompanied by intense blushes. Very effective for de-petalling the blooms, as downwards-orientation and pendulum motion conspire with gravity to cause petals to drop off.”

Nancy’s probably very very apprehensive about this plan of hers. Maybe she’s embarrassed about lying to gain access to Ol Lady Driscoll’s hospital room? The shot is more about the pedals dropping off. It symbolizes the separation or disconnect between ‘Flayed’ Driscoll and her other ‘Flayed’ compadres and the withering of Driscoll (dying).

Grigori also gave us another ’80s reference when he’s being held at gunpoint by Hopper underground. The Russian Terminator is positive Hopper won’t pull the trigger, citing “policemen rules”… a direct pull from 1988’s Die Hard.

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Kids Battle Invading Russians = Red Dawn

When I called out this reference to Red Dawn, my wife confessed she’d never seen it. The only reason I know the ’80s action movie is because I watched the VHS tape on loop at our cramped beach house rental down the Jersey Shore in 2006. I believe it was our only VHS tape. We didn’t have cable. Me and the housemates watched it so often, the tape broke.

The plot of Red Dawn is Russians invade “out of nowhere”, parachuting down and taking over some small town in the US. The adults are detained in concentration camps while the kids must band together and fight.

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The Mind Flayer’s Tongue = Alien

The Mind Flayer sticks his ‘tongue’ out a few times. It’s the Michael Jordan of monsters. But, the moment that the Alien reference clicked was when the Mind Flayer pinned down Nancy and drooled on her. Looked exactly like the xenomorph slobbering over Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver).

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The Mind Flayer’s Appearance = The Thing

I’ve never seen The Thing but upon further review of the creature in The Thing, the resemblance is uncanny. These two monstrosities are like grotesque Frankensteins. Just a bunch of bodies and parts slapped together. No form, no function. You have to give credit where credit is due and it’s a miracle either beast was able to pull it off.

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Starcourt Mall Parking Lot = Back to the Future

After Dustin, Erica, Steve and Robin escape the Russians underground, they sneak into the movie theater screening Back to the Future. The scene they enter on is Doc Brown and Marty in the parking lot of a mall.

Later, in the final episode, the kids run away from the Mind Flayer and hop in the Wheeler station wagon in the Starcourt Mall parking lot. Unable to start the car, we see Billy flick on his car lights and repeatedly rev his engine across the lot. When he slams on the gas and speeds across the pavement, can’t help but think of Marty hittin’ 88 mph.

What happens next is one of my top moments. Not just that episode. Not just this season. I mean, in the entire series. Steve Harrington T-boning Billy. Sounds like a scene in the gay porn version “Stranger Dongs”, but what a save by Steve.

Another top moment was when Steve is tied to Robin underground. The Russians inject them with a truth serum and the Russian General asks Steve who he works for. Steve kinda giggles and says “Scoops… Scoops Ahoy”.

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Whenever The Flayed Explode = The Blob

The rats, Tom Holloway and Jake Busey from the Hawkins Post — whenever one of the Flayed ‘dies’ or expires, they essentially combust into a pile of mushed up guts and organs. A goo, if you will and YOU WILL. The gory flubber then SQUELCHES away.

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It can snail-trail itself through grates and vents and whatever else just like The Blob. Squelching is my favorite new word along with chittering.

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Billy at the Pool = Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Billy’s a lifeguard at the public pool. Mrs. Wheeler and her housewife hoard lounge poolside waiting for Billy’s shift on the chair to start. His entrance is set to The Cars song “Moving in Stereo”, a direct nod to Judge Reinhold‘s fantasy sequence in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when he imagines Phoebe Cates climbing out of his family’s pool then undoing her top for a makeout sesh.

The HEAT between Billy and Mrs. Wheeler was volcanic. I was sweating. Part of me wants to see how that would play out but part of me feels real bad for Mr. Wheeler. He’s gotten a real bad rap the entire series. Boring, etc. Of course, the critical moment of decision for Mrs. Wheeler comes and she sees Mr. Wheeler adorably cuddling with their daughter on the recliner in the living room and that’s a wrap on Billy.

Personally, I’d love to see some kind of redemption story and flashback for “bottle episode” about Mr. Wheeler. Like, maybe he was like Will Ferrell’s pimp character Gator in college?

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Maybe he’s a sleeper cell secret agent? He’s got twist written all over him and it’s got my endorsement.

Also, I pointed out that Billy looks like Zac Efron. The wife added that he looks like Jared Leto or Rob Lowe. A lethal combo.

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The Flayed = Day of the Dead

The first episode, the gang sneaks into The Day of The Dead thanks to a back entrance courtesy of Steve and Scoops Ahoy. That’s when Will gets that funny feeling again.

Later on, we see the Flayed Billy in the Upside Down encounter himself and a zombified mob. A couple episodes later, the Flayed Jake Busey and Tom Holloway pursue Jonathan and Nancy in the hospital. Both Jake and Tom look and act like zombies from Day of the Dead.

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The Flayed = Invasion of the Body Snatchers

Never saw Body Snatchers but I’m familiar with the plot. The original version came out in ’56 and a remake was released in ’78, so not exactly the ’80s but close enough. Alien spores descend on Earth and are able to replicate humans. The Flayed aren’t really replicants but they’re not entirely themselves, it’s their body but they’re no longer at the wheel.

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Hop’s Hawaiian Shirt + Stache = Magnum PI

We see Hopper watching Magnum PI in his cabin. I thought he scoffed at Tom Selleck’s character but he ultimately caved. After capturing the Russian scientist Alexei, he calls Hopper “Fat Rambo”.

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The Toddfather = Miami Vice

When Hopper, Joyce, and Alexei arrive on foot at the 7-Eleven, they’re in need of a ride. Hopper ends up confiscating a convertible Cadillac (?) with a vanity license plate that’s short for Toddfather. The owner, I assuming Todd(?), is dressed like Crockett and Tubbs in Miami Vice.

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Canisters + Mind Flayer Stalking = Jurassic Park

I’d like to think of myself as an open-minded, abstract thinker who can connect the dots no matter how far apart they are. My wife saw the canisters of green ooze and the Mind Flayer stalking the kids in the mall and shouted out Jurassic Park. And the weirdly obedient rule follower in me said ‘No, can’t be. JP came out in ’93’. Like, it’s not possible for any references to anything outside the ’80s to exist in a FICTIONAL, SCRIPTED TV SHOW. Fuck your washed brain, Neal.

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I went down a Reddit rabbit hole of fan theories. Some may say it was a colossal waste of time. To them, I’d say time is an illusion. Who’s wasted now? (I am)

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We’re all familiar with the ending, but a refresher can’t hurt. Hopper tosses The Russian Terminator into the machine as Joyce tries to turn both keys to shut down the machine. Before she can, the machine explodes and we see the Russians in the room blown to bits.

Before that explosion, there appears to be a layer of electricity like a forcefield between Hopper (near the gate) and the other side of the room (away from the gate) where the Russian Scientists are on the floor and where Joyce is in the control booth.

If you were like us, you were in a state of shock when the credits started rolling. Like us, you probably were emotionally drained. Unable to move. Still trying to process. Maybe even a little in disbelief that the season’s over. Angry that there isn’t more. And then we got the post-credits scene.

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We fade into a Russian barracks. Looks like a jail. Two Russian soldiers walk down the hallway. One stops at a door but his comrade corrects him, “Not The American”. Then they pull a random Russian dude out of the cell next door, and drag him into a cage where a white Demogorgon enters and tears shit up.

Right off the bat, people think “The American” referenced is Hopper. There’s a theory that he’s not dead (which I subscribe to) but that he was sucked (or blown… kinky) through the gate into the Upside Down and was pulled out of another portal in Russia.

I don’t mind that fan theory.

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The second theory is that Hopper managed to escape the room prior to the blast or was unscathed by the explosion (due to the electrified forcefield) and was captured by the Russians. The Rooskies hold him hostage to lure out El?

Not a huge fan of that fan theory.

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A third theory states:

Dr. Martin Brenner (Matt Modine) is The American in the cell, forced to work for The Russians.

A fourth theory (the best one):

Brenner somehow ends up in Russia; either fled there, was recruited, or captured and forced to work for the Russians but he’s not The American.

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Remember Eleven’s weird side-quest from Season 2? Which, in my mind, almost ruined the season? It might not have been as pointless as we thought. That crew of misfits will assemble and join forces with the Hawkins kids to save the day OR they fall under control of the Russians and fight the Hawkins clan against their will.

The American in the cell would be Kali Prasad aka Eight, the leader of the Hawkins Lab Test Subjects from Season 2. She’ll lure Eleven out to open the gate and find Hopper in the Upside Down.

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You might ask yourself, “how did i get here?” And then “What’s up with the Russians?” Well, it WAS the Cold War so The Russians were looking for any way to make America look bad. If they could blame the Americans for an event that threatened the safety of the world (Upside Down, Mind Flayer, Demogorgon, etc.), Russia could justify a nuclear attack on America.

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Meanwhile, we saw the US military swarm Hawkins with Dr. Sam Owens (Paul Reiser) looking to set things straight. In this theory, Owens rebuilds the machine under the mall to seal the hole forever. So, before that happens the Hawkins Crew is trying to extract Eleven AND Hopper out of the Upside Down without letting the creatures out.

FAN THEORY SOURCES: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5

I’m not alone when I say I really hope we don’t have to wait another two years for the next season but if we get the kind of quality that Season 3 had, I might explore cryogenically freezing myself.


  1. […] It felt like one big inside joke. I was the outsider at the dinner table, trying to keep up and piece everything together while everyone else had a rip roaring time. Now, I understand how today’s teens and ’90s kids might not fully appreciate all the ’80s nods in Stranger Things. […]


  2. […] 16:50 – 34:52 Stranger Things Season 3, including favorite moments, the emotional ending, the intriguing post-credits scene, and Season 4 fan theories. For more details, check out “Stranger Things Season 3: Top ’80s Nods, Best Moments, and Season 4 Theories” […]


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