There’s no two ways about it: Stranger Things is huge. On July 8, Netflix tweeted that 40.7 million Netflix viewers across the world started watching the third season within the first four days of its release. (Not forgetting the 18.1 million who binged the entire series over the weekend.) Topping the 40m mark is no mean feat, and its record-breaking success is in part due to its IP, cashing in on our love of its throwbacks.
Netflix might have released the figures but just as groundbreaking is the sheer number of 70s, 80s and 90s icons the series references. Appearing in a video for Wired, Ross and Matt Duffer have settled the question. The brothers revealed their definitive list of every single film or TV show that has influenced their series from the very beginning.
Combing through footage from seasons 1-3, they explain the motive for each major movie reference in the series, often taking time to reveal a shot-by-shot analysis of the narrative. I, for one, am impressed: while there were many which were obvious, plenty of the producers’ work had gone into weaving more subtle nods into each episode and there are a few that would have stumped even the biggest sci-fi buffs.
The major references naturally include Alien, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Thing, E.T, The Goonies, Jurassic Park, Mad Max, Indiana Jones (including Temple of Doom and The Last Crusade), Jaws and The Empire Strikes Back. Then there are others like Altered States, Firestarter and Scanners, but there are also a few surprising movies like Sixteen Candles, Risky Business, Pretty in Pink and Stand By Me that garner a mention. Although outside of the horror genre, they remain an important influence on the aesthetic — those perms and middle-school dances are just an example of their iconic legacy.
At just over 29 minutes, the video contains some seriously well thought-out references and shows the brothers’ consistent through-line of conscious nostalgia. The show makes use of D&D tropes very frequently during the first season and it’s clear from the video that the brothers have channelled their love for the imaginative game into their creative process. They go into detail about the films they love — for example, explaining that Scanners was much more gory but Netflix wouldn’t have been happy with that content in one of its shows — to explaining more nuanced references like Eleven going to her version of Dagobah in series 2 to discover the full extent of her powers.
Prior to this video, we could only piece together the films we thought the Duffer brothers had used for the series — some fans did a great job of it, too, by bringing together footage of a multitude of films. But now, coming from the creators themselves, it’s clear to see that Stranger Things is far richer, well-researched and more complex than we might have given it credit for. I counted at least 24 references to major movies in their breakdown, and there are probably plenty more lurking beneath the surface, just waiting to bust out when I inevitably binge the series again.