Warning: contains episode-by-episode spoilers.
With a series like Stranger Things, which places a lot of weight behind its nostalgia for 80s pop culture, any hidden references, allusions, and homages become key for audience enjoyment, especially for those who were the same age back then as the kids are in the show. Whether it be a song choice with particularly appropriate lyrics, a recognisable image meant to invoke an 80s movie or TV show, or a detail harkening back to season 1, we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of all the easter eggs and references here.
Did we miss any? Let us know in the comments or send us a tweet! We’ll check up on any tidbits or mistakes you found and give you a shout out here in the article. Pick up your nail-covered bat; we’re going in!
Stranger Things season 2 episode 1: MadMax
– Keith, the manager of the arcade the kids frequent, is never without his bag of Cheetos Puffs, which was the first companion product added to Frito Lay’s Crunchy Cheetos. They were introduced in 1971, but the packaging shown in Stranger Things is vintage 1980s.
– Dustin plays Dragon’s Lair, which was a popular but unique laser-disc game that came out in 1983, giving the boys just enough time to start getting good at it. An expensive prospect, since the game required two quarters instead of the standard one other arcade games charged.
– Dustin’s record on Dig Dug and Centipede was broken by “MadMax,” which gives this episode its title. Max was obviously making a reference to the Mel Gibson movie, which by 1984 had already had a sequel, but the kids are still one year away from the glorious Beyond Thunderdome, which came out in 85.
– For the record, it is possible to get 750,000 points on Dig Dug. The world record score of 5,225,260 was set by Oregon resident Ken House in 2013. Dig Dug came out in 1982, though, so MadMax was just getting started…
– The newspaper in Hawkins features a leading article about the crisis at Merrill’s Pumpkin Patch, which Hopper later investigates, but if you look closely, you’ll also see reference to “Baby Fae’s Baboon Heart.” Stephanie Fae Beauclair was the first infant to receive a heart transplant, and the story would have been brand new to Hawkins and the United States, since Fae was born on October 14, 1984, just weeks before the events of this episode.
– We get a glimpse of a theater marquee for a showing of James Cameron’s The Terminator. This was opening weekend for the film! It premiered on October 26, 1984.
– There are several election posters up around town for Reagan or Mondale, the primary candidates for president in 1984. You can also spot a sign that says “Vote Here, Nov. 6,” since schools like Hawkins Middle School were and still are popular polling locations.
– Part of Mike’s punishment for slacking off in school (he’s obviously still depressed over the loss of Eleven in his life) is to give away two boxes of toys for the family garage sale. Harsh! Among the toys is the Millennium Falcon model that El moved with her powers in season 1.
– When Will visits Dr. Owens, he’s asked what his favorite Halloween candy is. It’s no surprise that Will answers Reese’s Pieces. The candy became popular after 1982’s Spielberg hit, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. This was one of many Spielberg references in Stranger Things seasons 1 and 2.
– Bob is glad Will, whose turn it was to pick the movie for movie night, didn’t pick something scary. Instead, they watch Mr. Mom, the 1983 comedy starring Michael Keaton, arguably launching the comic actor’s career.
– Maybe this is nothing, but since Morse code features prominently in Hopper’s communication with El, it’s worth noting that Hop’s secret knock at the cabin spells “ITS” in Morse.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 2: Trick Or Treat, Freak
– When the character, Billy, is introduced and pulls up in his vintage Camaro, “Wango Tango” by Ted Nugent is playing on the car stereo. Although this song is from 1980, we’re sure the mullet-wearing Billy is a huge fan.
– At Tina’s Halloween party, Motley Crue’s “Shout at the Devil” plays, and from that point on, viewers should pay attention to the music. Usually the title or the lyrics feel directly related to the plot going on.
– Once Lucas and Dustin get past Max’s tough girl defenses, they tease her mildly with the phrase “totally tubular.” The phrase would have been considered “valley girl” slang, a vernacular associated with California, where Max is from. Valley girl-speak was popularised at the time by Frank Zappa’s “Valley Girl” single from 1982 and the Nicolas Cage movie of the same name, which came out in 1983.
– When El is left in the cabin alone, she tries to learn more English from watching television. Appearing on the TV as she flips around are a trailer for The Terminator (again, it’s opening weekend for that film) and the soap opera, All My Children, featuring the melodramatic stylings of Susan Lucci as Erica Kane. By 1984, Lucci had already been playing the character for 14 years.
– In a wonderful display of coordinated cosplay (no such thing back then), the boys dress as the Ghostbusters, a movie which was the big hit that summer of 1984. Lucas is right, though: Venkman is way cooler than Winston.
– Hopper is late in returning to the shack on Halloween night, so El occupies herself by watching 1931’s Frankenstein. The scene that appears on the TV involves young Maria speaking to the monster with the innocence of a child. It’s a great illustration of El’s ongoing struggle to determine if she’s the innocent child or the monster herself.
– Will tells Mike that when he has visions of the Upside Down, it’s like being caught between two slides in a View-Master reel. While not specifically a toy from that era (View-Master was invented 1939, and the plastic item we know and love came around in 1962) the reference still resonates with 80s kids.
– While flipping through channels to find static (white noise to help with remote viewing), El comes across a vintage 80s Oreo commercial, but we couldn’t help noticing that the image of her in front of the staticky TV looked an awful lot like the iconic image from Poltergeist, a 1982 classic.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 3: The Pollywog
– It seems odd that Dustin doesn’t know what “presumptuous” means, but he knows that d’Artagnan, the name he gives to his supposed pollywog, is the main character in The Three Musketeers by Alexadre Dumas. The name itself doesn’t have much symbolic meaning besides being inspired by the candy bar that he feeds the creature, but since d’Artagnan is characterised as a hot-headed youth in the 19th century novel, it seems appropriate for the baby monster.
– Dustin has a lot of 80s toys on his shelf. Among them are a large toy of E.T. from E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and an action figure of a cave-man with a tooth necklace and an eye-patch. Anyone who can identify the toy being described will get a shout-out here on the site.
– Dustin mentions that pollywogs, or tadpoles usually live in water, except for two terrestrial varieties in India and South America. He’s not wrong. They are Indirana semipalmata and Adenomera andreae. Presumably his science and literary skills are more developed than his vocabulary.
– During a flashback to when Hopper and El first started setting up the cabin for her to live in, Hopper mentions the place is used mostly for storage. Blink and you might miss him putting away a box labeled, “Sara,” the name of his deceased daughter. It’s a perfect metaphor for what he’s doing in nurturing El, putting away the past to welcome the present.
– As Hopper and El clean up the cabin, the chief plays Jim Croce’s “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” This might as well be Hop’s theme song, whether in battle other-dimensional creatures or in parenting. Follow those three rules, El! You don’t mess around with Jim!
– We finally get an answer for what deal Jim made with the government goons at the end of season 1. He keeps things quiet for the Hawkins Lab folks conducting their investigations and controlled burns of the Upside Down, and in return, they keep it out of his town. With the pumpkin fiasco, that obviously didn’t work out so well.
– Hopper made a good choice of reading material for El in Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery, a classic that many girls (and boys) read in their childhood. Maybe he should have skipped the part about her not having a mother; that was the beginning of El’s investigation into her origins.
– Nancy gets inspiration for a plan revealed in a future episode when she sees someone wearing a Walkman, a must-have item in the 80s.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 4: Will The Wise
– As Nancy gives her mother the old “girls night out” excuse before heading off with Jonathan, “This Is Radio Clash” by the Clash plays on the radio, an appropriate song that talks about curfews being curbing. The Wheeler parents really are clueless…
– Dr. Owens quotes George Sarton to Nancy and Jonathan: “Men of science have made abundant mistakes of every kind.” George Sarton is considered the father of the field of science history. The accomplishments at Hawkins Lab would probably have made it onto Sarton’s timeline of notable moments in science.
– This episode is one of the few times this season that we see Holly Wheeler, Mike’s and Nancy’s younger sister. People always say the youngest gets away with everything, but with as much as the elder children get away with, Holly has her work cut out for her.
– While El is searching through the boxes under the floor of the cabin, the flashlight lingers on boxes for New York and Vietnam. Glimpses of Hopper’s past formative experiences.
– The contents of the Radio Shack bag weren’t exactly a Walkman, but the fact that Nancy’s plan to record Owens talking about what goes on at Hawkins Lab ties into Bob Newby’s place of work was pretty cool. But why didn’t anyone search Nancy’s purse? That tape recorder wasn’t exactly miniature!
Stranger Things season 2 episode 5: Dig Dug
– Nancy and Jonathan have matching scars, as shippers everywhere had hoped. These came from when they cut their hands in season 1 episode 8, a move designed to lure the demogorgon.
– During a rare glimpse into the Sinclair household, Lucas’ dad is reading the newspaper, but wait a minute! That’s the same newspaper we saw in the first episode of Stranger Things 2! Is Mr. Sinclair only just now getting around to reading about Merrill’s Pumpkin Patch and Baby Fae’s Baboon Heart? Busy guy…
– Erica Sinclair steals a He-Man action figure from Lucas’ room when she’s trying to get Dustin to heed her “Code Shut Up.” He-Man and the Masters of the Universe ran on television from 1983 until 1985, so Lucas was definitely with the toy trend.
– As Bob Newby begins to recognize Will’s scribblings as a map of Hawkins, one of the landmarks he names is Sattler’s Quarry. That’s where Will’s body was supposedly found in season 1.
– Since his friends aren’t available, Dustin recruits Steve saying, “Do you still have that bat with the nails?” Steve makes good use of the bat, as he did in season 1, but technically, it was Jonathan’s bat. He put it together in the aforementioned season 1 episode 8.
– Murray, the investigative journalist, pours vodkas for Nancy and Jonathan while playing Billie Holliday’s The Lady Sings album. Not an 80s artist, of course, but the lyrics appropriately say, “She tells her side, nothing to hide / Now the world will know just what the blues is all about.” Sing it, Murray.
– Fans were speculating wildly about the meaning of “Breathe, sunflower, rainbow,” and the rest of the mysterious words of Terry Ives that showed up in a promo. Finally, the answers come as a clever clue hidden in the destroyed mind of a mother who never gave up.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 6: The Spy
– There aren’t a whole lot of hidden references in episode 6, but there are a couple of interesting song choices. The first is “Hammer to Fall” by Queen, which plays as Steve and Dustin prepare to lure Dart out of the cellar. The lyrics are a battle call with built in advice for the erstwhile pet: “Just surrender and it won’t hurt at all / You just got time to say your prayers / While you’re waiting for the hammer to—hammer to fall.”
– The other appropriate song choice comes when Billy is lifting waits and generally looking bad ass. It’s not so much that Ratt’s “Round and Round” have symbolic lyrics; it’s just that any hair band that accompanies Billy’s mullet, a hairstyle that, like Billy himself, attempts to dethrone Steve as king of hair, provides the perfect soundtrack for this musclebound jock.
– If you spotted any other easter eggs in this episode, let us know in the comments so we can flesh this page out.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 7: The Lost Sister
– As El makes her way to Chicago, the appropriately titled “Runaway” by Bon Jovi plays in the background. Apparently, the Stranger Things music supervisor wanted to make sure we got the message because Runaways’ “Dead End Justice” is also part of the soundtrack. So yeah, El ran away.
– As she navigates the big city, El bumps into a well-dressed man who unapologetically tells her to watch it, and El calls him a “mouth-breather.” This insult hearkens back to season 1 when the boys taught her this term when they were getting bullied by Troy and his cronies.
– El tells Kali she’s been with Hopper for 327 days, and the day before, Halloween, she had yelled at the chief for saying “soon” on day 21, day 205, and now on day 326. That puts her rescue by Hopper at December 10, 1983. So there’s that for what it’s worth.
– When she gets a makeover from Kali’s gang, it’s described as “bitchen,” another valley girl slang term from the 80s, similar to “totally tubular” mentioned in an earlier episode.
– El is seen watching an episode of Punky Brewster, which had just begun its first season in September of 1984, so she was watching an early episode. Not only is the show about a young girl being adopted by a foster family (in Chicago, no less); she’s also watching an episode in which Punky relates a bad dream about doctors. Very portentous for an episode that features a visit by Matthew Modine’s Dr. Brenner. We’ll overlook the fact that that particular episode of Punky Brewster aired on November 4, 1984, 3 days later (see date reference above). Close enough!
– Pruitt Taylor Vince appears as Ray, the technician who sent 450 volts of electricity into Terry Ives brain, disabling her for life. Not really an easter egg, just cool casting.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 8: The Mind Flayer
– As mentioned before, hard rock suits scenes with Billy in them, and as he primps in the mirror to go out, Metallica’s “The Four Horsemen” plays as his soundtrack. Besides the hair connection, though, the song’s title and its lyrics speak of an apocalypse that seems nigh elsewhere in this episode.
– Bob has to reboot the security system at Hawkins Lab using a manual override written in BASIC. The concept might be Hollywood techno-mumbo-jumbo, but the BASIC programming language definitely would have been part of most microcomputers, which were beginning to become widespread at this time, especially in government facilities.
– As with the demogorgon in season 1, the humongous shadow beast gets a name from D&D in this episode: the mind flayer. The boys (especially Dustin) are great at coming up with names. The mind flayer were known for enslaving intelligent beings with their psionic powers. Sounds about right.
– Among the reminiscences Will’s friends and family pepper him with to distract the presence that occupies his mind, Jonathan talks about the day their father left, which was the same day they began construction of Castle Byers. The “castle,” of course, was the structure in which Will took shelter during most of season 1.
– Morse code returns as Will, who’s trapped in his own body, communicates a message to his friends and family: “Close gate!” In the background, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” by The Clash plays, the anthem he and his brother, Jonathan, share in season 1.
Stranger Things season 2 episode 9: The Gate
– Mrs. Wheeler was definitely primed for Billy’s seductive visit by reading one of Johanna Lindsey’s romance novels in her Southern Series while in the tub. Lindsey cranked out a bunch of these books, some with Fabio, a famous male model from the 80s, on the cover.
– There were strong vibes of The Exorcist during the heating up of Will to get rid of the mind flayer, not gonna lie. That’s not an 80’s movie, but still.
– The Hawkins Middle School Snow Ball had a lot of great 80s hits, including Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” from 1983’s She’s So Unusual and Sting’s “Every Breath You Take” from 1983’s Synchronicity. Before the slow dances, though, you may have heard the lesser known Olivia Newton John song, “Twist of Fate,” also from 1983. You’d be hard pressed to find an anachronism in Stranger Things.