‘Stranger Things’ Season 4: Why the ‘Back to the Future’ References in Season 3 Might Be an Important Clue

Stranger Things creators Ross and Matt Duffer are well-versed in the pop culture touchstones of the 1980s. They made concentrated efforts to take inspiration from Steven Spielberg films like E.T. the Extraterrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. These have obvious parallels to the characters of Stranger Things.

But what about Back to the Future? The Robert Zemeckis film from 1985 is about a teenager whose best friend (a mad scientist, no less) builds a time machine out of a DeLorean. With the numerous references to the flick in Stranger Things Season 3, is it possible the Duffer Brothers are giving viewers a hint at what’s to come in season 4?

Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargroves in a production still from 'Stranger Things' Season 3.
Dacre Montgomery as Billy Hargroves in ‘Stranger Things’ | Netflix

‘Back to the Future’ gets multiple head nods in ‘Stranger Things’ Season 3

From the music by Huey Lewis and the News to the movie playing in the theater where Erica (Priah Ferguson) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) stash a drugged Robin (Maya Hawke) and Steve (Joe Keery), the Back to the Future references in season 3 are hard to miss. 

Mrs. Driscoll (Peggy Miley), one of the first victims of the Mind Flayer in Stranger Things, has a wall clock in the shape of a black cat identical to the one that Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) has in his home in Back to the Future. Plus, the primary setting of Stranger Things 3 is the Starcourt Mall—very similar to the Lone/Twin Pines Mall in Back to the Future. And if that weren’t enough, the first episode of Stranger Things 3 features a shot of Jonathan (Charlie Heaton) tripping over his pants as he gets dressed—almost identical to the same scene with Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) in Back to the Future.

Knowing the Duffer Brother’s history with planning out the overarching plotline of Stranger Things leaves little doubt that these hat tips to Back to the Future are intentional. What we don’t know is what it exactly means for season 4.

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Chief Jim Hopper’s sacrifice at the end of season 3 could set things in motion

At the end of season 3, audiences were left not knowing the fate of Hopper (David Harbour). Eleven, Joyce, and the rest of the group involved in slaying the Mindflayer believe he’s dead. We, as the viewers, know better. No one saw Hopper die, and there was no dead body to confirm his death. Any television viewer knows that leaves the door wide open for a comeback.

Hopper disappeared when Joyce closed the gate to the Upside Down. We know from previous episodes that Eleven can travel via The Void (similar to an astral plane) to contact people in different times and spaces. Hopper is still alive and it could be because he somehow managed to go through the gate before it closed.

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Could time travel be used to rescue Hopper?

With the teaser released in Feb. 2020, fans breathed a sigh of relief seeing Hopper alive. He’s not in Hawkins anymore. Instead, he’s stuck in Russia. It’s not likely the Russians simply captured him to use him for manual labor and brought him there themselves. It would make sense if Hopper exited the Upside Down and somehow popped out in Russia.

We know the Russians are behind the Upside Down. It’s likely they have a gateway all of their own at their home base. Eleven lost her powers at the end of Stranger Things Season 3, and she couldn’t locate him independently. If she manages to get them back, which most fans think she will, her first order of duty will be finding her adoptive father.

Maybe Eleven needs a portal to time travel, and perhaps that portal is the grandfather clock we see in the trailer released on Aug. 6. All of those Back to the Future nods have tomean something. Whatever the case, fans don’t have that much longer to wait. Stranger Things Season 4 will be arriving on Netflix sometime in 2022.