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“You’re dead. You’re dog meat, pal!”
It’s a small wonder that the late, great Bill Paxton’s iconic taunt as Private Hudson toward a freshly discovered company scumbag didn’t find its way into Stranger Things 2, given just how much of an influence James Cameron’s Aliens played in the making of the Netflix breakout’s second season.
“We talked about Aliens because we were looking at the most successful sequels of all time, and Aliens is arguably one of the most successful sequels,” co-creator Matt Duffer tells The Hollywood Reporter about how the 1986 action movie classic served as a major source of inspiration for Stranger Things season two. “I love that people argue over whether Alien or Aliens is better, and I’ve changed my mind a hundred times. It takes a lot of the feelings and a lot of what worked about Alien, and then James Cameron did this amazing pivot almost into another genre. He expanded the scope and made it feel the same but also very different. When you’re looking at where the bar is, I always go to Aliens. Naturally, we wanted to give a couple of nods to it.”
A couple of nods indeed. Read on for a few of the several ways in which Stranger Things 2 tips its proverbial pulse rifle in the direction of Aliens. Fair warning: if you’re not an Aliens fan, much of the following will go right over your head, like a bunch of xenomorphs crawling through the ceiling.
• The big one, of course: Paul Reiser, the aforementioned company scumbag in Aliens, plays a major role in season two of Stranger Things. The Duffers smartly subvert expectations here, however, as the Mad About You alum’s Doctor Owens has much more in common with the android Bishop (Lance Henriksen, who would be an easy fit in the Stranger Things universe) than the weasel Burke.
• Speaking of Bishop, veritable superhero Bob Newby (Sean Astin) stops short of uttering “I may be synthetic, but I’m not stupid” when he volunteers for a mission of potential self-sacrifice in order to save the rest of the group. Much like Bishop, Bob eventually gets ripped to shreds for all of his troubles. Unlike Bishop, Bob is not an android, and therefore unable to survive the encounter — unless season three features a Bob Newbot subplot. (Hey, if we could make #Justice4Barb happen…)
• Bob’s beloved Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) enjoys a moment midway through the season that’s eerily reminiscent of one of Sigourney Weaver’s best scenes in Aliens, when Ripley rips into the Weyland-Yutani Company during a big debriefing meeting. Likewise, Joyce lets loose on a bunch of Hawkins Lab stooges in a raging manner Ripley surely would endorse.
• Early on in season two, we see a movie playing at the local theater in Hawkins: The Terminator, directed by the same man who brought Aliens to life. Not a direct homage to the second installment in the hit-and-much-more-often-miss Alien franchise, but a solid acknowledgement of Cameron all the same.
• Flame-throwers are all the rage in season two of Stranger Things, utilized by Hawkins Lab employees as a means of damaging creatures from, and burning off portals between, the Upside Down and our world. Likewise, in the Aliens universe, a little heat goes a long way toward containing acid-blooded splash back.
• Speaking of Hawkins Lab, there’s a climactic mission into the Upside Down near the end of “Chapter Six: The Spy,” one that closely mirrors one of the most famous sequences from Aliens. In both scenes, a group of soldiers are horribly butchered by creatures they completely underestimated — and in both scenes, a man utters the words: “Stay frosty.”
• The Hawkins Lab massacre also contains an outwardly calmer but quietly intense counterpart: Owens, Hopper and the others watching the soldiers’ perspectives from video monitors, just as Ripley, Burke and the other non-combatants with the USCMC did in Aliens.
• Finally, it’s worth pointing out the similarities between the xenomorph and the demogorgon, if not exactly in aesthetic (though the demo-dogs were eerily reminiscent of the creature at the heart of Alien 3, oddly enough), then at least in growth cycle. Both monsters begin their lives being birthed from human hosts as pollywogs of sorts, before rapidly developing into ferocious full-grown form.
Did you notice any other similarities between Aliens and Stranger Things season two? Let us know in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/StrangerThings for more season two coverage.
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