Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Three Favorite Movies in STRANGER THINGS 3

*Warning! Mild spoilers ahead, but only related to minor incidents. No major plot points are discussed.

The third season of Stranger Things continues its love affair with all things 80s, including the movies of that decade and the heyday of the local video rental store, which gives the final episode of the season an opportunity to name drop a number of films that reveal aspects of the characters' personalities. A visit to the video store presents fan favorite Steve and new character Robin with an opportunity to name their three favorite films as a test of their movie knowledge and personal taste. Not surprisingly, Steve goes with some pretty obvious recent choices, while Robin plays the movie snob card by naming three classic films.

Robin (played by Maya Hawke) appears throughout the season as a new kind of girl in the character mix, but one with her own 80s movie roots. She's the edgy, prickly, smart girl who doesn't care about popularity or the usual high school status symbols. Sarcastic and bored with her job at Scoops Ahoy, she torments Steve but also proves herself to be a useful, loyal friend to the former high school golden boy. When asked to name her three favorite movies, Robin lists The Apartment (1960), The Hidden Fortress (1958), and Children of Paradise (1945). Her picks are especially esoteric for a teenager living in small town America in the mid 1980s, where it would have been difficult to see any of those three pictures, but they're intended to show her as a "serious" cineaste who leans toward foreign classics and film school standards. They immediately win the approval of the video store clerk, as well.

Steve's taste is, as Robin admits, "pedestrian" in comparison with her own. His picks, after much stumbling, are Animal House (1978), Return of the Jedi (1983), and Back to the Future (1985), the last of which Steve had just caught parts of during his misadventures with Robin, Dustin, and Erica. We've seen Steve grow a lot as a character since his initial appearance in Season One, but his first choice of Animal House reminds us of the kind of guy Steve used to be and might have remained if not for his experiences with the other Hawkins kids. He doesn't know the names of the specific episodes of Star Wars, either, and he loses even more credibility with the clerk by saying he likes "the one with the teddy bears" instead of going with the more fanboy approved The Empire Strikes Back. Ironically, Robin has included in her list Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress, one of the films that George Lucas heavily borrowed from for A New Hope, thus showing that the best approach is to name not an actual Star Wars film at all but to show your depth of knowledge by picking one of its inspirations.

In a season packed with movie references, especially shout outs to horror films like Day of the Dead (1985), The Thing (1982), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 and 1978 are equally relevant), and Alien (1979), along with a heavy dose of The Terminator (1984), the final episode's video store scene is a chance for the show to engage the cultural significance of movies very directly and mention some films that fall outside its horror/action/80s frame of reference. Robin's list is more about a hardcore movie buff's idea of what matters, but Steve's list is more in tune with the specific cultural moment in which the show takes place.

Honestly, in retrospect, they're both perfectly good lists, just reflective of very different movie watching moods and perspectives. When I was 18, back in 1990, I certainly hadn't yet seen any of Robin's picks, but I had seen all three of Steve's (I only saw Animal House because I was in college by then and away from parents who strictly cut off my access to R rated films). My top three would probably have been something like The Princess Bride (1987), The Lost Boys (1987), and, yes, Return of the Jedi (I also like the teddy bears. Fight me.)

What were your three favorite movies when you were 18? Were they "classics" or things you had only recently seen for the first time? How does your knowledge of movies - from the 80s or otherwise - enhance your enjoyment of a show like Stranger Things? I'd love to see your thoughts in the comments!

PS - If you're interested in my early teenage experiences with serious cinema watching back in the 1980s, check out "My First Summer of Cinema - 1988."

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