Some are obvious — Charlie (played by Hailee Steinfeld), the teenager mechanic who helps the Autobot repair himself and resume his mission, is a John Hughes fan who introduces him to The Breakfast Club.
‘Bee decides that pumping his fist in the air like Judd Nelson at the end of that film is his new victory gesture.
But there are many others that are harder to spot. Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) walks us through Bumblebee’s journey to the Big ‘80s.
In the opening of the movie, Bumblebee lands on Earth and immediately assumes the vehicle form of a military Jeep.
But after a brutal battle with the Decepticon Blitzwing leaves his systems in critical condition, Bumblebee crawls out of a lake looking for a vehicle disguise that will allow him to lay low and recover.
“Bumblebee scans multiple vehicles before deciding on the classic VW Beetle,” Knight says. “In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, ‘Bee briefly considers, then rejects, the Urban Assault Vehicle from Stripes.”
That would be the EM-50 — the secret military project equipped with immense firepower and state-of-the-art technology and communications that Bill Murray and Harold Ramis have to protect in 1981’s Stripes.
That machine itself was just a redressed version of a 1976 GMC Motorhome, which was probably too bulky to be a suitable disguise for the little Autobot.
“Smart move, ‘Bee,” Knight says.
Big Trouble in Little China
This bizzare 1981 action-comedy is referenced in the form of Charlie’s local restaurant hangout.
“One of the biggest influences on this movie is John Carpenter, particularly in some of the more out-there sci-fi moments,” Knight says. “We give the great man a nod with Brighton Falls’ restaurant Dragon of the Black Pool.”
“If you recognize that name as Wang Chi’s Cantonese eatery from Big Trouble in Little China, congrats,” Knight says. “If you don’t, what’s wrong with you? Go watch that movie!”
“Do you want to play a game?” Fans of the Matthew Broderick global-thermal nuclear war thriller from 1983 will recognize the doomsday supercomputer in Bumblebee if they watch closely.
The Transformer-hunting government agency Sector 7’s “advanced” computer systems are actually a variation on the nuclear-war supercomputer WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) from War Games.
National Lampoon’s Vacation
“You think you hate it now, but wait ’til you drive it.” That’s the not-so-great sales pitch Eugene Levy gave Chevy Chase before unloading the Wagon Queen Family Truckster on the poor Griswold family.
A similar pea-green, wood-paneled stationwagon belongs to Charlie’s family in Bumblebee, and even becomes part of a chase sequence.
“This is a damn fine automobile, if you want my honest opinion,” Levy’s character promised. “If you’re thinking of taking the tribe across country, this is the automobile you should be using.”
It’s also useful in case of robotic alien invasion.
The Lost Boys
Bumblebee is set in the fictional town of Brighton Falls, but exteriors were shot in Santa Cruz, the same location as this 1987 teen vampire flick, which was posing as Santa Carla in that film.
Charlie works at Hotdog on a Stick on the same boardwalk that served as the young monsters’ favorite killing ground.
“We scouted all over California trying to find the perfect location. Nothing could top the vibrant oceanfront promenade of ‘Santa Carla,’ the Murder Capital of the World,” Knight says.
He’s referring to the cheerful sign that ominously warns in graffiti on the back that The Lost Boys’ bloodsucker-plagued town has a great many deaths and disappearances.
Even though Bumblebee is technically set the same year, they’re different places. No shared universe — sorry.
“Alas, nary a brooding bleached blond adolescent vampire could be found,” Knight adds. “Disappointing.”