The first season of Stranger Things premiered on Netflix on July 15, 2016. It consists of eight episodes ranging from forty-two to fifty-five minutes in length. Set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983, the season is about the disappearance of Will Byers and the ensuing search for him by family, friends and the local authorities.
Imagined by its creators as an eight-hour blockbuster film, it was inspired by and pays homage to classic genre films of the 1980s — in particular the films of Steven Spielberg and John Carpenter, as well as the novels of Stephen King. The season received critical and audience acclaim and was praised for its directing, acting performances, title sequence, and synth-heavy score.
An unnamed man is seen trying to escape from a monster. However, he unsuccessfully and soon is eaten by the monster in the elevator.
In Hawkins, 1983, four boys - Dustin, Lucas, Mike and Will - play Dungeons & Dragons before separating and going home. While cycling, Will is chased and eventually abducted by a monster. Dustin, Lucas and Mike begin investigating; while looking for Will in the local forest, the boys find a girl with a shaved head, wearing a hospital gown. They let her stay in Mike's basement. They learn her name is Eleven, discovering she has psychokinetic abilities.
Will's mother Joyce becomes transfixed by supernatural events affecting the house electricity - she's convinced Will is communicating with her. Meanwhile, police chief Jim Hopper grows suspicious of the nearby national laboratory after he finds a torn piece of hospital gown outside the lab grounds. Mike's older sister Nancy attends a pool party hosted by her new boyfriend Steve, begrudgingly accompanied by her best friend Barb. Jonathan, Will's brother, witnesses the events of the party, taking photos. While alone, Barb is abducted by the Monster, taken into another dimension and killed.
Hopper researches Dr. Martin Brenner, the laboratory, and a woman named Terry Ives who claimed her daughter was taken by scientists. Steve discovers Jonathan's photographs and destroys them, but an anxious Nancy retrieves the fragments of a photo showing Barb. Will's body is discovered in a quarry, however Eleven proves Will is still alive, manipulating several radios to project the sound of Will's voice. Examining Jonathan's photo of Barb, Nancy realizes the Monster is also visible. Jonathan realizes that Nancy's description of the creature matches his mother's: a humanoid figure with long arms and no face. They team up to learn more about the creature, in the hopes of saving Will and Barb.
A suspicious Hopper finds and cuts open Will's body, discovering it to be fake. He heads to the laboratory and breaks in, finding Eleven's bedroom and a huge, sprawling gate to the alternate dimension before being knocked out by agents. He wakes up in his own home and finds it bugged. The boys pull together their knowledge of the supernatural events and begin theorising about the alternate dimension, labelling it the Upside Down. They search for the Gate, following their compasses, theorising that the Gate would affect the electromagnetic field - however, a fearful Eleven distorts the field and leads the boys away. After the boys notice the distortion, a fight between the kids breaks out, resulting in Lucas being injured by Eleven and the group splitting up.
In the woods, Nancy and Jonathan find the blood trail of a wounded deer. Nancy crawls through a portal in the base of a tree and enters the Upside Down , discovering the creature feasting. The creature notices Nancy and attacks her, but Nancy returns through the portal before she can be hurt.
Throughout the season, Eleven experiences a series of painful flashbacks to the experimentation conducted on her by Dr. Brenner at the laboratory. This culminates in a flashback in which Eleven in placed in a sensory deprivation tank. Within an altered psychic state, she accidentally opens the Gate to the Upside Down after making contact with the creature. After sharing what they know, Hopper and Joyce track down Terry Ives, learning more about Eleven and Dr. Brenner. While Lucas attempts to once more find the Gate, Mike and Dustin find Eleven. Lucas sees agents leaving the laboratory, realising they are on their way to capture Eleven. Mike, Dustin, and Eleven narrowly escape, reuniting with Lucas.
Joyce and Hopper return to Hawkins, sharing their knowledge of the creature with Nancy and Jonathan. Joyce, Hopper, Nancy and Jonathan contact and eventually find the kids, formulating a plan to make a sensory deprivation tank to enhance Eleven's powers - this way, she can psychically view Will and Barb without entering the Upside Down. The group break into Hawkins Middle School and set up their makeshift tank there. Using the tank, Eleven discovers Barb to be dead and Will alive, hiding in Castle Byers, his makeshift fort. Hopper and Joyce attempt to break into Hawkins Laboratory to save Will, but are apprehended by security. Nancy and Jonathan resolve to kill the monster. In the Upside Down, the monster breaks into Castle Byers, taking Will.
Interrogated by Brenner, Hopper gives up Eleven's location in exchange for access to the gate. Hopper and Joyce enter the dimension, discovering the creature's nest, where an unconscious Will has been strung up with an eel-like creature extending down his throat. After detaching and killing the creature, Hopper and Joyce revive Will and return through the Gate. Nancy and Jonathan set up a trap at the Byers house before cutting their hands to attract the creature with their blood. Steve arrives, intending to apologize to Jonathan and Nancy. The monster attacks - though Nancy, Jonathan and Steve successfully injure and trap it, it escapes to the Upside Down. Agents storm the school, but Eleven crushes their brains. As Brenner recovers a weakened Eleven, the creature enters and attacks Brenner. The boys escape with Eleven and hide in a classroom, but the monster finds and attacks them. Eleven pins the creature against a wall and says goodbye to Mike. In a painful and self-destructive act, Eleven dissolves the creature into a thick mist in which Eleven vanishes. Will is hospitalized and reunited with family and friends. Hopper is reluctantly picked up by a black government car. One month later, Nancy has got back together with Steve; it's suggested they've both befriended Jonathan. Hopper leaves food in a box in the woods. Will coughs up a slug-like creature in his bathroom sink.
Cast and characters
- Winona Ryder as Joyce Byers – 8/8
- David Harbour as Police Chief Jim Hopper – 8/8
- Finn Wolfhard as Mike Wheeler – 8/8
- Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven – 8/8
- Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin Henderson – 8/8
- Caleb McLaughlin as Lucas Sinclair – 8/8
- Natalia Dyer as Nancy Wheeler – 8/8
- Charlie Heaton as Jonathan Byers – 8/8
- Cara Buono as Karen Wheeler – 8/8
- Matthew Modine as Dr. Martin Brenner – 8/8
- Joe Keery as Steve Harrington – 8/8
- Rob Morgan as Officer Powell – 8/8
- John Paul Reynolds as Officer Callahan – 8/8
- Joe Chrest as Ted Wheeler – 7/8
- Noah Schnapp as Will Byers – 6/8
- Mark Steger as The Monster – 6/8
- Randy Havens as Scott Clarke - 6/8
- Catherine Dyer as Connie Frazier - 5/8
- Ross Partridge as Lonnie Byers – 4/8
- Shannon Purser as Barbara Holland – 3/8
- Chris Sullivan as Benny Hammond – 2/8
- Aimee Mullins as Terry Ives – 1/8
- Amy Seimetz as Becky Ives – 1/8
|1||"The Vanishing of Will Byers"||The Duffer Brothers||The Duffer Brothers|
|On his way home from a friend's house, young Will sees something terrifying. Nearby, a sinister secret lurks in the depths of a government lab.|
|2||"The Weirdo on Maple Street"||The Duffer Brothers||The Duffer Brothers|
|Lucas, Mike and Dustin try to talk to the girl they found in the woods. Hopper questions an anxious Joyce about an unsettling phone call.|
|3||"Holly, Jolly"||Shawn Levy||Jessica Mecklenburg|
|An increasingly concerned Nancy looks for Barb and finds out what Jonathan's been up to. Joyce is convinced Will is trying to talk to her.|
|4||"The Body"||Shawn Levy||Justin Doble|
|Refusing to believe Will is dead, Joyce tries to connect with her son. The boys give Eleven a makeover. Nancy and Jonathan form an unlikely alliance.|
|5||"The Flea and the Acrobat"||The Duffer Brothers||Alison Tatlock|
|Hopper breaks into the lab while Nancy and Jonathan confront the force that took Will. The boys ask Mr. Clarke how to travel to another dimension.|
|6||"The Monster"||The Duffer Brothers||Jessie Nickson-Lopez|
|A frantic Jonathan looks for Nancy in the darkness, but Steve's looking for her, too. Hopper and Joyce uncover the truth about the lab's experiments.|
|7||"The Bathtub"||The Duffer Brothers||Justin Doble|
|Eleven struggles to reach Will, while Lucas warns that "the bad men are coming." Nancy and Jonathan show the police what Jonathan caught on camera.|
|8||"The Upside Down"||The Duffer Brothers||Paul Dichter · The Duffer Brothers|
|Dr. Brenner holds Hopper and Joyce for questioning while the boys wait with Eleven in the gym. Back at Will's, Nancy and Jonathan prepare for battle.|
The Duffer Brothers were excited by the boundaries of television being pushed in a more cinematic direction and started talking about what kind of show they would most like to see. They talked about doing something in the vein of the classic films they loved growing up: Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, as well as Stephen King’s novels and their adaptations, which they felt were so great and resonant because they “explored that magical point where the ordinary meets the extraordinary.”
In 2015, Dan Cohen, the Vice President of 21 Laps Entertainment, brought the Montauk pilot script to Shawn Levy. Though the company has a policy to only get involved in television if it’s "irresistible," the Duffers were brought to Levy's office and he "fell in love with it, completely bought into the boys and felt like they were worth betting on."
Netflix was the first buyer they pitched to, because it fit the Duffers' vision of the show as an eight-hour movie and gave them creative freedom. The company bought the season the morning after the pitch.
The first role the casting team was looking to cast was Joyce Byers, and they wanted someone iconic for the role. Casting director Carmen Cuba’s first idea was Winona Ryder. The Duffers were very excited about this as they had grown up on her movies in the ‘90s and felt that they had not seen enough of her lately. They sent Ryder the pilot script; she liked it, and they had a meeting the same week. The four-and-a-half hour meeting was mostly them getting to know each other, as Ryder was a film nerd herself and got along well with the brothers. She agreed to be Joyce the next day.
The minute Netflix gave the green light, the casting team started looking for child actors as they knew it would be a difficult task. They auditioned 906 boys and 307 girls who were made to read select scenes from the first episodes as well as a few classic scenes from Stand By Me. They saw dozens of kids who were exceptionally good, but they would not cast them as they were looking for a certain authenticity.
The finalists were flown to Los Angeles, where they read together to test their chemistry. The kids that were selected to be the main roles were the only ones the Duffers felt could hold up the show on their own: Noah Schnapp (Will), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas) from New York, Finn Wolfhard (Mike) from Canada, and Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) from the United Kingdom. Over the summer, the kids formed a group and began incessantly texting each other. They were a close-knit group by the time they arrived in Atlanta for filming.
The Duffer Brothers have admitted that many of the characters started out as more stereotypical, but the actors influenced and informed the characters: Dustin was initially much more of a cliché nerd character without an interesting personality, but from the moment they saw Gaten’s audition tape, they wrote the character around him; Mike was originally a soft-spoken dreamer like Mikey from The Goonies, but Finn's fidgetiness and fast talking made them adjust Mike’s voice.
The most difficult role to cast was Eleven, because she had to convey many emotions with very little dialogue. The Duffers were worried that a child actor might have trouble staying in character in a scene when they are not talking, but that concern went away when they met Millie Bobby Brown. They said “Millie’s something special, alright, with a downright spooky preternatural talent. She inhabits every moment so intensely, with some alchemy of intelligence, preparation, and instinct.”
A day after Wolfhard was cast as Mike, they got a call saying he was working on a deal to star in Cary Fukunaga's It. However, the movie fell through, and he was kept on Stranger Things.
The first scene they shot was the Dungeons & Dragons scene from the first episode. The Duffers were concerned about how the child actors would work together on set, but to their relief “Our boys flew through the scene effortlessly and energetically, and their chemistry was electric; they felt like they had known each other their whole lives.”
Initially planning to direct all of the season’s episodes, the Duffer Brothers found themselves overwhelmed by the time production wrapped on the first two chapters; they were editing the first two episodes, prepping episodes five and six, while at the same time writing scripts for episodes seven and eight. That is when producer Shawn Levy was brought in to take the directing reins for episodes three and four.
When writing the final episode, the Duffers started to panic because they knew it would push the limits of the crew on the show. Production for the final episode consisted of long days and nights with little sleep and a large amount of stress, and the Duffers credited the enthusiasm of everyone on the show for making “the impossible possible.” They later stated “This was by far the most challenging episode to pull off. No other episode even comes close.” To create snow for the winter scenes, over twenty tons of ice were shipped from Florida.
Having grown up on genre films before computer graphics, it was important to the Duffers that the horror elements were done practically. Something about the effects being so tangible in films like Ridley Scott’s Alien, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and Clive Barker’s Hellraiser was especially terrifying to them when they were kids. They anticipated to use eighty percent practical effects and twenty percent computer graphics, but in the final product “it was probably more of a 50/50 split.” 
The visual artists at Aaron Sims Creative were hired to help them design the Monster and the look of the Upside Down. The Duffers spoke to them at length about the creature designs of H.R. Giger, Clive Barker, Guillermo del Toro and Masahiro Ito. “We all felt their monsters were so effective because of their strangeness. If you were to encounter a being from another planet or dimension, we imagine it wouldn’t look like anything you’d expect. The more bizarre, the more frightening.”
From early on, they knew they wanted their monster to be a person in a suit with animatronic elements, so the monster could interact with actors in real time. Spectral Motion, who had previously worked with Guillermo del Toro, were brought in to build the monster. They had only about two months to complete the creature, meaning there was almost no room for error. The robotics engineer designed the animatronics so the movement of the head petals moved in unpredictable patterns, never repeating themselves. The Duffers stated that “it felt organic. Creepy. Real.”
Aaron Sims Creative was also put in charge of the visual effects. Full computer graphics were used when an actor in a suit could not perform certain stunts, like the monster breaking through walls. Nearly forty percent of the final episode had some type of visual effects enhancement. The visual effects team was working on shots until the last possible moment with the final shots turned in just two weeks before they aired on Netflix, most of them not even entirely complete.
The Upside Down was created through a mix of practical and visual effects. Many of the vines and growth were actually moving and pulsing with visual effects brought in when they filmed something like a city street.
The fake corpse of Will Byers used in episode four was built by Justin Raleigh from the company Fractured FX. The van-flipping scene was also achieved practically, using explosives. When first trying the stunt on location, one of the explosives did not go off and the van destroyed a camera, costing the production thousands of dollars. To make Millie Bobby Brown float in the kiddie pool, they actually used 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt.
With Netflix launching every episode simultaneously, they were allowed the opportunity to revisit each episode at the end of post-production to make sure it all fit. They did early cuts on episodes one to four before they finished shooting. They then edited five to eight and went back to the first half and made tweaks when they knew the whole picture.
In May 2016 they had about a month to go before turning in the final product to Netflix. They were done editing the video footage and were working on coloring and sound mixing while waiting for visual effects shots. The visual effects artists were working on shots until the last possible moments. The final shots were turned in just two weeks before airing on Netflix, and most of the shots were not entirely complete.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 "How Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter and Stephen King Influenced Stranger Things" IGN. July 7, 2016.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Stranger Things interview – Duffer Brothers on Netflix's new supernatural show" Irish Examiner. May 18, 2016.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 "‘Stranger Things’: Shawn Levy on Directing Winona Ryder, Netflix’s Viral Model" Variety. July 22, 2016.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Stranger Things premiere: The Duffer Brothers introduce their new Netflix series" Entertainment Weekly. July 15, 2016.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 "Stranger Things' Duffer Brothers on ’80s Cinema, Fighting Over Kid Actors, and How They Cast Winona Ryder" Vulture. July 15, 2016.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 "Netflix's Stranger Things: Shawn Levy interview" Den of Geek. July 15, 2016.
- ↑ "'Stranger Things' creators explain it all about season 1" HitFix. July 27, 2016.
- ↑ "Interview: The Duffer Brothers & Shawn Levy of 'Stranger Things'" Cut Print Film. 2016.
- ↑ "Stranger Things episode 2: The Duffer Brothers on finding their Eleven" Entertainment Weekly. July 16, 2016.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 "Stranger Things: The Duffer Brothers praise episode 3 director Shawn Levy" Entertainment Weekly. July 17, 2016.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 "Interview: ‘Stranger Things’ Producers on Influences, Marketing, the Possibility of Future Seasons and More" Slash Film. July 21, 2016.
- ↑ 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Stranger Things finale: The Duffer Brothers reveal 'most challenging episode' of season" Entertainment Weekly. July 22, 2016.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 "Stranger Things episode 6: How the Duffer Brothers created their monster" Entertainment Weekly. July 20, 2016.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 "‘Stranger Things’ Finale: Duffer Brothers Talk Cliffhangers, Death and Season 2" Variety. July 18, 2016.
- ↑ "Exclusive 'Stranger Things' Art Reveals 'Upside Down' Secrets and Barb's Alternate End" Screencrush. August 22, 2016.
- ↑ "Stranger Things episode 4: How the Duffer Brothers were inspired by Stephen King" Entertainment Weekly. July 18, 2016.
- ↑ "Stranger Things: the Duffer brothers share the secrets of their hit show" Empire. July 27, 2016.
- ↑ "Stranger Things episode 7: The Duffer Brothers on the 'most fun' episode of the season" Entertainment Weekly. July 21, 2016.