Last summer, Stranger Things became an smash hit on Netflix, fast joining the upper ranks of the streaming service’s buzzy original lineup. An homage to ’80s sci-fi and horror, the series had a relatively niche premise, but hit big among critics and general audiences alike. It even picked up several nominations on the awards circuit.
The series followed a group of close-knit pre-teens on the search for their missing best friend, Will, who had been dragged into a parallel dimension ruled by a dangerous monster called the Demogorgon. Along the way, they teamed with a telekinetic girl named Eleven, played by breakout actress Millie Bobby Brown. The character is portrayed as sweet but largely silent. She has a dark past, but uses her powers for good, and ultimately sacrifices her personal safety in order to save her newfound friends.
Eleven and the rest of the young cast were a driving factor in Stranger Things’ wide appeal, but co-creators Matt and Ross Duffer have now revealed the show wasn’t always intended to be so family friendly. Ross told Vulture in a recent interview:
“The Eleven character, the kind of powers she has and to have a young protagonist that’s violent — it’s not E.T. It’s not a happy situation. She’s killing people, and brutally murdering them.”
Matt later added:
“The original pilot was much more violent. It was originally like an R-rated thing. Winona [Ryder]’s character was like, ‘Eff this, eff that!’ It felt a little bit unnecessary. I don’t feel like we sacrificed anything by toning it down a little bit.”
In fact, it was probably a key decision. Much of Stranger Things’ appeal is its nostalgic charm, directly calling back to PG-rated favorites like E.T. the Extra Terrestrial and The Goonies. It’s possible the series would have still found an audience even with the extra dose of profanity and violence, but it’s reach have have fallen short. Plus, Eleven was plenty tough. If they’d pushed it further, the empathetic back-and-forth between her and the boys may have been a harder sell. It’s difficult to root for a cold-blooded killer, even if she is as endearing as Eleven.
Nonetheless, it seems the Duffer Bros. will bring at least some of those more sinister themes back into play when Stranger Things returns for season 2. They’ve already teased “bigger” and “darker” stakes, so it will be interesting to see how that affects Eleven.
Stranger Things season 2 is scheduled to premiere sometime in 2017.