Netflix’s newest original series, Stranger Things, is the next big thing. After the eight episodes of season one began streaming last Friday, the show has been the subject of much adoration, speculation, and attention. If you’ve spent any time on social media this week, you’ve surely seen people raving about this sci-fi throwback.
Set in the 1980s, Stranger Things tells the story of a group of children who become embroiled in a sinister government conspiracy after one of their friends mysteriously disappears. Starring Winona Ryder and created by the Duffer Brothers, Stranger Things is quickly becoming a cultural sensation. The show has been met with very positive reviews and the many mysteries and twists make it the perfect show to discuss and analyze with friends.
We’ve assembled a crash course in Stranger Things for your convenience. Whether you already consider yourself a superfan or you’re completely unaware of the show, this list should provide some fascinating details and trivia regarding the next big Netflix hit. We won’t be including any spoilers in this list, so read without fear! Here are 15 Things You Need to Know About Stranger Things.
15 It Is Heavily Influenced by 80s Filmmaking
Stranger Things is so heavily inspired by 1980s genre filmmaking, we were able to write a whole list about it here. The Duffer Brothers are clearly passionate about the 80’s output of filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Joe Dante, and they’ve made a show that is a loving homage to that era.
As we discussed in the list linked above, each episode is packed with details and references to movies like Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Gremlins. The very premise of the show immediately calls to mind the early work of Steven Spielberg, with young children encountering powerful otherworldly forces. The Duffer Brothers have been very open about their filmmaking influences and the references can almost seem overwhelming at first. Fortunately, the show manages to find a soul of its own over the course of the eight episode season. What starts as a loving homage gradually transforms into a worthy entry into the canon of throwback sci-fi/horror.
14 Created by the Duffer Brothers
You’d be forgiven for not knowing the Duffer Brothers' names before Stranger Things premiered. Though they’ve been working in the industry for some time as writers and directors, they were still relatively unknown at the time of Stranger Things' premiere. This is exciting, because it really means that the hype surrounding the show is due to the quality of the content, not just because it has a big name or two attached. The fact that two relatively unknown filmmakers could create a show that has captured the country’s attention in this way is very inspiring for aspiring filmmakers.
So who are the Duffer Brothers? Born in North Carolina, Matt and Ross Duffer grew up adoring 80s sci-fi and horror films. The two are twins, though they don’t know if they’re fraternal or identical, which is a little odd. After moving to Los Angeles, they wrote and directed several short films before making the feature film Hidden. They indulged in their love of the supernatural by writing for Wayward Pines. And now, they’ve struck gold with their hit Netflix show.
13 The Show Made Waves on Social Media
Netflix famously refuses to reveal the viewership for its shows, so it’s impossible to know exactly how big of a release Stranger Things had upon its premiere. However, judging by the cultural conversation, it seems like Netflix may have a bona fide hit on their hands.
Stranger Things began trending on Twitter and Facebook very shortly after the episodes were put up last Friday, with many famous writers, comedians, and celebrities weighing in with their support of the show. The nature of the show lends itself to discussion and analysis, so it makes sense that the show would generate such an immediate social media presence. Also aiding in the huge social media splash was the very binge-able nature of the show. Many of the episodes end with cliffhangers and open mysteries, and since all eight episodes were available immediately, viewers were able to burn through all the episodes in a night if they wished. All of these factors contributed to a huge premiere for this little show.
12 Stephen King and Guillermo Del Toro Approve
Participating in the social media conversation surrounding Stranger Things were some of the artists whom the Duffer Brothers were emulating in the first place. Stephen King was one of the first artists to share his love of the show on Twitter, giving the show an “A+” and comparing it to a “Best Of” of his greatest hits. This must have been pretty special for the Duffer Brothers, as their show is heavily influenced by King, even down to the paperback-style title font, which we’ll discuss more later.
Another major influence to reciprocate his love of the show was none other than horror maestro Guillermo Del Toro. In a tweet, Del Toro acknowledged the references to Spielberg, King, and himself, before giving the show a resounding endorsement. Being approved by the creators who inspired you is a pretty special gift, so you can bet the Duffer Brothers are feeling pretty good right now. And if you were on the fence about the show, the thumbs-up from these two titans of horror should be all the convincing you need.
11 Finn Wolfhard Will Be in the It Remake
At the center of Stranger Things is the group of young boys who experience this supernatural phenomena. We see the show through their eyes. So naturally, the casting of the child actors was key. A weak child actor can break a movie or TV show, while a strong one can drive it home to be a classic. Fortunately, the Duffers found an impressive ensemble of young talent after a long casting search.
The leader of the gang is Mike Wheeler, played by Finn Wolfhard. Wolfhard has had small roles in Supernatural and The 100, but Mike is his biggest role to date. And this is not the only horror-tinged project on his plate currently. Wolfhard will play Richie Tozier in the upcoming remake of It, directed by Andres Muschietti. Casting for It was going on at around the same time as the casting for Stranger Things, and for a time the Duffers thought they wouldn’t get Wolfhard, as he had been chosen for It. Fortunately, schedules worked out, and Wolfhard has made a great impression as the young lead.
10 Gaten Matarazzo is in the National Tour of Les Miserables
One of the most endearing characters to emerge from the show is that of Dustin Henderson, played by Gaten Matarazzo. Born with a condition in which his teeth don’t grow in until much later, Henderson is immediately likable and relatable for the audience. Henderson is a character that would not at all feel out of place in Stand By Me. He is surprisingly level-headed and realistic about the frightening situations the group find themselves in and he is an always reliable source of comedy relief. It’s hard for child actors to come across as totally authentic and charming, but Matarazzo nails it.
Though fairly new to the world of television, Matarazzo is far from a novice actor. He is currently performing as Gavroche in the national tour of Les Miserables. That’s right. While one of the child actors is being stalked by a demonic clown on a film set, the other is belting Broadway tunes on a national stage.
9 The Pitch for the Show Sounds Incredible
The Duffer Brothers had a very creative idea for how to pitch the show. The twins cut together a fake trailer for the show using footage from 26 different films. Some of the movies they pulled from included Halloween, Poltergeist, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Looper, Super 8, and The Mothman Prophecies. Cutting and splicing between these various movies created the perfect way to sell their unique series. They were able to directly show the various influences they were looking to imitate, while also infusing it with their unique style and sensibilities. The trailer must have worked, as Netflix picked up the series.
Yet again, the Duffers provide an inspiring story for aspiring filmmakers. Pitching shows is a tricky thing. How do you encapsulate the entire atmosphere of your proposed show into a five minute pitch? This is the perfect answer. Without having to spend any money on production, the Duffers were able to create a perfectly accurate calling card for their show. Take note, filmmakers.
8 The Duffers Used 80s Filming Techniques
Watching the show, it would be very easy to believe it had actually been filmed in the 1980s. There’s a very specific feel to movies such as E.T., Halloween, and A Nightmare on Elm Street that makes them immediately identifiable as 80s movies. The Duffers did their best to emulate some of the techniques used in those films, and the effort paid off. The result is a wonderfully nostalgic throwback.
To achieve the 80s feel, the Duffers incorporated as much camera movement as they could, as long as it was justified. This results in some of those long tracking shots through the house and those quintessential 80s slow zooms. And although the filmmakers shot on digital, they added a film grain effect in post-production to better imitate the fuzzy quality of that decade. These techniques all come together in a cohesive way that makes the audience feel immediately immersed in the 80s. Clicking that Netflix play button is like taking a step back in time.
7 Casting the Children Was Done Early in the Process
Like we mentioned earlier, the casting of the central child protagonists was key. The Duffers realized this too, so they embarked on their search for the child actors very early in the process. They did this so that they could conduct a truly exhaustive search, leaving no stone unturned in the search for the perfect actors for the roles. An additional reason for the early casting was so that the Duffers could have time to tailor the roles to the actors. After finding the principal cast, they got to know the kids and began to recognize their strengths. That in turn would inform the script. The Duffers have said in interviews that they made changes to the characters after casting the lead boys, adjusting the personalities to match those of the actors.
This is a really clever way of handling the challenge of child performers and it definitely paid off. The show boasts some of the most authentic child performances we’ve seen on TV. The actor’s personalities really shine through.
6 Winona Ryder Was the First Choice for Joyce
It’s fitting that the leading woman of the show would be plucked straight out of the 80s/90s genre films the filmmakers admire so much. Winona Ryder enjoyed starring roles in several cult classics, such as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. When the casting director turned in the list for potential actresses to see, Winona’s name was near the top of the list. The Duffers have said that they were a fan of Ryder’s early work, particularly her work with Tim Burton, and they would love to have her play the role of Joyce Byers, the distraught mother whose child goes missing. They’ve also said in interviews how exciting it is to see Ryder in such a different role than the ingenue type performances she played in the 90s.
If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know that Ryder is great in it. She finds a lot of layers to Joyce, and she’s always fascinating to watch. Kudos to the casting director for the solid pick.
5 Millie Bobby Brown was Inspired by Charlize Theron
If there is a breakout star of the show, it might be Millie Bobby Brown, who plays the mysterious Eleven. In the first episode, Eleven breaks free from the government officials keeping her imprisoned, and goes on the run. Eventually she crosses paths with Mike Wheeler and his gang, and they set out to uncover the strange mysteries plaguing their town.
Apparently, the young actress was reluctant to shave her head for the role. She was eventually won over after the Duffer Brothers showed her Mad Max: Fury Road. She was taken with Charlize Theron’s character. Millie agreed to have her head shaved after she saw how cool Imperator Furiosa looked in that film.
Born in Spain to British parents, Millie Bobby Brown knows her way around a production lot. Having appeared on Intruders, Modern Family, NCIS, and Grey’s Anatomy, she had quite a resume before being cast in Stranger Things. But this is likely to be the role that catapults her to stardom. She imbues Eleven with a deep melancholy, without losing her childlike innocence. We’re excited to see what more Millie has to offer.
4 The Cop Uniforms and Cars are From Jaws
If it wasn’t obvious, the Duffer Brothers are big, big fans of Steven Spielberg’s seminal horror classic, Jaws. They even directly lift shots from the 1975 blockbuster, such as the police chief typing in “MISSING CHILD” in the first episode. But the similarities extend beyond just cute references and easter eggs. They straight up lifted the entire Amity police department and dropped them in Hawkins, Indiana.
The keen-eyed viewer will notice that the police uniforms seen in the show, as well as all of the police cruisers are the exact same ones seen in Jaws and Jaws 2. Now that is a dedicated allusion.
This all goes back to the that feeling of nostalgia the Duffer Brothers are so keen on presenting. By sprinkling lovely little details like this throughout the show, it gives the world a pleasant sense of familiarity and warmth. The minor touches add up to a very satisfying effect.
3 The Original Title was "Montauk"
The setting of Hawkins, Indiana is key to the show’s atmosphere. The sleepy small town, with it’s expansive woods, sparsely attended diners, and tight community all serve to heighten by contrast the horror that takes place there. But the filmmakers weren’t always planning on using Indiana as the location.
Initially, the Duffer Brothers intended the show to be set in Montauk, New York. Again, heavily inspired by Jaws and its setting of Amity Island, the brothers envisioned their show taking place in a similarly beachy, tourist-driven town. The original title of the show was actually Montauk. Eventually the brothers changed their mind and moved the setting to the midwest. Once there, they had a difficult time choosing a name for the fictional town. Apparently it’s hard to find names that haven’t already been used in real life and the last thing the brothers wanted was to be sued for defaming a small town in Indiana.
2 There's a Long History with that Title Font
One of people’s favorite things about the show so far is its delightfully nostalgic title sequence. The font calls to mind old Stephen King paperback novels, which was very intentional on the part of the filmmakers. But more than just being reminiscent of The Shining and Carrie, the font actually has a long history with sci-fi and horror projects.
The font is called ITC Benguiat and was released in 1978. Since its inception, it has been used in many contexts. It’s the same font that was used in several of the original Star Trek films. You may also recognize it as the font that warns viewers of Paramount Home Video not to pirate the film. The designer of the font, Ed Benguiat, also created the fonts for the original Planet of the Apes, as well as Twin Peaks.
When conceiving the title sequence, the Duffer Brothers said they wanted to avoid the overlong, overly complicated title sequences that have become popular in recent years. They opted for a simple, slow zoom on the title, reminiscent of their favorite movies and TV shows from their youth. The effect is simultaneously nostalgic and chilling.
1 There Will Be a Second Season!
If you burned through all eight episodes in a single day, and are now lamenting the fact that there’s no more to watch, fear not! A second season has been confirmed by Netflix and the Duffer Brothers. What we don’t know is when it will premiere, or anything about it really. We can assume they will be further exploring some of the various cliffhangers and plot threads that went unresolved in this season, but beyond that, it’s just speculation. Fortunately a show like this invites plenty of fan speculation and theorizing, and the internet has been all too happy to comply.
We can’t remember a recent show coming out of the gate as strongly as this one. Immediately gripping and inherently rewatchable, Stranger Things is a true delight. If you’ve yet to dive in, now’s the time! You’ve got about a year before the second season will likely premiere. Enjoy!
What are your thoughts on Stranger Things? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!
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