Stranger Things debuted on Netflix back in the summer of 2016 and quickly became one of the streamer's biggest hits.
Focusing on the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, the series tells the story of a group of kids and their parents as they come to realize that not everything is what it seems. And by that, we mean that the town literally houses a gateway to another realm known as the Upside Down. Their key to defeating this extradimensional evil is Eleven, a telekinetic child with the ability to save everyone—and that makes her the Upside Down’s biggest threat.
The series has become a phenomenon like no other, and with season 4 now upon us, we're taking a look back to rank all the past seasons from best to worst.
1. Stranger Things Season 1
It’s hard to fully sum up the magic that was created when Stranger Things was born. The series introduced us to memorable characters right out of the gate, like Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper, as well as the beloved group of Dungeons and Dragons-playing kids that would find themselves at the heart of the mystery.
Stranger Things has never produced a bad season, but the truth is that nothing comes close to the perfection of its first. It’s a gripping thriller that does so much with so little, and it flourishes because of that. And its ’80s nostalgia is just the perfect complement to it all.
2. Stranger Things Season 2
Perhaps the most anticipated second season in Netflix’s history, Stranger Things‘s sophomore outing was appropriately held until Halloween 2017, offering some welcome spooky entertainment for the occasion. It focuses heavily on the aftermath of the first season, as Will Byers struggles to fit back into his life after his ordeal in the Upside Down and Mike tries to move on after Eleven’s apparent death.
Stranger Things 2 does suffer from “sequelitis” on occasion in that it revisits a lot of the story beats that its predecessor did (and there is that divisive standalone episode). But it also increases the scares, doubles down on the shocks, and ups the stakes without getting too gruesome. And those final two episodes are nothing short of spectacular.
3. Stranger Things Season 4 (Part 1)
Bigger. Badder. Meaner. Scarier. Darker. Season 4 was all of those things right from the start, and not just because its first part consisted of seven hour-long installments. No, the fourth season quickly set itself apart from its predecessors with a story that reached beyond Hawkins and came packed with a much more mature tone that quickly made it clear that Stranger Things had grown up.
The Mind Flayer was not the threat this time, but a new evil named Vecna arose, violently killing people across the dimensions. Meanwhile, the only person capable of stopping him, a powerless Eleven, struggled to fit into her new life in California. And while all of this was happening, the beloved Jim Hopper was trapped on the other end of the world in a secret prison.
That said, the lengthier episodes do result in occasional pacing issues, and the newer, more graphic approach might not be for everyone. Still, the first part of the season found a way to make the show serious again, all while maintaining the heart that fans all love so much. We just have to wait until July 1 to see how the final two episodes of the season wrap up.
4. Stranger Things Season 3
When season 3 of Stranger Things premiered on Netflix, some critics called it a comeback for a show that had stagnated in its second season—and in many ways, it really was. It was bolder than its predecessors, promising to take the story outside of Hawkins in the hopes of changing things up.
This time, the gateway to the Upside Down had been reopened by external forces, and it’s once again up to the main cast to put a stop to it. However, things get more complicated when Max’s brother Billy gets sucked into it.
There was so much good in Stranger Things 3, including the emotional stakes, the friendship between Eleven and Max, and the introduction of Robin. What ultimately lets it down is the fact that it often leans into some of the show’s goofier tendencies, resulting in moments of light comic relief overwhelming the story.
That said, its season finale, “Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt”, may just be the greatest hour the show has ever produced.