Created by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the 1980s. It involves a group of children investigating their friend Will Byers’ disappearance, which leads them to befriend a girl named Eleven (who has psychokinetic abilities) as well as uncover dark secrets of the government.
Gradually, they find out about The Upside Down, which is a portal into the alternate universe; Will is held captive by a creature from the Upside Down. The three-season show is based on Will’s rescue and the subsequent events that follow, where the lives of the Hawkins resident are plagued by supernatural monsters from the Upside Down.
The show has attained unthinkable with a classic child endangerment theme set in an ’80s grunge backdrop. Nerdy kids on bicycles trying to find their missing friend, a girl with telekinetic powers, dangerous species travelling to and from between dimensions, a wicked bureaucracy and nearly helpless adults.
Stranger Things is a concoction of every child’s dream sequence where they save the day along with their cheeky friends. With season four around the corner, fans are incredibly excited to see what the new season has in store for us. With the varied range of characters the show has to present, it is a delight to see the creators carefully and intricate the ‘80s behavioural tropes as well, not just the aesthetics. From dysfunctional households to toxic parenting, the show lacks nothing.
Among the various characters, we sure do have favourites. While some are absolutely hateful and loathsome, there are some that deserve all the love in the world.
Here are the Stranger Things characters ranked in an order of being the worst to being the absolute best.
Neil Hargrove of Billy’s dad is the least liked character on the show, and the viewers can absolutely justify their stance given Hargrove’s toxic character. Neil is physically and emotionally abusive and passes derogatory comments towards his son Billy, affecting and stunting his emotional quotient. He is extremely violent and terrifying. He is in a dysfunctional relationship with Billy’s mother and bottoms out his rage and frustration on his son.
His divorce makes him even more embittered and ruthless. Even when he is not occupying the screen, his overwhelming presence dominates his son and affects him deeply. The trauma he inflicts on his immediate associates scars them for life. Will Chase does an excellent job in portraying this man with intense anger issues, and although he appears sporadically, his violent tendencies are enough to incite hatred among the audience.
Imagine a greedy, mercenary, homophobic, emotionless, absent father. Yes, that is exactly the easiest and the most respectful definition of Lonnie Byers. Joyce met Lonnie in high school and had their first son Jonathan who claimed that his parents were initially in love; however, after Will’s birth, Lonnie started growing distant, criticising Will’s interests and often passing derogatory comments alluding to his sexuality. Lonnie is violent and somewhat unstable. Who else would compel his 10-year-old son to kill a rabbit to prove his manhood?
Lonnie is a despicable alcoholic who is an absolutely uncouth slacker as well, and he thankfully ends up abandoning the rest of his family. His selfish, abusive self is devoid of ethics or empathy. When Will disappears, he extends fake support to the grieving family as he sees an opportunity to make some money out of it. Joyce, who sees through his spiteful nature, sends him away. Hopefully, we shall not see this man return to the show ever again.
Portrayed by Matthew Modine, Brenner was the main antagonist in the first season, and appeared in the following seasons as well, as scheming and vile as before. He plays a key role in conducting controversial experiments which can potentially sabotage one’s sanity and well-being. Eager to delve deeper into science to aid the US Government, Brenner ends up raising test subjects, inflicting on them severe trauma and abuse; Eleven is one such lab product of his who ends up developing psychokinetic powers.
This emotionally vacant and manipulative man has ruthless ambitions. He does not care about anyone and keeps experimenting with them. He even made Eleven’s mother undergo illegal electroshock therapy after she tries to save Elevn from this atrocious man’s evil clutches. He uses psychological torture and cruelty as punishment when his test subjects disobey him, often confining them to isolated areas. He often rewarded their good behaviour with heaps of affection which shows how calculative the man can be.
Billy is a bully. Rolls well of the tongue, right? Well, he is repugnant, selfish, a spoilt brat and has no empathy for the people around him. However, his violent tendencies stem from the years of abuse inflicted on him by his abusive, uncouth father. Billy’s volatile nature is rooted in the traumatic memories of getting beaten up mercilessly by his father and being subjected to harsh abuses.
He is sinister and does not care about others. The treatment meted out by him to his stepsister is appalling and horrendous. Billy is hateful and vile, yet when we get to know of the rotten tree that begat this poisoned apple, we cannot help but feel a tad bit of sadness on imagining how different he would have turned out to be if exposed to better circumstances. When eleven enters his mind, it is discovered that a young Billy was a happy-go-lucky child whose life changed drastically after being subjected to unimaginable abuse.
What is it with Stranger Things and bad dads? While Theodore Wheeler s less terrible in comparison to the absolutely vile Lonnie Byers and Neil Hargrove, he cannot pass off as a good man. He is emotionally distant and brimming with apathy. He does not care about what is going on with his children in their lives because he does not have time given his tedious job. A drumroll for the classic excuse.
He is quite oblivious to the surrounding events and his lack of involvement in his children, Will and Nancy’s life, strains his relationship with his family. He is critical of them and asks them to tone down their behaviour whilst they use foul language. He often fails to realise what his mistakes are, following the classic ‘80s dad tropes. However tame that might sound, emotional unavailability ain’t cool anymore!
The sister of Terry Ives and the aunt of Eleven – AKA Jane Ives – the character is portrayed by the uber-talented Amy Seimetz. While the character deserves more development and more on-screen time, Becky has a lot to contribute within the time allotted to her. Becky was somewhat estranged from her sister after she remained oblivious to the latter’s agony and suffering. She believed that Terry was disillusioned after having suffered a miscarriage.
After Eleven resuscitated her original identity, she tries to reconcile with her family but is initially admonished by Becky. Although Eleven is allowed to meet catatonic Terry, Becky is concerned about having her around and betrays Eleven’s trust by giving up her location to Hopper, prompting the little girl to flee without bidding goodbye. Becky is a good sister and tries to care for Terry yet is not the understanding and supportive aunt we would like her to be.
Terry Ives is a victim who has undergone unimaginable trauma and suffering. She has been subjected to electroshock therapy for trying to retrieve her daughter, deemed insane and whatnot. From being a vegetative object of pity, her backstory has made her emerge as a vicious mother fighting to find her lost daughter. Her character resonates with the audience. Terry had participated in the Hawkins lab experiment where she was administered heavy mind-bending psychedelic drugs that plugged her senses.
Terry suffered a miserable fate as she was told that she had suffered a miscarriage wherein Brenner took her under his wing to perform nasty experiments and use her daughter as a lab rat. Terry was locked in a continuum of events where she replayed the same events on loop. She can only utter a few words related to these events and her state is pity-inducing and sorrowful. No mother should ever have to go through what Terry Ives did.
Another one of Brenner’s experiments, Kali is a dangerous and headstrong character who makes use of her psychic powers to indulge in violence and robbery to sustain herself. She is an outcast and a rebel and stays on the streets. She hates the people who destroyed her life and seeks cold, merciless vengeance. Despite her ruthless nature, she has a tender spot for outcasts ignorant of their gifts. She develops a heartwarming, sisterly bond with Elevnand teaches the latter to use her abilities to the best of her advantage to heal her mind from the past trauma.
Kali is manipulative and needs to use the tactic for survival. She ends up manipulating Eleven as it is, according to her, in Eleven’s best interests. However, Eleven, on coming to know the truth, is deeply hurt and abandons Kali and the gang of outcasts trying to seek revenge. Although Kali initially wanted to use Eleven to her advantage, it is shown that she harboured love and care for the latter and genuinely wanted to help her heal by overcoming past trauma. However, her dubious schemes of making Eleven follow suit along the path of murder and crime as well as the skewed idea of ethics and morality made the two drift apart.
Consider a mother who is blissfully unaware of her children being up to no good and does not even have the slightest inkling of how her daughter looks for interdimensional monsters or her son harbours an escaped experiment in her basement. Consider the same woman, frustrated by the loser and emotionally distant husband she is married to, ogling at a younger boy and feeling unbridled sexual tension. Well, that is the perfect description of Karen Wheeler who seems to be flustered by the very thought of the very attractive Billy Hargrove offering her swimming lessons in a motel.
Her husband’s lack of parenting skills and inadequacy as a partner makes Karen constantly be on the edge (what an apt name!). She is domineering and overbearing and following Will’s mysterious disappearance, sets stringent curfew times which leads to direct conflict with Nancy. She cares deeply for her children yet her mind is occupied by stress and anxiety to understand what goes on in their lives. Her children lie to her frequently and towards the end, it is seen that Karen grows more understanding and responsible and learn to connect to her children’s emotions better.
Jonathan is a great character. Do not misinterpret his sincerity and compassion by his position on this list. He is here because the character is underdeveloped and unexplored. Jonathan is the lesser-known sibling, overshadowed by his younger brother Will who disappears. Jonathan is asocial and introverted. He is kind and smart and has a very close relationship with his family. Will disappears whilst he is working late which burdens him with guilt. His relationship with his mother becomes estranged momentarily when he refuses to believe her claims of Will being alive.
Jonathan has had a very traumatic childhood with his abusive father Lonnie Byers scarring him for life by forcing the little Jonathan to kill a rabbit. Jonathan toils hard to help his girlfriend, Nancy Wheeler, an aspiring journalist, to gather evidence for various cases yet his ambitions of going to New York university remain unheard. He is devoted and dutiful to his girlfriend and family but the man hardly has any time to for himself. He is a character who induces empathy in our hearts and proves his loyalty to his family amidst trying times.
Nancy suffers the same fate as Jonathan. Despite being such a likeable and well-rounded character, she is overshadowed by her younger brother Mike and his antics. Nancy is the quintessential ‘80s girl who is striving hard to break away from the common misogynistic insults being hurled at her to prove her place in the world. While working at Hawkins Post, the snarky and belittling comments affect her deeply and she works harder to gain recognition which ultimately gets her fired. She is impulsive and will go to any length to uncover the truth.
At the beginning of the series, she was in a relationship with Steve Harrington which altered her demure, kind personality greatly and she became somewhat of a rulebreaker. However, smart and studious, this ambitious girl was always faring well in her classes. The mysterious disappearance of her best friend Barb causes her to spiral and she feels guilty. She proves her bravado by venturing into the portal to save Barb and cannot seem to forgive herself after Barb’s demise. Despite the hardships and obstacles, Nancy never relents and her strong spiritedness is admirable; the character deserves more screen-time and attention.
Weird and quirky, with a bizarre haircut and round glasses, Murray Bauman is an investigative journalist who is also perhaps the in-house on-screen shipper. He ardently ships Nancy and Jonathan while working on Barb’s mysterious disappearance and later, Joyce and Hopper as he claims to sense the unrequited sexual tension between the respective pairs. He is quirky yet observant. His idiosyncratic behaviour and eccentricity often lead to him being overlooked yet he proves his mettle every single time.
Although he puts on a rough and tough exterior, Murray harbours within him feelings and emotions. He is quite Soviet-phobic yet overcomes his prejudices when he joins Alexei in teaching him about the vastly different American culture, and continues taunting the very flustered Hopper and Joyce for being ignorant of his true feelings. Murray deserves to make an appearance in every season as his presence simply seems to add a different tempo to the atmosphere.
Barbara Holland, commonly known as Barb, was Nancy’s best friend. With her cute bob hairstyle and chunky glasses, barbara’s sweet, kind-hearted smile reflected how deeply she cared for Nancy. She did not like her best friend associating with Steve and often made her feelings about the boyfriend perfectly clear. A loyal friend, she would hardly hesitate to chaperone Nancy to a party she barely wanted to attend just to light up a smile on her best friend’s place.
It is at the party that things go awfully wrong for her. She gets dismissed by Nancy and made fun of by the more popular school students which leads her to rush out of the house and sit by the vacant pool. She was killed by the Demogorgon and while it was widely known that she had mysteriously disappeared, the news affected Nancy adversely who kept soaring on guilt over her demise. Barbara was a great friend and an unfortunate victim of the brutal Hawkins experiment. She deserves to rest in love and happiness.
Looks like Robin Williams’ John Keating from Dead Poets Society has some tough competition from our very own Scott Clarke. Intelligent, supportive and highly resourceful, this school science teacher is one of the wittiest characters on the show. He is very close to the boys as they share an innate interest in science and often resort to Clarke’s aid in conducting their science experiments.
Clarke is rational and tries to keep up with the boys’ demands. He gives them proper space and never oversteps his boundaries to bombard them with questions. He even joined the search party after Will disappeared. Scott Clarke is like one of those perfect teachers that we wish we had in high school who would not only make us love the subject but also become better versions of ourselves. His presence itself is comforting to the boys as well as to us.
Clever and geeky, this manager of Radio Shack was also Joyce Byers’ boyfriend for quite some time. Bob is a delightful character and though his programming skills might not always render immense help, his intentions are pure and empathetic. He bears strong love for Joyce and takes a great liking to her sons despite Jonathan’s disapproval as he is too amicable and somewhat nerdy and boring.
Bob is selfless and genuinely tries to make a connection to Joyce’s sons. He cares deeply about others and his presence emphasizes the importance of brains rather than brawn. He is brave and compassionate and puts his life at risk while saving the rest of the Byers. His fatal heroism costs him his life and he gets mauled to death by a juvenile Demogorgon in front of Joyce. We miss the kind-hearted Bob!
Erica is an icon. She is Lucas’ younger sister and constantly taunts him and gets on his nerves. She loves to annoy him and is a self-proclaimed nerd. Although she initially hates her brother’s friends, she gradually warms up to Dustin and helps him embrace his nerdy self with positivity. She brings in a lot of trouble for Lucas yet helps them get into the Starcourt Mall for ice cream.
It is a delight watching Erica make Lucas’ dolls make out or simply annoy him whenever she can. The bickering siblings share a great sense of endearment and understanding. Season 4 should have Erica in a lot of scenes or we are filing a petition. Erica for President!
Will Byers is the glue that holds the whole of Hawkins together, the driving force behind the families and friends uniting against the corrupt scientific malpractices. It is Will’s disappearance that sets the plot into motion. People endanger themselves to save Will and Noah Schnapp did a wonderful job as the elusive Byers who is caught within an internal struggle of his own while being stuck in a loop of interdimensional horror. Despite his close encounters with the horrifying demon, he continues to strive to come back to normality. Intelligent and friendly with a knack for science, Will belongs to an abusive household due to his uncouth father. Abandonment on his father’s part causes him to feel alienated from his peers yet the boys warm up to him.
He returns literally from the dead and is taunted by the names of zombie boy which further isolates him. He is frustrated and annoyed by his family super-sensitivity and overprotectiveness. He is gradually subjected to mind control and memory loss by the Mind Flayer yet he manages to fight it with the help of his family and friends. Although we see Will Byers leaving Hawkins, we are eagerly waiting for a season 4 comeback.
Maxine “Max” Mayfield is a badass. She skates and plays video games and keeps the guys on their toes; she is an absolute dream. While it may seem quite natural now, the series is set in the ‘80s, and such intriguing qualities in a girl were usually not noticed as they were dissuaded from almost everything. Max has a pretty sad backstory as she belongs to a household where her stepbrother Billy is regularly abused by her stepfather. Billy takes out his frustration on her by threatening her like filth.
Max, however, proves her greatness by forgiving him and staying by his side as he perishes. Billy even ends up begging for her forgiveness. Although she tries to befriend Eleven, the latter is wary of Max’s proximity with Mike. Later the two bond over their respective lying boyfriends. Max is dauntless and aids the boys in their mission. She dates Lucas and is a wholesome character with all her unique qualities and brave personality.
Lucas is the most pragmatic and rational character in his band of friends and is initially quite wary of Eleven and her unique abilities. He is a realist and refuses to, at first, accept the presence of the supernatural. He is incredibly sweet-natured and plays a vital role in keeping the rest of his friends grounded. He eventually starts dating Max and matures with age. He is an expert strategist and makes good use of his sharp brain.
Lucas is great with slingshots and can wield brute force while using an axe. Lucas is a very resourceful friend and his family is equally interesting and delightful. Caleb McLaughlin does a superb job portraying this very important character and adds a certain sense of likeability to his character. Lucas is not very subtle about his feelings at the beginning and openly expresses his jealousy over his best friend Mike bonding more with Eleven. However, it is heartwarming to see them all make up with each other in the end and unite in their search for their lost friend and to seek the truth.
Mike is the perfect best friend. Admittedly, he can be jealous and overprotective at times, especially due to the big fat crush he has on Eleven, but his patience and courage are admirable. He makes a lot of effort to decode Eleven’s sporadic speech and loves solutions embedded in fantasy. He is compassionate and committed, his loyalty towards his friends is impeccable. He is willing to take severe risks to save his friends from danger and has a strong sense of morale while his courage and bravado almost border on stupid chivalry. He was deeply affected by Eleven’s disappearance and it is safe to say that they both were very much in love.
Mike suffers a lot at home due to his emotionally distant father. He is deeply affected by Will’s disappearance yet never loses hope, buoying the rest of the forlorn group with his optimism. Finn Wolfhard does a spectacular job of portraying Mike in all his glory of escaping into a feverish adventure involving interdimensional travel. A frequent Dungeon master while playing Dungeons and Dragons with his mates, he proves his natural leadership skills by showcasing immense calm and composure while dealing with difficult situations.
We stan a curly-haired king whose gamut of fantasy knowledge and cuss words is admirable. Dustin Henderson is the scientifically inclined, nerdy Solomon of the group whose responsibility seems embedded in his ability to resolve conflicts. With Gaten Matarazzo improvising Dustin’s distinctive purr, the writers made sure to incorporate the actor’s medical condition of cleidocranial dysplasia into the character.
Dustin often keeps the group from falling apart. He is prudent, level-headed and is a great negotiator, managing to bring the believer and the sceptic on the same page (namely Mike and Lucas). Sure, it is his fault that we lose the beloved ginger cat Mews but can we blame the innocent Dustin for knowing that Dart was actually a monstrous creature? He had a crush on max but soon got his way around girls by dating Suzie. Dustin also develops a close bond with Steve towards the end of season 3 and we cannot wait to see what this unusual friendship has in store for us.
Millie Bobby Brown as the elusive Eleven with her laconic dialogues does a spectacular job that catapulted her into stardom. Eleven is the unfortunate sufferer at the hands of corrupt power-hungry bureaucracy who take recourse to scientific experiments on humans to fan their ego. After being subjected to such experiments in Hawkins National Laboratory after being abducted, she develops psychokinetic abilities. She escapes and stumbles upon Mike, Lucas and Dustin who are desperately looking for their lost friend Will. Without any second thoughts, she agrees to help the boys. Eleven is constantly pursued by officials who want to make use of her abilities to their own advantages.
Eleven is subjected to severe abuse at the hands of Brenner whose psychotic manipulative tendencies and punishment made her develop severe trauma and claustrophobia. Her limited vocabulary stands as a communicative barrier and she fails to express her feelings. She is fiercely loyal and incredibly determined to save her friends. Eleven was often forced into situations where, despite her heart being devoid of malice or revenge, she had to kill which filled her heart with guilt and self-loathing. Her relationship with Mike, budding friendship with his friends as well as acceptance at the hands of the Hawkins families helps her overcome her insecurities. It is heartwrenching to see her finally meet her long-lost yet unresponsive mother. Rejected by her aunt, she finally finds solace and affection in the arms of her adoptive father Jim Hopper. Eleven, in all her glory and love for Eggos, is one of our absolute favourites!
While the series is bad parenting galore, Joyce Byers stands out as a badass mom who refuses to give up and will continue her relentless search of her lost son as her motherly instinct tells her he is alive and safe. While Joyce could have easily been the quintessential paranoid mother who is an emotional mess, Winona Ryder brings in nuance and poise. While she breaks our hearts with her emotions and the helplessness at being denied any assistance initially, she warms our hearts with sheer determination. While we wish she paid more attention to her older son Jonathan, it is a delight to see her live up to her fullest potential on-screen.
Joyce said good riddance to bad rubbish long back when her husband abandoned her. She found love in Bob who was killed by the Demogorgon; Jim Hopper, her friend obviously has a massive thing for her and so does she, but they are too caught up in solving the messy mysteries of the town to indulge their interests. Joyce is kind, amicable and benevolent. She goes to unimaginable heights to protect her sons. She bears and endures severe trauma due to Will’s disappearance yet tries to keep up a brave and calm front. Although she leaves Hawkins with her sons and Eleven to start afresh, we cannot wait for them to come back in season 4. We are glad for Winona Ryder’s unbridled energy and grace that adds a certain charm to Joyce Byers.
Stever Harrington would have probably been our top character had Jim hopper not been a part of the Stranger Things-verse because the redemptive arc of his character is nothing short of incredible. Initially an asshole in the series with his bullying tendencies and cold indifference, he is a popular boy who reeks of a terrible personality, a self-proclaimed King Steve. While he disgusts us at the beginning, he deserves the title of King Steve towards the end by his show of bravery, courage and kindness. He becomes Dustin’s friend and mentor, handing out advice regarding hairstyle and girls. Steve’s hair towards the end is quite iconic as well in classic ‘80s style.
Steve, who is initially rude and cruel to everyone, slowly shows his parental side which brims with compassion and empathy. He becomes incredibly patient, tolerant and sheds off his homophobic views. He tries to bring about positive changes by trying to learn more about things he was previously ignorant of, which includes him delving into the realm of knowledge. He is no longer the reckless and boisterous sarcastic popular boy. He prefers quietude and arms himself with a baseball bat, displaying his bravery and chivalry while protecting others. The evolution into the neo-Steve seems too good to be true.
Gruff yet vulnerable, David Harbour’s Jim Hopper is the best character in the series. Imagine a character who has been left hollow by a set of consequent tragic events. Imagine a character who is bereft of audience empathy. Yes, that is Jim Hopper. He is not a hero. He has no quest-like journey, he is an alcoholic cop who beds random women to drown his sadness in booze and drugs. He is a tough guy and punches people before extracting answers during an interrogation. He is volatile and angry yet harbours great tragedy within his soul. He has lost his daughter to cancer and his wife has abandoned him. He seeks solace in alcoholism the audience feel pity yet do not empathise with him.
Season 2 sees a wonderful formation of a father-daughter relationship between hopper and eleven, with the former growing overprotective of her, afraid of losing her. He officially adopts her and dances with her. His flaws make him human – his jealousy and possessiveness towards Joyce is an expression of his love. His hard exterior is incapable of showing romance but he cares and feels deeply for the ones he loves. He is poignant and Harbour, who won two Emmy nominations for his wonderful portrayal of the character, beings unimaginable depth to this layered character. A masterpiece!
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