Ranker Rundown: 'Stranger Things' Returns From A Long Slumber

Stranger Things became a global sensation when it debuted in 2016, and ever since, fans have been dying to know what will happen to El, Hopper, Mike, Lucas, Dustin, and the Byers family. Due to COVID-19 delays, the wait for the show's fourth season has been a long and excruciating one - with fans left dangling on cliffhangers like Hopper's time in a Russian gulag - but the wait is now over. 

There has been plenty to recap and theorize over in the last few years - and even more time for one of Netflix's biggest shows to climb high on a number of Ranker's biggest votable lists. How will the show's massive fourth season - which signals the beginning of the end for the series - affect those rankings and theories come July?

  • The Show Is Heading Into Its Endgame

    Right now, Ranker voters have Stranger Things sitting at No. 15 on The Greatest TV Shows Of All Time list - right below South Park and just above The X-Files - and the show could be poised to climb higher up the list if it manages to stick the landing. If it doesn't, it could find itself running up the score on Ranker's The Worst TV Series Finales Ever list, where How I Met Your Mother and Dexter hold the No. 1 and No. 2 positions.

    Before the announcement of Season 4's extended episode count and premiere date, Netflix also revealed Stranger Things would conclude with Season 5. Creators Matt and Ross Duffer penned an open letter to fans (by way of The Hollywood Reporter) back in February 2022 to announce the show's conclusion was just over the horizon:

    Seven years ago, we planned out the complete story arc for Stranger Things. At the time, we predicted the story would last four to five seasons. It proved too large to tell in four but - as you’ll see for yourselves - we are now hurtling toward our finale.

  • The Series Has Always Worn Its Influences On Its Sleeve And Season 4 Is No Different

    Stranger Things has always been described as part Stephen King story and part Spielbergian, sun-soaked cul-de-sac adventure, but evocations of the past don't end there. One of the biggest draws and strengths of the show from the jump was how joyfully it leaned into its '80s inspirations. That level of nostalgia worked well to win over viewers who actually experienced those influences, as well as younger viewers who grew up on the movies, shows, and books after the fact. Ranker compiled All The Pop Culture References In Stranger Things into one place, and they range wide from targeted casting like Sean Astin and Paul Reiser to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Poltergeist, Star Wars, and so very much more.

    The references and influences are continuing strong into the fourth season. With the group split - the Byers moving to California and the rest of the group staying back in Hawkins - the Duffer brothers told Collider they saw it as a prime opportunity to focus on two distinct '80s classics. For those left in Hawkins, Matt Duffer says they wanted to lean into a particular horror franchise:

    I think our goal with the show is always to try something different every year and make sure the show is evolving, and that comes naturally in a lot of ways because our kids are growing up. It’s funny, I can’t even actually call them kids, they are like full-blown young adults now. So, we thought that this was a good year to put them in a full-fledged Nightmare on Elm Street-esque horror film.

    For the Byers family, Matt revealed they were returning to one of the classic Amblin Spielberg flicks:

    In California, it’s a very different vibe in a lot of ways, because the goal for California is to have that E.T., Valley feel of it. The Byers are in a new sort of suburban location that is really exciting to us, and they have made some new friends. Jonathan has a new best friend named Argyle who works at a place called Surfer Boy Pizza, and Argyle is sort of your quintessential '80s stoner.

  • Season 4 Is Coming At A Perfect Time For Netflix

    Netflix has had a pretty rough go of 2022 so far. In April, the streamer announced that for the first time in a decade it had reported a loss in subscribers (to the tune of 200,000) and that password sharing and price raising were among the main culprits. Co-chief executive Reed Hastings even revealed in the earnings call that the company was at long-last considering an ad-supported viewing tier:

    Those who have followed Netflix know that I’ve been against the complexity of advertising and a big fan of the simplicity of subscription. I’m a bigger fan of consumer choice and allowing consumers who would like to have a lower price and are advertising-tolerant get what they want.

    Following that, the streamer announced numerous layoffs - first the in-house editorial arm of Netflix writing for its editorial site Tudum cut an entire team that had been at the site for less than a year. Then in May, Netflix announced another 150 layoffs.

    Cut to Stranger Things, which after years of COVID-related delays and no new content since July 2019 is finally dropping its extra-large fourth season. The first five episodes arrive on May 27 and the final four on July 1. It could be exactly what the company needs to get some positive press and even some of those lost subscribers back, as the series ranks No. 1 among Ranker voters when it comes to Netflix Originals. The pressure on this season is high, and not even just from the business perspective: Fans are expecting a lot, and Season 3 was wildly popular. On our list ranking the Best Seasons Of Stranger Things, the votes between Seasons 3 and 1 have been so close as to cause them to regularly switch places in an ongoing fight for the top spot. 

  • The Season Is Going To Have Multiple Movie-Length Episodes

    The show's fourth season features nine episodes - more than Season 1 and 3 and the same count as Season 2 - with the first seven episodes dropping on May 27 and the last two on July 1. Luckily, though, this split format won't feel like two mini-seasons thanks to the fact that multiple episodes will be as long as feature-length films. In an interview with The Wrap, the Duffer brothers revealed that Episode 7 (titled “The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”) and Episode 9 (titled “The Piggyback”) are both feature-length, saying "seven and nine, in particular, are movies. And nine is a long movie.” Matt Duffer explained:

    A lot of it had to do with the fact that we had characters spread out in three locations and we had a lot more plot. It must be quadruple the plot we had in season 3. That was our fun blockbuster season. This season we knew season 5 was going to be our last, we had to start revealing a lot.

    It was later revealed that episode 7 would be 98 minutes, episode 8 would be 85 minutes, and episode 9 would be a whopping two and a half hours.