Stranger Things trivia: 11 strange things you didn’t know about Netflix’s supernatural hit

From its chilling real-life roots to Billy dancing in a thong, discover some weird and wonderful facts about Stranger Things as the highly anticipated fourth season hits Netflix.

By Lizzie Larkum Updated: 30 June 2022 - 5.57pm
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With its mix of sci-fi, supernatural horror and heartfelt friendship it’s no wonder Stranger Things has become a global phenomenon.

Set in the 1980s, it's a loving hommage to the movies and music of that decade. The sibling duo behind the show Matt and Ross Duffer, aka The Duffer Brothers, wanted to create a show that evoked all their childhood cinematic experiences, pitching the idea of Stranger Things with the question: “What if Steven Spielberg was directing a long-lost Stephen King novel?”

The show wears its pop culture references on its sleeve, with films such as E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark, Alien and The Goonies influencing everything from costumes to camera angles. 

With such a rich background there are easter eggs to be found all over and, to coincide with the release of season 4 on Netflix, we unearth a few surprising facts about the show...

1. Stranger Things is inspired by a 'true' story.  

The show was originally called 'Montauk' and took inspiration from an alleged US Military programme named The Montauk Project which, legend has it, included experiments on children involving mind reading, mind control and time travel.

Preston Nicols, an electrical engineer from Montauk, claims to have worked on the project and in 1992 wrote a book called Montauk Project: Experiments In Time.

"We began to look at how you could interface minds with computer systems - but it soon evolved into developing a mind-control device," he said in an interview with The Sun.

"Later it was discovered that if the individual whose mind was powering the machine could think of other time periods, this machine could generate a vortex there - essentially a time machine.”

There's no substantial evidence to prove anything nefarious was going on in Montauk, but it makes interesting reading and has proved to be a brilliant idea for a TV show!

2. Music plays an integral part in the show

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Music plays an important part in Stranger Things from the eerie synth title music to the pop classics played on ghetto blasters around Hawkins.

Individual characters have their own songs. Will Byers' signature tune, for instance, is Should I Stay or Should I Go? by The Clash, mirroring the character's feelings of being caught in two places.

Eleven has the multi-layered White Rabbit by Jefferson Airplane, which references Alice in Wonderland, a story of a girl who goes underground (the Upside Down) and gets lost. It's also a protest song and its no coincidence it's played as Eleven is running from the agents in season 1.

Interestingly, music was also used as a device to get the actors into character, according to executive producer and director Shaun Levy,

“Playing music on set sometimes is just a good visceral way to give the actors a sense of what you’re looking for," he told the Beyond Stranger Things companion show.

Spooky music was played to the three-year-old actress who played Mike Wheeler's younger sister as she walked down the Byers' creepy corridor in season 1, so she would look freaked out. Also, music from Close Encounters of the Third Kind was played in the nighttime junkyard scene to bring an eerie feel to the set.

3. Winona forever!

One genuine 80s icon who is very much a part of the Stranger Things universe is Winona Ryder, who plays Joyce Byers.

Eagle-eyed viewers will also notice many hidden references to Ryder's movies dotted amongst the episodes.

Among her back catalogue are Tim Burton films Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands, and so it's no coincidence that the Duffer brothers have named Burton as one of their first big inspirations.

In an interview with The Guardian they explained the impact he made on them when they were growing up.

“You could see it from one Tim Burton film to the next, that the guy who made Edward Scissorhands also made Batman," said Ross Duffer.

"You could connect the dots because his style was so distinct. He was the first director we became obsessed with as kids.”  

Adding another layer to the nostalgic references, Ryder's film Reality Bites also starred Ethan Hawke, father of Maya Hawke, who plays Robin Buckley in Stranger Things.

As well as Ryder, the Duffer brothers have cast other actors from the 80s films that have inspired them, including Paul Reiser (Dr Owens) who was in Aliens, Sean Astin (Bob Newby) from The Goonies and Cary Elwes (Mayor Larry Kline) from The Princess Bride.

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4. One, two, Freddie’s coming for you...

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As well as Ryder, the Duffer brothers have cast other actors from the films that have inspired them, including Paul Reiser (Dr Owens) who was in Aliens, and Sean Astin (Bob Newby) from The Goonies.

Arguably the 80s' most famous supernatural bad guy leaves Elm Street for the Stranger Things universe in season 4, as Freddie Kruger actor Robert Englund makes an appearance after approaching the Duffer brothers about a role in the show. 

“The fact that he came to us in a season that’s so deeply inspired by the Nightmare series and by his performance especially in those movies, it felt like fate,” Matt Duffer told IGN.

“It felt like, ‘OK, this is meant to be'."

Englund will play Victor Creel, decribed by Netflixlife.com as "a disturbed and intimidating man who is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital for a gruesome murder in the 1950s”.

Once again, the stuff of nightmares...

5. Indiana Jones inspired Hopper

It's not such a surprise that Indiana Jones is one of the inspirations for the character of Hopper, there's the hat scene in season 2 and both characters have a similar dishevelled heroisim and drawl. Season 4 promises more to come and in an interview with Deadline, Hooper actor David Harbour said,

"There are monsters and horror and scares. There’s also some great Indiana Jones-type action."

But the love of Indy doesn' t stop there: being an 80s kid himself  Harbour is a massive fan of the character and reveals that he went to see Raiders of the Lost Ark 13 times at the cinema when it first came out.

The Duffer brothers described how David planned to channel Indiana Jones, even to the point of wanting to recreate one of the archaeologist's most famous film scenes in the show.

"Early on, he even asked if we could have a giant boulder roll after him at one point in the show. We’re still not sure if he was joking or not," they told to Entertainment Weekly.

6. Casting difficulties

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Casting the kids' roles was difficult, and in total the team auditioned 906 boys and 307 girls before deciding on their final cast.

"We’ve found that the key to finding good kid actors is actually rather obvious: You just have to audition pretty much every kid in the world who wants to act," the Duffer brothers joked in and interview with Entertainment Weekly.

There was a bit of role-swapping too: Joe Keery, who plays Steve Harrington, originally auditioned for Jonathan Byers and Noah Schnapp, who plays Will Byers, auditioned for the character of Mike Wheeler.

Little-known actor Skylar Gaertner failed to get through his Stranger Things audition but did find a role in another huge Netflix drama as he went on to become Ozark's child money launderer Jonah Byrde.

7. Who ya gonna call?

Seems like film references in Stranger Things work both ways. 

Having dressed up as a Ghostbuster in season 2, Finn Wolfhart became one for real in the 2021 movie reboot Ghostbusers: Afterlife. In an interview with Newsweek, Wolfhart explains what draws him to these 80s inspired projects:

"I think the perfect thing is nostalgia without it just being nostalgia. Blending together nostalgia and a really good story. That's why I like Stranger Things. Ghostbusters is contemporary, but it's also not throwing the other movies out the window."

He has also appeared in the remake of Stephen King's It, the original of which has also  influenced Stranger Things.

8.  What about Barb?

No article on Stranger Things would be complete without mentioning fan favourite Barb. In Season 1, Barb was dragged to the Upside Down by the Demigorgon and her body was found and later buried. Fans thought Barb didnt get what she deserved and the #justice4barb movement was created. In an interview with The Guardian, Shannon Purser who played Barb, was floored by the outpouring of love for her character.

“It’s been madness. And totally unexpected," she said. "I didn’t even have a career before Stranger Things – it was my first acting job, my first time on a professional set, and my character wasn’t even supposed to be a big deal – it all just exploded.”

The fight still goes on, on Twitter anyway, and conspiracy theories abound about poor hapless BFF Barbara Holland. But as Will had a funeral and still made it back to Hawkins alive some wonder if the same may happen to Barb? Executive producer Shaun Levy is not so sure.

"She had a creature... slug, worm, snake... coming out of her mouth. I don't know that there's a bounce back from that!" he told Esquire back in 2017 

"We are not going to cravenly service the wish-list of fans". 

9. Wild Billy

Billy Hargrove first appeared in season 2 and fast became the villan of the show, even before he got possessed by The Mind Flayer. He's a wild card and the Australian actor who played him, Dacre Montgomery, seems to be pretty wild too, but in a good way.

In his audition tape he channels an intense Kiefer Sutherland in Stand by Me, but we also see him dancing in a thong to Dexys Midnight Runners 80s hit Come on Eileen.

In an interview  explained,

"I just kind of wanted to make a bit of a splash with the Duffers," Dacre told GQ.

 "And I was like, OK, what better way to do that than to oil myself up, put on a G-string, and... yeah..."

In another act of wildness during the filming of season 3 episode 4, The Sauna Test, Billy's headbutting of the sauna window was totally improvised by Dacre.

10. Listen to Murray's voicemail message

Private investigator Murray Bauman was introduced in season 2 of Stranger Things, and one of the more comic characters he brings some light relief to the horror series.

In episode 6 of season 3, Murray's phone number is shown on screen and - as curious fans soon found out - it's real! Calling the number takes you to Murray's voicemail where fans can get a tiny hint of what's to come:

"I have an update. It's about, well, it's probably best if we speak in person. It's not good or bad, but it's something," he says on the message. 

Hmm, what could this something be? Hopefully we'll find out in season 4...

11. Is a Stranger Things spin-off on its way?

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Season 4 will be the penultimate season of Stranger Things, but with super-long episodes and the fifth and final season still to come, there's plenty to get through before we say goodbye to Eleven and her gang.

But it won't be the end - at least one spin-off is planned, and in a letter to fans the Duffer brothers promised: "There are still many more exciting stories to tell within the world of Stranger Things".

But outside of the brothers shared vision no one knows what the spin-off might look like, apart from one young man.

 “We think everyone - including Netflix - will be surprised when they hear the concept, because it’s very, very different," the brothers told Variety

"But somehow Finn Wolfhard - who is one crazy smart kid - correctly guessed what it was going to be about. But aside from Finn, no one else knows!”

Watch Stranger Things season 4 on Netflix now.