Every show has its strengths, the facets of the work that–whether we realize or not–are the reasons we love that show. For some, it’s the incredible writing or the nostalgia. For others, it’s gripping special effects or the musical score.
And while the Netflix series Stranger Things has plenty going its way in all of those areas, the show’s strongest asset is its characters and the actors that portray them.
Now before I go any further, just realize that if you aren’t caught up with all three seasons yet, go do that. Stranger Things is an incredible show, perhaps the first in years that I really could’ve sat down and watched for an entire day if not for constraints of work, kids, and other responsibilities. So go watch it before you finish this article because there are going to be some SPOILERS otherwise.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, back to the characters. I really can’t think of a single character or actor that really didn’t do it for me, and that’s impressive. What makes it even more impressive is that while the show certainly has its star names like Sean Astin (RIP Super Bob) or Winona Ryder, a bulk of the show’s largest roles are carried by young actors or talents that weren’t really known prior to Stranger Things.
But if we’re going to rave about how great the show’s characters are, I think we must also ask the question, “Which are the best Stranger Things characters?” I’m going to answer that question in the form of an official Nerds on Earth “Top 7” list, and you’re probably going to disagree with me vehemently. But here we go.
1. Steve Harrington
I think Steve is the best, and it’s not just because of his fantastic hair (although it is a sight to behold). Joe Keery has smoothly and adeptly transitioned Steve from the stereotypical popular high school jerk to a monster-battling babysitter to an ice cream-peddling spy who’s coming to grips with what it means to grow up.
And while he certainly doesn’t win many of his fights, his willingness to be the first man up to fight a demogorgon or an angry Russian is admirable. Any scene with Steve is must-watch at this point.
2. Dustin Henderson
If you’re still reading this article at this point, first of all, why are you doing that? Also, this is the kid with the hat, curly hair and unusual dental situation that you’ve all seen by now. But more than just the unlikely face of the show, Gaten Matarazzo is hands-down the strongest actor out of “the kids” that start out as the central focus.
And just when you think maybe you’ve seen the best of Dustin, we’re treated to probably the best musical moment in any non-musical TV show as Season 3 was winding down.
3. Jim Hopper
The police chief of Hawkins, Indiana, has had a rough go of it, and David Harbour portrayed his issues to perfection. Already coping with tragedy from his past, Hopper has to deal with strange disappearances and seemingly crazy townspeople. Before he knows it, he’s helping those residents battle monsters from another dimension and adopting a former test subject with superpowers. He was easily my No. 1 before his character took something of a whiny turn in Season 3, but I’m still hoping his “death” in the finale earns those quotes I just gave it.
Delivering a compelling performance under severe language restrictions is harder than a lot of people realize it, and Millie Bobby Brown handled it like a champ. She has made use of head and hand gestures, facial expressions and every other tool in her arsenal through three seasons. Ranking her fourth seems unfair given that praise, but I’m that big of a fan of my top three. Plus, I wasn’t super thrilled with some of the teen-romance direction that the character took in Season 3, but Millie made even that palatable.
5. Nancy Wheeler
This pick was somewhat unpopular among the NoE ranks, but I’m a huge fan of Nancy. Like Steve, Natalia Dyer has taken Nancy from a bookworm to a popular party girl to an aspiring young journalist. Her realization that she’s the deadshot of the group makes for some cool moments in battle, and Nancy portrays her emotions as well or better than anyone else on the show.
6. Joyce Beyers
This certainly isn’t Winona Ryder’s first rodeo, but she’s done excellent work with Stranger Things. Joyce has to persevere through being considered crazy when she is convinced her son is missing, not dead, and Ryder portrays that well, while also giving us a glimpse of why her neighbors would question her sanity. This character is a great blend of writing and actor skill, and Ryder has been the perfect fit for Joyce so far.
7. Robin Buckley
Robin is the wild card of this list. While the rest of my top-ranked characters have been full-run participants in the show, Robin showed up in Season 3. But she has quickly made up for lost time with witty banter and reactions. Maya Hawke did a great job in Robin’s scenes with Steve, keeping us guessing on the nature of her feelings and that relationship with general until a big reveal that she wasn’t interested in Steve or his gender. From the looks of things, she’ll get to stick around for future seasons, and that’s a very good thing.
By now, you’re probably sharpening your digital pitchforks because I left out your favorites, Just know that Bob, Lucas, Max and Billy were all close to making the cut, whether that makes you feel better or worse.