The best ‘Stranger Things’ episodes, ranked

Since its riveting arrival in 2016, Netflix’s Stranger Things has easily become one of the most popular and binge-able series on the platform. The show’s focus on otherworldly creatures and its flawless homage to 80s culture vibes aided in its development of a strong fanbase over the years. The series follows residents in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana as they uncover government conspiracies and secret laboratories, facing off against supernatural monsters that attempt to overtake the town’s population.

Created by the Duffer Brothers, this engaging sci-fi thriller received an enormous amount of reverence following its influential first season, with critics and audiences alike praising its characterization, soundtrack, direction, pacing, tone, and creativity. Its engaging plot has established the series as a fan favorite to millions of viewers around the world.

The award-winning series is set to drop Volume One of its fourth season on May 27. Ahead of it’s release, we’re taking a look back at the plentiful stand-out episodes that helped shape the show’s popularity. Here are our picks for the best episodes of Stranger Things so far.

10. “Trick or Treat, Freak” — Season 2, Episode 2

Stranger Things relies heavily on its science fiction appeal, mixed in with spooky elements. Because of this, the Halloween episode of Stranger Things reminds fans exactly why the show is regarded as a massive hit. From decaying pumpkins to the core group’s dressing up as characters from Ghostbusters, this festive episode also marks a significant turning point for Will Byers in season two. It additionally provides viewers with a glimpse of Eleven’s current whereabouts, and showcases Nancy’s mourning process in the aftermath of Barb’s death.

9. “The Spy” — Season 2, Episode 6

Despite this episode’s lack of Eleven, the rest of the cast is entirely successful in bringing “The Spy” to life. This episode marks the climax of Steve Harrington’s character arc, as he heroically saves the kids from dangerous Demodogs. Noah Schnapp also provides a staggering performance as Will, whose mind has been taken over by the Mind Flayer. “The Spy” beautifully depicts the dangers surrounding the residents of Hawkins while further diving deep into Will’s undeserved trauma.

8. “The Sauna Test” — Season 3, Episode 4

Similar to how the Mind Flayer inhabited Will’s mind, season three of Stranger Things sees the terrifying monster metaphorically sink its teeth into Max’s older step-brother Billy. As a result, Dacre Montgomery gives a memorable performance as a possessed Billy, shining particularly bright following efforts from Eleven and the group to lock him away in the community pool’s sauna. Hopper and Joyce also work together in “The Sauna Test,” trying to unfold the secretive plans of Mayor Kline. The entirety of season three is stupendous, but this episode truly showcases how talented the show’s cast is.

7. “Holly, Jolly” — Season 1, Episode 3

Arguably the most influential episode of Stranger Things, “Holly, Jolly” first introduced the world to the signature Christmas-inspired lights that Joyce uses to communicate with Will while he’s stuck in the Upside Down. Hopper also begins to investigate the strange truth about Hawkins Lab, slowly uncovering evidence that the government conducted illegal experiments and ruined a woman’s life. “Holly Jolly” is only three episodes into the show, but it serves to kickstart the chaos and unexpected twists to come.

6. “The Monster” — Season 1, Episode 6

The first season of Stranger Things essentially laid the groundwork for everything that would follow. “The Monster” features a highly memorable scene between Mike, Dustin, and Eleven, in which Eleven successfully saves the pair from their persistent bullies. The iconic moment marked the lengths Eleven is willing to go to in order to protect her closest friends. This episode also sees Joyce and Hopper track down Eleven’s biological mother and helps to reveal the origin of Eleven’s telekinetic powers.

5. “The Mind Flayer” — Season 2, Episode 8

The penultimate episode of season two still rings true as one of the best in the entire series. Tension is at an all-time high when Mike, Joyce, Hopper, Will, and Bob find themselves trapped in Hawkins Lab, hunted by a pack of ravenous Demodogs. This episode features a heartbreaking character death when Joyce’s boyfriend Bob inadvertently sacrifices himself for the rest of the group. “The Mind Flayer” also sees Mike, Jonathan, and Joyce try desperately to free Will from the Mind Flayer, and sets up a sweet reunion between Mike and Eleven for the first time in season two.

4. “The Vanishing of Will Byers” — Season 1, Episode 1

The pilot episode of this intriguing sci-fi spectacle laid the groundwork for the rest of the series. The first episode introduces the fan-favorite group of friends— Will, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas — during a steadfast game of Dungeons & Dragons in Mike’s basement. Minutes into the episode, Will Byers disappears and causes a panic to spread through the town. Fans got their first glimpse of Eleven in this episode, before learning any of her backstory or even her name. “The Vanishing of Will Byers” perfectly captures the excitement of the show’s plot and showcases its beloved characters flawlessly. This excellent formula led to its success in building a strong viewer base.

3. “The Upside Down” — Season 1, Episode 8

The final episode of season one culminated in the climax of all the season’s hidden theories and heartbreaking moments. “The Upside Down” sees Joyce and Hopper venture into the Upside Down, against all odds, on a mission to rescue Will from the Demogorgon. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan are busy creating their own set of traps to capture the Demogorgon. Steve enjoys his first major heroic moment when he arrives to save the day, allowing the episode to provide a bittersweet closure alongside its careful setup of the following season.

2. “The Battle of Starcourt” — Season 3, Episode 8

The finale of season three is so captivating and intense that it almost doesn’t feel real. The 90-minute episode is engaging from start to finish, with an abundance of heart-stopping moments fans continue to discuss to this day. “The Battle of Starcourt” finally sees the main characters — who spent much of the season split into different groups — reunite to take down the Mind Flayer. The episode includes a string of  memorable moments, not the least of which being Billy’s tragic demise. And no one is going to forget that Neverending Story scene any time soon.

1. “The Gate” — Season 2, Episode 9

“The Gate” presents an unexplainable feeling of childhood nostalgia alongside the warm feeling of being reunited with friends. After spending the the entire season apart, “The Gate” finally sees Eleven reunite with Mike and the rest of the gang. Hopper and Eleven hatch a plan to close the Upside Down portal in Hawkins Lab, while Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy desperately work to free Will’s mind and body from the Mind Flayer. This episode perfectly showcases a blend of genuinely heartfelt moments and heart-stopping action scenes. It remains a must-see for all Stranger Things’ fans.