This post has been republished in honor of Stranger Things Day.
Watching Netflix's Stranger Things doesn't feel like consuming any other type of TV show. The Duffer Brothers hone in on the best parts of the horror, sci-fi, and coming-of-age genres to create a potpourri of storytelling techniques that resonate long after the episodes end. The length and attention to detail used in each episode evoke a feature film that deserves to be viewed in a movie theater on the big screen.
Unfortunately, the WGA strike might prevent us from getting any new episodes of Stranger Things for a while. The large hiatuses the series experiences lead to fans looking for ways to stay connected to the franchise in its absence. What better way to do so than by going down memory lane and ranking the best episodes of Stranger Things so far? The sheer quality and heft of each of these episodes make them easily rewatchable and ready to enjoy all over again!
1- Season 1, Episode 8 “Chapter Eight: The Upside Down”
While the scale and size of Stranger Things enamored fans in its most recent season, the magical journey found its most distilled greatness with the first go-around with the kids from Hawkins, Indiana. A strong, focused plot makes the season one finale the best episode in the series. Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve fight off the Demogorgon, and Joyce and Hopper finally rescue Will from the Upside Down.
2- Season 4, Episode 9 “Chapter Nine: The Piggyback”
With a runtime of nearly two and a half hours, “The Piggyback” represents a true culmination of everything in the series thus far. Eleven temporarily vanquishes Vecna, Nancy's crew hinders Vecna's physical presence in Hawkins, and Hopper and Joyce return from their life-changing experience in a Russian outpost prison. The episode ends all of the season's storylines while setting up for the final batch of episodes by leaving Max's fate ambiguous and hinting at the Upside Down's increased power.
3- Season 4, Episode 7 “Chapter Seven: The Massacre at Hawkins Lab”
Stranger Things has always focused on the characters more than the plot lines, and the final episode of season four's first volume is a brilliant way to answer nearly all the remaining questions we have about Eleven and her connection to Vecna. The final part of the episode centers on what led Vecna from being just another one of Brenner's experiments to the biggest, baddest antagonist in all the land.
4- Season 2, Episode 9: “Chapter Nine: The Gate”
Stranger Things continued to amaze with season finales with this excellent and grandiose installment at the end of the second season. Eleven shows off her powers powers as she closes the gate to the Upside Down. This episode also features Steve at his most heroic as he leads the Hawkins crew through the Demodogs. The innocence of the Snow Ball balances the show with its John Hughes romance vibes.
5- Season 4, Episode 4 “Chapter Four: Dear Billy”
The final scene of “Dear Billy” caused a viral sensation in summer 2022: Max's internal battle with Vecna shows off the season's villain at his most powerful, and it paints a melancholy picture of Max's mental health. People who got tired of hearing “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush for six months, have this episode to blame. The scenes earlier in the episode, such as Max's talk with her mother, are equally haunting.
6- Season 4, Episode 8 “Chapter Eight: Papa”
Two of the most important relationships in Stranger Things reach a boiling point in “Papa”. Eleven says goodbye to Dr. Brenner in a way that maintains her dignity as he perishes in the New Mexican desert. Will also expresses his love to Mike while using Eleven's name as a shield to stay in the closet. The second storyline is arguably one of the most important interpersonal ones on television at the moment.
7- Season 3, Episode 8 “Chapter Eight: The Battle of Star Court”
The third season has a jarring tonal juxtaposition from the rest of the show, with a more humorous writing style underlining the abstract elements of the series. Despite some fans proclaiming season three the black sheep of the series, the finale episode has one of the best battle scenes ever between the Mind Flayer and the Hawkins gang. Also, Brownie points to this episode for the iconic scene of Dustin singing “Never Ending Story!”
8-. Season 1, Episode 1 “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers”
While most shows can't fully grasp what they want to do during the pilot episode, Stranger Things comes out of the gate in mid-series form. We get full pictures of the characters, such as Mike's heroism and how Will feels outcast. The episode also leaves on a perfect cliffhanger by sneaking Eleven's first appearance into the final scene before the screen cuts to black.
9-. Season 4, Episode 1 “Chapter One: The Hellfire Club”
The beginning of the fourth season starts out in an intimate, close-knit fashion. Most of the episode focuses on the typical aspects of teenage life and the angst of the Hawkins crew, especially Will and Eleven in their move to California. Vecna arrives with a bang at the end of the episode, though. All in all, this is the type of episode that gets us even closer to the characters we love.
10- Season 1, Episode 4 “Chapter Four: The Body”
The stakes start to rise in the middle of the first season because Joyce discovers one of the coolest sci-fi aspects of the Duffer Brothers' universe: she can talk to her son through Christmas lights. We now know Will is alive, perhaps in an alternate dimension, and the reveal sends shivers down the spine.
11- Season 3, Episode 3 “Chapter Three: The Case of the Missing Life Guard”
Some of the zany aspects of the third season aren't completely in motion here yet. Therefore the third episode balances excitement and character development very well. Will and Mike's iconic rain fight happens in this episode, and Hopper has his first fight with a stereotypical 1980s Russian muscle meathead in his attempt to help Joyce figure out what's happening in Hawkins.
12-. Season 3, Episode 7 “Chapter Seven: The Bite”
Not many shows can juggle climactic battle scenes with emotional payoff scenes all at the same time. “The Bite” displays the Hawkins crew preparing for their fight with the Mind Flayer, including Eleven giving it her best shot against the monster, alongside a poignant friendship moment when Robin tells Steve about being a lesbian.
13- Season 1, Episode 7 “Chapter Seven: The Bathtub”
Who's more powerful than Eleven? Nobody, that's who! The telekinetic powerhouse takes her abilities to an entirely different level when she leverages a sort of bathtub-like body of water to help track down Barb and Will in the Upside Down. Also, seeing all of the characters' stories start to come together at the end of the season makes Stranger Things such a fulfilling watch.
14- Season 2, Episode 8 “Chapter 8: The Mind Flayer”
This episode gets a boost because it gets back into the thick of the story after “The Lost Sister”, one of the most maligned episodes in recent TV history. Bob goes out in a blaze of glory after sacrificing himself for Joyce and the others, and it remains one of Stranger Things‘s most iconic character deaths. Dustin also puts a label on the antagonist of the season: the Mind Flayer.
15- Season 2, Episode 6 “Chapter Six: The Spy”
A perfectly paced episode, this entry provides backstory on Max's horrible home life while upping the stakes for the rest of the season. In a stunning revelation, viewers discover that Will is actually the spy. How can the meekest member of the Hawkins crew be part of the enemy now?
16- Season 2, Episode 1 “Chapter One: MADMAX”
The season two premiere shows that these characters have started to mature, and that their interests have drifted to such activities as dating and romantic interests. The way Lucas and Dustin fawn over the new girl at school adds sweet humor to the episode. The introduction of Sadie Sink's Max into the show is one of the best character additions Stranger Things could have ever asked for.
17- Season 3, Episode 1 “Chapter One: Suzy, Do You Copy?”
The premiere makes obvious the unique colors and stylistic changes of the third season, with a more upbeat sense of wonder and fewer horror elements from the jump. Dustin gets a love interest, and Jonathan and Nancy's relationship gets more screentime as they start working together as journalists, a great throwback to one of the most important jobs in a small town like Hawkins in the 1980s.
18- Season 3, Episode 4 “Chapter Four: The Sauna Test”
This episode demands inclusion for one big reason: the fight scene between Billy and Eleven at the end of the episode. Eleven's actress Millie Bobby Brown turns in a sublime performance, putting her all into the character's struggle to defeat Billy.
19- Season 1, Episode 2 “Chapter Two: The Weirdo on Maple Street”
The second episode of the show lets everyone know that the creepy vibes from the pilot will also be matched with some morbidity. More disappearances (Nancy's friend Barb) make the episode a great way to demonstrate the power of the show's alternate universe, the Upside Down. And besides, the show made Barb into a cultural icon!
20- Season 4, Episode 3 “Chapter Three: The Monster and the Super Hero”
The third episode of the fourth season establishes the friendship between Nancy and Robin, and it does great character work with Eleven. Eleven proves herself much more than a superhero, as she has a lot of internal struggles and mental health hurdles to overcome if she wants to save Hawkins from Vecna.
21- Season 2, Episode 3 “Chapter Three: The Pollywog”
Dustin's pet-owner relationship with Dart grows in this episode and helps to illustrate the remnants of the Upside Down that start to rear in Hawkins. Will Byers actor Noah Schnapp gives perhaps his best performance of the series thus far when he becomes possessed by the evil from the Upside Down, with a truly frightening portrayal.
22- Season 2, Episode 5: “Chapter Five: Dig Dug”
Many fans wondered what the point of Sean Astin's character, Bob, was at the beginning of the second season. This episode starts to make him a beloved favorite after he helps Joyce and the gang orient a map of Hawkins that could lead to the defeat of the Mind Flayer. This episode also marks the beginning of Steven and Dustin's odd-but-lovable friendship.