Warning! Spoilers ahead for Stranger Things season 2.
The stakes were higher, the budget was bigger and the mullets were longer. Stranger Things 2 stole our hearts (looking at you, Steve Harrington), promptly shattered them (God speed, Bob Newby), and provided all the atmospheric chills, retro thrills, and tween-and-teen camaraderie and angst we’ve come to expect from the Netflix behemoth. As binge-withdrawal starts to set in, here are some facts about the new season to tide you over a bit as the long wait for season 3 begins.
Maybe Netflix knew they had something special on their hands: they greenlit season two on July 15, 2016—before the first season had premiered. Ross and Matt Duffer spent that summer writing in a rental in Lake Hollywood, which they set up as a writers’ room. Filming of the season started on November 7, 2016 and wrapped officially on June 3, 2017.
Like Bon Jovi, the Stranger Things characters were almost left to wallow in the ’80s forever. At one point, the Duffer brothers had considered setting season 2 (and each subsequent season) in a different decade. They ended up falling in love with the world and the characters they’d created and decided to stick with the 80’s.
The inspiration for the Mind Flayer/Shadow Monster came from the stories of horror maestro H.P Lovecraft. The Duffers didn’t want to exposit too much about what it is or what it wants, instead opting to evoke a Lovecraftian “inter-dimensional being that is sort of beyond human comprehension.”
Like the first season, season 2 uses Atlanta, Georgia and the surrounding area the setting for the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. While many of the interior scenes are filmed on studio sets, a number of places in the Netflix series actually exist.
One of the real locations is the nefarious Hawkins National Laboratory, which is partly filmed at Emory University’s Briarcliff Campus, formerly the Georgia Mental Health Institute.
Another real location is Hawkins Middle School, which was filmed at a former high school in Stockbridge, Georgia. If you look up the spot on Google Maps you can even see “Hawkins Middle School” painted on the side of the building.
The Duffers used certain classic movie sequels as reference points for the new season, namely Aliens, Terminator 2, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
During the arcade scene in chapter one, the kids gather around Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) as he desperately tries to beat Dragon’s Lair. According to Matarazzo, that scene was conceived by himself and Finn Wolfhard (who plays Mike). However, the Duffer brothers vehemently deny this and insist that they’d come up with it, but Matarazzo stands by his story, so this one really depends on who you believe.
Sean Astin and Paul Reiser, two major additions to the cast of season 2, were icons of the 1980s. One of Reiser’s most memorable roles was in 1986’s Aliens and Astin became famous with 1985’s The Goonies. Reiser’s casting is explicitly intended to invoke his character from the James Cameron classic along with the shady ambivalence the audience associates with him.
Astin’s Bob Newby is perhaps the new season’s most welcome addition. His portrayal of the lovable nerd added oodles of warmth and heart to a world so often drenched in terror and despair. Originally, however, Bob wasn’t supposed to be around for more than one episode; It was Astin’s likability and passion for the character that convinced the Duffer brothers to keep him around until (almost) the very end.
Astin had a huge hand in the development of Bob. The Duffers gave him space and time to improvise and develop the character far beyond what he was initially on the page, and Matt even states that “he had the biggest impact on the narrative of the show this year.”
The brutality of Bob’s death scene was also something that Astin can claim responsibility for. Bob’s departure wasn’t going to be particularly memorable, but Astin wanted an exit for the character inspired by Quint’s death in Jaws, which is how we ended up with that heartbreaker of a send-off.
It almost never was: Astin had originally auditioned for the part of journalist and conspiracy theorist Murray Bauman.
Three days after the second season launched on Netflix, Stranger Things broke a Twitter record by becoming the most tweeted-about streaming show ever with more than 3.7 million tweets generated about the show.
Hopper (David Harbour) can always be seen wearing a blue braided bracelet. This has been confirmed to be Hopper’s daughter’s hair ribbon, and in the season 2 finale, Eleven is seen wearing it at the school dance.
Initially wary of the Goonies connection possibly distracting viewers, the Duffers eventually just embraced it. In chapter five, Sean Astin’s Bob facetiously wonders if there’s “pirate treasure” at the center of Joyce’s giant map. The Goonies, starring Astin, was about a group of kids seeking 17th–century pirate treasure.
There are numerous references to the number eleven in the early episodes of season 2. Mike calls Eleven in chapter one at 7:40 pm. 7+4=11. In the same episode, Hopper promises to come back to Eleven at 5:15. 5+1+5=11. In chapter two, Mike’s final call to Eleven took place on day 353. 3+5+3=11.
In chapter seven, Eleven’s divisive stand-alone episode, there’s a scene where Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) is confronted by the illusory spectre of Dr. Martin Brenner, aka “Papa” (Matthew Modine). Brown cites this as one of the most difficult scenes she’s ever had to film, and she “just cried for like 45 minutes afterwards.”
To get their basketball skills up to snuff, both Dacre Montgomery (Billy) and Joe Keery (Steve) trained for months with a coach called Bo Bell. Bell actually makes a cameo in the show as their basketball coach.
The kiss between Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Max (Sadie Sink) was the actors’ first kiss ever. They had to film it at least 10 times because the steadycam operator kept missing Caleb McLaughlin’s reaction. Sink expressed her deep embarrassment, lamenting “Our first kiss was in front of 200 extras, and their extras, and the crew, and my mom.” And, well, now millions of Netflix subscribers.
Finn Wolfhard and Millie Bobby Brown only had to film their kiss twice, but that didn’t stop Finn from making things hilariously awkward. If you watch it closely, you can see Finn’s lips move right beforehand, as he mouths “I’m coming in.”
Neither of the kisses were written in the script; the Duffers just dropped it on the poor unsuspecting actors on the day of shooting and caused a major panic.
New to this season and often more frightening than the Demogorgon was Dacre Montgomery’s monstrous and monstrously-mulleted Billy, who was largely inspired by Rob Lowe’s character in St. Elmo’s Fire. The name, the hair, and the dangling earring are lifted directly from Lowe’s character.
Billy spends a lot of time tormenting his stepsister Max and her new friends. For these scenes, the Duffers told Montgomery to emulate Jack Nicholson’s psychotic performance in The Shining.
The Stephen King influence continues to run deep this season. In chapter two, the kids agree to meet at the Maple Street cul-de-sac for trick-or-treating. “The House on Maple Street” is a Stephen King short story from the collection Nightmares and Dreamscapes.
In chapter one, The Terminator appears on the Hawkins movie theater marquee. The film would have premiered on October 26, 1984; two days before the events of the season begin.
Steve and Nancy indulged in some Risky Business for their Halloween couples costume in chapter two. Steve is dressed as Tom Cruise’s character from the 1983 hit, while Nancy is dressed as Rebecca DeMornay’s Lana.
Winona Ryder’s (who plays Joyce) Halloween dance with Dracula-dressed Bob was not her first cinematic encounter with the Count. She played Mina Harker in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, and dances with Dracula at one point in the film.
In chapter five, Lucas’ dad is reading a newspaper with the headline “Baby Fae’s Baboon Heart.” This is a reference to the true story of Baby Fae, the little girl who got a baboon heart transplant on October, 1984. Sadly, she died a month after the procedure.
The gang of misfits led by Eleven’s sister Eight/Kali (Linnea Berthelsen) in chapter seven were directly inspired by 1979’s The Warriors.
The guy Eleven and her sister target and almost murder in chapter seven is seen watching Punky Brewster on TV. This was an ’80s sitcom about an abandoned young girl who is adopted and raised by a grouchy foster parent.
Though the influence of 1986’s Aliens can be felt throughout, an explicit reference to the film is made in chapter six. When the Hawkins Laboratory goons descend into the caverns, Paul Reiser watches them anxiously on a grainy monitor as they approach the dark and ominous tunnels just as his character does in Aliens. To drive it home, one of the scientists advises the troops to “stay frosty, boys”—an oft-quoted phrase from the film.
Eleven’s psychic tantrum in the cabin in chapter three was not only largely conceived that day on the set, its climax was done with practical effects. David Harbour refused a stunt double, and needed to be standing in the exact right spot as the windows shatter behind him to avoid being sliced apart by the flying shards of glass.
Another key addition to the season two cast was Brett Gelman, who played disgraced journalist and conspiracy nut Murray Bauman. His character was inspired by quintessential conspiracy thrillers of the 1970s like All the President’s Men and The Parallax View.
Director and executive producer Shawn Levy often uses on-set music to convey a certain mood for the child performers.
The kids are more foulmouthed in the new season than they’d been in season 1, but apparently this is nothing compared to the things they say in real life. “I’m like, I cannot believe that came out of your mouth”, says Ross Duffer.
During production of the second season, the six child actors regularly messaged one another in a group chat they named “Stranger Texts.”
The kids rarely brought their phones to set, instead passing their down-time in more 80’s ways like playing cards and Monopoly.
For Halloween, just before season 2 began filming, the kids dressed up (Brown dressed as Harley Quinn) and went trick-or-treating together. They mostly managed to avoid being recognized.
One of the indisputable highlights of season two was the unlikely bromance between Dustin and Steve, but this pairing wasn’t actually in the Duffers’ initial pitch to Netflix. It was something that came about as they were writing and found that both Steve and Dustin were getting sidelined with no one to go to. To our great fortune, they found each other.
The Duffers estimate that season 2’s budget is roughly 15% larger than the budget of season 1. This allowed them to include a more palpable sense of big budget spectacle in the show, but they were careful not to get carried away and to keep things somewhat grounded.
Brown had to keep her character Eleven’s return a secret from everyone—including her family.
In case Bob’s death wasn’t tragic enough, the Duffer brothers initially considered having Bob die at the hands of Will Byers when he was under the control of the Mind Flayer.
Global marketing research firm Nielsen estimated that the first episode of season 2 was watched by 15.8 million people in the US alone within the first three days. Netflix, who famously does not release official streaming numbers, chimed in to question the veracity of these results, claiming they’re “not even close.” The results don’t account for desktop and mobile (only tv) streams, so the real numbers might be much larger.