Few shows have totally taken the world by storm in the way that the hit Netflix series Stranger Things has since the summer of 2016. When the show premiered, there was truly nothing else like it out there. Combining the perfect balance of 1980s nostalgia and homage with unique storytelling and vibrant characters it’s impossible not to love, Stranger Things filled a void in the television landscape that audiences all around the world didn’t even know needed filling.
Much of the attention the series has received has – rightfully – been focused on its cast of incredibly talented youngsters. With young talent like Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, and Noah Schnapp literally growing up on screen right before our eyes, and delivering powerhouse performances all the while, it’s not hard to focus only on our main group of kids and nothing else.
But doing so is a real slight to one of the series’ other real superpowers: the strength and depth of its cast of supporting characters. Boasting newcomers and television and film veterans alike, Stranger Things has one of the best rosters of supporting talent on all of television. Here are the ten best of them.
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10 Barb Holland
Honestly, it’s kind of surprising how much of a cultural impact Shannon Purser’s Barb Holland had after the release of Stranger Things‘ first season. Barb is barely a character in the series, offering a few judgmental remarks about her friend, Nancy’s, choice of social scene and romantic life. And then, as soon as we get to know Barb, she’s gone – one of the Demagorgon’s first victims.
For some viewers, Barb’s lack of focus – and sudden demise – struck a real nerve, spawning the global social media Justice for Barb movement. This viral outcry online would even become translated into the series’ second season storylines, when Jonathan and Nancy commit themselves to learning just what happened to Barb – no matter how difficult it may be. Barb may not have done much in the series, but there’s no way of denying her impact all the same.
9 Holly Wheeler
It may not seem like little Holly Wheeler has contributed much to Stranger Things overall, besides being a source of adorable blink and you miss them moments whenever she’s sitting in a high chair in a scene. But you might forget the key role that Holly once played early on in the series’ first season, when she was one of the first people to communicate – however inadvertently – with the Upside Down.
While there was no way for the youngest member of the Wheeler family to understand what she was doing, Holly nevertheless managed to communicate in some way with the creatures beyond the wall when she wandered away from her mom and Joyce Byers, following the flickering lights down the Byers family hallway. At the end of her journey, she reached Will’s bedroom, and came face to face with the otherworldly entity trying to come through the bedroom wall. Holly may have been none the wiser, but Joyce saw it all happen, and it made her all the more convinced that something seriously off was going on.
8 Terry Ives
We may not know very much about Terry Ives, or hear very much from her directly, but make no mistake: the events of Stranger Things would never have been possible without her. When she was younger, Terry took part in a series of experiments led by Dr. Martin Brenner – which turned out to be a terrible mistake. During the experiments, she became pregnant with a daughter, Jane, whom Dr. Brenner would abduct and rename as Eleven. To the rest of the world, the story was that Terry miscarried.
But after all these years, Terry always knew the truth, even if no one believed her. A particularly badass flashback montage finds her trying to break into Hawkins Lab to take her daughter back, but sadly, she was ultimately unsuccessful. Taken hostage by Dr. Brenner and his associates, Terry was subjected to mind altering electroshock treatments that would render her mostly mute – unable to say much more than the few mnemonic device words she used to find her daughter in the first place.
7 Benny Hammond
When we’re first introduced to the now iconic character of Eleven, she’s an almost entirely silent young girl in a hospital gown on the run, who takes refuge in a diner. It’s in that diner that she meets the human embodiment of a teddy bear, albeit a scruffy and grumpy one, in Benny Hammond. Benny is the first person to help Eleven, the first person to get her out of her shell if only by a little bit – and the first person to introduce her to one of her great loves: junk food.
Benny doesn’t get to hang around for very long, unfortunately, as his attempts to do the right thing and help Eleven out only wind up in his being assassinated by some of Dr. Brenner’s nefarious friends. But Benny’s impact still lingers, as he was Eleven’s first form of contact with the kinder side of humanity. Plus, Chris Sullivan would go on to star as Toby Damon in the hit NBC series This Is Us, showing that maybe Benny’s sacrifice was for the best.
Sometimes, some of the best characters a series has to offer are the ones who are almost always on the sidelines of the action, but have to deal with most of the annoyances that we take for granted. Florence, or Flo, is the elderly secretary at the Hawkins Police Station, who often has to deal with one of Hawkins’ most fearsome threats: Chief Hopper with a hangover. She’s on the receiving end of some of Hopper’s wittiest barbs, such as the iconic “Mornings are for coffee and contemplation,” but she also knows that he needs help taking care of himself, too.
She’s also one of the first people to see what’s really going on between Jonathan and Nancy, even before either of them are willing to admit it to themselves, noting that “only love makes you that crazy, and that damn stupid” when Jonathan gets in a fight to defend Nancy. That alone promotes her to the status of a legendary character. Flo sees all, and Flo knows all.
5 Dr. Sam Owens
The second season of Stranger Things introduces viewers to many new characters, of whom is the new scientist and investigator Dr. Sam Owens. The role marks a decided change for Mad About You‘s Paul Reiser, who is definitely much more familiar to the general audience for his work in comedies. At first, when Dr. Owens is introduced, we’re not entirely sure that we can trust him. We’ve dealt with other doctor characters so far on this series, who have been far less than trustworthy.
But by the end of the season, all doubts as to Dr. Owens’ trustworthiness are definitely put to bed. After all, it’s Dr. Owens who nearly sacrifices his life to help the gang escape the Demodogs, and it’s also Dr. Owens who helps make it possible for Chief Jim Hopper to legally adopt Eleven. This allows her to become Jane Hopper, with the possibility of living a normal, integrated life, and therefore secures Dr. Owens’ status as a fixture in the extended Hawkins family, too.
4 Erica Sinclair
Little sisters may often get portrayed as the villains in their big brother’s stories, but if there’s anything that season two taught us, it’s that Erica Sinclair is the hero we all deserve. We didn’t get to know much about either Dustin’s or Lucas’s home lives in Stranger Things‘ first season, but the second season quickly resolves that in a big way for both characters. In the case of Lucas, this is done most successfully – and most hilariously – in the form of his little sister, Erica.
A few years younger than the main gang of kids, Erica has absolutely zero patience for her brother’s and his friends’ antics, giving her open and honest opinion even when it’s the last thing that anyone wants to hear. She steals her brother’s action figures to make romances with her own dolls, snarks to her brother’s friends over his walkie talkie, and, if season three’s promo is to be believed, she’s about to get involved in some pretty badass adventures, too.
3 Murray Bauman
We’ve already discussed some of the many characters that season two introduced, but we haven’t yet touched on the subject of the most bizarre of them all. Arguably one of the series’ quirkiest characters, investigative journalist Murray Bauman is one of the first people to really believe what’s going on in Hawkins – and one of the first people to give these kids the chance they deserve to have their stories told.
While Murray has been discredited for some of his investigative tactics, some of which include driving Hopper insane with his questioning, Murray provides Jonathan and Nancy with a chance to team up with someone with the contacts and stature to make it possible to reveal the truth about what’s been going on at Hawkins National Laboratory. He also unabashedly contributes to the progression of Jonathan and Nancy’s romance, and wholeheartedly roots for it, which is another good thing in our book, too.
2 Bob Newby
Sean Astin’s adorably dorky Bob Newby is introduced at the start of the second season primarily as a love interest for Winona Ryder’s Joyce Byers – but by the end of the season, he’s not just a boyfriend anymore. He’s Bob Newby: Superhero. Always portrayed as a good guy with a big heart and with a keen knowledge of maps, Bob finds himself sucked into the adventures of trying to take down Hawkins Labs and the Demogorgon once and for all.
Through his relationship with Joyce, as well as his total belief in the impossible things that the Hawkins boys tell him all about, Bob proves himself to be one of the only trustworthy adults in the entire series. It’s what makes his tragic, heroic sacrifice all the more heartbreaking. Bob gives his life so that Joyce, Hopper, and Will can live – and from that moment in, through Will’s artwork and everyone’s memory, he’s immortalized as Bob Newby: Superhero. As he should be.
1 Mr. Clarke
With much of the action of Stranger Things taking place at school, whether during school time or after hours, it goes without saying that one of the series’ most important supporting characters would have to be the one teacher who’s connected with the kids – and helped to make most of their adventures possible. Mr. Clarke is the coolest teacher the boys have, and he gives them access to the A/V room and equipment that defines so much of their first season adventures. He also teaches them about multiverse theory, and gives them instructions on how to create their own sensory deprivation tank at the drop of the hat. How many teachers can say that they’re that dedicated?
Honestly, Mr. Clarke is the MVP of this series. Without some of his contributions and lessons, much of Stranger Things would never have been possible. Hats off to teachers that make a real difference in their students’ lives, and to the many curiosity doors they’ve unlocked.