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15 Best Stranger Things Episodes Ranked

It has been over six years since the world fell in love with The Duffer Brothers' coming-of-age sci-fi drama "Stranger Things." Set in the 1980s, the story revolves around the mystery surrounding the small fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana, which starts with the disappearance of Will Byers. It is a nostalgia-fest influenced by a number of classic 1980s films including "Stand by Me," "Firestarter," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," and more (via ScreenCraft).

Before landing an official series order at Netflix, the writing duo's 20-page pitch book for the show was rejected more than a dozen times by cable networks, who didn't believe that their story should be led by children (via Rolling Stone) — a notion that has been disproven by the show's critical reception and the excellent performances of stars Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, and Sadie Sink. They are joined by an equally charismatic older cast, including David Harbour, Winona Ryder, Natalia Dyer, and Joe Keery. Great performances from actors viewers might remember fondly from '80s movies, like Sean Astin ("The Goonies") and Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride"), add interest to the series. Characters of all ages go through interesting and significant developments each season. Apart from its stellar casting, audiences and critics alike continue to praise the show's engaging storytelling, good-natured humor, thrilling sequences, and distinct visuals.

For viewers who need more convincing about why they should start watching "Stranger Things," here are the 15 best episodes of the entire series. Given the popularity of all seasons, we've ranked this list based on each episode's IMDb rating, with the lowest starting at 8.7 and the top one receiving the highest rating of 9.6. Nota bene: spoilers ahead

15. The Bite (Season 3, Episode 7)

We're starting off this list with the penultimate episode of Season 3. Our young heroes face a huge monster made of "melted" humans — the physical form of the shadow monster outside the Upside Down. "The Bite" begins with Hawkins mayor Larry Kline celebrating the Fourth of July with a grand fireworks display at the Hawkins Fun Fair. Meanwhile, Eleven, Mike, Lucas, Max, Will, Nancy, and Jonathan are all huddled up inside Hopper's cabin, where they discuss their next steps. Their meeting is cut short when they realize the monster knows their location.

At the same time, Dustin's group — consisting of Steve and Lucas' younger sister Erica, along with newcomer Robin — make their hasty escape from the Russian's secret underground hideout. Drugged with a Russian serum, Steve and Robin aren't very useful. The adults, including Hopper, Joyce, Murray, and the sweet Alexei, speed their way to Hawkins to determine whether the kids are safe while planning to infiltrate the Russians' underground facility to destroy the big portal to the Upside Down. They're pursued by Grigori, a Russian soldier and killing machine straight out of "The Terminator." 

This episode is stacked with significant moments that will definitely make you emotional, from Murray witnessing his new friend Alexei's unfortunate death to Robin's bravely coming out to Steve. There's also a high-octane scene involving Eleven throwing a car at a bunch of Russians to save Dustin's group.

14. Holly, Jolly (Season 1, Episode 3)

Season 1, Episode 3 is a turning point for the series, as this is the first time we get to see the Upside Down. "Holly, Jolly" opens with Barb in the middle of an empty pool surrounded by vines as she desperately calls for Nancy's help. Her situation becomes worse when the Demogorgon appears before her.

Meanwhile, Joyce is convinced that Will is somehow trying to communicate with her through light bulbs. This leads Joyce to string up a bunch of Christmas lights inside her house in hopes of having a better chance of connecting with him. Meanwhile, Hopper suspects that Hawkins Lab is hiding something after realizing that they lied about the CCTV footage. Soon, he learns more about the facility, including Dr. Martin Brenner's previous involvement with children-centered experiments.

As for Mike, Lucas, and Dustin, they begin preparations for their mission to go save Will from the Demogorgon with the help of Eleven, the only one who can locate him. This episode also includes one of the most iconic and haunting scenes of the whole series, which involves Joyce cleverly painting the alphabet on the wall so each letter has a corresponding light bulb. Through this, Will is able to warn his mother about an incoming Demogorgon attack. Just as things are starting to get clearer, viewers get blindsided, as the episode ends with Will's supposed dead body getting pulled out of the quarry.

13. The Monster (Season 1, Episode 6)

"The Monster" starts with Nancy accidentally trapping herself inside the Upside Down, where she immediately encounters a Demogorgon. Thanks to Jonathan's guiding voice, she finds her way back to the small tree gate just before it fully closes. This experience leaves Nancy visibly shaken but also gives her newfound courage and determination to save Barb and Will from the Demogorgon. The episode also includes one of Steve's worst moments, as his jealousy leads him to slut-shame Nancy and insult Jonathan's family.

Following Nancy and Jonathan, another team is beginning to form as Hopper shares all the information he uncovered about Hawkins Lab with Joyce, who confirms that Will isn't who Hopper has been chasing all this time. To dig deeper, they track down the woman who previously sued Martin Brenner for abducting her child. Viewers are introduced to Eleven's real mother, Terry Ives, who has been catatonic since losing her daughter.

During Mike and Dustin's search for Eleven, they encounter their bullies Troy and James, who chase them down to Sattler Quarry. Mike is forced to jump off the edge or else Troy will hurt Dustin. Eleven arrives and saves Mike by telepathically catching him midair. After fending off the bullies, Eleven admits that she's the one who opened the gate. Despite this revelation, Mike and Dustin assure her that she's still their friend, leading to a wholesome moment for the trio. 

12. Dig Dug (Season 2, Episode 5)

In "Dig Dug," Will finally explains his situation to Mike and Joyce, revealing that he is now connected to the shadow monster and can see everything their enemy is doing. This includes its plan to integrate the Upside Down with their world. Mike attempts to reassure Will by pointing out the advantages of his current situation. 

After accessing the tunnels underneath Hawkins, Hopper finds himself in a tricky situation when his only way out closes on him. At the same time, Will has a vision of Hopper's whereabouts and relays to his mom that he needs their help. With the help of Bob, Will helps them figure out that his drawings are actually a map of Hawkins. Elsewhere, Nancy and Jonathan travel to Illinois, where we are introduced to a new character, former investigative journalist Murray Bauman. Nancy and Jonathan try to enlist Murray's help in taking down Hawkins Lab by telling him the truth about the events of the first season.

Season 2, Episode 6 also features another character traveling out of town: Eleven, who tracks down her mother's house after finding out the truth about her. The episode ends with Joyce and Bob rescuing Hopper just before vines completely overtake him. Hawkins Lab soldiers arrive and try to burn down the vines, incidentally causing Will an immense amount of pain.

11. The Body (Season 1, Episode 4)

Following the third episode's emotional ending, "The Body" centers around a determined Joyce as she tries to convince Hopper and Jonathan that Will is still alive and that the body they've found in the quarry is not his. After Mike expresses his disappointment with Eleven, who he believes lied to them about Will still being alive, Eleven does another unbelievable trick with her powers. Through Mike's walkie-talkie, she's able to channel a singing Will from the Upside Down, proving to Mike that his friend is indeed alive.

While Hopper waits for Jonathan and Joyce at the morgue, he learns that a state worker conducted the autopsy of Will's body instead of Hawkins' usual coroner. After talking to the police about the night of Barb's disappearance, Nancy looks at Jonathan's picture of Barb again and notices a tall, dark figure standing behind her. The fourth episode of Season 1 also includes Mike, Dustin, and Lucas sneaking a disguised Eleven into their school in an attempt to use the A.V. Club's much stronger radio. As Eleven uses her powers, the boys hear Will's call for help to Joyce on the radio. 

At the same time, Joyce also hears Will's voice and shockingly sees a panicked Will trapped behind a membrane-like wall. Joyce promises Will that she'll find him no matter what. This chapter ends with Hopper breaking into the morgue and inspecting Will's body himself. He realizes Joyce was right all along after confirming that it's just a fake body stuffed with cotton.

10. The Sauna Test (Season 3, Episode 4)

In "The Sauna Test," Will explains to his friends that his connection to the Mind Flayer has recently reignited, leading them to theorize that their ultimate enemy might have returned and found a new host to inhabit. Eleven also reveals her growing suspicions about Max's stepbrother Billy, whom she met during the third episode of Season 3. To test if Billy might be the new host, Mike, Lucas, Will, Max, and Eleven devise a plan to trap Billy in the sauna room, where they can raise the temperature to test him for the Mind Flayer's aversion to heat.

Meanwhile at Starcourt Mall, after convincing Lucas' younger sister Erica to help them get inside the mall's loading dock, Steve, Dustin, and Robin discover that the room is actually an elevator shaft that will lead them to an underground facility. As for Hopper and Joyce, they confront Mayor Larry Kline about his connection to the mysterious man who beat up Hopper. Season 3, Episode 4 also features an epic fight sequence involving Eleven and Billy, who finally reveals himself to be the Mind Flayer's new host. 

This chapter also gives viewers a closer look at the Mind Flayer's sinister plan, as it has already possessed several people in Hawkins by the end of the episode. In an interview with TVInsider, episode director and executive producer Shawn Levy revealed that the intense sauna scene took roughly three months to prepare and that the actors and crew spent four long days filming on a tiny, super-hot set.

9. The Bathtub (Season 1, Episode 7)

"The Bathtub" is the penultimate episode of Season 1. Despite having the shortest runtime in the entire series, this chapter has no shortage of great moments. It marks the first episode where all the main characters join forces. After receiving Lucas' message that the bad men, aka Brenner and his team, are coming to get Eleven, Mike and Dustin quickly escape with El. As the bad men block their exits, Eleven saves the day yet again by flipping the van over them with her telekinesis. 

Meanwhile, Hopper and Joyce learn that Jonathan and Nancy have been detained at the police station after his arrest for fighting with Steve. There, Jonathan and Nancy discuss their experience with the Demogorgon and their initial plan to kill it on their own. At the same time, Hopper realizes that Eleven is with Will's friends after hearing the complaint from Troy's mom about a child with superpowers breaking her son's arm. Hopper and Joyce, along with Jonathan and Nancy, try to contact the kids before Brenner's men get ahold of them.

The seventh episode of Season 1 features Mike, Dustin, and Lucas explaining to the adults that Will is trapped in an alternate dimension, where Hawkins is just a wasteland. This chapter also sees our heroes building an improvised Sensory Deprivation Tank using a kiddie pool to help Eleven pinpoint Will and Barbara's whereabouts in the Upside Down. To Nancy's horror, Eleven's search also officially confirms Barb's tragic death. The final moments of the episode include Hopper and Joyce going to Hawkins Lab to enter the gate and save Will from the Upside Down.

8. The Spy (Season 2, Episode 6)

In "The Spy," the doctors at Hawkins Lab discover that the shadow monster has attached itself to Will as a virus that takes over its host. Unlike normal viruses, the monster shares a hive mind with Will and other creatures from the Upside Down, allowing it to communicate and control them. That's why Will felt pain when the soldiers started burning the tunnel during the final moments of the fifth episode of Season 2. In this chapter, the shadow monster manipulates Will into leading Dr. Owens' team toward a trap inside the tunnel, where an ambush awaits them.

Meanwhile, after failing to contact the others, Dustin strikes up an unlikely partnership with Steve Harrington to track down his missing Demodog Dart. Their unexpected chemistry made Dustin and Steve one of the best team-ups of the series. After finding out about Dustin's Code Red from his younger sister Erica, Lucas arrives with Max to help with building a trap for Dart at the junkyard. 

The sixth episode of Season 2 also features Nancy and Jonathan successfully enlisting Murray Bauman's help as they make copies of Dr. Owens' confession tape to send to news outlets. Due to Bauman's teasing, the duo also finally had the chance to sort out their feelings for each other. This episode also includes a rare tender moment involving Hopper as he tries to apologize to Eleven about their last fight, while also revealing that his overprotectiveness only comes from his fears of losing her.

7. The Piggyback (Season 4, Episode 9)

In "The Piggyback," following Vecna's grim warning during Season 4, Episode 8, Team Hawkins — consisting of Nancy, Steve, Robin, Eddie, Dustin, Max, Lucas, and Erica — makes their last stand. Viewers see the group divided into two locations: the older teens and Dustin head to the Upside Down, while Max, Lucas, and Erica go to the abandoned Creel House, where they try to locate Vecna's location using the light. Meanwhile, in the Upside Down, Eddie and Dustin are tasked with luring the bats away from the Creel House so that Nancy, Steve, and Robin can destroy Vecna's unguarded physical body.

Back in Las Vegas, thanks to Argyle's Surf Boy Pizza connection, Eleven's group makes another makeshift sensory deprivation tub that El uses to help their friends in Hawkins in their fight against Vecna. In Russia, Hopper, Joyce, and Murray finally learn about the kids' situation from Dr. Owens' contact in the U.S. This prompts them to return to the prison to kill the Mind Flayer's particles and the Demogorgons in hopes of weakening the enemy through its hive mind and giving the kids back home a fighting chance.

Like all previous season finales of "Stranger Things," this chapter doesn't disappoint, giving fans a heart-pounding and chilling conclusion. The ninth episode of Season 4 also features a heartbreaking goodbye for the latest season's newest crowd-pleaser, Eddie, who dies a hero's death in the Upside Down. This marks the first time that the main characters don't come together for the final fight sequence. It ends in Hawkins' destruction and Vecna's disappearance, setting up the show's highly anticipated final chapter.

6. The Mind Flayer (Season 2, Episode 8)

The eighth episode of Season 2 continues "The Spy" episode, with viewers finally able to see the chaos at Hawkins Lab following the surprise attack of the Demodogs. Hopper, Joyce, Bob, Mike, Dr. Owens, and an unconscious Will are trapped in a monster-ridden Hawkins Lab with no way to reopen the building's automatic doors due to the power outage. Bob Newby sacrifices his life so that Joyce and the others can get away. 

Outside Hawkins Lab, Steve, Dustin, Lucas, and Max are trying to figure out where the Demodogs went, while Nancy and Jonathan return to Hawkins and realize that something has happened given the state of the Byers' House. They all eventually meet outside the Hawkins Lab gate after hearing loud Demodog screeches. Thanks to Bob's bravery, the main gate opens, and Jonathan drives Hopper, Joyce, Will, and Mike away from the lab as fast as he can.

The reunited group decides to hide at the Byers' home, where they discuss how to stop the shadow monster — whom they now call the Mind Flayer — before it can fully take over Hawkins with its Demodogs. They also try to help Will remember his life and identity as well as get information from him about the Mind Flayer through Morse code. The episode ends with the sudden arrival of Eleven, who surprises everyone by saving them from the Demodogs surrounding the house.

5. The Battle of Starcourt (Season 3, Episode 8)

The Duffer Brothers deliver another epic season finale with "The Battle of Starcourt." The episode opens with Eleven screaming in excruciating pain as she removes a piece of the Mind Flayer from her leg. After Hopper, Joyce, and Murray reunite with the kids, the main characters finally have a complete picture of their current situation. Together, they come up with a solid plan to defeat their enemy. 

The adults, led by Hopper, aim to destroy the Russians' machine, with Dustin and Erica acting as their navigators. Meanwhile, Nancy and Jonathan lead the rest of the kids in bringing Eleven to safety by taking her outside of Hawkins and away from the Mind Flayer. Unfortunately, their plans change when they realize the Mind Flayer has already found them. 

The eighth and final episode of Season 3 offers lots of fun and thrilling sequences, including the long-awaited Suzie reveal as Dustin enlists the help of his genius girlfriend from camp. It also features a hilarious sequence involving Dustin and Suzie singing a duet of the "The NeverEnding Story" theme during a crucial part of the episode.

When Billy captures a powerless Eleven, she tries to make him remember who he really is by reminding him about the happy memories he has of his late mother. This leads to a sentimental moment between the two, with Billy suddenly turning against the Mind Flayer by protecting El from its attack. At the same time, a heartbroken Joyce is forced to make the difficult decision of destroying the machine with Hopper still trapped near it. This episode ends with an emotional goodbye as the Byers family along with Eleven move out of Hawkins. 

4. The Upside Down (Season 1, Episode 8)

"The Upside Down" begins with agents of Hawkins Lab detaining Hopper and Joyce. In exchange for letting them go through the gate to find Will, Hopper gives up Eleven's location to Brenner. As the adults finally enter the Upside Down, Jonathan and Nancy set a trap at the Byers' house to lure the Demogorgon away from Joyce and Hopper. After finishing their preparations, a frantic Steve unexpectedly arrives and overcomes his fears by saving Nancy and Jonathan from the monster. This kicks off Steve's redemption arc, changing him from a stereotypical jerk to a surprise fan favorite. 

While searching for Will in the Upside Down, Hopper is constantly haunted by the memory of his daughter dying from cancer. Hopper and Joyce finally find Will in the library where the monster is keeping all his victims. As for the kids left at Hawkins Middle School, Mike, Dustin, and Lucas realize that the bad men have discovered their location. As they once again attempt to flee, armed agents surround all their potential exits. With no hope of escape, Eleven kills the agents with her telepathic powers. This weakens her, leaving her helpless when Brenner arrives with more men. The situation gets messier for both parties when the Demogorgon appears, thanks to its attraction to the dead agents' blood. 

Before the Demogorgon attacks the kids, a weakened Eleven uses up her remaining energy to destroy the monster once and for all. In doing so, she seemingly disintegrates along with it. Despite the episode ending on a hopeful note, viewers learn that Will still has a connection to the Upside Down.

3. The Gate (Season 2, Episode 9)

"The Gate" opens with Mike and Eleven's long-awaited reunion. El reveals to Mike that she heard all of his 353 radio messages to her. After finding out that Hopper's been hiding Eleven all this time, an angry Mike argues with him. Hopper, in turn, apologizes for causing him distress. The kids explain their current situation to El, hoping she'll be able to close the gate, which will stop the Mind Flayer and kill his army. 

The ninth and final episode of Season 2 finds our main characters dividing into three groups to make their plan work. The first team features Hopper, who accompanies Eleven to Hawkins Lab, where she can use her powers to close the giant gate in the building's basement. Meanwhile, Joyce, Jonathan, and Nancy take Will to Hopper's cabin, where they can extract the Mind Flayer from Will's body by exposing it to immense heat. Back at the Byers' house, Steve supervises Mike, Dustin, Lucas, and Max, who are all eager to do their part in helping the others succeed in their missions. 

The episode features the start of a hilarious tradition of Steve continually getting beaten. For Season 2, Max's ill-tempered stepbrother Billy attacks Steve when the latter protects Lucas from him. The episode ends with Hawkins Middle School's Snow Ball dance, where viewers finally see Mike and El dancing after previously planning to go together during the first season finale.

2. Dear Billy (Season 4, Episode 4)

One of the most popular episodes of Season 4 is "Dear Billy," which revolves around Max becoming Vecna's next target. After finding out about her possible death, Max spends most of the fourth episode trying to accept her fate and saying goodbye to friends and family by writing them letters, while also dealing with terrifying visions. At the same time, Robin, Nancy, Steve, Dustin, and Lucas do everything they can to find a way to stop Vecna's curse from getting a complete hold of Max. This includes Robin and Nancy disguising themselves as psychology students to score an interview with Victor Creel, the only known survivor of the curse.

In California, Mike, Jonathan, and Will enlist the help of Argyle to help them escape Dr. Owens' agents. However, another enemy arrives in the form of government agents trying to find Eleven because they think she's responsible for the killings that have been happening in Hawkins. This episode features a one-shot sequence involving a shoot-out in the Byers' house as one of the Owens protects Mike, Jonathan, and Will from the soldiers. As for the adults, Joyce and Murray finally meet Yuri the smuggler, while Hopper makes his almost impossible escape.

In this chapter, fans learn the background story of the Creel family from Victor's point of view as he recalls the demon that took away his family. Through his story, Nancy and Robin discover that listening to your favorite music can help anyone escape the seemingly inescapable trance of Vecna's curse. The final moments of "Dear Billy" deliver the most iconic and memorable sequence of the season, in which Max floats in the air while Lucas, Steve, and Dustin desperately try to wake her up. This episode also introduced British singer Kate Bush to a whole new generation, as her 1985 hit "Running Up That Hill" becomes instrumental in Max's exhilarating escape from Vecna.

1. The Massacre at Hawkins Lab (Season 4, Episode 7)

Earning the top spot as the number one best episode of "Stranger Things" is the seventh episode of Season 4. In "The Massacre at Hawkins Lab," fans witness Nancy, Robin, and Eddie saving Steve from getting fully devoured by Vecna's bats. However, their exit gets blocked off by more bats, trapping them in the Upside Down. Unaware of the older teens' situation, Dustin, Lucas, and Eddie are eventually caught by the police, who bring them to the Wheeler family's house. There, the gang continues to evade questions from parents and police about their involvement with Eddie, who has become a prime suspect in the deaths of Vecna's victims.

In Russia, Joyce and Murray enter the prison with Murray pretending to be Yuri. After getting the guards' trust, they are led to a gladiator-like show where they witness Hopper, Antonov, and other prisoners fight a Demogorgon. Thanks to Murray's quick thinking and newly acquired martial arts skills, they easily overpower the prison's head guard, helping Hopper and Antonov escape. A touching reunion between Joyce and Hopper follows. 

Back in Hawkins, Dustin, Lucas, Max, and Erica realize that Steve's group is currently in the Upside Down. They find a way to communicate with them through the lights. Dustin reveals his theory about Vecna opening gates at each of his murder sites. This chapter also includes Vecna's full backstory, as he's revealed to be Henry Creel, who, like Eleven, is gifted with telepathic abilities. His connection to El has also been confirmed, as viewers discover that Eleven sent him to the Upside Down after he murdered El's fellow super-powered brothers and sisters at Hawkins Lab.