Did you eyeball-gobble Stranger Things? If not, you need to get on that, because your friends are going to drive you crazy with SPOILERS.
The Netflix original series is a master class in walking the line between nostalgia and originality. Set in 1983, it stars Winona Ryder sporting a Karen Silkwood wig, wisecracking nerd kids just like in Stand By Me, a terrifying monster equal parts ’80s horror and Guillermo del Toro, a strange and wonderful girl named Eleven with a Furiosa haircut, and music that evokes classic vintage synth and electro scores from the ’70s and ’80s while bringing something new to the table.
All these things aside, the biggest reason to watch Stranger Things is the stellar cast, who bring the rich characters to life perfectly. The kids make the series, and it’s no accident they’re great actors. Even though they’re young, you’ll be surprised where you’ve seen the Stranger Things cast in other roles. Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson) and Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair) are Broadway vets. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) has already knocked ‘em dead on BBC. Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) has appeared in two beloved sci-fi series, making impressions in both.
And come on, just seeing ‘80s stars Ryder and Matthew Modine together is enough to warm the heart. Ryder was in many iconic films and was an icon herself. She was the white hot real-life love interest and tattoo-inspirer of Johnny Depp. Perhaps ironically, her most iconic role is from an iconoclastic film – Heathers. Modine was an intense heartthrob who shimmered from the silver screen in Married to the Mob, Full Metal Jacket, and Vision Quest.
Winona Ryder – Heathers
Stranger Things role: Joyce Byers
Ah, Winona. How we’ve loved you. She’s been an ‘80s icon, a notorious necklace-nabbing gangster, and a tattoo on Johnny Depp’s arm. She’s grabbed her fair share of the silver screen with Girl Interrupted, Beetlejuice, Reality Bites, Mermaids, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Edward Scissorhands. Unlike a lot of youthful stars, Ryder aged gracefully, playing characters her own age in Star Trek and Black Swan, and did a few stints in gleefully trashy b-movies like The Iceman and Homefront.
But let’s celebrate her for one of her most outstanding roles, as Veronica in Heathers, the movie that gave us the phrase “Well, f*ck me gently with a chainsaw.” BTW, fun fact, Winona’s hair in Stranger Things is modeled after Meryl Streep’s in Silkwood, which came out in the year in which the show takes place.
Matthew Modine – Birdy
Stranger Things role: Dr. Martin Brenner
Matthew Modine is a Richard Gere-esque silver fox in Stranger Things, but back in the day, he was a hearthrob. Married to the Mob, Full Metal Jacket, or Vision Quest, anyone? He was also in Short Cuts,Any Given Sunday, The Dark Knight Rises, Weeds, Transporter 2, and one of the biggest box office disasters of all time, Cutthroat Island.
But lets take a feathered peek at his performance in 1984’s Birdy, shall we? Modine plays a Vietnam vet who’s wartime experiences push him over the edge, and he becomes convinced he’s turning into a bird.
Millie Bobby Brown – Intruders
Stranger Things role: Eleven
In her short career, Millie Brown has racked up quite a few TV credits, including Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, NCIS, Modern Family, and Grey’s Anatomy. Her portrayal of Eleven instantly connected with Netflix bingers. But she has been creepy, mysterious, and brilliant before. You must check her out in BBC’s Intruders.
David Harbour – The Equalizer
Stranger Things role: Jim Hopper
David Harbour works a lot, thanks to his effortless ability to come across as an authority figure, bad guy, or both simultaneously. He’s appeared in Black Mass, Banshee, Manhattan, The Newsroom, Quantum of Solace, End of Watch, The Newsroom, Revolutionary Road, Brokeback Mountain, and played Dr. Kinsey in Kinsey. He had a standout role in The Equalizer as the corrupt cop to Denzel Washington’s vigilante.
Finn Wolfhard – The 100
Stranger Things role: Mike Wheeler
First things first, this kid’s name is Finn Wolfhard. Finn. Wolfhard. If you’re caught up on Supernatural, you saw Wolfhard as Jordie Pinsky in 2015. He also played Zoran on The 100 in 2014. His character had a facial disfigurement. He’s cast in the 2017 Stephen King adaptation It, infamously abandoned by True Detective‘s Cary Joji Fukunaga who, to bring things full circle, directed Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation.
Caleb McLaughlin – The Lion King
Stranger Things role: Lucas Sinclair
Like his fellow young castmates in Stranger Things, Caleb McLaughlin has an impressive resume for such a spring chicken. He’s appeared in Law & Order:SVU, Unforgettable, Forever, and Shades of Blue. He’s also an experienced theater actor, having portrayed young Simba in The Lion King on Broadway.
Gaten Matarazzo – Les Misérables
Stranger Things role: Dustin Henderson
Gaten Matarazzo is already a Broadway vet, having performed in Les Mis. He sings, he dances, he’s infectious. His only screen credit besides Stranger Things is The Blacklist, So, at age 13, he’s already been on two TV megahits. And here’s a fun fact for you – Matarazzo’s voice changed so much during production, sound recorders and mixers weren’t able to bring him in to do any re-recording of his lines, or else it would sound as though the voice was dubbed by a different actor.
Natalia Dyer – I Believe in Unicorns
Stranger Things role: Nancy Wheeler
Natalia Dyer has a Winona Ryder/’80s vibe that’s perfect for Stranger Things. You might remember her from Hannah Montana: The Movie, in which she played Clarissa. Dyer was a standout in the haunting I Believe in Unicorns, and has appeared in The Between, After Darkness, Blue Like Jazz, Long Nights Short Mornings, and The Greening of Whitney Brown.
Charlie Heaton – As You Are
Stranger Things role: Jonathan Byers
Englishman Charlie Heaton began appearing on screen in 2015, making his debut on BBC’s DCI Banks. He subsequently appeared in Vera and Casualty, both British shows, and the films Urban & the Shed Crew, Rise of the Footsoldier Part II, Shut In, and As You Are.
Joe Keery – Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party
Stranger Things role: Steve Harrington
Joe Keery’s not just a clump of luxurious hair. Looking and acting a bit like Andrew Garfield, the young thespian landed three parts on high profile shows in 2015 – Sirens, Chicago Fire, and Empire – as well as a role in indie film Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party.
Noah Schnapp – The Peanuts Movie
Stranger Things role: Will Byers
Noah Schnapp only appears a few times in Stranger Things, but the show hinges on him, so he’s gotta make his screen time count. And he does. So where have you seen him before? Well, he had a small role in Bridge of Spies, and does a fair amount of cartoon work, having voiced characters in The Book of Pooh, The Peanuts Movie, and a video game from the Peanuts franchise.
Cara Buono – Mad Men
Stranger Things role: Karen Wheeler
This is not Cara Buono’s first time parenting kids involved in supernatural things. She did the same in 2010’s Let Me In. If you watched Person of Interest, you’ll instantly recognize her as Martine Rousseau. She played paramedic Grace Foster on Third Watch, appeared regularly in The Sopranos as Kelli Moltisanti, Christopher’s wife, and Mad Men fans know her as Faye Miller. She had small roles on The Good Wife, Hawaii 5-0, ER, and CSI, and played three different parts on Law & Order.
As for movies, you may have seen Buono in Paper Towns, Hulk, Happy Accidents, Kicking and Screaming, and Beer League.
Randell P Havens – Halt and Catch Fire
Stranger Things role: Mr. Clarke
Randell P Havens has done some animated work, having voiced Mr. Rompers on Archer, and appeared in the movie Let’s Be Cops. He also has a fair number of TV credits, from his substantial role, as Stan, in Halt and Catch Fire, to Sleepy Hollow and Vampire Diaries.
Chris Sullivan – The Knick
Stranger Things role: Benny Hammond
Chris Sullivan doesn’t get much screen time in Stranger Things, but he makes a strong impression. The Irish actors gets to use his real accent on The Knick, in which he plays Tom Clearly. He also appeared alongside Tom Hardy in The Drop, and was in The Normal Heart, The Americans, Law & Order: SVU, Elementary, and Peter Pan Live!. In the wake of Stranger Things, he’s appearing in Imperium, a film about neo Nazis starring Daniel Radcliffe, and Morgan, a supernatural thriller with Kate Mara.
Ross Partridge – Lamb
Stranger Things role: Lonnie Byers
Ross Partridge has day-played, lead, propped up, and stolen the show in film and TV in more than 40 roles. If you were watching As the World Turns in 2007, you would have seen him as Milo Shaughnessy. He does a stellar job in the uncomfortable indie Lamb, and has appeared in, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Baghead, Prom Night, NYPD Blue, Quantum Leap, and Secret in Their Eyes.
Joe Chrest – Ant-Man
Stranger Things role: Ted Wheeler
Clueless Mr. Wheeler, known as Joe Chrest IRL, has more than 100 screen credits, which include Ant-Man, True Detective, The Aviator, Free State of Jones, Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Treme, Battleship, Battle of Los Angeles, Drive Angry, RED, The Blind Side, Ocean’s 13, Medium, The Ring, Out of Sight, and The Pelican Brief. He played Vernon Presley in Million Dollar Quartet, and David Schmidt, Jonah Hill’s dad, in 21 and 22 Jump Street.
Ainsley and Anniston Price – The Walking Dead
Stranger Things role: Holly Wheeler
Movies and TV shows often use twins to play really young kids, because children can only work a certain number of hours in the day, as per union regulations. Ainsley and Anniston Price played the same character on The Walking Dead – Judith Grimes – and Allegiant before Stranger Things.
Rob Morgan – Luke Cage
Stranger Things role: Officer Powell
Rob Morgan has been steadily working in television for years, landing roles on shows including 30 Rock, Blue Bloods, and Law & Order: SVU. But Netflix viewers likely know him best as Turk Barrett, the Hell’s Kitchen criminal who pops up in Daredevil and Luke Cage.