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10 surprising facts about Stranger Things you didn’t know

Stranger Things has become one of the most beloved shows of this generation. The Netflix series appeals to both kids and parents thanks, in part, to its kid-centric cast and 1980s throwback setting. The fifth and final season of Stranger Things looms, but fans might not be ready to say goodbye to their favorite characters just yet, setting up a bittersweet end to a sci-fi horror series that has captivated the nation.

Stranger Things begins when a young boy goes missing and a young girl with special powers mysteriously appears. As Will Byers’ (Noah Schnapp) family and friends desperately try to locate him, they learn of the existence of powerful forces, a clandestine lab conducting experiments in town, and an alternate universe known as the Upside Down  Stranger Things has scares, heart, humor, and elements of the supernatural — it’s like a modern-day The Goonies with a darker, more sinister twist. Here are several surprising facts about Stranger Things that will intrigue fans of the top-rated series.

The stories are inspired by real-life events and conspiracy theories

Eleven with modules on her head looking angry in a scene from Stranger Things.

The Duffer Brothers, who created Stranger Things, have said that the stories in Stranger Things gained inspiration from not only other works by famed directors like Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Stephen King, Wes Craven, and H.P. Lovecraft, but also real-life stories.

The storyline about the lab and experimentation on Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) was inspired by experiments conducted during the Cold War. The concept of the government running experiments on children to test superhuman capabilities was also inspired by conspiracy theories about secret government programs in general, including Montauk (which was actually the original name of the show). The show is fiction, but it’s rooted in real things that have happened, or that people suspect to have happened.

The Duffer Brothers were mentored by M. Night Shyamalan

A creature screaming in a scene from Wayward Pines.
Liane Hentscher / Fox

M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most respected directors, producers, and writers in the horror genre. He also played a role in the development of Stranger Things, albeit in a roundabout way. The Duffer Brothers, fans of his work, wrote and produced a movie called Hidden that was done in Shyamalan’s style, but didn’t see a wide release. When they were approached by TV producer Donald De Line to work on episodes of Wayward Pines alongside Shyamalan, the horror genre expert reportedly mentored them during their time there.

The brothers say once they completed work on that series, and had received guidance from Shyamalan, they felt they were ready to write their own show. The product of that was Stranger Things.

The script wasn’t initially accepted as is

A close up of the kids from Stranger Things looking down at something.

Fans can’t imagine Stranger Things being anything than what it is. However, several cable networks didn’t think the concept would work. A show centered around children as the leads wouldn’t resonate with viewers, some said, a surprising fact given how well movies of a similar kind have performed through the decades. Some even reportedly told the brothers to make it a kids’ show instead or switch the central focus to Detective Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and his investigations.

Once production company 21 Laps Entertainment bought the script and left the brothers with full control over it, Netflix read the pilot and purchased the season, setting it for release the following year. It’s difficult to envision Stranger Things as a kids’ show or without the kids as the focus. Interestingly, there is an animated series set in the same universe in the works, with the Duffer Brothers counted among its executive producers.

The title was inspired by a Stephen King novel

An older man sitting back in a chair smirking smugly in a scene from the movie Needful Things.
Castle Rock Entertainment

Most die-hard fans know that Stranger Things was initially going to be called Montauk and would be set in Montauk, New York, a location known as a hotbed for conspiracy theories. The brothers later changed the location to the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana. This meant changing the name of the show as well.

The brothers reportedly had trouble agreeing on a final title, but landed on Stranger Things because of its similarity to a Stephen King book, Needful Things, which was made into a movie in 1993. Keen-eyed readers will notice that on some prints of the book, Needful Things is written in a similar font and style to that of Stranger Things.

Eggo waffle sales increased because of the show

Eleven standing in a grocery store freezer section clutching boxes of Eggs waffles in a scene from Stranger Things.

One of the most defining scenes with Eleven in the first season has her stealing boxes of waffles from a grocery store, desperate for her favorite food. Her love for the breakfast treats continued throughout the series, as she is later seen dining on waffles and ice cream for dessert with Hopper. Releases of Stranger Things seasons seem to coincide with a rise in Eggo waffle sales, showing that the product placement really has worked.

According to CNN Business, when season 2 came out in 2017, Eggo frozen waffle, pancake, and French toast sales grew 14%. In 2018, it was 9.4%. Kellogg, parent brand to Eggo waffles, capitalized on the uptick by allowing the show to repurpose an old Eggo commercial as a commercial during the 2017 Super Bowl.

The prison used in season 4 was involved in the Holocaust

Hopper being escorted by Enzo in the prison on Stranger Things, other men following behind.

There were protests over Netflix’s use of the Lukiškės Prison in Lithuania as a setting for some scenes in season 4. The prison was purportedly involved in the Ponary massacre during the Holocaust. Protestors also were against Netflix reposting Instagram images of fans sporting the numerical tattoos Eleven has, opining that it desecrates memories of Holocaust survivors.

There was even a petition that received more than 60,000 signatures calling for Netflix to halt rentals of a Stranger Things-themed prison cell on Airbnb. The local tourism board ended up shutting down the listing as a result.

Kid actors read lines from Stand By Me in the auditions

The kids in Stand By Me, one pointing and them all looking.
Columbia Pictures

Stranger Things has drawn comparisons to iconic  190s movie, including the great Stephen King adaptation Stand By Me, which also centered around a group of kids and their outdoor adventures. Given the similarities, the child actors who auditioned for the parts were made to read lines from that movie. This ensured that no plot points were given away about the script.

Finn Wolfhard who plays Mike Wheeler on the series, was already familiar with ’80s movies and fit nicely into the role. Gaten Matarazzo’s authentic audition for the role of Dustin Henderson, meanwhile, helped get him cast after only one viewing of his audition tape. Matt Duffer told The New York Times that “when you see someone like Gaten, and he pops the way he does, you’re just like ‘This kid, we’re putting him in the show, 100%.’”

Upside Down isn’t really its name

The Mind Flayer in Stranger Things surrounded by fire and darkness from the Upside Down.

Fans have come to equate the Upside Down with Stranger Things. This is how the alternate universe is described countless times throughout the series and what appears on merchandise, promotional materials, and more. But that isn’t actually the name of the dark, terrifying place. It’s really supposed to be called the Nether.

Meanwhile, the monstrous figure initially introduced as the Mind Flayer also went through a name change. As the series progressed, it was described more often as the Shadow Monster. But these two creatures are effectively one and the same.

There really was 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts in the pool

Eleven lying in a kiddie pool filled with water and Epsom salts while the other surround her in a scene from Stranger Things.

Stranger Things is known for its fabulous visual effects, but there’s one particular scene that didn’t actually use any. In season 1, episode 7, called Chapter 7: The Bathtub, the kids place Eleven in a kiddie pool filled with 1,200 pounds of Epsom salts. It’s a makeshift sensory deprivation tank to help her emulate the sensation she experience while in the lab and tap into her unconscious. This really did happen (well, the part about the salts at least).

The Duffer brothers told Entertainment Weekly that they followed fictional science teacher Mr. Clarke’s (Randy Haven) instructions for real. This means actor Brown really did float in this heavily salted water for the scene, and a whole lot of Epsom salt had to be acquired to create it.

Stephen King was an early fan of Millie Bobby Brown

A Tweet by Stephen King about Mille Bobby Brown.
X (formerly Twitter)

Can you imagine anyone else in the role of Eleven but Millie Bobby Brown? At the time of casting, the British actress, who was born in Spain, wasn’t very well known in American productions beyond small guest parts in shows like Modern Family, NCIS, Once Upon a Time, and Grey’s Anatomy. But she caught the attention of a pretty influential person even earlier on, years before she was eventually cast in Stranger Things.

Stephen King was a fan of the British series Intruders, Brown’s only starring role up to that point. She played the young vessel for a serial killer named Marcus Fox, who comes back to life in her body. King tweeted back in 2014, two years before Stranger Things debuted: “Millie Brown, the girl in Intruders, is terrific. Is it my imagination, or are child actors a lot better than they used to be?”

Stranger Things is streaming on Netflix.

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Christine Persaud
Christine has decades of experience in trade and consumer journalism. While she started her career writing exclusively about…
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