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Stranger Things season 4 release date, plot, theories, and everything else you need to know about Netflix’s return to Hawkins, Indiana

(Image credit: Netflix)

Spare a thought for the residents of Hawkins, Indiana. While the rest of the world gets to enjoy the many delights of the '80s delights – like Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and the theme to The NeverEnding Story – in comparative safety, this unassuming small town has been struck by several cases of missing persons, a dodgy mayor, and an incredibly sinister scientific laboratory – not to mention numerous visitations by creatures from another dimension. All in the space of a few years! And Hawkins can expect more of the same in Stranger Things season 4…

Netflix is yet to officially confirm a fourth outing for its smash hit slice of ’80s nostalgia, but you can bet your Rubik’s Cubes it’s coming. The excellent Stranger Things 3 managed to break records for the streaming giant while executive producer Shawn Levy told Collider back in April 2018 that “season 4 is definitely happening”. In other words, the existence of Stranger Things season 4 is one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood, so the bigger questions concern what form it will take, when it’ll land, and who’ll be involved. 

Ross and Matt Duffer, the twin brothers who created the series, will once again take the creative reins (writing and directing some of the episodes, as well as overseeing the entire season), ably assisted by long-serving right-hand man Levy. We can also expect a return for the vast majority of the key cast – even, we believe, one character who seemingly died in season 3.

So it’s time to set your time circuits for the '80s as we round-up all the key info on Stranger Things season 4, from the release date, to the plot and the cast, as well as some juicy rumours. And remember, as well as keeping an eye out for creatures from the Upside Down, you should also beware of potential spoilers for Stranger Things season 4 – there’ll be plenty ahead.

Fast Facts:

  • Stranger Things season 4 release date: TBC
  • Stranger Things season 4 directors: TBC, though the roster will almost definitely include the Duffer brothers and Shawn Levy
  • Stranger Things season 4 cast (probable): Winona Ryder, Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp, Sadie Sink, Natalia Dyer, Charlie Heaton, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke, Cara Buono – and don’t be surprised if David Harbour shows up as well
  • Stranger Things season 4 writers: TBC, but expect the Duffer brothers to write the lion’s share of the season

Stranger Things season 4 release date

(Image credit: Netflix)

Seeing as it hasn’t even got official greenlight yet, it’s no surprise that we have no confirmation on a Stranger Things season 4 release date. But there are a few clues out there that hint when the hit show might return to Netflix.

In an interview with In Poland, star Cara Buono (who plays Karen Wheeler) appears to reveal that Stranger Things season 4 starts shooting this October – a date seemingly confirmed by a listing in Production Weekly (via Seeing as season 3 went before the cameras in April 2018 for a July 2019 launch, a similar 15-month production schedule would see the new season landing in December 2020/January 2021.

This sort of timescale would continue the release pattern established by the three previous seasons, which launched on July 15, 2016, October 27, 2017, and July 4, 2019, respectively. The increasing gap between seasons (15 months between seasons 1 and 2, 21 months between seasons 2 and 3) could be a clue that we’ll have to wait a bit longer, possibly until early 2021, for the next chapter of the Hawkins story. That said, if the show instead sticks to a rigid July/October launch pattern, we’d be looking at an October 2020 debut.

But zeroing in on the interval between seasons may not be as important as it initially appears. With seasons 2 and 3 having pegged their storylines and launches to important holidays (Halloween and Independence Day, respectively), it’s a good bet that the Stranger Things season 4 release date will tie into another holiday – such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. In fact, Inverse posits a theory that the season 3 finale seeded a clue about season 4’s setting, when Mike suggests to Eleven (who’s leaving town with the Byers family) that she should come back to Hawkins for Christmas. Could Netflix be giving us something special to unwrap on Christmas Day 2020?

Stranger Things season 4 plot

(Image credit: Netflix)

The Soviets’ involvement in season 3 was kept under wraps until the episodes dropped on Netflix, so don’t expect any major revelations about the Stranger Things season 4 plot for a good while yet. One of the most important questions we have right now, however, concerns when the new season will be set. Not just the month – as we’ve discussed above – but also the year. 

The first three seasons have been set in November 1983, October 1984 and July 1985, respectively, so it would be continuing an established pattern if Stranger Things season 4 took place the following year, in 1986. But we wouldn’t be surprised if the show gave 1986 a miss entirely and jumped straight on to 1987.

Why? It’s not that we’ve got anything against the year that brought us Top Gun and Aliens – and both would clearly be ripe for the sort of Easter egg treatment Back to the Future received in season 3. Instead, this theory owes more to the fact that the teenage cast are ageing significantly faster in real-life than they are in the show. 

Although only 20 months have passed in Hawkins time since the story began for Eleven, Mike, Dustin and the rest, the actors have aged more than three years in the real world – and it’ll be at least another 18 months before we see them in action again. Increasing the in-show gap between seasons would be a good way to address the stars getting older – especially as Shawn Levy says the show’s creative team can’t work make episodes any quicker. 

(Image credit: Netflix)

“Probably once a week we say to ourselves we really should work faster,” Levy told GamesRadar+’s sister publication SFX ahead of season three. “Then within moments we realise, ‘Oh wait, we’re working at the speed we can work at.’ However much we resolve to work more quickly, it takes what it takes to do it right. Because we’re not really able to change the pace it’s a reason why we simply embrace the evolution of our actors – we don’t have an option.”

The fact that the Duffers are working as fast as they can makes us think that, like season 1 and season 3, Stranger Things season 4 will run to eight episodes – and that the nine-episode season 2 will turn out to be an anomaly when the show has wrapped up. After all, why would they devote all that time and effort to an extra episode when they don’t need to?

Whatever year Stranger Things season 4 is set, the biggest mystery in Hawkins surrounds Jim Hopper’s status: is he alive or is he dead? Although the police chief was seemingly vaporised when the portal to the Upside Down was closed in the season 3 finale, a much-talked-about end-credits sequence in a remote Soviet facility gave us hope. Could Hopper be “the American” imprisoned there? 

“Obviously the question of who that American is in that cell and then also what they’re doing with the Demogorgon, is a tease,” Ross Duffer told Entertainment Weekly. “That’s obviously going to play a huge role in a potential season four.”

“Certainly season three ends with several plot strands that are separate from each other,” added Levy. “And should there be a season 4, I think we’ll see them all explored.”

(Image credit: Netflix)

If actor David Harbour has any idea what’s next for Hawkins’ erstwhile police chief, however, he’s playing his cards typically close to his chest. “I don't really know what’s going to happen,” he told Entertainment Tonight, “but if you find out from the Duffer Brothers, let me know and have them return my calls!” 

But seeing as Hopper repeatedly been referred to as “the American” when he was running around Hawkins in his Magnum P.I. get-up, it feels like too much of a coincidence for the mysterious prisoner to be anyone else – especially with Hopper’s burgeoning romance with Joyce Byers left unkindled, and other elements of his backstory still to explore.

Besides, Murray Bauman, the Russian-speaking conspiracy theorist who played a key role in season 3, may know something about his best frenemy’s whereabouts. Because, as CNET revealed, if you call his home phone number (618-625-8313, according to the show) you receive the following answerphone message:

“Hi, you have reached the residence of Murray Bauman. Mom, if this is you, please hang up and call me between the hours of 5 and 6pm as previously discussed, okay? If this is Joyce: Joyce, thank you for calling, I have been trying to reach you. I have an update. It’s about... well, it’s probably best if we speak in person. It’s not good or bad, but it’s something.”

As for characters who are definitely still alive, expect Stranger Things season 4 to explore how Eleven is coping now that her telekinetic powers have deserted her – and also how she’s dealing with life after Hopper, living with the Byers in a new (as-yet unrevealed) town. While we’re pretty much certain that Stranger Things season 4 will find some way of bringing Eleven, Joyce, Jonathan and Will back to Hawkins at some point, Noah Schnapp (who plays Will) suggested in an interview with Entertainment Tonight that the story may hook up with him in a new location: “I know that I might have a separate storyline from everyone else, so we might be filming, like, in another place.” 

Ross Duffer appeared to echo this idea in Entertainment Weekly: “I think the biggest thing that’s going to happen [in the new season] is it’s going to open up a little bit, not necessarily in terms of scale, in terms of special effects, but open up in terms of allowing plotlines into areas outside of Hawkins.” 

(Image credit: Netflix)

Of course, “areas outside of Hawkins” could mean the Byers’ new home or, just as feasibly, more trips to the Soviet Union – after going to the effort of building that colossal base under the Starcourt Mall, it’s unlikely Communist forces be disappearing any time soon. Indeed, Duffer could even be referring to the mysterious world of the Upside Down – over the course of three seasons we’ve spent very little time there and we know even less about it.

“No one really knows what the Upside Down is, we just know what comes from it, like Demogorgons and like the Mind Flayer,” Caleb McLaughlin, who plays Lucas, told Entertainment Weekly. “But the Upside Down is an alternate dimension of our world. Our world is so big so there’s more than just Demodogs, and Demogorgons and Mind Flayers, so no one really knows.”

Perhaps not even the Duffers, it seems, as Levy readily admitted to SFX back in June that “we don’t really follow some overarching road map. Every year we end up exploring things that interest us in that moment, and that means we don’t plan everything.”

“We don’t know a lot [about Stranger Things season 4], but we do know a lot of the big broad strokes,” Ross Duffer told Entertainment Weekly in July. “At the end of season two, we knew about Billy [Hargrove]. We knew that the Russians were going to come in. We didn’t know the mall and stuff, but again, we know these big broad strokes. That’s sort of where we are in season 4. We have the big broad strokes. It’s just now about filling in those lines in the details. We’re pretty excited about where it’s potentially going to go. It’s going to feel very different than this season. But I think that’s the right thing to do and I think it’ll be exciting.”

No confirmation as yet, but Stranger Things season 4 could even be the last ever for the show, as it’s still undecided when the curtain will come down on Hawkins for the final time. “Those conversations are very much ongoing,” Levy teased in SFX back in June. “I think all we’ve sealed is that we anticipate a fourth for sure. As far as the life of our show beyond that goes I’ll simply tell you that we don’t have complete clarity and certainty yet, but we adore this show and telling these stories, and it’s not like anyone is looking to be done with it in the very near future. I’ll just say stay tuned on that front.”

Stranger Things season 4 cast

(Image credit: Netflix)

While the accountants at Netflix will probably be tearing their hair out at the thought of finding money to pay a massive ensemble of stars who’ll be considerably more expensive than they were as unknowns back in 2016, don’t expect too many changes in the Stranger Things season 4 cast. Though we’ve probably seen the last of Dacre Montgomery as Billy – even in a sci-fi show it’s tricky coming back from being repeatedly impaled by a monster – we’d be surprised if any of the Hawkins regulars were missing. 

So that means more from Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Sadie Sink (Max), Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Joe Keery (Steve) and Cara Buono (Karen). It also seems unlikely that Winona Ryder (Joyce), Noah Schnapp (Will), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) and, of course, Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven )won’t find their way back to town somehow. 

We can’t have seen the last of the brilliant Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman, either – those conspiracies won’t identify themselves – while, after the briefest of wordless cameos in the season 3 finale, Paul Reiser’s Dr Sam Owens must have a role to play next time out.

And Lucas’s little sister Erica was such a key player in the assault on Starcourt Mall that Priah Ferguson will surely be back, while fellow breakout star Maya Hawke (Robin) must also be a cert for a return in Stranger Things season 4. “I wanna see [Robin] at the video store,” star Hawke told Consequence of Sound. “So many of the great minds of the ’80s and ‘80s filmmakers and creatives started out working in video stores, and as far as I know, that environment hasn’t really been explored on TV. I think that would be really fun.” Anything that allows for more scenes between Steve and Robin is okay with us…

Perhaps the most interesting game to play, however – aside from looking out for David Harbour on the cast list – is speculating on which icon of ’80s cinema will follow in the footsteps of Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser, Sean Astin and Cary Elwes by taking a Stranger Things season 4 role. Judge Reinhold? Molly Ringwald? Matthew Broderick? Pee-wee Herman? If the Duffers wanted to get truly meta, they could draft in Explorers and Dead Poets Society star Ethan Hawke – who also happens to be Maya Hawke’s dad. Though that might break the internet.

Stranger Things season 4 rumours and theories

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The Duffers may not be giving away any intel about Stranger Things season 4, but as you’d expect, the internet is doing its best to second guess them. 

Reddit user Gamer_Nation believes that the new season will be set around Easter 1986, to tie-in with the real-life explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former Soviet Union – and act a potential cover story for dangerous experiments with the Upside Down. “Post-credit scene was in Russia,” Gamer_Nation speculates. “Chernobyl happend [sic] in Spring 1986.‬ Doctor Owens said that they use something familiar to convince the public to not look any further into the strange happenings. So did a nuclear reactor explode or did El have the greatest battle of her life?”

If Eleven does feature in an epic battle in Stranger Things season 4, another Reddit user, weedmonkey666 (via NME), wonders if she’ll still be fighting for the good guys. Perhaps, they suggest, being ‘infected’ by the Mind Flayer at Hopper’s cabin in “The Bite” had more of an effect than we thought. Maybe having an Upside Down creature is the cause of her loss of powers – and perhaps a malign force remains inside her, waiting to awaken. 

“If Eleven is infected, the Mind Flayer could control her like it did with Billy, Will and the Flayed, to eventually destroy her or use her to get more control/spread,” weedmonkey666 suggests. “I would find it disappointing to see the writers continuing to use Eleven to solve all the issues in season 4 when previous attempts have failed. To have another enemy to defeat and another problem to solve would be much more entertaining.”

With the Soviets and the implications of Eleven’s “bite” seemingly set to play a key role in Stranger Things season 4, don’t be surprised if a variation on either of these themes appears when the show returns for its hotly anticipated next run of episodes.

Want more Stranger Things? Why not take a look at the best season 3 merchandise, direct from Hawkins, Indiana.