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Stranger Things season 4: release date theories, plot, Hopper's return, and more

David Harbour's Hopper in Stranger Things season 4
(Image credit: Netflix)

The coronavirus has effected many workplaces, including film sets. As a result, we've seen productions around the world shut down, including the set of Stranger Things season 4. The series was partway through filming when the pandemic struck, but now – thanks to new COVID regulations – it appears the Netflix series will be filming again this September. Huzzah!

Although we have an extended period until we see Stranger Things season 4, there's a whole lot we actually know already about the series. There's the internet-breaking news of David Harbour's Hopper returning for more; Joe Keery telling GamesRadar+ about Steve's future; even word of some completed scripts, plus a premiere title. So, kick back, and let us transport you back to the '80s with our guide to everything we know about Stranger Things season 4.

The Stranger Things season 4 release date may be pushed back

Stranger Things season 4 release date

(Image credit: Netflix)

While Netflix never revealed an official Stranger Things season 4 release date, David Harbour – who plays Hopper – said during a Q&A that the series was “supposed to come out early [2021]” but has "likely" been delayed. The actor did, however, add that he's no authority on these things.

The reason for the delay? The coronavirus pandemic has left many movies and TV shows unable to film, including Stranger Things season 4. Indeed, Netflix has halted filming on other eagerly anticipated shows such as The Witcher season 2. The Hollywood Reporter has stated that Netflix has been looking to resume filming by Septemeber 17, though noted that the date remains only tentative. 

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, Stranger Things had begun filming, as confirmed by Netflix and the Duffer Brothers in a press release. Seeing as season 3 went before the cameras in April 2018 for a July 2019 launch, a similar 15-month production schedule would have seen the new season landing around May or June 2021.

The three previous seasons launched in July 2016, October 2017, and July 2019, respectively. The increasing gap between seasons (15 months between seasons 1 and 2, 21 months between seasons 2 and 3) potentially hints at a slightly earlier 2021 release – which was confirmed by Harbour as being Netflix's initial intention. With things coming a little later due to the delay in filming, perhaps another July launch for the show? That would be an almost unrealistically quick turnaround, though. 

Other theories included Stranger Things season 4 launching on either Christmas Day  or New Year's Day. Seasons 2 and 3 pegged their storylines and launches to important holidays (Halloween and Independence Day, respectively), so perhaps the intention was for the follow up to once again be tagged to a Holiday. Could we be waiting until the end of 2021 until more Stranger Things? Until filming officially starts back up again, we'll just have to wait and see.

Stranger Things season 4 trailer

Following some Twitter teases, Stranger Things season 4 was officially confirmed (to no-one's surprise) with a teaser trailer that featured the season 4 logo being strangled by the living vines of the Upside Down. It also has a clock chiming. The video concludes with the message, "We're not in Hawkins anymore." Can we expect the curtain to be drawn back on the Upside Down's secrets? 

Then, in February 2020, a second trailer arrived, confirming a very important return... Hopper's alive! After perishing at the end of season 3, the Duffer brothers have confirmed that David Harbour's character will be back.

"We’re excited to officially confirm that production on Stranger Things 4 is now underway – and even more excited to announce the return of Hopper," they said in a statement. "Although it’s not all good news for our 'American'; he is imprisoned far from home in the snowy wasteland of Kamchatka, where he will face dangers both human... and other. Meanwhile, back in the states, a new horror is beginning to surface, something long-buried, something that connects everything….

 "Season 4 is shaping up to be the biggest and most frightening season yet, and we cannot wait for everyone to see more. In the meantime – pray for the American."

Netflix has also unveiled a look at the cast doing a table read, the video confirming a few big names will return. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven), Noah Schnapp (Will), Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), and Caleb McLaughin (Lucas), Winona Ryder (Joyce), Sadie Sink (Max), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan), Natalia Dyer (Nancy) are all present, as expected. Cara Buono (Karen) and the season-stealing Maya Hawke (Robin) will return. Then there’s a bald-headed David Harbour (Hopper), presumably fresh off his excursion to Mother Russia.

Stranger Things season 4 episode count and titles

Stranger Things season 4 episode count

(Image credit: Netflix)

Reports have circulated that Stranger Things season 4 will be eight episodes long, which would be consistent with seasons 1 and 3, though one episode behind season 2. However, the Stranger Things scriptwriters have since revealed that they've written nine episodes worth of scripts. In a tweet, the nine scripts were shown all piled on top of one another. Natalie Dyer, who plays Nancy, has since confirmed this, saying that the delay to filming has allowed the scriptwriters to finish everything before filming – something that does not normally happen. 

More interesting is the title of episode one. Yes, we've had confirmation on the name of the Stranger Things season 4 premiere, all thanks to the show's official writers Twitter account. The episode is titled "The Hellfire Club," and alongside the image, a message reads: "Looking for new members... are you in?"

The Hellfire Club is a group of villains who have faced off against the X-Men numerous times, including on the big screen in X-Men: First Class. In that movie, the Hellfire Club is led by Sebastian Shaw, played by Kevin Bacon. Of course, the Stranger Things kids will not have seen that movie, but they will have read the comics. 

The Hellfire Club, filled with wealthy and influential individuals looking to manipulate world events for their own benefit, debuted in the 1980 comic Uncanny X-Men #129. At one stage, Jean Grey, overtaken by Phoenix, joins the club. 

Numerous commentators have drawn comparisons between Eleven and Jean Grey. Could the telepathic teenager be about to break bad? We should also take note of the writers' comments that they're "Looking for new members." We know that the Byers family are moving away from Hawkins – could the kids be forming a new club in a new city? Perhaps with some new cast members? More on that below...

Stranger Things season 4 will be the scariest season yet

(Image credit: Netflix)

While production on Stranger Things season 4 may have halted, our excitement for the next instalment of Netflix's show has not dampened. In fact, Joe Keery, who plays Steve Harrington, has us more excited than ever about the upcoming season – even if that instantly iconic Scoops Ahoy outfit has been retired.

"Oh man, it's pretty amazing – the Duffer brothers have really done it again," Keery told our sister publication Total Film magazine. "I think that this year – and I know I say this every single year – but this is definitely going to be a lot scarier than prior years, because last year was pretty dark."

Quizzed about hanging up the Scoops Ahoy outfit, he replied: "I know that costume served its purpose and I'm glad to retire it [laughs]. Do I have it at home for Halloween? I don't, unfortunately. They won't let me have that one. One day!" Maybe Scoops Ahoy just isn't scary enough for Stranger Things anymore? Alas, we can only hope that Steve has to dress in another ridiculous outfit sometime soon.

Along the same line, the Duffer brothers have teased a different tone this time around. “Every time we go to a new season, we want it to have a different feel and a different tone,” they recently said. While they went no further, it wouldn't be a leap to see Stranger Things getting scarier come season 4.

Stranger Things season 4 setting

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 make episodes any quicker. 

“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.”

Hopper's return in Stranger Things season 4

Stranger Things season 4: Hopper

(Image credit: Netflix)

The biggest mystery in Hawkins surrounds Jim Hopper’s status. Of course, we already know the "American" will be back, but Eleven and the gang do not. How they will deal with his inevitable return remains to be seen. David Harbour has updated us on how Stranger Things season 4 will feature a "big, huge reveal about Hopper's backstory."

Specifically, it’s to do with one of the marked boxes Eleven finds in Hopper’s stash midway through the second season. As Harbour explains, there are “five boxes, one of which has Brenner's stuff from Hawkins Lab, one of which says 'Dad,' and one of which says 'Vietnam,' and one says 'New York.’ So, there are these three things that we've established in the season that if we don't pay off, it means that [the Duffer brothers are] bad writers. And the Duffer brothers are very good writers."

He continued: "I'm so excited about revealing this aspect of the character. It's one of the things that I've known since the first frame of the first shot, and we haven't expressed it yet. And finally we're gonna express it in a big way. It's my favourite thing about him that you guys don't know about him yet, but it has to do with these backstories of New York, Vietnam, and dad."

Stranger Things season 4 plot

(Image credit: Netflix)

Meanwhile, Murray Bauman, the Russian-speaking conspiracy theorist who played a key role in season 3 (and who has been bumped up to a regular cast member for season 4), has hinted that he knows something about Hopper's whereabouts and could play a key part bringing him back to Hawkins. As CNET revealed, if you call Murray's 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.”

Reports have indicated that season 4 will film in New Mexico, home to the likes of Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and a certain major conspiracy theory…

“This is the first time the show will be travelling beyond Atlanta,” Netflix’s Momita SenGupta said of the decision to film in New Mexico, while also promising that the move means the show will be “bigger, bolder and more intricate than ever.”

So, why is Stranger Things upping sticks? It’s almost definitely spoiler-related. “If I told you that, I would be disappearing into the Witness Protection Program,” SenGupta said when asked about the New Mexico scenes. Those of you who know their UFO history, though, can point to at least one major location of interest in New Mexico: Roswell, where evidence of aliens was reportedly spotted in 1947. The event grew in prominence in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Perhaps Bauman will go exploring?

Expect Stranger Things season 4 to also 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.” 

Stranger Things season 4: Starcourt team

(Image credit: Netflix)

xNow, seeing as the first episode of Stranger Things season 4 is titled "The Hellfire Club" and the writers are asking, "Looking for new members... are you in?" it seems fair enough to say the premier will focus on the Byers making new friends wherever they end up. We also have word that the showrunners are looking to cast an "entitled jock,” a “metalhead” and even a stoner, which all sound like members of an '80s gang of drop-out students. Colour us intrigued. 

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

Stranger Things season 4 swimming pool

(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, something which has been confirmed by a cast reading video. 

Finn Wolfhard (Mike), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas), Sadie Sink (Max), Natalia Dyer (Nancy), Joe Keery (Steve), Cara Buono (Karen), Winona Ryder (Joyce), Noah Schnapp (Will), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan) and, of course, Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) are all back. as is David Harbour's Hopper. Maya Hawke (Robin) has been confirmed to return. 

“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.” 

The Stranger Things writers have also promised that Steve and Robin will certainly be back, but doing their own thing. They wrote on Twitter: "Steve is doing his own thing, you know, working with Robin and not drinking enough water because he gets distracted too easily and forgets where he put his drink."

(Image credit: Netflix)

We haven't seen the last of the brilliant Brett Gelman as Murray Bauman, either – now a season regular. And after the briefest of wordless cameos in the season 3 finale, Paul Reiser’s Dr Sam Owens will surely 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 must also be a cert for a return in Stranger Things season 4.

Perhaps the most interesting game to play, however, 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. The Duffers have already hinted that they have "some cool [guest stars]. A couple of cool ones this year." 

"It’s a really fun way to get to meet one of your icons, you know?" Matt Duffer said. "Write a part for them and see if they want to do it… these are actors we grew up watching so it’s amazing and surreal.”

The big question, then, is who will those cool guests be? 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.

There's also been word of new casting calls. TVLine reveals that four new characters are set to arrive in Hawkins, Indiana – and beyond. All of the purported new Stranger Things season 4 characters are male, while three are teenagers that come straight out of the ‘80s production line of John Hughes movies. There’s an “entitled jock,” a “metalhead” and even a stoner. ComicBook.com has also reported that Joel Stoffer – who appeared in Agents of Shield – has a role in the new season.

Elsewhere, an older possible newcomer has certain “characteristics” that mean he could factor into the Russian storyline glimpsed in the Stranger Things season 3 post-credits scene. While none of these have been confirmed, it all sounds very interesting. 

The movies influencing Stranger Things season 4

Stranger Things season 4 influence

(Image credit: Netflix)

As per the “Stranger Writers” account on Twitter, the writers' room have been looking at five films in particular for inspiration: The Peanut Butter Solution, The Fisher King, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, You’ve Got Mail, and Ordinary People.

While each could be a red herring or just something discussed in terms of a particularly minor plot point, the selection still offers a glimpse at the thematic qualities in Stranger Things season 4.

Interestingly, a handful of these (The Fisher King, Ordinary People) deal with life in the big city and involve coping with traumatic events, including deaths and suicide. With the first season 4 teaser outright saying, “We’re not in Hawkins anymore,” each could be a touchstone for how the Byers family deals with life outside Indiana.

Meanwhile, The Peanut Butter Solution is perhaps a more obscure reference point: it features plenty of fantasy horror, as well as an older authority figure exploiting children for his own end – much like Eleven’s origins. Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey may be the most recognisable, though, and also the most interesting. That’s because it contains time travel and is also delightfully ‘80s in terms of its big hair, big ballads, and even bigger fantastical scope, despite being released in 1991.

And You’ve Got Mail? It’s a Tom Hanks romantic comedy about two business rivals who find love with each other on an online chatroom. Uhh. We’ve got nothing.

The writers have also posted a whiteboard of the vast number of movies that they originally looked at, and some of them we really cannot see a huge connection to Stranger Things, but it's fun to see nonetheless. 

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