I’ve seen many rankings of the best Stranger Things characters, but they’re kind of superficial because characters change from season to season. So here are the definitive rankings for each season. I’m only doing the top 5 for each, followed by some honorable mentions. And for season 3 there are no “best characters” — for that one I list the five worst!
The first season is all the kids. And Hopper who is boss.
3. Hopper. Haunted by the death of his daughter, he does everything to save Will Byers. He has so many dimensions, rage and tenderness, and is played flawlessly — one of the best characters in any TV series.
4. Lucas. There were a lot of Lucas haters for season 1, but I loved him for all the reasons he was criticized. His jealousy over Mike and Eleven, and how it drives his character, is precisely what makes him so real and endearing.
Honorable mentions for season 1: Nancy (great character arc), Steve (another fabulous arc), and Joyce (plays the hysterical mother very convincingly).
The sophomore season is all the lonely hurt. And Hopper again, who is even more boss.
1. Mike. This season he’s Emo-Mike, mad at the world, shitting on his friends (except Will), acting out in school, still hurt by the loss of Eleven. His mother even makes him throw his toys away. I love him even more this season ’cause I feel his pain.
2. El. She gets even better this season as she comes to terms with her anger and homicidal impulses. Her relationship with Hopper is handled perfectly and her reunion with Mike a major high point of the series.
5. Max. With season 4 in our rear-view, it’s hard to remember the days of Max-haters. Not me. I loved her from the start, how she was a loner preferring the company of boys. Everyone (Mike, Dustin, even El) shits on the poor girl this season except for Lucas, yet Max takes it all in stride.
Honorable mentions for season 2: Sam Owens (love that guy), Steve & Dustin (their bromance was born here), Lucas, and Joyce.
Season 3 (The Worst)
Ranking the best characters of season 3 would be meaningless. Aside from Eleven no character stands out. They’re all given lousy material to work with. So here I’m doing the five worst characters, who are easy to single out.
1. Hopper. I can’t think of a character from any TV series who undergoes a perverted caricature like the Jim Hopper of Stranger Things 3. He’s light-years away from Hopper of seasons 1 and 2 — over the top in every frame and acting like a buffoon. His rage could have been compelling if taken seriously, but he’s played entirely for laughs.
This is the season of hell — ladies put through hell (El and Max), a guy accused of summoning demons from hell (Eddie), a poor kid going through hell (Will), and a man living in hell (Hopper in prison). They are the best characters of season 4 hands down:
1. El. She’s put through the ringer 700 ways to Sunday — bullied in high school, arrested for lashing out at her bully, taken to the Silo Lab where she relives her worst traumas (involving more bullying), on top of being manipulated by Papa, and then shot at by government assassins. For all her pain she fails to defeat Vecna — who not only gets away but initiates the end of the world. But you’ve never been more proud of El than in season 4. What a performance.
2. Max. Like El she has nothing to smile about this season, and by the end she’s braindead, blind, and broken. Max has come a long way since season 2, and has easily catapulted up to the #2 character.
3. Eddie. The only seasonal guest who makes a top five, Eddie is easily the best character after the ladies. He’s overtaken Mike as the dungeon-master god, is scapegoated for murder and demon-worship, and damn, he can jam some metal.
4. Will. The most heartbreaking scenes are between Mike and Will. The genius is that Will’s sexual orientation is never mentioned by anyone; it doesn’t need to be, and while Mike remains oblivious, Jonathan seems to be catching on. Wonderful work from Noah.
Honorable mentions for season 4: Sam Owens (as solid as his season-2 performance), Mike (still not back in the top 5, but almost), Nancy (the perfect army commando), Steve & Dustin (their bromance continues), and Lucas (good arc as he bonds with the jocks). I should also point out that Erica, who was 100% annoying in season 3, has been dialed way back in season 4 to become fairly tolerable.