Stranger Things is the “it” show of the moment. It was when season one came out and season two proved to be just as epic. Ever since the OG eight episodes dropped on Netflix in 2016, the world has been completely obsessed. And with great reason! The child actors on the show put some adults who’ve been in the business to shame with their raw talent. Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven) became everyone’s favorite girl and go-to Halloween inspo after the first season. Once season two dropped in October 2017, everyone got a taste for how talented Noah Schnapp (Will Byers) is as well.
But before these kids were dealing with the Upside Down and the monsters that live inside, they were just getting started. While some of the adults on the show are seasoned veterans (we’re looking at you, Winona Ryder), Stranger Things put everyone back on the map. Did you know that Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler) was on a CW show only a year before Stranger Things hit the scene? He’s not the only one creepin’ in the background of your favorite TV shows though…
15. Charlie Heaton – Jonathan Byers
Charlie’s history before Stranger Things leaned more heavily on film than television. And even then, he didn’t have too much under his belt. Since ST, he’s become an X-Men of sorts, set to appear in the film New Mutants. But before all that, he was on a few episodes of Casualty. The show centered around the Accident and Emergency department at the fictional Holby City hospital. He played two different characters on the show named Jason Waycott and Luke Dickinson. His role as Luke is “uncredited,” which probably means it wasn’t much of a feature to begin with. Luckily, things are working better on ST!
14. Joe Keery – Steve Harrington
Show: Chicago Fire
Everyone’s favorite new single mom of the ‘80s deserves his own show. We’d all watch a Steve and Dustin spinoff in a heartbeat! Before he was Steve, a reformed jerk that dates (well, dated) Nancy, he was on a few other shows. The most notable being Chicago Fire, where he appeared in two episodes as Emmett in 2015. His character happened to be the biological son of one of the firefighters, Mouch. It turns out, Mouch donated his sperm and Emmett found his contact information. Emmett confronts Mouch to tell him that he also has a daughter and that he wants him to meet her.
13. David Harbour – Chief Hopper
Show: The Newsroom
It is weird to picture David Harbour as anyone other than Chief Hopper. His laidback, yet overwhelmingly caring attitude is refreshing when it comes to police chief portrayals. But before he was our beloved Hop, he was bouncing around a few different shows. He was on things like State of Affairs, Pan Am, Rake, Manhattan, and most notably, The Newsroom. He played Elliot Hirsch, the co-anchor on the fictional news program, News Night. A fellow anchor lobbied for him to get his own anchor gig and he was moved to the 10 PM slot.
12. Winona Ryder – Joyce Byers
Show: Drunk History
If you don’t know who Winona Ryder is or what she’s done, have you never watched a single movie in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s? She was the goth girl that everyone idolized and wanted to emulate. Her iconic roles in Heathers, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands are just a few to mention. She’s also got a less goth side, and more disturbed side, as seen in Girl, Interrupted and Black Swan. Since she began acting in the mid-80s, she has almost exclusively been in film. Over the years she’s only done a handful of work on TV, but one of her best is appearing on Drunk History. The premise is that basically the show creator gets historians drunk and has them tell a story, while actors have to act out exactly what the historian says.
11. Sean Astin – Bob
Show: The Strain
Much like Winona, if you don’t know Sean Astin, you really need to get out more. Not only was an adorable child actor in Goonies, he was in the mega-successful Lord of the Rings trilogy as Samwise, Frodo’s loyal and wise best friend. Since LOTR ended over a decade ago, Sean has been a busy bee. In fact, he has a pretty illustrious career as a voice actor. Which makes sense, he’s got a great voice! He’s voiced characters on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bunnicula, and Justice League Action. He also had a stint on the short-lived show The Strain, a show about a mysterious virus outbreak that turned people into vampires. Sean played Jim Kent, a CDC administrator who was trying to figure out the outbreak’s source and cure.
10. Cara Buono – Karen Wheeler
Show: Mad Men
In season one of Stranger Things, aside from Joyce, Karen Wheeler is the only parent we really got to see much of. Her husband was physically present, but he was never really there emotionally for his family. Before she had to watch her kids like a hawk, she was Faye Miller on Mad Men. Like quite a few ladies on the show, she had a relationship with Don Draper. But that didn’t end too well for her as he went on to propose to another woman. Looks like things are better over in Hawkins… well, kind of.
9. Tinsley Price – Holly Wheeler
Show: The Walking Dead
Has baby Holly even sad a word on the show? Maybe not, but she’s already got a longer acting career than most of us! In fact, it looks like young actress Tinsley Price hopped from one successful show to the next. Before she was Nancy and Mike’s little sister, she was Carl Grimes’s little sister. Tinsley played one of the many babies who portrayed Judith Grimes on The Walking Dead. How cool will that be to look back on in a few years? Maybe if they need a different Judith in a year or two, Tinsley can take over the gig again!
8. Matthew Modine – Dr. Brenner
Show: Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
We don’t want to hate Matthew Modine, but Dr. Brenner is just the worst. We won’t know until season three what really happened to him. Before Stranger Things, Matthew had a pretty lengthy career in film and TV. He’s been on shows like Proof, The Bedford Diaries, and even Weeds! But when creating these lists, sometimes there is one role that is so tiny but stands out. Like many people, Matthew had a role on Law & Order: SVU. Just seeing that photo can immediately bring the memory of his character Gordon Rickett right to the forefront of your mind.
7. Joe Chrest – Ted Wheeler
Show: True Detective
Joe Chrest has the face and demeanor of the average TV dad. He really isn’t involved in Holly, Mike, or Nancy’s lives and that might be for the best. He’s probably loose it if he knew what Mike and his friends got up to. Joe been in countless TV shows and movies over the years, like Runaway Jury, RED, 21 Jump Street, and more. Before he was playing Ted Wheeler, he was on another popular TV series, True Detective. He was in the series as Detective Demma when Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson were lead detectives on the show.
6. Chester Rushing – Tommy
Show: NCIS: New Orleans
Poor Tommy, he is still feeding into bullies and peer pressure. But that is high school, isn’t it? It is probably for the best that Steve isn’t friends with him anymore. For actor Chester Rushing, it is a good thing he got the gig on Stranger Things, as he’s finally started to get more roles now. Before he was playing a total bully, he was a stressed-out kid on an episode of NCIS: New Orleans in the 2016 episode “No Man’s Land.”
5. Finn Wolfhard – Mike Wheeler
Just one year before Stranger Things hit Netflix, Finn was on an episode of this CW longstanding series. Finn is one of the main young stars on Stranger Things, but on Supernatural he was just a minor role. On the episode, “Thin Lizzie,” Finn played Jordie Pinsky. Sam and Dean Winchester were investigating the Lizzie Borden house, a Bed & Breakfast that a series of murders took place at. When Jordie’s mom is murdered, Sam comforts Jordie on the back porch steps and honestly, we got the first glimpse of the A+ acting that Finn had been hiding.
4. Gaten Matarazzo – Dustin
Show: The Blacklist
Funnily enough, when Gaten was on this episode of The Blacklist in 2015, his character’s name was Finn! As you may know, Gaten’s career before Stranger Things was predominantly on the stage. He played the role of as Gavroche in Les Misérables. In the episode of The Blacklist, the team is chasing a cult leader. When they find the cult’s compound, they learn that some of the boys were kicked out in order to have more women than men. Finn was one of those boys kicked out, and later found by another cult leader.
3. Caleb McLaughlin – Lucas
Show: Law & Order: SVU, Blue Bloods
Caleb did a little bit of work on cop shows in the three years before he appeared on Stranger Things. He appeared in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Unforgettable, Blue Bloods, and Shades of Blue. Even though Stranger Things isn’t a cop show, with Hopper playing such a prominent role, it seems that Caleb has followed a pattern. In the episode “For The Community” on Blue Bloods, Caleb played ToneLane, a kid who has to talk to the cops. He’s gotten a little more star power since Stranger Things and played a young Ricky Bell in The New Edition Story.
2. Sadie Sink – Max
Show: American Odyssey
With Eleven out of Hawkins (or so the kids thought), a new girl came to town. Sadie was in the first episode of season two Stranger Things as MADMAX, the one ruining the boys’ arcade high record scores. Before she was Max, she had a stint on American Odyssey. She was on the show for 11 episodes in 2015 during its only season. The show as about “three families are torn apart when a stranded female soldier, a disillusioned corporate attorney and a disrespected political activist are pulled into the same shocking international military conspiracy.” She played Suzanne Ballard.
1. Millie Bobby Brown – Eleven
Show: Grey’s Anatomy
This little star truly has a huge career ahead of her and it makes perfect sense she was in an episode of Grey’s! What better place to hone her drama skills? In the 2015 episode “I Feel the Earth Move,” Millie plays an 11-year-old named Ruby who calls the hospital and talks to Dr. Owen Hunt. Her mom fell after an earthquake and isn’t moving and she needs his help. Over the phone, Owen gives her medical advice on how to clear her mom’s airway when she says her mom’s lips are blue. Ruby and her mom are rescued via helicopter and brought to the hospital, where she can meet the doctor she talked to over the phone face to face.