Stranger Things 3 was released on Independence Day, so naturally, we've been finished with the new season since July 5th. That's given fans tons of time to come up with Stranger Things 4 fan theories, even though we'll likely be waiting over a year for our favorite show's epic conclusion. Sure, 99.9% of the theories on Reddit are ~super random~ revelations that Hopper isn't dead and might be the Russian's captive American (really creative, everybody), but that last 0.1% will totally blow your minds.
Oh, and if that last sentence didn't clue you in, this article is obviously chock-full of Stranger Things 3 spoilers.
We figured we should just take this first chunk of our article to get the mandatory "Hopper isn't dead!" theories out of the way so we can move on to something that hasn't been said approximately nineteen thousand times. Listen, guys, most of you just aren't that creative. This uber-popular theory that everyone apparently has come up with hinges on that age-old television trope that if we didn't see a body, no one really died. In this case, Joyce Byers conveniently closed her eyes as Hopper was getting dusted, and when we see the explosion that supposedly offed him, he wasn't actually in the shot. Redditors StrangerThingsIdeas and justkevin can give you the frame by frame, but we're pretty sure that Hopper used a nearby ladder to escape into the Upside Down before the blast and that his plea to "keep the door open three inches" isn't a metaphor, but a literal plea to leave the portal door open a crack so he'll have a way to get back to Hawkins.
This brings us to Part Two of the "If Everyone Says It, It Must Be True!" section of our Hopper hopes. Stranger Things 3's mid-credits scene includes a reference to an American in Russian captivity. With Hopper probably alive and Eleven unable to use her powers to see him, there's a good chance that American is him. StrangerThingsIdeas (and quite a few other Reddit users) thinks that the portal to the Upside Down had been turned into a port key to a Russian facility, in line with the idea that the Russians are experimenting with the Upside Down in order to find a stealth way to invade the U.S.. When Hopper jumped through the door, he accidentally found himself crossing enemy lines.
For those of you who think The Duffer Brothers would never use such an obvious plot device, there are plenty of counter theories as to who that American really is. Commenters SocranX and ColossalKnight make a good case for why it's probably the gone-but-not-forgotten Dr. Brenner, who the Brothers have confirmed isn't really dead either. There's been more time for Brenner to be found by the Russians (assuming teleportation hasn't actually come into play), and having the bad doctor in their charge would explain their knowledge of the Upside Down and their ability to tamper with an unknown alternate dimension from Indiana. Implying it could be Hopper is just a classic red herring.
The bright side of everyone and their second cousin realizing that ~Hopper Isn't Dead~ is that it leaves a lot of room for detailed idiosyncracies between each duplicate theory. Redditor Montgomery7248's "revelation" introduced a Stranger Things 1 Easter Egg that seems to confirm our optimistic Hopper hopes. When we find Will's "body" in the quarry during season one, Peter Gabriel's cover of "Heroes" is playing in the background. What song is playing after Hopper's death? Peter Gabriel's cover of "Heroes." The Duffer Brothers don't make a habit of reusing songs, and including an obscure season one callback from a different red herring death seems a little too on-the-nose to be a coincidence.
We're not saying this wouldn't be in bad taste, but today's pop culture has a major case of Chernobyl on the brain. Between the HBO television series and the disaster site's recent touristification, it's no wonder Reddit user Gamer_Nation noticed how close Stranger Things is getting to the Soviet Union's nuclear explosion. And they introduced a bunch of Russians? It would be a little insensitive considering people are *still* dying from the aftermath of the accident, but with each series jumping up one year and season, the pattern implies that Stranger Things 4 will happen during Spring 1986 when the accident occurred. Easter should fall right around that time frame, keeping the holiday theme, and Gamer_Nation theorizes the explosion could be framed as a cover-up for a different, stranger incident.
It's difficult to summarize NukeBananas's detailed, evidence-heavy theory that the Mind Flayer can physically manifest through magnetic energy, but we'll give it a shot. Basically, Joyce's throw-away line that magnets stopped working during the first episode's power outage connects to the raw steel scattered around our demon rats and the specific, unusually phosphate-heavy (and therefore ferromagnetic) fertilizer. A truly insane amount of evidence throughout the series' remaining episodes culminates in the machine explosion's destruction of the magnetic playing field the Mind Flayer had built, temporarily dissolving its ability to physically manifest in Hawkins until it can once again develop enough magnetic energy to return.
Circling back to a certain Ukranian tragedy, Redditor Alexie_The_Ghost thinks it could tie into Stranger Things 4 in a slightly different way. Instead of being a coverup for the Russian's mistakes, they believe that the Russian experiments will accidentally ~cause~ the reactor explosion, with the Demogorgon as the only surviving victim. The radiation from the blast will cause the Demogorgon to grow exponentially, and the replacement Russians (because you know someone's going to take over for the dearly departed scientists in this scenario) will weaponize it, leaving Eleven to face a never-before-seen threat.
Commenter mrttenor from Alexie_The_Ghost's post bounces off his Chernobyl theory by taking the connection in a new direction. They believe that the Russians will move their gate to the explosion site in the hopes that the nuclear fallout will superpower it. Unfortunately, it really, really does, and both the gate and the Demogorgon grow beyond the Russians' control. With Eleven unable to close the gate, the Mind Flayer and the Flayed finally escape as more portals around the world begin to open. The Russians reach out to our Hawkins Lab survivors to team up against the growing threat, and their uneasy alliance leads to the end of the Cold War.
Not everyone is onboard with this Chernobyl theme because, again, it's wildly insensitive. Reddit user Full-time_FAD3R chose to focus on another famous tragedy in the USSR, a hiking incident from February 1959. It's not exactly timely, but the 1943 Philadelphia Experiment is an oft-cited source of inspiration for the series, so anything is possible. The Dyatlov Incident was an unsolved mystery involving nine hikers who went up Kholat Syakhl and never came down. Part of the mountains is connected by sacred "gates," which this user believes could be reworked as gates to the Upside Down on Stranger Things 4. The victims of this very real tragedy were found in unusual circumstances after being ripped apart by an unknown force. Signs of a struggle, strange clothing, unexplained injuries, possible radiation, and an impossible tan contributed to the mystery, as did reports of odd orange spheres in that night's sky.
We really thought this would be the year that Steve Harrington dies. Like, we don't ~want~ our television boyfriend to die, but his character was meant to be killed off during season one and has only stuck around this long because he's a fan favorite. Redditor DOTBHDD used rumors of season four being Stranger Things's last to support their theory that Steve is finally going to kick the bucket because it would be an effective, poignant character death to include on the beloved series's grand finale. He's had a huge, full character arc that has given him a lot to lose and very little development left to grow into, making him the perfect candidate for an eleventh-hour tragedy.
Oh, Ted. Do you remember Ted? Because we certainly didn’t before reading this theory from hds714braves on Reddit. Mike’s dad has been a recurring character on every season of Stranger Things, but he hasn’t been given much to do. This slightly crackpot idea frames Ted as a Russian spy who got too comfortable in his cover life and chose to settle down as a U.S. civilian. This Redditor thinks the Russians could have taken him as they left town and put him in prison, making Ted the mysterious American. Sounds more like the plot of an FX series from 2013, but at least it would give dear old Ted something fun to do for a change.
A little closer to reality, Redditor DookieChases might be onto something with his futuristic take on the Mind Flayer. A long-standing theory about Stranger Things’s endgame sees the Upside Down as a dystopian future Hawkins. In this theory, that bleak future is accidentally caused by Eleven, who to be fair, did probably start this whole mess when she discovered the first portal during season one. Using what the OP describes as “Terminator Logic,” the Mind Flayer is actually the hero, trying to prevent Hawkins’s destruction by eliminating its instigator. With El as the antagonist, DookieChases sees the Mind Flayer as the future creation of one of our main four boys and the real protagonist.
Assuming the theories about Chernobyl really are just distasteful (but understandable) wild guesses, Stranger Things 4 could pick back up at our Fab Five’s reunion during Thanksgiving. While the Byers are packing up their car before taking off for the great unknown, Mike tells Eleven that he’ll see her at Thanksgiving. That’s really all there is to ptk77’s Reddit theory, but because the series likes to anchor around a holiday, it’s in the realm of possibility. There’s going to be a fairly large time jump no matter what since these kids are smack dab in the middle of puberty and aging very visibly, but this Thanksgiving reunion could have just become an annual thing (or be a somewhat obvious Easter Egg for the viewers).
Redditor ch3rn0v’s theory has been under our noses this whole time, but we still needed it to be spelled out for us. El’s psionic loss is attributed to stress and exhaustion, but our girl has been through it for essentially her entire life with no power outages until now. The gate’s closing has never affected them either, so something here seems fishy. The only thing that’s changed is one pesky little slug. The Mind Flayer’s sixth episode warning that he can “see” El could refer to seeing inside of her mind before the goo ever appeared at Starcourt, as yet another of the Duffer Brothers’ red herrings. While the goo could be used to test out the Mind Flayer’s influence, it wasn’t MF's entry point. The Mind Flayer has been there since episode six and is disabling her power from within.
It’s always the person you least expect. This theory, also from ch3rn0v, isn’t the most ~plausible~, but it could be pretty fun if one of our Core Four had been the big baddie all along. And, no, this has nothing to do with actor Gaten Matarazzo’s IRL Netflix prank show where he harasses the unemployed for no reason, but that is pretty villainous. Pointing towards Dustin’s playful feeding of a Demogorgon on season two and his return from summer camp coinciding with the return of the Mind Flayer, ch3rn0v thinks Dustin has been controlling the Mind Flayer this whole time and concocted the events of season three in order to weaken Eleven and separate her from Hopper. Why is he doing all of this? We have no idea, but that’s what season four is for.
Just because our heroes have outgrown Dungeons and Dragons doesn't mean Stranger Things has. Citing the series's remarkable foreshadowing, Redditor ferret_dude_13 expands on a previous post by user DeCurt1998, who's seen the parallels between the show's DnD games and future plot points, such as the game that ends with Will being taken by a Demogorgon or the season two ending when Will fireballs a Thessel Hydra. Mike and Lucas weren't super into season three's DnD game, which leads to Mike lighting the room on fire, killing both the players and the enemies inside. If the endgame of Stranger Things takes its cues from their most recent (and, possibly, final) DnD trial, the final battle will end with a group sacrifice where no one makes it out alive.
Stranger Things is so inextricably linked to the '80s that it's almost impossible to imagine the series set during any other time period. Still, with an evolve or die mentality, anything is possible. ManFromTheFuture1121 on Reddit sees the growing '90s nostalgia trend as enough of a reason for the show to jump into a new decade, especially as the former child stars who anchor the show rapidly grow up. ManFromTheFuture1121 sees a large enough jump that the kids would have to be recast, but that would *literally* never happen. If it takes more than a year for Stranger Things 4 to begin production, or if the series continues to a season five, the child stars will have aged beyond their characters enough that an early-'90s setting would allow the series to catch up to their growth. Plus, that would explain the "very different feel" of the fourth season showrunners have been teasing.
Yeri_Berry on Reddit has always found it strange that Will was the instigating character on season one but hasn't had much of a character arc since. Their theory is that Will returned from the Upside Down with powers during the series's first season, but that he doesn't know about them. He's connected to the Mind Flayer, who might have some control over psionic powers if he could take Eleven's away, he played the powerful cleric during DnD trials, and he saw visions of the Upside Down even after returning to Hawkins. Will could have powers that are only accessible while there's an open gate but have no idea how to harness them.
It's the little details that make all the difference. In a large, large chunk of predictions for season four, Redditor StainedGlassMoon, like many of us, is pretty sure there will be a time jump. If the series jumps to 1987, the kids will be sixteen and recently licensed drivers (or, if the series only jumps one year, they'll be practicing for their permit test). Driving between the Byers' new home and Hawkins could become a major part of the plotline, especially for long-distance loves Max and Eleven. And we saw what happened to Billy when he was driving alone at night on season three.
Another idea from StainedGlassMoon's massive theory dump is that the Russians are performing their own mutant breeding experiments. As the Russians grow more powerful and disturb the delicate balance between the Upside Down and the human realm, American mutants like Eleven and 008 will have to come together to battle the Russians. It's all a little X-Men to us, but we still can't believe 008 and the other experiments would be completely forgotten about for the rest of the series.