10 Surprising Facts About Stranger Things

Netflix
Netflix

The kids and monsters of Hawkins, Indiana, own our Steven Spielberg-loving hearts. Eleven and the crew navigate adolescence in a dangerous world filled with face-splitting, interdimensional beasts, and phones that do not work unless they're tethered to the wall. Terrifying!

The second season of Stranger Things expanded the mythology of The Upside Down, gave Eleven a big city makeover, and delivered the Dustin/Steve bromance we didn’t know we needed, but they’ve just now started filming season 3, so we’ll have to wait a while to explore life in the brand-new mall coming to town.

In the meantime, grab your flashlight and Huffy bike and let’s learn 10 facts about Stranger Things.

1. THE SHOW IS BASED ON A REAL TIME TRAVEL PROJECT.

David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

There aren’t any transdimensional horror-beasts rampaging through quiet suburban towns (that we know of), but Stranger Things is based on real conspiracy theories about the United States government conducting reality-bending experiments on children. Specifically, the Montauk Project, which has been referenced in other fiction from Lost to Thomas Pynchon’s novel Bleeding Edge. Much of what Eleven experiences in the laboratory corresponds to the alleged events of the Montauk Project. The show was also initially called Montauk and set on the far edge of the Long Island peninsula. (Montauk was also the inspiration for the town in Jaws, another story of a monster menacing a small community, and one of many Spielberg movies that inspired Stranger Things.)

2. THEY AUDITIONED 906 BOYS and 307 GIRLS FOR THE MAIN ROLES.

The Duffer brothers and casting director Carmen Cuba undertook the gargantuan task of hearing from 1213 child actors to get the right people for what would be crucial roles. They had them read scenes from the pilot episode as well as scenes from Stand By Me. You can tell from the ratio that they extended the net widest to find Eleven, and, despite a sea of child actors at their disposal, they cast Gaten Matarazzo as Dustin immediately. Smart move.

3. STEPHEN KING HAD A HAND IN CASTING MILLIE BOBBY BROWN.

When you’re going up against that kind of competition for a role, it helps to have someone influential in your corner. Millie Bobby Brown had a heavyweight. The master of horror saw Brown in the BBC show Intruders and publicly praised her work on Twitter, giving her a leg up in the race to become a stranger thing.

4. THE SHOW WAS ALMOST AN ANTHOLOGY SERIES WITH DIFFERENT CHARACTERS AND SETTINGS EVERY SEASON.

The Stranger Things that we know almost didn’t come to be. The Duffer brothers meant for it to kick off with a monster-centric flash of 1980s nostalgia, but then they wanted it to tell new eerie tales and progress through the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and then 2020 in a final season that would air in 2020. The show would have said goodbye to Eleven, Dustin, Will, Mike, Lucas, and the rest of the cast after the first season. Luckily, they realized how special the team they’d assembled was and chose to keep focusing on their original story.

5. DACRE MONTGOMERY HAD AN UNUSUALLY SHIRTLESS AUDITION TAPE.

Dacre Montgomery in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

Dacre Montgomery played the greasy-headed Billy Hargrove in the second season. The character was a nod to the classic Stephen King villain Randall Flagg, who has appeared in several of the author's novels. But in his audition, Montgomery channeled a lot of other demons. He read through the prepared scenes, but then added a Duran Duran song in the middle of reciting the scene where he tries to run down Max’s (Sadie Sink) new friends, started dancing, went a little nutty, and then ended the entire thing with a newfound mustache and without a shirt. Ross Duffer said they hired him without needing to fly him out to Los Angeles. “I’ve watched thousands of auditions now, and it’s by far the most bonkers that I’ve witnessed,” he said. Good thing they played it at the Netflix board meeting.

6. ELEVEN IS MODELED AFTER E.T.

In the first season, Eleven dons a pink dress and absurd blonde wig in an homage to E.T., but the Easter egg is also a clue to her entire, otherworldly character. “[The Duffer brothers] told me that the performance that they wanted me to resemble was E.T. and that relationship between E.T. and the kids,” Brown said. "I thought that was very interesting, and Matt and Ross were like, ‘Basically you’re going to be an alien.'" Accordingly, Eleven (like Spielberg’s extraterrestrial wonder) does more with body language than dialogue.

7. BROWN ONCE SHOWED UP TO SET COVERED IN GLITTER.

Millie Bobby Brown in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

While discussing the unique challenges of working with a young cast, the Duffer brothers like to point to a story where production halted for a brief period of time because Brown showed up to set inexplicably covered completely in glitter. No, they never figured out where the glitter came from. No, they never have to worry about that type of thing happening to David Harbour.

8. THE DUFFER BROTHERS PULLED A MORBID PRANK ON NOAH SCHNAPP’S MOTHER.

Noah Schnapp plays Will Byers, whose disappearance sets the entire show into motion and whose fake dead body covers up the government’s secret project (for about five minutes). The show ordered a prop body from Fractured FX, and when it arrived, they used it to freak out Schnapp’s mom. “We immediately took Noah’s mom aside, told her we had something to show her, and led her into a dark closet where we had propped up this frighteningly realistic corpse of her son,” the Duffer brothers said. “After the initial shock, she loved it.” Schnapp’s mom posed for pictures with the fake corpse, which she then texted to her friends.

9. THE GANG WENT TRICK-OR-TREATING TOGETHER.

James Landry Hébert, Kai Greene, Anna Jacoby-Heron, Millie Bobby Brown, and Linnea Berthelsen in 'Stranger Things'
Netflix

It’s probably a lot easier to remain anonymous when you’re behind a mask, even if you’re on a wildly popular Netflix show. All the kids are famous for being friends in real life (they even have a group chat called Stranger Texts), and they’ve even adventured out on Halloween together. “This one kid was like, 'Are you the cast from Stranger Things?'" Brown explained. “And I was like, 'No, I’m Harley Quinn.'"

10. BOB NEWBY ALMOST HAD A VERY DIFFERENT FATE.

Sean Astin’s lovable lunk Bob Newby gave the second season a puzzle master and a Boy Scout’s moral compass, but the character evolved in a lot of ways since his creation. At first, the Duffer brothers weren’t sure they wanted Astin for the role because, while he’s a living nod to The Goonies, he might have stood out as being too famous as a geek icon. Then they planned to kill him off early on, but Astin and the character were too good. What’s really surprising though is the way they intended to dispose of him: Will was supposed to murder Bob.

Evil Will was supposed to show up far earlier in the season and end the man dating his mom. Fortunately, the plan was scrapped and Astin convinced the Duffer brothers to give him a Jaws-like, gruesome death. You died a hero, Bob!

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

Harry Potter Fans Are Waiting 10 Hours or More to Ride Hagrid’s Roller Coaster

Universal Orlando
Universal Orlando

Muggles will do anything to be a part of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Universal Orlando opened up its newest ride this week at its version of Hogsmeade, the village that surrounds Hogwarts castle. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure takes wannabe wizards and witches on a twisting, high-speed flight through the mystical Forbidden Forest.

Diehard fans began waiting overnight outside the park in anticipation of the ride, and it looks like just about everyone had the same idea. At 8:30 a.m. on opening day, the line was already eight hours long, and quickly stretched to 10 hours long by 10:30 a.m., CNN reports.

The line is worth the wait for many fans of the franchise. As Potterheads already know, Rubeus Hagrid, beloved friend of Harry Potter and the gang, has a special affinity for mysterious creatures. So who better to see the beasts of the forest with than the half-giant?

Participants on the ride can choose to sit in Hagrid’s sidecar or in the driver’s seat. The winding track includes appearances by some of our favorite wizards, like Arthur Weasley, and creatures benevolent and otherwise, such as Cornish pixies, massive spiders, and the three-headed dog, Fluffy.

Fans aren’t the only ones wanting to experience the ride. Some of the stars of the film series had a little reunion in Orlando this week to celebrate the opening, including Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley), Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) and Evanna Lynch (Luna Lovegood).

Unlike the fans, however, they have magic (fame) to keep them from having to wait in 10-hour lines.

Happy riding, Potterheads!

[h/t CNN]

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