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Who's Winning the Stranger Things Side-Projects Battle?

Millie Bobby Brown isn't the only Stranger Things kid branching out.
  • From left to right: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Maya Hawke, Gaten Matarazzo and Dacre Montgomery.
    From left to right: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, Maya Hawke, Gaten Matarazzo and Dacre Montgomery.

    When an ensemble TV show gets huge, it's only a matter of time before us media types start looking at its cast and wondering who will best parlay their success on the series to other projects. Hell, we're still ranking the Friends cast by how good their non-Friends work is, and it's been over 16 years since that show ended. Which is why, with Netflix releasing Enola Holmes, starring Millie Bobby Brown as the younger sister of Sherlock Holmes, our minds can't help but turn to what the other Stranger Things cast members have been up to when they haven't been getting mixed up in vast supernatural conspiracies in small-town Indiana. This is especially the case since it was Brown who became the instant media sensation after Stranger Things' splashy debut, and yet we're only just now getting to the point where she's headlining movies. In the meantime, at least one, and possibly more of her co-stars must have managed to catch up with her extra-Stranger Things output.

    So how are the kids of Stranger Things capitalizing on their moment in the spotlight? How many of them are landing the roles that will keep them relevant when the Upside Down is closed off for good?

    Most Hyped

    Millie Bobby Brown: No one is saying that Millie Bobby Brown didn't completely earn the raves she got for Stranger Things when it debuted and she played the enigmatic Eleven, unleashed from a secret government facility with monster-destroying mind powers and a penchant for toaster waffles. She earned an Emmy nomination and, more than anyone else among the show's juvenile cast, became a name-brand star. It was the kind of breakthrough that leads to casting frenzies, and yet for whatever reason, it didn't go down that way. Brown didn't appear in a feature film until 2019's Godzilla: King of Monsters, and then not again until Enola Holmes. She hasn't made any other TV shows in that time, either. On the one hand, the restraint is admirable. Nothing drowns out a burgeoning career faster than taking on every bum role that comes across your agent's desk. Still, Stranger Things won't lasting forever, and Brown has yet to appear in an outside hit.

    The Unlikely King of the Mountain

    Finn Wolfhard: Of all the Stranger Things cast members to emerge as the big movie star, Finn Wolfhard isn't the most surprising. Mike Wheeler took a leadership role among his friends in the search for the missing Will Byers, and he was the one with the special bond with Eleven. Yet Wolfhard's streak of big movie roles still feels pretty unlikely. The big leap came when he got the role of Ritchie Tozier in the big-screen version of It. The first part was a monster hit, and it was followed by him being cast in the much anticipated film version of The Goldfinch. After that, he starred in the horror film The Turning. While The Goldfinch was a flop and critics hated The Turning, whenever the delayed summer movies of 2020 emerge, Wolfhard has what could be a truly star-making lead role opposite Paul Rudd in Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

    On the Cusp

    Dacre Montgomery: Shaking things up starting in Season 2 as the sexy, sexy jerk Billy Hargrove, Dacre Montgomery leapfrogged over the show's other prospective heartthrobs to take the lead in the Hollywood casting race. The same year that he joined Stranger Things, he played the lead role of the Red Ranger in the Power Rangers movie. This year, he's in the romantic comedy The Broken Hearts Gallery opposite Geraldine Viswanathan, but the big one is the project he's got set for 2021, a supporting role in Baz Luhrmann's Elvis, in which he'll be playing Steve Binder, the director of Elvis Presley's 1968 comeback special (and, in a fun footnote, the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special).

    Emergent

    Joe Keery: Perhaps the most charismatic of the young Stranger Things cast, it's easy to see how Joe Keery could end up as the cast member with the brightest future in film and TV. He's just not quite there yet. A small role in the 2017 film Molly's Game opposite Jessica Chastain was a great start, but he hasn't been in anything major since. That'll change with the release of Free Guy, the new Ryan Reynolds movie which co-stars Keery and fellow Peak TV fave Jodie Comer.

    Maya Hawke: The standout addition to Season 3 of Stranger Things was Maya Hawke's ice-cream-scooping Robin. The daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, it wouldn't be surprsing to see her move on to big things. She's certainly off to a good start; last year she appeared in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as a Manson family member, and just recently the film she starred in for director Gia Coppola, Mainstream, played at the Venice Film Festival.

    Caleb McLaughlin: Soon after breaking through as Lucas on Stranger Things, McLaughlin starred as the young Ricky Bell in BET's The New Edition Story, Next up he'll be starring with Idris Elba in the film Concrete Cowboys, which just played the Toronto Film Festival last week.

    Lagging

    Natalia Dyer (Nancy) had a small role in the Netflix art-horror movie Velvet Buzzsaw, Charlie Heaton (Jonathan)'s turn in New Mutants was finally released after sitting on a shelf forever, and Noah Schnapp has a part in the new Adam Sandler movie Hubie Halloween, but at the moment none have yet been cast in the kind of role that suggests breakout stardom.

    Future Game Show Host?

    Gaten Matarazzo: There was a minute there where Gaten Matarazzo's Dustin felt like the show's next breakout character after Eleven. And while the acting roles may not have rolled in, he did end up becoming the face of Verizon Fios TV ads, and he hosted the Netflix prank show Prank Encounters. Not to damn anyone with faint praise, but there's a decent chance that Matarazzo turns out to be the Joey Fatone of this cast. Which could translate into hosting game shows and a role in whatever the 2025 equivalent of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is, and is that so bad?

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    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Stranger Things, Enola Holmes, Caleb McLaughlin, Charlie Heaton, Dacre Montgomery, Finn Wolfhard, Gaten Matarazzo, Joe Keery, Maya Hawke, Millie Bobby Brown, Natalia Dyer, Noah Schnapp