Stranger Things 4 had just started production when COVID-19 turned things Upside Down. In mid-March 2020 — after just two weeks of filming on the anticipated fourth season of its flagship series — streamer Netflix announced it was suspending all film and television production for a precautionary two-week period due to the pandemic. After months of production delays, the season resumed filming in November 2020, not wrapping until September 2021. Netflix would split the penultimate season into two parts: the first seven episodes of Volume 1 arrived on May 27, followed by the super-sized two-episode Volume 2 finale on July 1.
During Netflix's second-quarter earnings report on Tuesday, Co-CEO and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said Season 4 of Stranger Things was "more financially impacted" by the pandemic than other Netflix shows. Restarting production months after the initial two-week hiatus and COVID safety protocols for a large ensemble cast contributed to Netflix's COVID costs being about 5-10% of its overall content spend, which was revealed to be $17 billion.
"That show, in particular, was affected as much as any [by COVID] because of the young cast, and the size and scope of the production, and multiple locations we shot it in. It was a very expensive burden to deliver it," Sarandos explained. "One of the catalysts for splitting the season in half was how long it took to produce that show and a lot of that was stalled because of early shutdowns of the production, and restarting production, and being extremely careful with the cast of the show early on in COVID."
Sarandos added, "So it was more financially impacted than a lot of our other projects were. If you did that again, you might even get a few extra episodes out of it." (It's unclear if Sarandos was referring to a potential 11-episode fourth season or additional episodes in the upcoming fifth and final season.)
In April, the Wall Street Journal reported Stranger Things 4 had a per-episode cost of $30 million, doubling the big-budgeted final season of HBO hit Game of Thrones.
Series creators The Duffer Brothers have since said Stranger Things 5 would be shorter than Season 4, which ended with the series' biggest-ever episode yet: a feature-length season finale clocking in at 150 minutes.
"The only reason we don't expect [the final season] to be as long as this season [is], if you look at it, it's almost a two-hour ramp up before our kids really get drawn into a supernatural mystery," Matt Duffer said on the Happy Sad Confused podcast. "You get to know them, you get to see them in their lives, they're struggling with adapting to high school and so forth, Steve's trying to find a date, all of that. None of that is obviously going to be occurring [in Season 5]."
For the series finale, Duffer continued, "We're more likely to do what we did here, which is to just have a 2.5 hour episode."
All nine episodes of Stranger Things Season 4 are now streaming on Netflix.
Stranger Things 4 stars Winona Ryder (Joyce Byers), David Harbour (Jim Hopper), Millie Bobby Brown (Eleven/Jane), Finn Wolfhard (Mike Wheeler), Gaten Matarazzo (Dustin Henderson), Caleb McLaughlin (Lucas Sinclair), Noah Schnapp (Will Byers), Sadie Sink (Max Mayfield), Natalia Dyer (Nancy Wheeler), Charlie Heaton (Jonathan Byers), Joe Keery (Steve Harrington), Maya Hawke (Robin Buckley), Priah Ferguson (Erica Sinclair), Brett Gelman (Murray), Matthew Modine (Dr. Brenner), Robert Englund (Victor Creel), and Jamie Campbell Bower (Vecna).