Stranger Things S4 cost $30 million per episode — no wonder Netflix is canceling so many shows

Eleven, Mike, Will and friends stare into the distance in an official image from Stranger Things season 4
(Image credit: Netflix)

Update: Stranger Things season 4 review roundup — darker, scarier and a must-watch

It's no secret that Netflix is in trouble right now, with subscribers quitting at an alarming rate and the stock crashing by more than 35% in recent days. One bright spot on the horizon is the arrival of Stranger Things season 4 next month — but it now seems the hit show could actually be part of the problem.

Hidden away in a lengthy Wall Street Journal article about the streaming service's ongoing problems (as spotted by IGN) is a line stating that the "new season has a per-episode cost of $30 million, according to people close to the show."

With nine episodes in the forthcoming series, and assuming that figure is correct, that's a staggering $270 million in total. Yes, $270 million for one season of one show.

Clearly, Stranger Things is a big deal for Netflix and there's every reason to be excited for the fourth season. The recently released Stranger Things season 4 trailer showcased a much wider scope for the Hawkins kids, with new settings and new characters, including one played by Robert Englund (Freddy Krueger himself).  

It's also set to be the longest and most visually spectacular season yet, as the show's creators the Duffer Brothers revealed in an open letter to fans.

"With nine scripts, over eight-hundred pages, almost two years of filming, thousands of visual effects shots and a runtime nearly twice the length of any previous season, Stranger Things 4 was the most challenging season yet, but also the most rewarding one," they wrote, before explaining that it would air in two volumes as a result.

But still — $270 million? That would make it roughly as expensive to produce as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a film that made more than $1 billion at the box office. It also dwarfs the $15m per episode budget for Game of Thrones' final season and indeed virtually every other TV show, ever. Avengers Endgame and Infinity War each cost over $500 million to make, so at least Stranger Things is "cheaper" than those films. 

Given that Netflix doesn't have an unlimited pot of cash, and that many of the people watching it will already be subscribers, that seems an excessive amount.

Is Netflix spending its money wisely?

There's a widespread feeling among subscribers that Netflix is too quick to hit the cancel button, with the list of Netflix canceled shows already approaching 10 just this year. Archive 81, The Baby-Sitters Club, Gentefied and On the Verge have all been axed in 2022 and the animated series Bone has reportedly been scrapped before the first episode even aired. 

To that list you can add the Will Smith movie Bright 2, which was reportedly axed last week, and apparently not as a result of his Oscars slap incident, and Raising Dion, which Netflix just canceled despite it having an 83% Rotten Tomatoes score.

We've previously written about how this trend has left us frustrated and considering the pros and cons of canceling Netflix ourselves and it seems we're not the only ones. After all, Netflix has just confirmed its first subscriber drop in a decade, and streaming competition is more fierce than ever.

The solution, to my mind at least, would be to build up a killer library of must-watch shows that viewers can invest their time in, safe in the knowledge that their favorites will get a proper run.

Instead, Netflix's plan appears to be to crack down on account sharing and introduce an ad-funded tier — neither of which is likely to send subscribers rushing to renew. In fact, forcing those who are sharing accounts to pay could push more customers away from the service. 

Of course, Stranger Things is a popular Netflix show, and it's great that it's being given the full five-season run it deserves. But it's going to have to work very hard to justify that $270m, which presumably could have funded many more seasons of the excellent Archive 81 or Gentefied.

Either way, we'll find out whether it was worth it when volume 1 premieres on May 27.

Marc McLaren

Formerly Editor in Chief (U.K.) on Tom’s Guide, Marc oversaw all gaming, streaming, audio, TV, entertainment, how-to and cameras coverage, and was also responsible for the site’s U.K.-focused output. He is now U.K. Editor in Chief on TechRadar. Marc previously edited the tech website Stuff and has tested and written about phones, tablets, wearables, streaming boxes, smart home devices, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, games, TVs, cameras and much more. He also spent years on a music magazine, where his duties mainly involved spoiling other people’s fun, and on a car magazine. An avid photographer, he likes nothing better than taking pictures of very small things (bugs, his daughters) or very big things (distant galaxies). When he gets time, he also enjoys gaming (console and mobile), cycling and attempting to watch as much sport as any human can. He's also fallen in love with Wordle over the past six months and is the author of our today's Wordle answer column, in which he supplies hints and strategy tips for the mega-popular word game. Given he's completed every single Wordle so far and only lost once, and analyzed every Wordle answer in search of patterns, he's well qualified to help you safeguard your streak.