One of Netflix’s biggest and broadest hits.
The eerie retro-Eighties sci-fi show has grown and grown since making its debut in 2016. It’s the subject of the next Secret Cinema experience, and even has its own Upside Down Lego set. With the third season breaking viewing records for Netflix, we plug in the synths and uncover the real locations of a town called Hawkins.
Essential to the mix, of course, is the all-American small town backdrop reminiscent of every Steven Spielberg or Joe Dante movie of the era. The setting is the entirely fictional Hawkins in Indiana, but the reality is a series of small towns skirting Atlanta, Georgia. No surprise there, since the state is now one of the most popular locations, home to everything from The Walking Dead and Ozark to last year’s Halloween reboot.
The notional heart of Hawkins is Jackson, a town south-east of Atlanta that gave the production a readymade unreconstructed classic USA. This provides Melvald’s General Store (really the former Jackson Drug on 2nd Street), where Joyce (Winona Ryder) still works, the Public Library (in fact Butts County Probate Court on 3rd Street), where Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour) does a little uncharacteristic research in Season 1, and local cinema the Hawk Theater (really another empty lot on Oak Street). In Season 3, this is also where we see Nancy (Natalia Dyer) heading to her new job as a journalist at The Hawkins Post.
For the homes of our key players, though, we head south-west of the big city, to East Point. Most of the boys’ families are in houses along the same road, Piney Road Drive, though the interiors are all recreated at Atlanta studio Screen Gems (and Steve’s house, home to the infamous pool party where we last saw unlucky Barb, is in Riverdale, directly south of Atlanta). Also in East Point is the Hawkins General Hospital – though what we’re seeing is actually the First Baptist Church – and the interior of the library, at the Old East Point Library.
Other locations are scattered through the region. Stockbridge, just north of Jackson, is home to Hawkins Middle School and High School, in another disused building, the former Patrick Henry High School on South Lee Street. The police station where Hopper sleeps off his hangovers is in Douglasville’s City Hall, to the west. The supermarket where Eleven steals her favourite Eggo waffles (and which returns in Season 3) is Bradley’s Big Buy in Palmetto, to the south-west, while Benny’s Burgers, where we first saw her, is really Tiffany’s Kitchen in Lithia Springs, to the west. That pumpkin farm where Hopper finds rotting veg as a harbinger of apocalypse in Season 2 is on the too-cutely named Sleepy Hollow Road in Powder Springs.
For the Hawkins National Laboratory, the centre where the shady Papa (Matthew Modine) conducted experiments on Eleven and the Upside Down world, the production used the Briarcliff Campus of Emory University on Briarcliff Road, to the north-east. This Sixties-built block has a fascinating history: in a past life it was the Georgia Mental Health Institute, leaving it with a sinister One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest atmosphere, and it’s located on the grounds of the Briarcliff Estate, founded by Asa G Candler Jr, the Coca-Cola heir who ran a private zoo of exotic animals nearby and whose mansion contained a cathedral-sized organ.
The other element of the Stranger Things landscape is deep country, which Atlanta also has in abundance. For the woods, the production headed east to the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers, venue for equestrian events at the 1996 Olympic Games, and Stone Mountain Park in Palmetto. This 3,200 outbound-adventure destination provided, among other shots, the train tracks we see the gang walking along in search of the Upside Down. For Sattler Quarry, where the body of Will is found in Season 1, they shifted north-west to the dramatic Bellwood Quarry.
As well as new dangers, Season 3 introduces some major new locations. We see a protest outside the pillared City Hall in East Point and watch bad-boy Billy (Dacre Montgomery) exulting in his role as lifeguard at the Hawkins Community Pool, filmed at South Bend Pool on Atlanta’s Lakewood Avenue. The big one, though, is the aptly named Starcourt Mall, where Steve (Joe Keery) works with new cast member Robin (Maya Hawke) at the Scoops Ahoy Ice Cream Parlor. This recreation of prime Eighties real estate was filmed at Gwinnett Place Mall outside Duluth, north-east of Atlanta. The production took over an empty wing of the mall and recreated era-specific stores such as Sam Goody and RadioShack, creating what executive producer Shawn Levy calls a surreal experience: ‘Everything you see is real,’ he told Entertainment Weekly, ‘but if you walked 50 yards in one direction, there were actual real 2019 people shopping at contemporary stores.’ A rather neat image of Stranger Things’ upside-down, retro-clash world, you might say.