Blockbusters, super heroes, and backlash: The decade in film in the Hollywood of the South

It’s been a wild ride as our fledgling film industry grew into a juggernaut

What's filming in Atlanta now?
A set of filming signs near a Stranger Things set in 2018

Photograph by Matt Walljasper

The 2010s were a defining period for the entertainment industry in Atlanta. With a 2020 and a new decade facing us, it’s time to reflect on just how far we’ve come in ten years’ time. It’s been transformative, with humble beginnings, soaring peaks, and peril around every corner. Heck, it’s almost like a movie itself.

Early developments
Filming in Georgia started long before the now ubiquitous 2008 tax credits funded our current powerhouse film and television production industry. But back then, you’d run into a basecamp once in a blue moon. The tax credits set the stage for our industry to grow. By 2010, Georgia had landed several long-running television series, including The Walking Dead and The Vampire Diaries. At the same time, Tyler Perry was filming For Colored Girls and producing the later seasons of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. Floyd County Productions was working on animated hit Archer for FX. Adult Swim was at full-stride, cranking out in-house content and producing its own shows. Alton Brown’s Good Eats was nearing the ends of its original production run.

It’s all about the money
In 2014, the biggest boon to the film industry came when North Carolina slashed its tax credits. A power vacuum opened as budget-conscious producers looked to where they could move future projects to save the most money. Similar cuts in Illinois, Louisiana, and New Mexico shifted more and more productions our way in the following years. By 2016, we had produced more of the top 100 performing films than California.

Make it a blockbuster night
Georgia has been a magnet for major motion picture franchises. Fast Five came to Atlanta in 2011, bringing the weight of the $5 billion Fast and the Furious franchise with it. Follow-up sequels Furious 7 (2015) and The Fate of the Furious (2017) also shot in Atlanta. We’d see more of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle (2017), Jumanji: The Next Level (2019), Rampage (2018), and Baywatch (2017). We also can claim hits Pitch Perfect 3 (2017), Zombieland 2 (2019), Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019), and the upcoming Bad Boys for Life (2020).

The age of heroes
After the opening of Pinewood Atlanta Studios in 2014, several Marvel Cinematic Universe films arrived in Atlanta, starting with Ant-Man in 2015. Captain America: Civil War followed in 2016. Both Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming shot in 2017. By 2018, Atlanta had become to de facto capital of the MCU with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Black Panther, and our MCU crown jewel, the tandem productions of Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame.

But there were heroes and villains outside of the MCU as well. Sony’s Spider-Man franchise flick Venom shot here in 2018. James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad is now being filmed at Pinewood. Stargirl is about to drop onto DC Universe. Doom Patrol is now shooting its second season. Powers aired on PlayStation Sony TV from 2015-2016. And, of course, we can proudly claim the recent megahit HBO series Watchmen (2019).

Young adult novels
In the middle of the decade, feature films adapted from YA novels were all the rage. Georgia had its share, stealing the Hunger Games sequels Catching Fire (2013) and both parts of Mockingjay (2014, 2015) from North Carolina. We also inherited the never-to-be-finished Divergent quadrilogy from Chicago. Poor box-office performance killed series after Divergent: Insurgent (2015) and Divergent: Allegiant (2016). Additional YA films like The Fifth Wave (2016) and The Darkest Minds (2018) tried to recapture the magic of the fad as the decade wore on, but were unsuccessful. Love, Simon also shot here in 2018.

Stranger Things
Filming on set of Stranger Things season 2

Photograph by Jackson Davis

Stream it
Changing technology gave rise to streaming platforms halfway through the decade. On Netflix, we received several series including Stranger Things, Ozark, Insatiable, Raising Dion, and Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings. YouTube Red brought Karate Kid series Cobra Kai, while Facebook Watch’s Queen America with Catherine Zeta-Jones shot here in 2018.

Atlanta FX Donald Glover
Atlanta stars Donald Glover, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield

Photograph by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Atlanta in the spotlight
Many of the films and television shows that came through in the 2010s dressed Atlanta up as other cities. We’ve played the role of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, New York, and Miami, among others. But on rare occasions, the city shined as itself. Donald Glover’s FX series Atlanta gave the country a deep cut into the city’s culture beginning in 2016. Mother’s Day (2016) used Atlanta as a backdrop. Edgar Wright fell so in love with Atlanta while making Baby Driver (2017) that he changed the script to take place here.

We’d like to thank the Academy
We had our share of productions recognized for Golden Globes and Academy Awards. First Man (2018), Selma (2014), I, Tonya (2017), Hidden Figures (2016), Sully (2016), Passengers (2016), Black Panther (2018), and Avengers: Infinity War (2018) were all nominated for various categories. Many of those filmed walked away with at least one win as well. On the television side, Atlanta, The Walking Dead, and Stranger Things have all been nominated for Emmys.

Tyler Perry Studios opening Atlanta
Tyler Perry gives interviews at the opening of his new studio.

Photograph by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Tyler Perry Studios

Tyler Perry’s empire
While the previous decade was Tyler Perry’s breakout period, the 2010s were when he cemented his empire. Perry produced films and television programs like clockwork; The Haves and the Have Nots has run since 2013. Love Thy Neighbor was in production from 2013 until 2018. For Better or Worse ran between 2011 and 2013. At the same time, Perry was created countless films including A Madea Christmas (2013), BOO! A Madea Halloween (2016), Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor (2013), and The Single Moms Club (2014). He said goodbye to his signature character in 2019’s A Madea Family Funeral and opened Tyler Perry Studios in Southwest Atlanta, the only black-owned major studio in the country, in October with a star-studded gala that included Oprah, Samuel L. Jackson, and Sidney Poitier.

A world of reality TV
Of course, low-cost production attracted plenty of unscripted concepts as well. Reality TV started off the 2010s with season three of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. T.I. and Tiny: The Family Hustle aired from 2011 to 2017. Say Yes to the Dress: Atlanta shined the spotlight on Bridals by Lori from 2011 until 2018. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo defined TLC television in the first half of the decade.

Will Hollywood boycott after Georgia's anti-abortion law?
Actress Frances Fisher, of Titanic and HBO series Watchmen, speaks during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol.

Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Uncertain Futures
It wasn’t all unprecedented growth and megaprojects throughout the 2010s. Three times throughout the decade, the Gold Dome and Hollywood butted heads over political matters. Each time, talks of a potential film industry boycott surrounded controversial legislation.

The first conflict came to a head in 2016, when HB 757, a “religious liberty bill,” made it all the way to then-governor Nathan Deal’s desk. A veto blocked the legislation, halting threatened film industry backlash. Again in 2018, a similar bill, SB 375, gained traction before eventually languishing in the House.

The biggest threat to the industry came this year after the passing of HB 481, the “heartbeat bill.” The wake of HB 481 brought of protests, actors including Jason Bateman and Alyssa Milano expressing desire to not work in Georgia, and a huge mobilization of career crewmembers attempting to save their local industry. The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the state, and in October, a federal judge blocked the law from going into effect in January while it is challenged in court.