The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
One of the greatest movies set in Canada, director Atom Egoyan’s Oscar-nominated The Sweet Hereafter follows the aftermath of a horrific school bus crash that kills 14 children during the dead of winter. Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer played expertly by Ian Holm, arrives in Sam Dent, B.C., and tries to persuade the grieving parents to file a class action lawsuit against the town. In typical Egoyan fashion, The Sweet Hereafter unfolds in non-chronological order. The city of Merritt and community of Spences Bridge—both located in British Columbia—were used as stand-ins for the fictional town, and their peaceful landscapes beautifully contrast with the emotional horror taking place on-screen.
David Cronenberg’s Videodrome makes Toronto look downright terrifying. In this unforgettable satire of consumerism, leading stars James Woods and Deborah Harry try to uncover the origins of a “snuff” television show that seemingly depicts real murders. The film is never shy about its Toronto setting either: the city’s old Red Rocket buses can be seen in the background of several scenes, and Woods’ character makes his way through the Financial District, Port Lands and offices of Global TV. One of the film’s most memorable locations, “The Cathode Ray Mission,” was shot in the building that now houses the famous Factory Theatre. Long live The Big Smoke!
One Week (2008)
Consider yourself warned: after watching One Week, you’ll want to see all that the Great White North has to offer. After being diagnosed with cancer, Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson embarks on a motorcycle trip, starting in Toronto and finishing in Tofino, British Columbia. Director Michael McGowan’s love letter to Canada is loaded with all things Canuck: Sudbury’s Big Nickel, Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park, the World’s Biggest Hockey Stick, and even the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie all make appearances. Not Canadian enough for you? Jackson’s character is inspired to take his journey after seeing a cryptic message inscribed in the rim of his Tim Horton’s coffee cup.
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
Directed by Inuit filmmaker Zacharius Kunuk, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is a three-hour adventure epic that takes place entirely in Igloolik, Nunavut. Based on a 1,000-year-old Inuit folk story, the Inuktitut-language film tells the story of a shaman’s curse and a love triangle that dooms an entire community. Atanarjuat depicts a northern way of life that many Canadians rarely get to see: villagers hunting, making their own clothes, and maintaining the light in their igloos, all against gorgeous Nunavut scenery. The film made enough of an impression that a group of Canadian filmmakers and critics declared it the greatest Canadian film of all time in 2015.
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
If 1983’s Videodrome feels like a Toronto time capsule, 2010’s Scott Pilgrim vs. the World presents a more familiar picture of the Big Smoke. Based on the graphic novel series by Bryan Lee O’Malley, this offbeat action-comedy is one of the few Hollywood films both set and filmed in Canada. As nerdy musician Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) tries to win the love of cool girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) by battling her seven evil exes, a greatest hits-style line-up of Toronto attractions are given the spotlight, including the CN Tower, Distillery Historic District, Casa Loma, the Baldwin Steps and Lee’s Palace.
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)
When a dead body is discovered at the Ontario-Quebec border, two cops are forced to work together to solve the crime: by-the-book Toronto detective Martin Ward (Colm Feore) and rock-and-roll Montréal detective David Bouchard (Patrick Huard). Much of Bon Cop, Bad Cop‘s humour is derived from Canada’s bilingual heritage and love of hockey. And while Hogtown and the City of Festivals are the two other main stars of the movie, Ottawa and Vancouver makes appearances as well.
My Winnipeg (2007)
If you’ve never watched a Guy Maddin movie before, take it from us: they’re unlike anything you’ve ever seen. In My Winnipeg, the cult filmmaker revisits the city he calls “the heart of the heart” of Canada and tries to make sense of what makes it so special—and so misunderstood. Using a mixture of archival footage and black-and-white re-enactments, Maddin parses his childhood memories, some real (hockey games, sledding, watching roaming bison) and some completely invented (pipe-smoking contests, séances in the legislature, horses frozen in the Red River). My Winnipeg is part documentary, part comedy and completely bonkers.
The Shipping News (2001)
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Annie Proulx (who also wrote the short story that was the basis for Brokeback Mountain), The Shipping News stars Kevin Spacey, Judi Dench, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett. Newfoundland is front and centre in the film, as Spacey’s character returns to his family home after he suffers several tragedies. St. John’s, New Bonaventure and Trinity all make appearances in the film, and while Proulx’s depiction of Newfoundland residents has gotten some flak, few Hollywood films capture the beauty of the region as well as The Shipping News does.
What If (2013)
Can a man and woman really be just friends? What If manages to breathe new life into a familiar cinematic trope thanks to its charming stars, witty dialogue by Canadian screenwriter Elan Mastai, and the romantic backdrop of Toronto. Like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, What If is never subtle about the fact that it’s set in Toronto. But instead of popular attractions, Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan’s ultra-hip characters meet and fall in love in lesser-known locations like the George Street Diner, Rooster Coffee House, Riverdale Park and the Royal Cinema. There’s so much Toronto in What If that you’re bound to fall in love with the city all over again.
Based on the 1959 novel by Mordecai Richler and starring Richard Dreyfuss, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz follows the titular character as he tries to scheme his way out the poor Jewish community of 1950s Montréal. Saint Urban Street plays a prominent role in the film, as does Wilensky’s, a popular lunch counter first opened in 1932 that you can still visit today. Highly recommended is the Wilensky Special: a sandwich of all-beef salami and bologna, Swiss cheese and mustard pressed between two slices of yellow bread—a meal that Travel + Leisure declared one of the best sandwiches in the world.