Vancouver’s film industry pumps more than $1 billion Canadian into the nation’s economy each year. The third largest production centre in North America, following Los Angeles and New York, it’s no wonder the city has earned the nickname “Hollywood North”.
Since the late 1970s, filmmakers and producers have been increasingly drawn to Vancouver by its low production costs, tax incentives, mild climate, diverse landscape and short distance from LA (under three hours away by plane). The provincial and federal governments make shooting in British Columbia a fairly hassle-free endeavour for producers. Add to that the natural backdrops of beaches, mountains and forests, and urban neighbourhoods that once led The New York Times to dub Vancouver "The City That Can Sub for All of America", and what you get is a film director's dream.
One reason British Columbia province is eager to court film and television production is that it makes Vancouver more attractive to tourists. Tour operators such as Vancouver Set Tours and On Location Tours give visitors the chance to relive some of their favourite scenes while seeing the sights around town. Some of the most famous movies and TV programmes shot in Vancouver include offbeat comedies like Juno, Best in Show and Saved!, mainstream comedies like Happy Gilmore and Hot Tub Time Machine, blockbuster action hits like X-Men and Snakes on a Plane, kid-friendly favourites like The NeverEnding Story, Night at the Museum and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, horror flicks like Scary Movie and Stephen King's It, popular series like 21 Jump Street, The X-Files, Psych, The L Word and Smallville, and, of course, the teen phenomenon of the Twilight film franchise.
If embarking on a self-guided tour of the city, start in picturesque North Vancouver where Mount Seymour provided settings for the movie Hot Tub Time Machine and the shows MacGyver and The X-Files. Heading west, make a stop in Lynn Canyon Park where parts of X-Men: The Last Stand were filmed. Northeast of Lynn Canyon is the Cleveland Dam, which appeared in the Harrison Ford thriller The Fugitive and the Morgan Freeman mystery Along Came a Spider. As you make your way south into Vancouver proper, stop in Stanley Park where Psych, The X-Files, and Stephen King's It all had scenes. Stanley Park's Vancouver Aquarium was also featured in Josie and the Pussycats.
From west to east in Vancouver proper, hit Eric Hamber Secondary School, the school featured in both Juno and 21 Jump Street, stop by Burnaby City Hall, shown in Snakes on a Plane, and visit Simon Fraser University, which made an appearance in the Robert Redford political thriller Spy Game. If you keep working your way east, you'll find Clayton Heights Secondary School, the high school in Saved! and, finally, the district of Mission, where Twilight: New Moon was shot.
For true film enthusiasts, the major movie studios are also worth checking out. Although public tours are not commonplace as they are in LA, visitors can catch a glimpse of show business by driving or walking by the backlots of such bustling studios as North Shore Studios (formerly Lion Gate Studios), Bridge Studios, Vancouver Film Studios, Canadian Motion Picture Park and Eagle Creek Studios. Currently, stages at Vancouver Film Studios and Bridge Studios are contributing to a feature film starring Liam Neeson and Dermot Mulroney called The Grey.
Enjoying the show
If you happen to be in town in the autumn, the Vancouver International Film Festival shows about 300 films from 50 countries in nine venues over 16 days. This year's festival goes from 29 September to 14 October. If you are planning your trip sooner rather than later, though, the Vancity Theatre boasts "festival-style programming year round". In addition to a variety of art films from around the world, Vancity has an in-house bar with food and drink discounts during special events. Movies currently playing include the award-winning documentary Winds of Heaven by Ottawa director Michael Ostroff and the 1988 classic Hairspray by American director John Waters.
Another theatres for artistic cinema is 194-seat Pacific Cinematheque which sometimes hosts small independent festivals. For a more traditional theatre, Fifth Avenue Cinemas shows both first-run commercial and independent movies. Big blockbuster movies.
Getting in on the action
There's always some movie or show being shot in Vancouver at any given time. If you're travelling to British Columbia this spring, the feature film Underworld 4, starring Kate Beckinsale, will be shooting until 21 May. To watch the making of TV programmes, the sixth season of the USA Network show Psych will be filming until 29 September, while the Canadian documentary series Ice Pilots NWT will be shooting until 30 June. To find out where programmes are shooting on which days, BC Passport offers a few tips, including to look out for "a long line of large white trucks parked where you wouldn't expect them."
Celebrity spotting goes hand-in-hand with movie set lurking. If you'd rather seek out actors and actresses while grabbing some lunch or a drink, Tourism Vancouver suggests trying Blue Water Cafe + Raw Bar, CinCin Ristorante and Tojo's Restaurant, where the likes of Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman, Justin Timberlake, Uma Thurman and Hugh Jackman have been known to dine. Tourism Vancouver also lists a few hotels where the stars check in, including (unsurprisingly) the Four Seasons Vancouver.
For more information on how to get in on the action, the BC Film Commission is an excellent resource for travellers.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included a misdirection, a theatre that had closed, another that was located in a different city
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