Canadian films are a lot more than just poutine, hockey, and toques.
Whenever people talk about “foreign cinema”, they’re usually speaking about non-Hollywood films. Movies made in South Korea, France, or Germany that are more likely to quench the thirst of anyone seeking a non-Hollywood option, but that is a great disservice to the cinema of Hollywood’s northern cousin. Canada has been working hard to catch up to its North American landmate by investing in local filmmakers. Since 1967, Telefilm Canada has been using taxpayer money to produce locally-grown cinema, to varied results. Some films that come out of Canada are undeniably Canadian – it doesn’t get much more Canadian than a film like Strange Brew – but not every film that comes out of Canada is covered in cinematic maple syrup.
Plenty of films are American-produced and filmed in Canada. In fact, there’s a good chance your favorite superhero movie was filmed in Vancouver, Toronto or Montreal. However, Canadian-produced films aren’t celebrated as often, despite being made on the same soil, so here’s a look at 12 films produced, at least in part, by Canadian companies and primarily made on Canadian soil that prove that filmmakers don’t have to flee South to Hollywood to make a Grade-A movie.
Here are 12 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Canadian.
The critically-acclaimed story of a woman and her son who escape from a villainous kidnapper after years of captivity, Room may be set in Akron, Ohio but this Oscar-winning film has its roots in Canada.
This 2015 critical darling isn’t just Canadian-produced, it’s got Canadian blood running all through its veins. Produced in part by Telefilm Canada, the film was written by Emma Donoghue, who also wrote the original novel that inspired the film. Donoghue herself was born in Ireland, but relocated to Canada in 1998 and has lived there ever since. While Donoghue may not have been born in Canada, that hasn’t stopped her from making a major contribution to Canadian cinema by delivering one of the most harrowing films of the 21st century. Donoghue may be Irish by birth but she’s Canadian-by-proxy, and that’s great for Canadian cinema.
Meatballs may not be as well remembered as other Ivan Reitman-Bill Murray collaborations, like Ghostbusters or Stripes, but it was the beginning of Ivan Reitman’s ascension to the top of the comedy filmmaker ladder. This tale of Camp North Star has inspired generations of summer camp coming-of-age films, and it all started courtesy of the Canadian Film Development Corporation, or as it’s now known, Telefilm Canada.
Filming for the shoot occurred at actual Candian summer camp Camp White Pine in Haliburton, Ontario, and the film proved to be so popular that the franchise went back to camp for Meatballs II, III, and IV.
10. Resident Evil Franchise
There are many things more Canadian than the outbreak of a deadly virus that turns humans into zombie-like creatures, but that hasn’t stopped Resident Evil from being the most popular Canadian film franchise of all time. Based off the popular series of Capcom games, the film series (which is set to conclude in 2017 with Resident Evil: The Final Chapter) has grossed over $900 million worldwide.
The films are made of a international group of collaborators, including American actress Milla Jovovich, Chilean director Alexander Witt, and English writer/producer/director Paul W.S. Anderson, and they were mostly filmed in Toronto and produced by Canadian Don Carmody. If Resident Evil keeps helping solidify Canada as a home for major blockbusters, surely more and more action powerhouses will call Canada their home.
9. Heavy Metal
This legendary animated anthology film Heavy Metal became a staple of the midnight movie circuit in the early 80s. Produced by Ivan Reitman, the film barely resembles the type of work that Reitman is most often associated with, instead adapting stories from a popular sci-fi/fantasy magazine featuring some of the best animation talent of the decade.
Heavy Metal is filled to the brim with talent, placing prolific Canadian voice actors like Marilyn Lightstone and Harvey Atkin next to great Canadian comedians like John Candy and Eugene Levy. Heavy Metal also sports one of the hardest-rocking soundtracks you’re likely to find anywhere, featuring cuts from Blue Öyster Cult, Devo, and Grand Funk Railroad, among others.
Porky’s is infamously associated with the genre of raunchy teenage comedy that ruled the 80s. The film, a tale of debauchery and the problematic ritual of looking through conveniently placed holes in the ladies’ shower room, was one of the Canadian film industry’s early successes.
Made on a budget of $5 million and making back over $100 million sounds pretty great, but the fact that Canada’s most popular contribution to cinema at the time was a juvenile sex comedy left a lot of Canadians wanting more from their film producers. However, that didn’t stop Astral from producing Porky’s II: The Next Day and Porky’s Revenge, thus completing the Porky’s trilogy.
David Cronenberg is arguably the most famous Canadian director of all-time. As his career grew, he started making more films within the traditional Hollywood system, but most of his most unapologetically Cronenberg-esque productions were made on Canadian soil.
Cronenberg’s fascination with technology and death found a perfect synthesis in his 1983 film Videodrome about what happens when one broadcasts the wrong snuff programming – more wrong than usual, that is. Cronenberg was never one to shy away from the grotesque, and he dove in head-first with Videodrome – making it all the more intriguing that the film’s production was paid for by the Canadian government through Telefilm Canada. Telefilm Canada certainly never shied away from taking a risk as it searched to form a distinctive cinematic voice for Canada.
Brooklyn is the second entry on this list to be a 2015 critical darling that happens to be an Irish-Canadian-British co-production. The plot of the film follows a young Irish woman as she traverses New York City in the mid-20th century, and went on to sweep up numerous awards for those involved.
Most of the film’s principal photography occurred in Montreal, although additional filming was also done in Ireland and New York City. It just goes to show that even when they’re not the main producers on a project, Canadians still know how to contribute positive ideas to any creative endeavor. Hopefully, Canada has even more critical darlings in the run for Oscar gold in 2016.
5. My Bloody Valentine
In the early 80s, there seemed to be two primary interests to Canadian filmgoers – girls and gore. Where Porky’s used the female form to bring audiences to the theater, My Bloody Valentine promised gallons of blood and guts courtesy of a mysterious, menacing miner who doesn’t like it when kids try to have fun.
In fact, the violence in the original film was so overwhelming that the MPAA cut 9 minutes from the film for the American release. As it turns out, miners truly detest Valentine’s Day and will do anything to ensure that those trying to celebrate the holiday are brought to their end. The film inspired a 2009 remake, and inspired the iconic shoegaze band of the same name.
4. Isla: She-Wolf of the SS
This piece of Canadian camp seems more akin to the sexploitation cinema of America in the 1970s, but Isla: She-Wolf of the SS proved that all of North America could get in on the fun. Combining humanity’s fascination of sex with a universal hatred of the Nazis, director Don Edmond crafted a tale of sadistic and salacious.
As if the fact that she is a Nazi doesn’t make Ilsa villainous enough, she also makes a habit of castrating men who are unable to keep from climaxing during intercourse with her, making her arguably the cruelest creation to ever come out of Canadian cinema, and perhaps proof that not all Canadians are nice.
3. Black Christmas
Made in 1974, Black Christmas helped shape the course of cinematic history by introducing many cinemagoers to the concept of a slasher film. The story of an innocent sorority house and the Christmas party that ends up being decorated in far more white than red, Black Christmas was one of the earliest films to introduce the idea of putting a bunch of attractive teenagers in the same location and killing them off in increasingly bloody ways.
Although the film proved to be massively influential, that didn’t stop one reviewer from calling the film “a whodunit that raises the question as to why was it made.” Black Christmas got the remake treatment in 2006, but nothing compares to the low budget charm of the original film.
2. Air Bud
Air Bud feels almost universal in its story. The tale of a dog that knew it could be more than just a dog, Air Bud was produced by Keystone Entertainment, which has become the pinnacle of Canadian children’s entertainment films featuring animals playing various sports.
In addition to Air Bud, Pinnacle has also produced a total of 14 entries into the Air Bud franchise, including the spin-off Air Buddies and the MVP: Most Valuable Primate feature. Oddly enough, despite being Canadian-produced, the series never got around to asking the question “How would Air Bud do in hockey?”. Given his seemingly perfect track record with sports, that dog would probably be a great right wing.
In Jake Gyllenhaal’s ongoing quest to become the best actor of his era, he did double duty in Denis Villeneuve’s 2013 film Enemy, playing two identical men with very different personalities. It’s perhaps fitting that this film was co-produced by Canada, the country itself often having two split identities among the English and French-speaking population.
This tale of sex, spiders, and lookalikes is another fantastic entry in the ongoing collaboration between Gyllenhaal and Villeneuve, and fits in alongside Canada’s history of mind-bending thrillers in the vein of David Cronenberg, even if there isn’t as much body horror in Enemy.
Do you know of any other movies that are secretly Canadian? Let us know in the comments!