Sofia De Vera combines a heartfelt passion for cinema with over 15 years of critiquing for esteemed film publications, wielding academic credentials from the University of Southern California and New York University, to serve as your personal guide through the enchanting worlds of film and television.
Canada, the Great White North, has a lot to offer both national and international filmmakers with majestic and varied natural and urban landscapes, friendly locals – and a generous film tax credits and incentives program. So it will come as no surprise that there are so many excellent movies set in Canada.
But before we embark on this deep-dive we first want to consider why travel via cinema – and by extension, watch movies set in Canada. The answer: because wanderlust can take grip at any time, and nothing compares to an on-location movie when it comes to transportive experiences that may be done from home. Such films frequently feature magnificent cityscapes, inspiration geographies, and diverse cultures, and they motivate us to travel to new places or relive our experiences when we return home.
To honor the concept of cinematic travel, we have assembled various lists of the best films shot in some of our all-time favorite travel destinations: Indonesia, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Mexico City, Poland, and Finland.
However, for now, we are focused on the country of Canada, which is a perfect location for cinematic travel, and one which you may already have seen through the film as many (many) blockbuster Hollywood films have been filmed north of the border.
And it is no wonder why. There are few places where you can find both the most majestic mountains and the tallest waterfalls. The strongest winters and the sweetest autumns. Places where the conversations switch between English and French, if not to Italian or Chinese. Home of the most passionate sports fans, an under-rated capital (Ottawa), and the kindest people too. All in all, there are few places like Canada.
How couldn’t filmmakers want to capture this place? It holds sights one wouldn’t be able to see anywhere else in the world. Its people tell some fascinating stories too. It’s not only the history of Canada that interests Canadian filmmakers, but also the history of its people, those that came later and those that were there before. The movies in this list of movies set in Canada together paint a picture of a big country filled with gorgeous sights and diverse voices.
Through the films on this list, we hope to help audiences step into the bigger world of Canada and experience the scenery, subcultures, and different dynamics that make Canada one of the most interesting countries on Earth.
These Canada films have narratives that rely on their settings as much as their main protagonists, and as a result, spectators get a glimpse of this iconic country through the director’s eyes. Although not all of these films are happy – tragedies and misery are as unavoidable in cinema as they are in life – each one provides panoramic vistas of this captivating country filled with peaceful people and vibes.
Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.
You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.
Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best.
While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.
Goin’ Down The Road (1970), by Donald Shebib, is one of the most important Canadian films ever made and, as such, it has been designated as “masterwork” by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada. It stars Dough McGrath and Paul Bradley as two jobless friends who decide to leave their hometown in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The pair want to escape the complicated lives that the people around them live, so they travel to Toronto in search of what they think is something better.
This movie paints a mesmerizing picture of post-war Canada and the struggles that young working-class people had to go through. While some regions in the country saw their economy grow, others remained stagnant. The film depicts the massive internal migration to prolific regions like Ontario and Quebec that took place in the 50s and 60s.
Goin’ Down The Road offers some moving shots of the Canadian landscape, particularly of the Maritimes, the region that the main characters leave behind. This part of Canada is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its fishing and logging. The introduction to the film, set to the original music of singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, captures the gloomy beauty of this unique location.
One Week (2008), by Michel McGowan, is a drama and road trip movie. For his performance in this film, Joshua Jackson won Best Actor at the Genie Awards given by the Academy of Canadian Cinema. It was also praised for its soundtrack, which consists of a wide array of Canadian musicians.
The movie tells the story of Ben Tyler (played by Jackson), a teacher in Ontario who is diagnosed with cancer. Instead of getting treatment, he buys a motorcycle from the 70s and travels across the country: all the way from Toronto to Vancouver Island. Through this trip, Ben meditates about his life, about what he did and didn’t do, about what he would want to do, had he the time.
Like Goin’ Down The Road, this film does a great job at capturing the Canadian landscape. But, instead of seeing it through the eyes of young men who want to escape their hometown, we take in the astounding beauty of Canada from the perspective of Ben, who goes on this journey because he wants to spend his last days discovering the wonders of his country. One Week offers a very moving message about what traveling can mean to us.
Brokeback Mountain (2005) is one of Ang Lee’s best films. It tells the story of two American cowboys (played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal) who are hired to herd sheep during summer and become involved in a romantic relationship. But the movie is not a romance; it’s a drama. Jack (Gyllenhaal) has a hard time understanding and communicating with Ennis (Ledger), who sometimes seems as hard as a mountain. Yet even as they grow older and farther apart, they meet again and again, rekindling their love for each other.
The film was primarily shot in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, which are located in southern Alberta. This mountain range comprises the last section of the North American Cordillera and spans almost one thousand miles. The titular Brokeback Mountain that can be seen throughout the movie is actually two of Canada’s most impressive peaks, Mount Lougheed and Moose Mountain.
This is a great film to watch if you love mountainous landscapes, as it truly captures the imposing yet-quiet beauty inherent to mountains. Like the mountains, the score is quiet and subtle. The beautiful shots featured in Brokeback Mountain will inspire you to grab a coat and visit as soon as possible.
The Revenant (2015), by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is a drama film based on the story of Hugh Glass. Glass was a fur-trapper who, after being attacked by a bear, was left for dead in a mountainous forest during winter. One of the most praised movies of the decade, The Revenant won three Golden Globes, five BAFTAS, and three Academy Awards.
The story of Hugh Glass was adapted in numerous mediums: it has been told as movies, as novels, and even as a song. But there’s nothing quite like The Revenant. One of the things that make this movie so great is Leonardo Di Caprio’s performance as Glass: it’s honest, ferocious, and heart-wrenching. It’s no surprise that he won that year’s Academy Award for Best Actor.
The Revenant, like Brokeback Mountain, was shot in the Canadian Rockies. The movie in question offers a much darker look at the site, which is understandable considering the source material. Even still, the film manages to portray the unforgiving mountains as something immensely beautiful. The movie was filmed with top-of-the-line cameras that allowed the director to shoot even in the darkest of nights. As a result, the landscapes shown in The Revenant are incredibly real, like nothing you have ever seen before in a movie.
The Grey Fox (1982), by Phillip Borsos, is a Western and biographical film about the life of stagecoach robber Bill Miner (played by Richard Farnsworth). It’s one of the few films to hold a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, meaning that every critic liked it. It won several awards in the country, and the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada deemed it a “masterwork.”
The story of Bill Miner has no equal. He was an American bandit who spent his life either in prison or escaping from the law and breaking it. Even as he got older, he kept robbing, which earned him the name “Grey Fox.” He was known for being very polite to the people he stole from – a “gentleman bandit,” he was called. The invention of the phrase “Hands up!” is attributed to him.
This Western follows Miner’s life as he is released from prison in 1901, at the age of fifty-four. He travels to British Columbia, Canada, where he perpetrated the first Canadian stagecoach robbery. The film is shot beautifully: its deep colors do justice to some of the most breathtaking sights one can see in British Columbia.
Anne of the Green Gables (1985), by Kevin Sullivan, is a film based on a children’s novel of the same name. The best-selling novel was written by Canadian author L. M. Montgomery, and it’s considered a classic. It has been adapted multiple times, most recently in the form of the Netflix show Anne with an E. The movie won several awards, including an Emmy.
The movie tells the story of a young orphan named Anne Shirley (Megan Follows), who gets adopted by a brother (Richard Farnsworth) and a sister (Patricia Hamilton). They had asked the orphanage for a boy who could tend to their farm, named Green Gables, but there was a misunderstanding at the orphanage, and Anne was sent. Charmed by the farm and its people, Anne will try to prove that she can do a job just as good as a boy.
Even though Avonlea, the town where the story is set, is not real, the province where it´s located is. The Prince Edward Island, also called the “Garden of the Gulf,” is one of the most gorgeous provinces in Canada. During the film, we can see some of these dreamy sights: expansive grassy hills, amber-colored autumnal forests, and lakes filled with life and color. The movie will make you want to live in Avonlea too.
Black Robe (1991), by Bruce Beresford, is a historical drama film set in the 17th century. It was based on a novel of the same name by Brian Moore, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The best-selling Canadian film of the year, it won six Genie Awards, including Best Motion Picture and Best Director. It was filmed in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec.
The film tells the story of a Jesuit missionary named Father LaForgue (Lothaire Bluteau). He is tasked with founding a mission in New France, a French colony located in the north of America. As he departs from Quebec, he is joined by several Algonquins, the indigenous people of Northern Canada. Along their journey, the Jesuit comes to understand the Algonquins and their traditions, and they come to understand him. The movie will challenge the Father’s faith and put into question his role in the mission.
This is a great film to watch if you’re interested in the history of Canada and of its indigenous peoples. The Algonquins are portrayed with accuracy and, most of all, respect. The movie approaches a colonialist narrative from a modern and conscientious point of view, portraying the characters in a very human way. It’s a touching story of Canada’s not-so-distant past.
Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001) was the first film directed, written, and acted in Inuktitut, the language of the Inuit people. It was directed by Zacharias Kunuk and written by Paul Apak Angilirq. The film was both a critical and commercial success, winning several Best Picture awards and being the most-watched Canadian film of the year.
The movie tells an ancient Inuit legend, that of Atanarjuat (Natar Ungalaaq), who married two wives and became ostracized by his community, including his band leader (Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq) and his son (Stephen Qrunnut). A known fast runner, Atanarjuat, runs from his people, who now want him dead. But, if he wants his wives to be safe, he will eventually return have to confront his former friends.
One of the great things about this film is its setting. It was filmed entirely in Nunavut, the largest Canadian region. This vast expanse comprises both the north of the country and the arctic archipelago that extends next to it. Since it’s one of the world’s most remote regions in the world, the film offers a quite unique opportunity to experience this captivating secret side of Canada.
Mommy (2014) is considered the magnum opus of acclaimed Canadian filmmaker Xavier Dolan. It tells the story of a mother (Anne Dorval) who is having trouble controlling his erratic teenage son (Antoine Olivier Pilion). Their lives change when she asks her new neighbor (Suzanne Clément) to help her with his teaching. The movie won several awards, most notably Best Motion Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Actor at the Canadian Screen Awards.
The movie is a hectic tale about mother-son relationships. While Steve (Pilion) is the one who is technically sick, Diane (Dorval) isn’t that well either. The film begins with both of them having a meltdown and screaming at each other. None of them knows how to deal with what they are going through, so they keep going at it. As mother and son, they are a team, but not a good one. We see Diane become hopeful of their future when Kyla, their neighbor, who is a teacher, enters the picture. They spend a lot of time together; Steve even seems to be getting better. But the happy times don’t last.
Mommy is the kind of cinema you have to experience at least once. It’s a unique concoction of emotions, good and bad. Although it’s a sad movie, once you start watching it unfold, it’s hard to look away. Xavier Dolan is considered one of the most interesting voices to come out of Canada in recent years, and it’s no surprise. His films are one of a kind.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010), by Edgar Wright, is a romance, a comedy, and an action film at the same time. Based on the Scott Pilgrim graphic novels, it stars Michal Cera as the titular character, a young musician who has to fight the evil exes of his new girlfriend Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). While it wasn’t a successful movie, with time, it has gathered a strong following. It’s considered one of the best adaptations of a graphic novel due to its stylized visuals and creative editing.
The film is set in Toronto and showcases some of the most iconic locations in the city. The confrontation between Scott and Ramona’s ex-boyfriend Lucas (Chris Evans) is set next to the Casa Loma, a Gothic-like mansion built-in 1914. Having appeared in numerous movies, the mansion is now a museum and heritage site of the city. During the fight, Scott is thrown through the air and passes by the CN Tower, one of the tallest buildings on the continent. As the fight continues, they even arrive at the Baldwin Steps, a famous dating spot in the city.
Torontonian music is a major focus of the movie: the sound of Scott’s band, Sex Bob-omb, was inspired by the indie rock bands that had played in Toronto at the time. It also showcases some of the most-known local music venues. The first concert of the band was filmed in the punk venue known as the Rockit. The confrontation with Scott’s ex-girlfriend, Envy Adams (Brie Larson), is set in the famous Lee’s Palace. It goes without saying: if you love Toronto and rock music, this movie is for you.
What if? [The F Word] (2013), by Michael Dowse, is a romantic comedy starring Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan. Based on a play called Toothpaste and Cigars, it tells the story of Wallace (Radcliffe), a college dropout who has spent the better part of a year without meeting new people. When he is introduced to Chantry (Kazan), they instantly connect and become friendly. But their connection is much too strong for them to be only friends.
This is another great film to watch if you want to discover the trendiest sites in Toronto. The couple’s second encounter happens in the Royal Cinema, a venue built in 1939 in the Art Moderne style. During the whole year, this classic movie theater holds film, music, and even comedy festivals. If you visit Toronto, you owe it to yourself to check out Riverdale Park. The characters of the film can be seen strolling by this green space filled with luscious trees.
At the end of the movie, we see a big party being thrown in the lovely Polson Pier. This bay by the northern section of Lake Ontario offers a wide array of entertainment options, swimming pools, volleyball courts, driving ranges, nightclubs, and even a drive-in theatre. It’s a stunning location, perfect for a romantic dinner by the lake. This movie will make you want to spend your summer nights in this charming Canadian city.
Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006), by Éric Canuel, is a buddy cop film set on the border between Ontario and Quebec. The title is a play on words that references the language problem that can be seen in the film: the English word good is translated to the French word bon. With a dark tone and irreverent humor, the film captivated audiences, making it one of the most-watched Canadian films of all time.
The story follows two detectives who are forced to work together on a case. Rule-following Martin Ward (Patrick Huard) is paired with rule-breaking David Bouchard (Colm Feore). Beyond their completely opposite attitudes, they face another difference: language. While Ward is an Ontarian, meaning he speaks English, Bouchard is from Quebec, making him a French-speaker. This comedy will see them trying to get past this cultural barrier and capture the killer whose victims all surround the Canadian hockey league.
This film offers a humorous look at the linguistic diversity of Canada. The country acknowledges both English and French as its official languages, but it also harbors many other languages, including some indigenous ones. Depending on where you are visiting, you will find that some people won’t understand or won’t speak English. Bon Cop, Bad Cop takes this intriguing cultural difference inside the nation and explores it with humor. It’s constantly playing with the stereotypes of Anglophones and Francophones, offering a satisfying perspective on the division at the end of the movie.
Les Boys (1997), by Louis Saia, is a classic Québécois comedy. It was a hit amongst Canadian audiences, who found the portrayal of middle-aged men having silly fun with each other while playing this popular fun, relatable and endearing. Due to its success, several sequels were made, further developing the story of the titular team.
The film follows an amateur hockey team and their coach Stan (Rémy Giraud), a pub owner. In the beginning, we see Stan contracting a huge debt while playing poker against a mobster. In order to pay his debt, Les Boys must win against the mobster’s hockey team. Set in Quebec, the dialogue is completely in French.
This is a great movie to watch if you’re interested in Canada’s number one sport: Ice hockey. Born in Montreal in the 19th century, this game has become the most popular pastime in the country. It’s known for being aggressive due to the fact that physical contact is both allowed and encouraged when stealing the puck from other players. Les Boys really captures the passion Canadians pour into this sport, and it’s a must-watch for any hockey fan.