Vancouver’s Film Industry is (Once Again) Taking Centre Stage

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (courtesy Dean Buscher/Netflix)

British Columbia’s film, TV, visual effects and animation industry has consistently broken records – even during the global pandemic, when physical productions were halted to stop the spread of COVID-19. Though 40 productions were forced to shutter in March 2020, the industry’s resilience and creativity helped to fuel a powerful comeback that saw 60 productions resume – with strict safety protocols intact – a mere seven months later.

In 2019, the provincial film industry generated a record $4.1 billion in economic activity, and a significant margin came from Metro Vancouver, the third-largest film hub in North America (trailing only New York and LA). Thanks to many years building a strong foundation of talented crews and visual effects professionals, along with a malleable setting that’s played backdrops ranging from Mumbai and San Francisco to alternative universes, Vancouver was well positioned to weather the pandemic storm. Visual effects and animation companies swiftly transitioned thousands of employees to remote working. Cast, crew and other creative talent safely resumed work, thanks to mandatory self-isolation before shooting, enforcement of production “bubbles” and regular testing. “Back to business” happened astonishingly quickly, even if the business looked a little different.

Vancouver’s film industry was also bolstered by Netflix’s September 2020 opening announcement of its latest production hub in Vancouver, with more than 350,000 square feet of facilities and seven sound stages at the Canadian Motion Park studio complex in Burnaby. In February 2021, the streaming giant unveiled further plans to open an office in Canada, with Vancouver and Toronto the forerunners of cities being considered.

Deadpool’s Vancouver (courtesy 20th Century Fox/Disney).

While Vancouver is recognized across the world for starring in blockbuster titles like Deadpool and 50 Shades of Grey, along with anticipated productions like The Adam Project, starring Vancouver-born Ryan Reynolds, and Jurassic World: Dominion, the star-filled follow-up to Jurassic Park’s epic spinoff, the city also hosts recurring series that have earned global cult followings, such as Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. The best part is, visitors have plenty of opportunities to step into the storylines with several local tourist attractions having made their Hollywood debut.

To plan your film touring journey in Vancouver, start with Tourism Vancouver’s “Filmed in Vancouver” portal, a comprehensive resource of all things film in Vancouver. Here, you’ll find a list of productions shot in and around the city, top filming locations and interviews with film industry favourites like Howie Mandel and Mina Shum, along with other must-have information.

Supernatural in Vancouver (courtesy Fangirl Quest).

Whether you’re a local Vancouverite seeking fresh amusements, or a global visitor planning your future stay, you can plot your city adventures by browsing attractions that will look familiar from their on-screen roles. For example, the Britannia Mine Museum, a National Heritage Site, has captivated producers and directors for years with atmospheric surroundings that have time and again been transformed into otherworldly backdrops. The venue has appeared in hit shows like Supernatural, The Flash and The 100, and boasts plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained, including an underground mine train tour, gold panning and a giant sand pit. The venue also plays host to “BOOM!”, a multisensory live action experiencing involving multiple screens, more than 30 speakers and exhilarating special effects. Families with tweens will be gratified to learn that the Britannia Mine Museum plays a major role in Disney’s Descendants 3; explore further by downloading the free self-guided AR adventure developed by Vancouver-based QuestUpon, and created by Tourism Vancouver and Disney Channel (available on the App Store and Google Play).

Sea to Sky Gondola (courtesy Heath Moffatt).

Just up the road from the mine is the Sea to Sky Gondola, a nature-oriented attraction boasting swaying suspension bridges, leafy hiking trails and stunning panoramas of the coastal mountains and Howe Sound fjord. Fantasy fans might recognize the attraction from shows like Altered Carbon and The Magicians, as well as the heartwarming film A Dog’s Way Home. While the Sea to Sky Gondola is currently closed, it certainly deserves a spot on your future travel bucket list.

Museum of Anthropology at UBC (courtesy Tanya Goehring).

The University of British Columbia is a must-visit for any film hound: consistently ranked among the best universities in the world, the venue is also one of the world’s most popular filming locations. Here, you’ll find bold landscapes that have played an endless array of entities: an ethereal garden in Altered Carbon; a music industry party in Josie and the Pussycats; and the World’s Fair in Tomorrowland. The university has also appeared in Fifty Shades of Grey, Legends of Tomorrow, Fringe and The Man in the High Castle. There’s plenty to do here besides spot familiar backdrops: visitors can browse the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, a cabinet of curiosities that holds more than 500 exhibits showcasing upwards of two million fossils, shells, insects, mammals and plants from around BC, including Canada’s largest blue whale skeleton. Or, step into a fascinating world of arts and culture at the Museum of Anthropology, whose emphasis on First Nations ethnography and history is seen through the world’s largest collection of works by acclaimed Haida artist Bill Reid, as well as magnificent carvings, totems and Haida houses.

Bloedel Conservatory (courtesy Tanya Goehring).

For a slightly more tropical experience, head to the Bloedel Conservatory in Queen Elizabeth Park, a majestic biodome that welcomes visitors into a colourful world of flora and fauna, including more than 120 birds and 500 exotic plants and flowers. The attraction’s effortless beauty has been captured in shows like Supergirl, Fringe, Timeless and Continuum, among others. In addition to stealing the scene onscreen, the dome is a wonderful place to reconnect with nature with a healing garden that draws attention to the positive effects of nature and horticultural activities, three distinct climate zones that demonstrate the importance of habitat protection and plant conservation, and tutorials for bird-watching that are perfect for kiddos.

VanDusen Botanical Garden.

Less tropical yet equally tranquil is VanDusen Botanical Garden, which sprawls over 22 hectares in Vancouver’s South Granville neighbourhood. Here, more than 7,500 plant species, wildlife, artwork and a traditional Elizabethan hedge maze cultivate a picturesque and immediately stress-reducing environment. The space has proven just as attractive to film crews, hosting notable shows like Supergirl, Once Upon a Time, Bates Motel and Altered Carbon, as well as Adam Sandler’s classic Happy Gilmore. After snapping selfies for the crucial social media posts, venture through the maze, crafted with 3,000 pyramidal cedars that wind and twist into a satisfying quiet space; check out the sculptures and fountains, 11 of which were created at the Vancouver International Stone Sculpture Symposium in 1975; and, in winter, watch the attraction transform into a holiday wonderland during the dazzling Festival of Light.

Riverdale in Vancouver (courtesy Katie Yu.The CW).

If you wish to follow in the footsteps of your favourite movie or TV show, look no further than the film-inspired itineraries and maps on Tourism Vancouver’s film portal. Here, you can select a production – To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before and Virgin River for diehard romantics, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Riverdale for spooky and spunky fun – and plot your course in and around Vancouver to see your favourite scenes in real life.

However you choose to explore Vancouver’s bustling film scene, remember to mask up, call ahead to confirm attraction hours, and observe health and safety protocols. Start your film touring adventures here.

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