With its oceanfront setting, rugged mountains and picturesque downtown core, Squamish has been the go-to stand-in for countless small town settings over the past few decades ranging from seldom-seen movies of the week to big-budget blockbusters thanks to its location an hour’s drive from Vancouver’s busy film industry. Apparently part of being the self-styled outdoor recreation capital of Canada includes creating capital by recreating outdoor settings from places outside of Canada.
Here are 10 of some of the bigger ones in recent years. Beware of spoilers.
The Interview (2014)
Sony Pictures nearly pulled the plug on this low-brow political satire, which stars James Franco and Seth Rogen as TV journalists sent by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jung-Un, over fears the film might spark a terrorist attack. Which would’ve been a shame because 1) it didn’t and 2) viewers would’ve been deprived of seeing the area just south of Britannia Beach turned into a nuclear missile launch site and the setting of a climactic battle scene featuring tanks and helicopters. Not to mention the hapless two characters’ eventual watery escape from North Korea via Howe Sound.
Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe returns to the supernatural realm by playing a man falsely accused of murdering his girlfriend who then sprouts devilish horns on his head and gains magical powers. As you do. While this art-house horror flick failed to cast a spell on many viewers, scoring just a 41 per cent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it nonetheless featured some stunning cinematography, including views of the Stawamus Chief, the waterfront and even of the Chieftain Pub after being set on fire.
Fantastic Four (2005)
The gritty reboot of this Marvel superhero franchise is already a front-runner for the worst film of 2015 although the original version wasn’t much better. It did, however, feature a memorably hot scene with Johnny Storm (a pre-Captain America Chris Evans) riding a motorcycle down the Squamish Spit while simultaneously making out with a woman driving a convertible. The snowboarding scene where he discovered his newfound ability to burst into flame was also shot on top of Whistler Mountain.
Speaking of the Spit, the area where kitesurfers launch into the water was transformed into a cemetery in this critically acclaimed Christopher Nolan remake of a Norwegian classic. Now supposedly set in Alaska, Insomnia stars Al Pacino as a sleep-deprived detective from Los Angeles flown up to help an inexperienced local investigator (Hilary Swank) catch a killer (the late Robin Williams). Along with boasting a cast with three Oscar winners, the dark thriller includes dozens of easily recognized local landmarks and provides an opportunity to see local actor Lorne Cardinal, of Corner Gas fame, once again play a cop.
The Fourth Kind (2009)
Squamish often fills in for Alaskan towns due to its snow-capped mountains and lush forests, but the decision to have it double as Nome was an odd one given the actual town’s lack of nearby mountains or tall trees due to the permafrost.
It’s one of several misfires in this creepy sci-fi starring Milla Jovovich, which claims to be based on a true story about several alien abductions there fifteen years ago and includes fake video footage showing “actual” victims undergoing hypnosis. The film was heavily criticized for turning the deaths and disappearances of real people into fiction, and Universal was sued by several Alaskan newspapers over a promotion campaign that used fake news stories by them to make the film seem legit. But at least there is a gorgeous sequence shot from a helicopter between two peaks on the Stawamus Chief.
Walking Tall (2004)
While The Fourth Kind only pretended to be based on real events, this remake of a 1973 film of the same name actually is. And is nearly as far-fetched. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stars as Chris Vaughn, a war vet loosely modelled on Sheriff Bufford Pusser, a former wrestler who waged a one-man war on organized crime in McNairy County, Tennessee back in the sixties. This time Squamish plays Kitsap Country, Washington, where bad guys have opened a casino across the street from Howe Sound Brewing and consequently draw the buff action hero’s fast and furious vengeance.
The Big Year (2011)
Normally wild and crazy guys Steve Martin, Owen Wilson and Jack Black all play against type as mild-mannered bird watchers competing to see who can see the most species in one year in this low-key comedy. Squamish once again plays Alaska when a charter plane carrying the amateur ornithologists takes off from Anchorage en route to remote Attu Island.
Big Nothing (2007)
Simon Pegg and
Ross Geller David Schwimmer star in an underappreciated pitch-black comedy about two call centre workers who hatch a blackmail scheme over kiddie porn that goes very, very wrong. But at least they live in a picturesque town.
To be honest, I wouldn’t even have guessed this thriller about possibly the worst camping trip since some kids went looking for the Blair Witch was filmed in Squamish if it didn’t say so on imdb.com. Most of it looks like Ontario, where it was also filmed, but I’m including it because it stars an old college friend of mine who I haven’t seen in years. Although it was a shame to have to watch something truly horrible happen to him. (I warned you about spoilers.)
Love on the Side (2004)
Originally titled Deluxe Combo Platter, this unacclaimed rom-com about a bizarre love triangle nonetheless deserves a shout-out for the town of Squamish actually playing Squamish. And for including one of the last cinematic performances of the late, great Dave Thomas.