Here Are Some Of The Best Canadian Movies Of All Time

Canadian movies are a unique representation of the northern country and the diversity that defines it. The stories do not traditionally follow American formulas but instead take their own authentic turns and often contain their own message about what it means to be Canadian. Canadian motion pictures are ranked and judged differently than films out of the states, with different sets of awards and a different box office, and their cinema is more a hybrid of European styles (specifically from the UK and France) with just a bit of an American influence.

One way to organize the best and most influential Canadian flicks is through the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the Canadian Screen Awards, and the Genie Awards, but there are other great ways. Beginning in 1984, a list of prominent Canadian movies was compiled every decade, determined by a set of Canadian critics and filmmakers for TIFF, with the last list available here from 2015. In an article by Brian D. Johnson or The Canadian Encyclopedia, Johnson comments that Canadian films, although they “contain flashes of eccentric brilliance and some fine performances, show up on few screens and vanish without a trace.” The article also identifies issues with funding for these prominent Canadian pieces resulting in a lack of recognition.

There is also an ongoing discussion on how to provide more attention to potentially important Canadian films without them flying under the radar. According to Sarah Folkes of FSR, Canadian film festivals should consider other ways to view projects other than screening them besides “hundreds of other films.” Despite this, the popularity of Canadian films and locations is growing, with people beginning to look past the few internationally acclaimed Canadian directors (Xavier Dolan, David Cronenberg, Atom Agoyan) and beginning to see the rich variety of cinema the country has to offer. But what Canadian films have maintained their significance despite the potential of being overshadowed? Here are some of the best Canadian films of the century, ranked.


10 Jesus of Montreal

Jesus of Montreal is a comedy-drama released in 1989. Written and directed by the great Canadian filmmaker Denys Arcand, the work follows the experience of a group of actors who perform a Passion Play in a church in Quebec. The play takes alternative views on the teachings of Jesus, causing the members of the church to turn against the leader in the performance. The lead actor’s experiences in this conflict are very similar to that of Jesus himself.

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Roger Ebert described the film as “an original and uncompromising attempt to explore what might really happen if the spirit of Jesus were to walk among us in these timid and materialistic times.” In 2015, the TIFF ranked the film the fourth-greatest Canadian film of all time.

9 Goin ‘Down The Road

Released in 1970 and directed by Donald Shebib, Goin ‘Down the Road follows two young men who leave the Maritimes for Toronto. They are looking for big opportunities and wealth in the city. The film looked at the reality for male youth in post-war Canada, the expectation of better lives in the city, only to find disappointment. It ranked high on the TIFF list and made it into the National Archives of Canada. Roger Ebert said that Goin Down The Road “Does not pretend to be other than a record” and maintains a “documentary objectivity that touches us more deeply than tear-jerking could”.

8 My Uncle Antoine

Based on the point of view of a young teenager, Benoit, My Uncle Antoine takes place around the Asbestos Strike of 1949. The work examines the difficult challenges during this conservative and unstable time in Quebec. The film is a haunting and sad Christmas classic, an utterly poignant coming-of-age movie with a heavy focus on death. Released in 1971 and directed by Claude Jutra, the movie placed first in the TIFF three times and is another work preserved by the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada. Critic Shane Edgeworth of Hollywood North Magazine, says that with “reserved direction” Jutra “skillfully depicts a great deal of insight without anyone having uttered a word.” It’s a quiet, perfect, devastating film.

7 The Sweet Hereafter

A more recent Canadian film directed by Atom Egoyan, The Sweet Hereafter is adapted from a Russell Banks novel of the same name. The story revolves around a school bus accident in a close community. The accident takes the lives of 14 children and a lawsuit occurs, dividing people who used to be close. The movie received two Academy Award nominations and won three awards at the Cannes Film Festical, and consistently ranks high on the film list complied by the TIFF. In an Ex-Press review by Katherine Monk, Monk comments that the film “marks the apex of English-Canadian tradition as it navigates the empty space left in the wake of tragedy with a gentle, but unsentimental eye.”

6 Dead Ringers

This 1988 thriller is co-written and directed by David Cronenberg and stars Jeremy Irons of The Man In The Iron Mask and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. The story is a combination of truth and fiction, but ultimately descends into pure Cronenbergian madness. In summary, the film follows two twin gynecologists who use their uncanny resemblance to trick their peers until they fall in love with the same woman. The two gynecologists are based on twin doctors Stewart and Cyril Marcus, who died within days of each other in New York City and under mysterious circumstances. Most of the story is pulled from the fictional book Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland. The film made it onto the TIFF list in 2004 and 2015 and is one of the iciest, most aloof films you’ll ever see.

5 The Stone Angel

A 2001 Canadian drama directed and written by Kari Skogland, The Stone Angel follows the turbulent life of a woman named Hagar Shipley, who revisits the events of her sometimes brutal life on the brink of being sent to a nursing home by her son. The biggest emotional traumas she must reconcile with regards her youngest son, whose death she blames on herself.

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The film has received mixed reviews for its changes to the timeframe portrayed in the novel. David Nusair says that while the film contains some “less-than-effective sequences” there is “no overlooking the palpable emotional punch of the movie’s final scenes.” It’s impossible to deny the great performance from Ellen Burstyn (and Elliot Page, as well ) and the viscerally powerful ending.

4 Atnarguat: The Fast Runner

A 2001 release directed by Inuit filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, Atnarguat: The Fast Runner follows the story of a wicked spirit tormenting an Inuit village. One warrior, driven from the community by a jealous band leader, faces the spirit head-on. The movie was directed, written, and filmed in Kunuk’s Inuktitut language. The film made it onto the TIFF list, placing fourth in 2004 and first in 2015. Roger Ebert praised the film for its representation of a story that is a “thousand years old. It [records] a way of life that still existed within living memory.

3 Seducing Doctor Lewis (La Grande Seduction)

This 2003 Québécois comedy film was directed by Jean-Francois Pouliot. Seducing Doctor Lewis follows the story of a struggling coastal town in northern Quebec, where most residents are jobless and supported by welfare. As a community, they decide to try to convince a big company to build a plastic factory in their region. In order to do this though, they must increase their population, gain a resident doctor, and raise money to bribe the company. The film focuses on the town’s luring of Doctor Lewis in this great fish out of water story reminiscent of Northern Exposure but with a uniquely Canadian and joyful twist. Seducing Doctor Lewis received the audience award at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004.

2 1987

Director Ricardo Trogi’s autobiographical movie 1987 came out in 2014 and is a sequel to Trogi’s previous work,1981. The motion picture explores Trogi’s youth and adolescence at the peak of his struggle with his sexual identity and family dysfunction. In addition, Trogi’s experience looks at the challenges of second-generation migrants. According to Brendan Kelly of the Montreal Gazettethe film is a “refreshingly light, very funny dramedy, that’s both touching and highly entertaining.”

These are just a few of the great Canadian films that have emerged over the last century. Although Canadian movies sometimes have trouble getting noticed, the popularity of Canadian stories is on the rise thanks to wonderful titles like these.


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