My knowledge of the best Canadian movies is non-existent at best (and at worst), so I asked my pal Steven to help me with this post. Why? Because he watches more films than me and is 100% more Canadian so I thought it was a good call. He gave me a whopping 42 Canadian film recommendations and 17 of those made it to the final list. Most of the others have been relegated to the “other movies” section at the end.
What would this list of Canadian movies look like if I had to rely on my personal knowledge of Canadian films? Well, I know some decent Canadian directors. There’s David Cronenberg, Sarah Polley and Xavier Dolan for starters. Mommy (2014) has a cool dance sequence. And, erm, you know, Toronto is the location for Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010).
So I’m thankful for Steven’s input and any complaints can be directed to him. Let’s get into this list of the best Canadian films which should not only give you a brief overview of Canadian cinema but inspire you to visit!
Best Canadian Movies That Will Make You Want to Visit Canada
1. Goin’ Down the Road (1970)
Director: Donald Shebib Language: English Run time: 90m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
We’re starting this list of top Canadian movies with a film Steven did not recommend. But it starts as a road movie and we sure do love those at Almost Ginger. Goin’ Down the Road follows two childhood friends who drive from Nova Scotia to Toronto chasing those big city dreams. Naturally, there are lots of trials and tribulations once they arrive. It’s a low budget indie (it’s in black and white which was uncommon in 1970 I believe) that included many improvised scenes and shunned classic Hollywood storytelling tropes. Like a Canadian Easy Rider (1969), it’s considered something of a masterpiece.
2. Les Ordres (1974)
Director: Michel Brault Language: French Run time: 109m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Usually, I default to the English names non-English language films (which would be Orderers) but I’m using Les Ordres because it seems to be the most accepted name for this Canadian movie. I’m sure you have no problem with that. It will surprise precisely no one that Les Ordres is set in Quebec, a French-speaking region in Canada. The film is a dramatisation of the 1970 October Crisis when prime minister Trudeau (senior) brought Quebec under martial law. It follows five incarcerated civilians and their treatment in prison. At the time, Quebec cinema was mad for realism. Les Ordres is a “docufiction” because the filmmakers’ combined interview footage with dramatised scenes but even those scenes were heavily inspired by real interviews.
3. The Terry Fox Story (1983)
Director: Ralph L. Thomas Language: English Run time: 97m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Can you believe that The Terry Fox Story was the first-ever HBO movie made for TV? I don’t love including TV movies on lists like this (they can be hard to find), but that fact alone sealed the deal. Terry Fox is, I am told, a real-life person that Canadians would know about. He was a runner who tragically lost one of his legs to cancer. In 1980, equipped with a prosthetic, he ran across Canada (St John’s in Newfoundland to Toronto) to raise money for cancer research and this movie documents his amazing feat. I haven’t seen it (though it was released in theatres in the UK) but I imagine it has some gorgeous landscape shots and is likely a very inspirational movie.
4. Anne of Green Gables (1985)
Director: Kevin Sullivan Language: English Run time: 199m N/A Rotten Tomatoes
Steven said it was “practically a necessity” to include an Anne of Green Gables adaptation on this list of famous Canadian movies. Honestly, I didn’t even realise the classic novel was set in Canada (it is sheer audacity that gives me the wherewithal to write this post). I had heard of Anne With An E, the Netflix series, but the 1985 two-part Anne of Green Gables special is the one that kept popping up. Like the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice special, it seems to be the most beloved on-screen version that has stood the test of time.
Anne of Green Gables was adapted from the 1908 novel by Lucy Maud. The story follows a 13-year-old ginger lass (we love those ’round here) who is adopted by a family on Prince Edward Island. I’m sure it is of a similar ilk to Little Women and sounds right up my street.
5. Dead Ringers (1988)
Director: David Cronenberg Language: English Run time: 115m 83% Rotten Tomatoes
Many cinema fans know David Cronenberg as the body horror dude which isn’t very wanderlust-inspiring, is it? So, I sidestepped some of his other revered films like Videodrome (1983) and The Fly (1986) and decided on Dead Ringers to include in this famous Canadian movies list. A slightly more accessible Cronenberg psychological thriller perhaps. It stars Jeremy Irons playing twin gynaecologists living in Toronto who have inappropriate relations with their patients. Male gynaecologists are fascinating to me anyway (just… why would you choose that medical specialism? Why?) and Jeremy Irons excels in all his roles. Even a snooze-fest like Night Train to Lisbon (2013).
6. Jesus of Montreal (1989)
Director: Denys Arcand Languages: French, English Run time: 118m 79% Rotten Tomatoes
Considered one of the top 10 best Canadian movies of all time, Jesus of Montreal was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. It follows an acting company who are rehearsing a Passion play in, you guessed it, Montreal. The play veers from traditional Christian messaging and life imitates art when the actor playing Jesus starts to experience similar plights that Jesus faced in the New Testament. It was one of the most successful French Canadian movies at the box office that year and had an unusually high budget for a Quebecois film. Yay for Quebec!
7. Black Robe (1991)
Director: Bruce Beresford Languages: English, Cree, Mohawk, Algonquin Run time: 101m 92% Rotten Tomatoes
Like Jesus of Montreal, this is another Canadian movie with religious themes that did surprisingly well at the domestic box office. Black Robe is a historical drama set in the 17th century when Jesuit missionaries travelled to “New France” to convert the natives from the Algonquin tribe to Christianity. A priest tasks a young missionary to traverse over 1,000 miles in a harsh Canadian winter (though, is there any other kind of Canadian winter?) to a remote village which is even more difficult than it sounds. Director Bruce Beresford is actually Australian, and not long before making Black Robe he directed the Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy (1989). As you’ve likely guessed, Beresford shot most of the film in Quebec which made up most of the region previously named “New France.”
8. The Sweet Hereafter (1997)
Director: Atom Egoyan Language: English Run time: 112m 98% Rotten Tomatoes
Though some also regard The Sweet Hereafter as one of the top Canadian movies of all time, it is also not exactly wanderlust-inspiring! My apologies. Not many of these movies set in Canada are that inspiring. But, this film is critically acclaimed and was set and shot in British Columbia. There are so few movies set in Vancouver and British Columbia as well as shot there! The Sweet Hereafter is about a tragic school bus crash that devastates a small community and the lawsuit that follows. A young Sarah Polley stars in this film, and you will be seeing her name later as a director. It also won the Grand Prix award at the Cannes Film Festival.
9. Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001)
Director: Zacharias Kunuk Language: Inuktitut Run time: 172m 91% Rotten Tomatoes
There’s a lot to admire about Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. Not only did an Inuit filmmaker create this film (and have a 90% Inuit crew), but the film is written and made entirely in the Inuktitut language. It’s set around 1840 but is intentionally ambiguous regarding the timeframe with several flashbacks. The story of an unlucky Inuit spirit haunts a community and when Atanarjuat is caught in a messy love triangle (or square), his angry community forces him to flee into the icy wilderness. Fortunately, he’s a fast runner. After hitting many obstacles, the National Film Board of Canada finally gave the director the funding he needed to shoot in Nunavut so the film could be as authentic as possible. It’s the northernmost territory in Canada and the crew had to shoot in the only month where film equipment would not freeze (April, if you’re wondering).
10. C.R.A.Z.Y. (2005)
Director: Jean-Marc Vallée Language: French Run time: 127m 100% Rotten Tomatoes
One of the most famous Canadian films that I’ve not only seen a few times but that I adore! C.R.A.Z.Y. follows 15-year-old Zac from Montreal who was pre-destined to blend in. He was born on Christmas Day in 1960 and he’s the fourth of five brothers. Except he likes dressing in his mother’s clothes, listening to Glam Rock and is bisexual. C.R.A.Z.Y. boasts a fantastic soundtrack thanks to Zac’s music tastes and also has a bit of a travel segment where Zac escapes his dad’s disapproval by fleeing to Jerusalem. Brilliant fun film, love me a queer travel film and would recommend it to the vast majority of people.
11. Away from Her (2006)
Director: Sally Polley Language: English Run time: 110m 94% Rotten Tomatoes
Sarah Polley is back! Away From Her was her first feature film which she directed at the age of 27. Warning: this film is also not very travel-inspiring. Set in rural Ontario, Away From Her follows a couple with one of them suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. It naturally deals with loss and memory but infidelity is a big one, too. It swept all the top categories at the Canadian Genie awards (all except best editing!) with star Julie Christie attracting a lot of the attention. This is her only feature on this list, but Sarah Polley also directed Take This Waltz (2011) which many people like (Steven does not) and the supposedly brilliant documentary Stories We Tell (2012).
12. Bon Cop, Bad Cop (2006)
Director: Eric Canuel Languages: English, French Run time: 116m 80% Rotten Tomatoes
Steven said Bon Cop, Bad Cop has a particularly Canadian sense of humour that people outside of Canada might not appreciate. This intrigued me, so on the list it goes! Plus, I love the premise and who doesn’t enjoy a buddy cop film? When a dead body is found directly on the Ontario-Quebec border, two cops from both provinces have to team up to solve the case. Isn’t that genius?! The film is available in both French and English but the original uses an even mix of both languages. Bon Cop, Bad Cop did not have a theatrical release outside of Canada, but it may be available on streaming platforms. There is also a Bon Cop, Bad Cop 2 if Canadian black comedy police movies are your thing.
13. My Winnipeg (2007)
Director: Guy Maddin Language: English Run time: 80m 95% Rotten Tomatoes
This seems like one of the most, erm, quirky movies about Canada out there. But you can’t argue with that 95% RT score plus it has Steven’s seal of approval. It is a surrealist mockumentary about the filmmaker’s home town of Winnipeg in Manitoba. Guy Maddin seems like the kind of person who is super famous in his home country but is virtually unknown by anyone else. He’s made tons of experimental short films, documentaries and art projects in Canada and even has an Order of Canada award. My Winnipeg, I believe, has an episodic structure and did you know that Winnipeg is the sleepwalking capital of the world? You can learn about that and other fun facts in this bonkers black and white movie.
14. One Week (2008)
Director: Michael McGowan Language: English Run time: 94m 50% Rotten Tomatoes
This is the lowest rated film on this list and unlikely to be one of the best Canadian movies as started in the title. However, One Week follows a man recently diagnosed with cancer who, instead of seeking treatment, decides to ride a motorbike from Toronto to Vancouver Island. He meets people and travels to places that help him reevaluate his life, relationships and dreams. So, this is a great film to watch if you’re travelling to Canada! Let’s be honest, sometimes when you’re planning a trip to a country, you just want to watch films to spark your wanderlust and it doesn’t matter too much how great they are. If it did matter, I wouldn’t have watched Letters to Juliet (2010) and The Beach (2000) quite as much as I have.
15. The Trotsky (2009)
Director: Jacob Tierney Language: English Run time: 120m 79% Rotten Tomatoes
I am so here for the variety and concepts of these amazing Canadian movies, particularly those in Quebec. We’ve had “What if Jesus was in Montreal?” and “What if a Quebecois and an Ontarian cop have to work together?” Well, what if a high schooler in Montreal believes he is the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary? Because that is the concept of The Trotsky. And there are tonnes of classic American high school films so I wanted to throw a Canadian one into the mix, too, for those of you who love High School movies. It seems like a funny and solid film, plus Schitt’s Creek star Emily Hampshire plays one of the supporting roles.
16. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)
Director: Edgar Wright Language: English Run time: 112m 82% Rotten Tomatoes
This is a film you were 100% expecting to appear on this list, right? Despite having an English director, it has to be one of the most popular Canadian movies set in Toronto. Based on the uber-popular graphic novel, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World stars Canadian native Michael Cera as Scott who falls in love with Manic Pixie Dream Girl Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). But to be with her, he must defeat her seven evil exes. Director Edgar Wright used several iconic Toronto locations and local Canadian bands like Beck and Metric. Plus, tonnes of other famous actors like Chris Evans, Brie Larson, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick and so many others appear in this film. I had no idea it was a box office bomb (or should that be bob-bomb). It’s a great movie and will surely reach cult status in a few years if it hasn’t already.
17. Monsieur Lazhar (2011)
Director: Philippe Falardeau Language: French Run time: 94m 97% Rotten Tomatoes
I know most of these Canadian films are Montreal-based but hey, I can’t help it if Montreal is just out here totally dominating the domestic Canadian film industry. Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards and it’s based on a play. The titular character is an Algerian refugee who manages to land a teaching job at an elementary school after the school suffers a tragic event. Lazhar helps the students heal despite his lack of experience and their cultural differences. I imagine it’s the heartwarming, Canadian drama equivalent of School of Rock (2003)? Perhaps? At a push? I asked Steven and he said a decided “no.”
18. Enemy (2013)
Director: Denis Villeneuve Language: English Run time: 90m 71% Rotten Tomatoes
I watched Enemy at the cinema when I had absolutely no idea who Denis Villeneuve was. Now, of course, he is the director of big-budget Hollywood films like Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Enemy stars Jake Gyllenhaal as two different (yet identical) men living in Toronto. One is a college professor who spots the other in a movie and becomes obsessed with finding him. There are also lots of oversized tarantulas in Enemy. It’s weird and I don’t totally understand it and it’s a bit of a psychological thriller so do not expect a laugh-a-minute riot. Maybe not the best film to watch before a trip to Toronto? I’m so proud of how well I’m selling this film. But, you know, you should watch a Villeneuve film at some point in your life even if it’s not this one.
19. Mommy (2014)
Director: Xavier Dolan Language: French Run time: 138m 88% Rotten Tomatoes
Another film I’ve actually seen! On a list of films that I’m writing! How novel. Just as I couldn’t write a list of the best Canadian movies without Villeneuve, I also couldn’t write it without featuring Xavier Dolan. He’s a filmmaking wunderkind as he directed and wrote his very first feature film I Killed My Mother (2009) when he was just 20 years old and I hear it’s bloody good. Mommy is set in a world (specifically, Montreal) where parents can place their unruly children in state-run hospitals if they don’t have the means to provide for them. It follows Steve, who has ADHD and a history of violence, and his single and struggling mum Diane.
It won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and I also remember it having an odd 4:3 or 1:1 aspect ratio. But it was an enrapturing film and I still think about that bloody amazing dance sequence. Is there a film in existence that is not improved by a dance sequence?
20. Sleeping Giant (2015)
Director: Andrew Cividino Language: English Run time: 89m 87% Rotten Tomatoes
Lake Superior is the largest of the great North American lakes and the setting for Sleeping Giant. Teenage Adam is spending the summer in Thunder Bay with his grandparents where he befriends two other boys. The lads spend their days overcoming boredom by behaving recklessly, bullying each other and doing dangerous things like cliff jumping. I don’t think Sleeping Giant got much of a theatrical release but it did well on the Canadian festival circuit and also screened at Critics’ Week in Cannes.
21. Maudie (2016)
Director: Aisling Walsh Language: English Run time: 116m 89% Rotten Tomatoes
The last film on this list of brilliant Canadian film and it has an Irish director, an English star and an American co-star. And it is set in Nova Scotia but Walsh filmed it in Newfoundland (the locals had a thing or two to say about that). Oh well, I tried. I just adored Maudie and now I want to visit both Nova Scotia and St John’s in Newfoundland desperately because of this film.
Sally Hawkins plays real-life folk artist Maud Lewis who has arthritis, memory loss and an unsupportive family. Ethan Hawke plays her crotchety fisherman husband and together they make the most mismatched yet adorable pair. This is a cute and weird film and I recommend it to all lovers of cuteness and weirdness. Plus, St John’s looks really gorgeous in Maudie (sorry, Nova Scotians).
Other Canadian Movies: Back to God’s Country (1919), Mon Oncle Antoine (1971), Videodrome (1983), The Decline of the American Empire (1986), The Fly (1986), Léolo (1992), Hard Core Logo (1996), Last Night (1998), The Barbarian Invasions (2003), I Killed My Mother (2009), Laurence Anyways (2012), What If?/The F Word (2013), The Forbidden Room (2015), Matthias & Maxime (2019), The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (2019)
And those are some of the best Canadian movies to inspire you to visit Canada! Have you seen any of these top Canadian films or visited Canada? Let me know in the comments below!