After New York and LA, Vancouver is the third most popular filming location for movies and TV shows. You’d think that would make its landmarks and geography instantly recognizable, but that’s not the case. In fact, you’ll hardly ever see Vancouver onscreen. That’s because most of the movies and shows filmed there disguise the city as someplace else.
In his mini-documentary Vancouver Never Plays Itself, narrator and Vancouver native Tony Zhou explores how the city has been portrayed on screen. He breaks down just how many cities Vancouver has been pretended to be: Boston, Philadelphia, Manhattan, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Shanghai, San Francisco, Detroit, and even Vancouver, Washington. He even points out that in Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, Vancouver dressed up as Seattle, Eastern Europe, and India, when in reality each location was about a 15-minute drive apart.
The Canadian city is a giant chameleon, or as Zhou puts it, “one giant back lot—a bunch of anonymous buildings that can stand in for anywhere else.” But all that shape shifting is stripping the city of its sense of identity. It’s immortalized in movies like Fifty Shades of Grey, Happy Gilmore, Godzilla, I, Robot, Juno, and The Interview, but not as itself. In a nod to Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself, Zhou argues that Vancouver deserves its own place in cinematic history.