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Reel Toronto’s Guide to Comic-Book Movies

For its fifth anniversary, Reel Toronto presents a look at Toronto's role in developing the comic-book-movie industry.

Toronto’s extensive work on the silver screen reveals that, while we have the chameleonic ability to look like anywhere from New York City to Moscow, the disguise doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny. Reel Toronto revels in digging up and displaying the films that attempt to mask, hide, or—in rare cases—proudly display our city.

It’s time to wrap our month-long celebration of five years of screencapping movies just because they happen to have taken advantage of Toronto’s fine film crews and tax breaks. We’ve swooned at the best, we’ve survived the worst, and we’ve enjoyed the films that have staked out a legacy regardless of how good (or bad) they are.

Toronto hasn’t always been home to the cream of the crop when it comes to blockbuster productions, but we have had our share of pop-culture triumphs in the increasingly important comic-book genre. Here’s a look at some of the comic-book adaptations shot here.

(Scott Pilgrim, we should note, was covered in an earlier instalment.)

1   X-Men

Given the past decade or so of successful, quality comic movies, it’s kind of amazing to realize there was a time when they were a very iffy bet. There was a time when no one knew who the heck Hugh Jackman was, or whether anyone would care for a movie about a bunch of weirdo mutants, despite those mutants’ long history in the funny books.

Well, they let Bryan Singer make X-Men and it ended up being a big success.

A budget-conscious studio sent the production up here to shoot. Although the sequels ended up being shot in British Columbia and California, no one can take away our part in it. Casa Loma, including the stables, plays the historic X-Mansion’s interior…

…while Parkwood Estate (Billy Madison’s house!) is the exterior.

The interior gridwork of Roy Thomson Hall can be seen up above, and right next door. And Metro Hall’s old council chamber also plays the American Senate rather nicely…

…and you’d never recognize the Distillery District as a concentration camp. This opening scene was recreated, virtually shot for shot, in the recent X-Men: First Class, but on a set in England.

(Random comic trivia: long before X-Men, Canada established its bona fides in the comic-movie realm when Alberta filled in for Kansas in Richard Donner’s Superman. Maybe if Singer had shot his Superman movie here instead of Australia it’d all have come out better!)

2   Kick-Ass

Kick-Ass could perhaps have fit in last week’s cult-classics post as well. Roger Ebert pretty much hated it, but, on the other hand, it made enough money that they’re shooting a sequel. And they were actually shooting it in Toronto just a few weeks ago! And Jim Carrey (who is, like, pretty much FROM TORONTO!), is going to be the bad guy! And Chloë Moretz, who stars as Hit Girl, has been here practically all year since she’s also the lead role in the remake of Carrie! How can you not appreciate that kind of commitment?!

We concede they don’t do the absolute best job disguising Toronto’s not–New Yorkness, but with key scenes down on Yonge Street, by the Eaton Centre…

…or in the Financial District, looking clear up Bay Street…

…and, of course, by Kingston Road’s Dip’n Sip donuts, there’s plenty of Toronto to enjoy when Hit Girl isn’t laying waste.

3   The Incredible Hulk

The Incredible Hulk was—following Iron Man—the second step in putting together the Avengers movie that ended up doing some decent box office this year. In particular, it made fine use of the University of Toronto and its Knox College…

…and the Cherry Street drawbridge…

…and it remade Yonge Street south of Gerrard into a New York City street, allowing the (recast) Bruce Banner to quip in The Avengers that he “broke Harlem” last time he visited. Nah, he really just made it harder to get to the Big Slice for a few nights.

4   Red

Red was a graphic novel that didn’t have quite the legacy of the above films, but it ends up being a surprisingly fun movie that manages to use Toronto to play cities all over the United States. Whether it’s Helen Mirren getting her guns blazing in the Esplanade Green P lot…

…seeing the University Avenue courthouse turned into a Russian embassy…

…or pretending the Toronto Reference Library is in New York, it’s a fair bit of fun.

Like Kick-Ass, it’s got a sequel underway. But, unlike Kick-Ass, those mofos are ditching us for Montreal. Hmph.

5   A History of Violence

The movie doesn’t feel like a comic book (or, more accurately, the comic book’s more erudite cousin, the graphic novel), but one of those is nonetheless the source of this, one of David Cronenberg’s greatest and most accessible (read: least icky) movies.

Fine use is made of the the entire GTA, with Queen East substituting for the seedy side of Philadelphia…


…King City’s Eaton Hall playing a gangster’s mansion…

…and the quiet town of Millbrook playing, well, a different, American town called Millbrook.

Phew. So, that’s a few weeks recounting the highs, lows, and in-betweens that come with watching five years of Toronto movies. This Reel Toronto fifth-anniversary celebration is over.

But fear not: there’s more Reel Toronto to come.

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