As one of the go-to locations in Hollywood North, UBC has set the stage for several box office hits. And not just movies. UBC is also a top pick for many critically acclaimed sci-fi TV series, and you don’t need to be a mad scientist with a key to unlocking the universe to figure out why.
UBC’s iconic architecture and inspired public art installations make for some pretty compelling backdrops, especially for sci-fi productions. Where else can you find a historical brutalist-style complex on the same grounds as a historic mansion and a futuristic water fountain?
All that, plus beautiful mountains, an ocean, and more than 800 hectares of awe-inspiring parkland – no wonder UBC has long been a favourite among location scouts. In fact, according to IMDB, UBC is the third most popular place to film in all of Canada.
So, without further ado, here are some of the highest rated, future cult classics that were filmed at UBC…. in no particular order.
“The Man in the High Castle” (2015 – 2019) 84% on Rotten Tomatoes
Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, this critically acclaimed series asks the question, what if Hitler had won the war?
The 40-episode series is produced by Ridley Scott and in 60s-era US. But it’s filmed mostly on locations in and around Vancouver including UBC’s Main Mall. With the magic of movie making, this historical pedestrian strip has been transformed into many different periods and places over the years. But in everyday life, the long, monumental grassy pathway is a lively and vital parkway filled with students, residents and faculty.
“The Magicians” (2015-2020) 91% on Rotten Tomatoes
This show follows a group of unreasonably good looking 20-something students, all majoring in magic. When they stumble upon a fantasy world that threatens all of humanity, the enchanted crew go toe-to-toe with evil.
It’s set in New York, but quite a bit of it is filmed in Vancouver. One location of interest is UBC’s Buchanan Building, a post-war, modernist landmark and the epicentre of liberal arts. Fun fact: It doubled as a Nigerian high-rise in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, starring Hugh Jackman.
“Legion” (2017 – 2019) 91% on Rotten Tomatoes
A psychological thriller based on the Marvel Comics character, David Haller, we discover a man with mutant powers. The show stars Dan Stevens of “Downton Abbey” fame and Aubrey Plaza – for anyone who’s ever watched Hollywood’s alternative “it” girl interviewed on late night TV, you know that she’s turned weird and wonderful into an artform.
During its three years of production, “Legion” filmed at Buchanan Building as well as at Martha Piper Plaza. Named after UBC’s 11th president, this plaza is a friendly pedestrian intersection with a large circular fountain that serves as a great meeting place. With plenty of seating, you can enjoy a paper bag lunch or take a coffee break in between attending classes or running errands.
Riverdale (2017 -) 86% on Rotten Tomatoes
Technically, this murderous take on the Archie Comics is not a sci-fi series. But it’s a dark and moody mystery that pushes just enough boundaries to qualify as a crossover. It’s shot on locations all over the Lower Mainland, including UBC’s Cecil Green Park House, a tutor-style mansion that offers stunning views of the mountains and Howe Sound.
In the show, this heritage estate with a long and storied history is lit to look macabre and mysterious. But in actuality, it’s a bright and beautiful venue for weddings and special occasions.
Supernatural (2005 – 2020) 93% on Rotten Tomatoes
This haunting series has the unique distinction of being the longest running sci-fi TV series in North America. It focuses on two brothers, as they face off with evil forces throughout the States. But really, they’ve been in Vancouver this whole time!
Their travels have taken them to, among other places, UBC’s Chemistry Building. Completed in 1925, it’s among the first of three original structures on campus. These days, it’s a world-class hub for research and learning (and filming).
“Fringe” (2008 – 2013) 90% on Rotten Tomatoes
Created by none other than J. J. Abrams, this sci-fi/procedural drama hybrid follows a team of investigators who use “fringe” science to try and crack a truly disturbing aircraft mystery, leading them to a parallel universe.
This show really made the rounds at UBC, filming at the Buchanan Building, Chemistry Building and Irving K. Barber Learning Centre (IKBC). Along with the Chem building, IKBC was one of the first permanent structures on campus. It’s an art-filled four-storey building with plenty of natural light pouring in, providing an inspired space to experience.
So what does the stargazing future hold for us?
This year alone, Jennifer Garner, Jim Carrey, Peter Dinklage, John Cena, Jude Law – to name a few – are scheduled to film in Vancouver. And if celebrity-spotting history has taught us anything, it’s that they’ll more than likely have a production day or two at UBC. And who could blame our Hollywood friends for popping by. It’s a beautiful and dynamic campus where everyone is welcome!