What Movies Have Been Filmed in Kananaskis Country?
Due to the restrictions on movie filming in national parks, production companies looking for a mountainous setting often turn to adjacent Kananaskis Country.
When director Arthur Penn filmed portions of LITTLE BIG MAN on the Stoney Reserve near Morley, Alberta, during the fall and winter of 1969, he set the scene for much of Hollywood’s future in the Canadian Rockies. That section of the Bow Valley and Kananaskis Country, including Canmore and the Spray Valley, would provide settings for nearly 50 movies in the decades since.
WHEN THE NORTH WIND BLOWS (1974) was set in Alaska but shot in Kananaskis Country. It tells the story of a trapper who encounters a Siberian tiger and her cubs and goes about protecting them from hunters.
Mountain scenes in the original SUPERMAN movie (1978), starring Christopher Reeve, Margot Kidder, Marlon Brando, and Gene Hackman, were shot in the Kananaskis Valley, along the newly constructed Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail).
The same production company returned to the area for SUPERMAN II (1981), when Superman sacrificed his powers to pursue a relationship with Lois Lane. In Superman II, Barrier Lake was used for a scene, along with the Columbia Icefield along the Icefields Parkway.
DEATH HUNT (1981), starring Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, and Angie Dickinson, was the first big-budget movie to use Kananaskis Country as the primary set location (mostly filmed at Spray Lakes), and as a result, many Canmore locals were recruited as extras. Death Hunt was loosely based on the true-life story of Albert Johnson (The Mad Trapper of Rat River) who was pursued by the Mounted Police in the Northwest Territories and Yukon after shooting a police constable in 1932.
In STONE FOX (1986), a ranch was built in the meadows below Mount Engadine Lodge. The ranch was designed to look like 1905 Wyoming homestead, where a young boy helped his grandfather win a sled dog race. Race scenes were filmed on nearby Spray Lake.
HOUSEKEEPING (1987) was a forgettable comedy set in the Pacific Northwest about two sisters sent to a remote town to live with their eccentric aunt. Although primarily filmed in Nelson (British Columbia), skating scenes were filmed on Spray Lakes. As reported in the Calgary Herald (Dec 17, 1986): “It’s probably been 30 years since the Spray Lakes ice has been sliced up by such ancient blades. But there they were Tuesday, a crowd of young skaters bundled up in the woolly earth tones of the 1950s, their feet getting numb in leather-booted skates….”
GUNSMOKE: RETURN TO DODGE (1987), a movie version of the popular TV series, was filmed in the Bow Valley section of Kananaskis Country.
The final scenes of DEAD-BANG (1989), an action-drama starring Don Johnson as a detective who discovers a white supremacist conspiracy, were filmed in the Kananaskis Valley.
Esteemed Hollywood director John Frankenheimer returned to Alberta following the filming of Dead Bang to shoot THE FOURTH WAR (1990), a Cold War drama set along the German-Czech border involving a border incident that degenerates into a personal war between an American colonel and a Soviet unit commander. It was filmed mostly around Bragg Creek.
In BLOOD RIVER (1991), starring Rick Schroder, Bow Valley Provincial Park and Kananaskis Country were used for much of the movie, which involved a cowboy who shot and killed the men who murdered his parents, and then escapes into the mountains.
One of the best-known movies to have been filmed in Kananaskis Country was LEGENDS OF THE FALL (1994), starring Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins. Set on a Montana ranch in the early 1900s, the movie focused on a former military officer who raised his family far from the influences of government and society. The main set was on the adjacent Stoney Reserve but Bow Valley Provincial Park and Kananaskis Valley are seen throughout the movie. Interestingly, one of the reasons Legends of the Fall won an Academy Award for Best Cinematography was the dramatic natural lighting captured during filming.
A Western drama about the discovery of a “lost” indigenous tribe starring Tom Berenger and Barbara Hershey, THE LAST OF THE DOGMEN (1995) was a major attraction for Canmore locals in the summer of 1994 as the main street was closed for filming, but many scenes were also filmed in Kananaskis Country. The Last of the Dogmen is one of the better movies for seeing scenery throughout the Canadian Rockies, including Takakkaw Falls (see What Movies Have Been Filmed in Yoho National Park?).
Mountain scenes for ANGEL FLIGHT DOWN (1996), about the crash of a medical evacuation aircraft and the survivors, were partly filmed at the Canmore Nordic Centre and Fortress Mountain in the Kananaskis Valley.
Loosely based on the real-life Stouffer brothers and their quest to become wildlife filmmakers, WILD AMERICA (1997) was a family-friendly adventure movie with winter scenes filmed in Kananaskis Country including the Spray Lakes.
THE EDGE (1997) was an action thriller filmed in Kananaskis Country in the late summer of 1996. Starring Anthony Hopkins, Alec Baldwin, and Elle Macpherson (along with Bart the Bear). The Edge was about an American billionaire who survives an Alaskan plane crash only to be pursued by a killer grizzly bear. The plane crash was staged at Whiteman’s Pond and a million-dollar log lodge was constructed at Sparrowhawk Day Use Area beside Spray Lakes. Other scenes were shot at Smuts Creek, Mud Lake, Whiteman Pass, Upper Kananaskis Lake and throughout the Bow Valley.
GRIZZLY FALLS (1999) was a family adventure starring Bryan Brown that was set in early 1900s British Columbia. A hunter captures grizzly bear cubs, but the mother bear retaliates by kidnapping the hunter’s son. While the hunter searches for his son, the mother bear leads the boy through the wilderness teaching him how to survive. The movie showcases a variety of Kananaskis Country locations, including the Bow Valley, Canoe Meadows, Spray Lakes, and Engadine Meadows.
Quarry Lake at Canmore was the main film set for MYSTERY, ALASKA (1999), about a small-town Alaskan hockey team that takes up the challenge of playing the New York Rangers. Wild skating scenes were shot on the Spray Lakes.
For THE CLAIM (2000), a movie-set mining town was built at Fortress Mountain Ski Resort in the Kananaskis Valley. Other scenes were shot in the Bow Valley, at Elbow Falls, and near Bragg Creek. The Claim storyline was of an Irish immigrant who gained ownership of a mountain town through the sale of his wife and daughter. The climax of the film was shot in one final scene as actor Peter Mullan walks through the town with a torch and burns it to the ground building by building, destroying a set that took several weeks to construct.
SHANGHAI NOON (2000), a raucous Western comedy about a kidnapped princess starring Jackie Chan and Owen Wilson, was shot throughout Alberta. The main set was near Bragg Creek at CL Western Town & Backlot. This outdoor studio recreates a Western town and can be adapted to any era between the 1850s and 1930s. It was built for the Lonesome Dove TV series in the mid-1990s and has been used in over 50 other TV series and movies since.
Filmed mostly in Calgary, all aerial shots for SPEAKING OF SEX (2001), starring Bill Murray, James Spader, Jay Mohr, and Catherine O’Hara, were shot in the Kananaskis and Spray Valleys.
Based on the popular Marvel Comics’ X-Men series, X-MEN 2 (2003) was filmed mostly in Vancouver but required a snowbound dam, which which was filmed at the dam between Upper and Lower Kananaskis Lakes. When nature didn’t provide the snow, truckloads of artificial snow were transported to the site.
Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway, and Randy Quaid starred in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005), about two Wyoming cowboys in the 1960s who deal with their mutual attraction while spending a summer herding sheep. They both eventually marry their girlfriends, but meet up again and reignite their forbidden love on mountain fishing trips. Mountain scenes were filmed in the Bow Valley, Elbow Falls, Moose Mountain, Mud Lake, and Upper Kananaskis Lake. Brokeback Mountain was nominated for eight Academy Awards, winning for adapted screenplay, director and original score.
RV (2006) was a Robin Williams comedy filmed throughout southern Alberta. Under the guise of improving the family’s bond, an overstressed executive (Williams) rents a recreational vehicle and sets off for Colorado. Kananaskis Country locations included Peter Lougheed Provincial Park (Kananaskis Lakes), Engadine Meadows, and Highway 40.
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) was a big-budget Western starring Brad Pitt. Although set in Missouri and Colorado, the movie was shot almost entirely in Alberta, with an 1880s Colorado mining town set built near the headwaters of Goat Creek in Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park.
Fortress Mountain Ski Resort opened in 1967 and had occasionally been used as a film set for movies such as The Claim (see above), but when the resort closed in 2004, the site began to be used more often, including for many big-budget Hollywood movies, starting with INCEPTION (2010). Leonardo DiCaprio along with Canadian Ellen Page and Michael Caine headlined Inception, a science-fiction movie about a thief who steals secrets by the use of dream-sharing technology and is hired to implant thoughts into the mind of a corporate executive. For the main set, a multi-story fortress was constructed at the old Fortress Mountain Ski Resort in the Kananaskis Valley. Nominated for eight Academy Awards, Inception won Oscars for Cinematography, Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, and Sound Editing.
THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012) was an action-adventure movie about an espionage operation based in the U.S. that was exposed by a rogue agent. The opening scene showing the protagonist plunging into a river below a frozen waterfall was filmed at Elbow Falls near Bragg Creek. Winter scenes were set in Alaska but filmed at Fortress Mountain and the Kananaskis Valley.
CAS & DYLAN (2013) told the story of a Canadian doctor who is dying from a malignant brain tumour drives towards the West Coast intending to end his life. Along the way, a free-spirited 22-year-old girl hitches a ride to what she hopes will be a writing career. The trip evolves into a long, zany journey of self-discovery. Mountain scenes were filmed in the Kananaskis Valley, including Barrier Lake.
THE RIGHT KIND OF WRONG (2014) was a romantic comedy filmed in the towns of Canmore and Banff, and throughout Kananaskis Country. The ranch scenes were filmed just south of Kananaskis Country, in the Livingstone Range.
SEVENTH SON (2015) was an action-fantasy movie with mountain scenes shot at Fortress Mountain in the Kananaskis Valley. Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges starred in this story about an evil witch who assembled an army to wage war on mankind.
THE REVENANT (2015) was an adventure drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio and loosely based on the real-life story of American mountain man Hugh Glass in 1823, when he was mauled by a grizzly bear and left for dead by his fellow trappers. He survives his injuries and makes his way back across a vast, wintry landscape, seeking revenge on the trappers who abandoned him. Filmed primarily in Kananaskis Country, locations included the Kananaskis Valley, Fortress Mountain, Spray Valley, and Bow Valley Provincial Park. When warm temperatures melted Kananaskis snow, the production to the Andes in Argentina to complete the final scenes. The Revenant was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, winning Best Directing, Best Actor, and Best Cinematography.
Although primarily filmed on Vancouver Island, you’ll get glimpses of Kananaskis Country in the winter scenes of WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017), starring Andy Serkis, Woody Harrelson, and Steve Zahn. In this long-running series, the leader of the simian race takes revenge on the humans who killed his family and threaten to wipe his species from Earth.
BURN YOUR MAPS (2019) was a low-budget family-friendly movie about a young U.S. boy who believes he is a Mongolian goat herder. It was hot around Calgary in 2015, including Kananaskis Country. Interestingly, the production company recruited over 100 Albertans of Mongolian descent for minor roles.
Set in a fictional Colorado ski town, COLD PURSUIT (2019) was filmed in various Canadian Rockies locations outside of the national parks, including some scenes at the abandoned Fortress Mountain Ski Resort and elsewhere in Kananaskis Country. Mountain location scenes were set to film in Banff National Park, but Parks Canada withdrew permission at the last minute (Parks officials were unhappy with the portrait of indigenous people in the movie) and the main set was relocated to Fernie, British Columbia.
JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2020) was filmed in contrasting locations across North America—from snowcapped peaks in Kananaskis Country (Fortress Mountain) to the deserts of New Mexico.
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Other Parts of the Canadian Rockies?
Click through the links below to read about movies filmed in the Canadian Rockies:
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Banff?
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Jasper?
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Yoho?
What Movies Have Been Filmed in the Columbia Valley?
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Canmore?
What Movies Have Been Filmed in Waterton Lakes?
Movies in the Mountains—A eBook About Movies Filmed in the Canadian Rockies
The Kananaskis Country movie content on this page was written by Brian Patton, who has been studying moviemaking in the Canadian Rockies for many decades and has been called upon as an expert on the subject by a variety of media. Patton is best known as the co-author of the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide but is also the author of Movies in the Mountains: A History of Moviemaking in the Canadian Rockies. This book is available in two formats:
Movies in the Mountains as a Kindle eBook through Amazon.
Movies in the Mountains as a PDF download directly from the publisher.