15 times that SFU turned into a movie set

From space ships to human-bag hybrids and werewolves, SFU campuses have seen it all.

A still from The Day the Earth Stood Still. Courtesy of 604 Now.

By: Gabrielle McLaren, Features editor 

Spending so much time on campus can blind you to just how nice of a place it actually is. SFU Surrey is beautiful and bright when the sun is out, Harbour Centre is in a prime location in one of Canada’s busiest cities, and the Burnaby campus on its mountaintop has a spectacular view. As it turns out, the latter is an incredibly versatile campus. Something about architect Arthur Erickson’s design, midway between Athenian Acropolis and futuristic angles and cuts, has attracted waves of filmmakers to SFU. As a matter of fact, SFU played an April Fool’s prank about the school closing down to become a full-time movie set.  See if you’ve recognised your campus in any of the following productions.


The Fly II (1989): This list is off to a good start with an R-rated horror film. No wait, even better, the sequel to a horror film about a man turning into a bug: this time featuring the secret child the original protagonist had before dying, who now appears to turn into a bug whenever he gets horny about the lady scientist observing him! The film boasts a 4.4/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, but you might want to watch the trailer for the simple nostalgia of the old school Twentieth-Century Fox animation. SFU had only been open for 24 years at the time that this was filmed.


I Still Dream of Jeannie (1991): This made-for-TV movie is a spinoff of a show from the 60s starring Barbara Eden. Like many TV movies, it seems to have been buried pretty deep in our collective memory, which doesn’t feel wrong. The movie features Jeannie, an actual genie, whose former master and now husband has been lost in space for 20 years (this sounds extremely complicated and problematic, but you’d have to watch the original show to find out more and I just don’t have that kind of time or interest). The movie focuses on Jeannie’s desperate search to find him before she has to find a new master because of the Genie Rules and Regulations. Again, I don’t know what any of this means, but yikes.  


The 6th Day (2000): If you were to stumble across a clone of yourself and uncover a secret conspiracy theory about clones taking over the world, would you really be surprised if it were to happen at SFU? I’ve seen enough sketchy stains in the parking lot not to be shocked, but it took Arnold Schwarzenegger by surprise and so they made a whole movie about him discovering this.  Pause the trailer at 0:48 to recognize the library, all dressed up for some sort of probably-evil gala! Is Schwarzenegger running up the spiral staircases to the catwalk that goes from the AQ to the library at 1:02? Whatever, he’s definitely driving his car into Convocation Mall at 1:11, and he crashes into the AQ pond during the movie as well.


MVP: Most Valuable Primate (2000): I know what you’re thinking, and yes. This is really real. The premise at play is that Jack, a chimpanzee learning ASL, is at risk of being sold as a medical test monkey when funding is cut on his language training. Jack’s scientist friend tries to save him, but accidentally ends up sending him to Canada, where Jack befriends a Deaf girl who recognises his ASL and also joins her brother’s hockey team. The budget for this little treasure was $4,500,000, and all the skating action that you see in the trailer was filmed at Rogers Arena. The tagline for this gem? “Jack skates a little faster… Shoots a little harder… And is driving everyone bananas.” Does it make it any worse if I tell you there’s a sequel?


Antitrust (2001: Another movie about science and tech going too far, Antitrust features computer science prodigee Milo and his dream job at a high-profile tech company in Portland going down the drain as he realises just how crazy his new boss is. SFU was used for some cool outdoor shots of the high-tech firm (check out 0:33 on the trailer), but the filmmakers used UBC for the inside of the firm. Ouch. But I get it.


Spy Game (2001): Robert Redford plays a CIA operative yanked out of retirement and into a rescue operation when he finds out that his protégé (played by Brad Pitt) was kidnapped in China for espionage. Honestly, it seems like such a basic action movie that I don’t really want to dwell on it. Nothing SFU-related jumps out during the trailer, but maybe if you hosted a movie party and had a prize handy someone would be able to spot the connection. . .


Agent Cody Banks (2003): How many times did you walk down from the library or Starbucks to get to the Transportation Centre without realising that that big, cement space framed by the Rotunda was actually the CIA’s headquarters? Pause the trailer at 0:25 or click here if you don’t believe it. Starring Frankie Muniz, Hilary Duff, and Andrew Francis, the film follows Cody Banks, your run-of-the-mill high schooler who is actually part of a secret program for teenagers within the CIA. Rotunda aside, production also set up shop in the Academic Quadrangle (AQ) and at a former gas station that is no longer on campus.


My Life Without Me (2003): So here’s a sad one: 23-year-old Ann (Sarah Polley) discovers that she is terminally ill and prepares herself, her husband (Scott Speedman), and her two young daughters for her upcoming death without telling anybody just how sick she is. One of her bucket list items is to sleep with a man other than her high school boyfriend and make someone fall in love with her, and she ends up picking some dude played by Mark Ruffalo, so he’s in here too. It’s hard to tell from the trailer where on campus they filmed, but it ends with a couple slow-dancing in a forest, and we have plenty of that on the Burnaby campus.


I, Robot (2004): For every absolutely random and unknown movie on this list, there’s one big name that makes you go “wait, really?” I, Robot stars Will Smith in the role of Del Spooner, a police officer wary of technology investigating a crime that a robot may have committed. In which case, the world is now in terrible danger. Hurray! Also cool: I, Robot is one of the only films on this list that shot on the Surrey campus, along with Catwoman, Chaos, and Fantastic Four.


Catwoman (2004): Halle Berry’s incarnation of Catwoman was shot on SFU property, but we probably shouldn’t flaunt this one too much. Berry herself called the film a “piece-of-shit, god-awful movie,” while accepting a Razzie award for the film. Moving along . . .  


Chaos (2005): Cop drama, and banks, and computer viruses, and hostages, and heists. Oh my!


Fantastic Four (2005): The film follows a group of astronauts (Ioan Gruffud, Michael Chiklis, Chris Evans, and Jessica Alba) who gain superpowers due to radiation exposure in outer space. Considering this movie’s 4.5/10 rating on Rotten Tomatoes, let’s just say that it’s a good thing that Chris Evans’ later Marvel appearances in the Captain America franchise performed better than his debut. While you can recognize quite a few different parts of Vancouver in the film, what really matters for our purposes is the appearance of Surrey Central!


The Day The Earth Stood Still (2008): This film is actually a remake of a 1951 sci-fi thriller about an alien and a giant robot who have come to Earth to warn humans about an impending invasion. The alien is appropriately played by the immortal Keanu Reeves, but you’ll also find Jennifer Connelly and Kathy Bates in the cast. And boy, did they milk Burnaby campus for locations: Terry Fox Field, Convocation Mall, Lorne Davies Complex, and the W.A.C. Bennett Library all make appearances as impromptu military bases or landing pads for military aircraft. The movie is basically a campus tour! (I’m kidding: please take an actual tour of campus if you need one, the tour guides are lovely and helpful.)   


Personal Effects (2009): This drama, starring Ashton Kutcher and Michelle Pfeiffer, follows the story of wrestling prodigy Walter who drops everything and moves back home following his sister’s murder. There, he befriends Linda, a single mother widowed after her husband’s murder, and teaches her Deaf son Clay how to wrestle to keep him active and out of trouble. Aren’t you proud to go to school where Ashton Kutcher (possibly with his racist Popchips) once worked? Personal Effects filmed in the Halpern Centre, and if you pause the trailer at 1:13 you’ll also spot Saywell Hall’s hallway benches.


Underworld Awakening (2012): Time to get spooky: this film follows humanity’s discovery that two powerful, paranormal clans (Vampires and Lycans) are fighting for domination. Of course, in a move unsurprising to anybody who has ever studied a tiny bit of world history, they immediately determine that they have to annihilate these two clans themselves. Convocation Mall, the library, and the Transportation Centre all make appearances in this movie, especially as the headquarters for Antigen (the human organization responsible for containing the vampire and werewolf epidemics). Additional footage, like chase scenes, hails from downtown Vancouver.


Bonus round: Television!


  • Masters of Science Fiction
  • Kyle XY
  • Battlestar Galactica
  • Stargate SG-1
  • Millennium
  • The X-Files


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