X-Men | 2000
Bryan Singer paved the way for comic book adaptations to be taken seriously with top-notch casting and no shying away from the political allegory.
Threatened with the introduction of discriminatory laws, ‘mutants’ in the US are facing an age-old dilemma – to work peacefully for equality or to fight back by any means necessary.
Set in 'New York', the film was made almost entirely in Ontario, Canada, even the opening scene, set in ‘Poland, 1944’.
The radical mutant faction is led by Erik Lehnsherr (Ian McKellen), whose anger stems from having witnessed the horrors of fascism first-hand in the Thirties.
This is referenced in the grim concentration camp prologue, where young Erik discovers the extraordinary powers that lead to his becoming Magneto, uses what was the old Gooderham & Worts Distillery complex on Mill Street toward the Toronto waterfront.
Gooderham & Worts were (for a while at least) the largest distillery in the world and those buildings date from the company’s beginnings in the 1860s. Facing more and more competition, whisky distilling ceased on the site in 1957 (rum and industrial alcohol kept it going, as they do many of us) but by 1990, the distillery had closed for good.
The empty warehouses went on to be used as makeshift film studios for several film productions including Rob Marshall's Oscar-winning musical Chicago (as the prison), Three Men and a Baby, Guillermo del Toro’s Mimic, The Recruit, Blues Brothers 2000 and The Long Kiss Goodnight.
In fact, the lowlife bar in ‘northern Alberta’ where Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is first discovered cage-fighting was also filmed in the complex.
The distillery was still abandoned and undeveloped when X-Men was filmed but the whole site has now been smartly restored to become the arty Distillery District.
The area used as the 'concentration camp' is now occupied by the outdoor patio area of Mexican restaurant El Catrin Destileria, 18 Tank House Lane. You'll recognise the buildings alongside the patio and, so ominous in the film, the chimney towering above.
The story proper begins in the ‘near future’ as Dr Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) speaks passionately at a senate assembly against Senator Kelly (Bruce Davison) and his demand for a register of mutants. The debate is held in the circular Metro Hall Council Chambers in Metro Hall, a 27-storey office tower on Wellington Street at John Street in the heart of Toronto, which really is used by the city’s government.
Among the onlookers are Lehnsherr and his old friend Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is now actively championing a conciliatory approach to mutants’ rights with a school for the ‘gifted’ where these unexplained powers can be channelled positively.
When Lehnsherr and Xavier finally acknowledge each other outside the chamber, that curved glass corridor isn’t Metro Hall but part of Roy Thomson Hall, 60 Simcoe Street, a 1982 concert hall and now home to the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Back in wintery ‘Alberta’, loner Wolverine reluctantly gives a lift to fellow mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin). The snowy stretch of road where his truck is attacked by Sabretooth (Tyler Mane) is Twyn Rivers Drive in Rouge National Urban Park, Twyn Rivers, near Scarborough, northeast of Toronto.
A little further northeast is the Greenwood Conservation Area, 2290 Greenwood Road, Ajax, where Magneto’s lair was constructed.
To find ‘Mutant High’, Dr Xavier’s ‘School for Gifted Youngsters’, supposedly in ‘Westchester, Upstate New York’, you need to travel further east still. It’s Parkwood Estate, 270 Simcoe Street North, Oshawa, which you might have seen as the luxurious apartment of Kitty Baxter (Lucy Liu) in Chicago, or in Adam Sandler comedy Billy Madison, Shirley MacLaine’s Mrs Winterbourne, Bulletproof Monk with Yun-Fat Chow or Hollywoodland with Ben Affleck.
The school interior, though, is Casa Loma, 1 Austin Terrace at Spadina Road, a turn-of-the-century mock-medieval folly overlooking northern Toronto. The building is a frequent film location (see it in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim Vs The World and in Jean-Claude van Damme actioner Maximum Risk) and more recently, Ready Or Not.
Professor Xavier's study, into which Logan bursts, is the Oak Room on the ground floor, which is now used as the Blueblood Steakhouse. Originally called the Napoleon Drawing Room, it's the most decorated room in the house, with wood-panelling in the style of Grinling Gibbons, which apparently took three years to carve. It's one of the most frequent locations used – you can see it again as the office of lawyer Billy Flynn in Oscar-winning musical Chicago.
The schoolroom where mutant children are learning to control their skills is the Castle's Conservatory, also on the Main Floor.
In the basement, you'll find the old Stables, which is where Cyclops (James Marsden) keeps his bike.
As a brief aside, the school’s grounds, where one of the gifted youngsters runs across the surface of that long ornamental pool, is Greystone Park & Mansion, 905 Loma Vista Drive in Beverly Hills, California. We’ll see a little more of this familiar location later.
‘Westchester Railway Station’, to which Cerebro traces Rogue and where Magneto uses his electromagnetic powers to levitate police cars, is Hamilton, southwest of Toronto. It was the CNR (Canadian National Railway) Station, now events space / wedding venue LIUNA Station, 360 James Street North, Hamilton. This was also the location of the spectacular shoot-out in 1996 actioner The Long Kiss Goodnight, with Geena Davis and Samuel L Jackson.
If you're visiting on foot, the station is almost a mile north from central Hamilton. It feels like an unlikely place to find what was a major railway station as the streets peter out but persevere – the station suddenly appears.
Now used for weddings and events, you can pop in to look around its lovely deco entrance hall.
The ’New York’ stuff is all strictly second-unit background shots. ‘Liberty Island’ is actually Spencer Smith Park, 1400 Lakeshore Road, at Burlington on the Lake Ontario waterfront northwest of Hamilton, while interior shots of the 'Statue of Liberty' and its museum were filmed in the old Bridgman Transformer Station, 391 Davenport Road.
Dating from 1904, you’ll find the station just to the east of Casa Loma and it was, surprisingly, designed by the same architect.
Magneto uses the Statue of Liberty as the base for his attack on the Conference of World Leaders on 'Ellis Island' which climaxes the film.
Ellis Island has enormous significance as the historic point of arrival and processing for decades of immigrants. The Main Building now houses the fascinating Immigration Museum, which you can see in Will Smith rom-com Hitch – but not in this film.
The open-air meeting was filmed on the campus of Central Toronto Academy, 570 Shaw Street, west of Toronto. That’s not the 'Ellis Island Immigration Museum' but the rear of the college building.
The mansion and its grounds are old favourites. You can see that long pool again in the garden of ‘Wayne Manor’ in Batman and Robin.
The mansion itself has been seen in countless productions, most famously as the interior of Norman Osborn’s ‘New York’ penthouse in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man films. It’s also been featured in The Big Lebowski and that’s its bowling alley in There Will Be Blood.
The spacious grounds (though not the house itself) are open to the public.