These are the Canadian performers, creators and executives shaking up the industry. Check out the full 2023 Power List here.
MORE: See who made the 2023 Maclean’s Power List
1. Denis Villeneuve is the blockbuster director who wants to save the silver screen
Click here to find out why Villeneuve gets the top spot
2. The Weeknd is the Scarborough singer that’s gone from stadium shows to HBO
Singer, producer & actor
In the last year, Abel Tesfaye has had a top-selling stadium tour, an Oscar shortlist nod (he wrote the theme to Avatar: The Way of Water), six Juno nominations and a Spotify record for the most streamed song ever. Now, Scarborough’s most impressive export is focused on a new realm of superstardom. The Idol, coming to HBO Max this year, is a six-episode series about an ambitious young pop star who gets sucked in by an enigmatic music-industry guru. Not a huge stretch for Tesfaye, who is also producer and co-creator. His partner is Euphoria creator Sam Levinson—a.k.a. the guy who taught Gen Z about appointment television—and his co-star is bona fide nepo-baby Lily-Rose Depp. The Idol is billing itself as “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood,” but “most hyped” would make for an equally accurate tagline.
3. Sarah Polley is making prestige feminist films—and the Oscars are taking note
Sarah Polley, a rare auteur intent on upending the idea of the singular creative genius, has released her first film in a decade: Women Talking, based on Miriam Toews’s novel about the aftermath of sexual assault in a Bolivian Mennonite colony. In an industry that has romanticized suffering for art, the set of Women Talking offered an inspiring alternative. Cast and crew were consulted for feedback, the set had a trauma therapist and workdays ended in time for family dinner. Polley’s outlook is largely a response to her own negative experiences as a child actor, many of which are recounted in her bestselling 2022 memoir Run Towards the Danger. Women Talking was up for two Oscars—Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay—but Polley’s ability to reimagine how her industry operates is where her impact will be most potent.
4. Craig Mazin & Neil Druckmann turned Calgary and Edmonton into blockbuster TV towns
Showrunners, The Last of Us
HBO’s The Last of Us, the most expensive piece of CanCon ever produced, almost never was. For years, Neil Druckmann didn’t think his emotional, slow-burn video game about a grieving father shepherding a young girl through a post-pandemic dystopia would translate to a traditional blockbuster. Sony optioned the title in 2014, but studio requests to make things bigger and sexier killed it. And it stayed that way until Druckmann learned that Craig Mazin, creator of Chernobyl, was interested. HBO coughed up a budget bigger than each of the first five seasons of Game of Thrones, and Alberta provided the sprawling, fungus-infested backdrop—plus a slew of jobs and tens of millions in tax credits, solidifying Wild Rose Country as a premium market for film and TV.
MORE: How The Last of Us transformed Calgary into a zombie wasteland
5. Domee Shi is infiltrating Pixar’s boys’ club
Domee Shi’s Best Animated Feature Oscar nomination for Turning Red is a second in what is otherwise a story of firsts. The 33-year-old Sheridan College grad, who won a golden statue for Best Animated Short in 2019, is the first woman to solo direct a Pixar movie in the studio’s history. Her semi-autobiographical and gloriously surreal take on family, friendship and female puberty is also Pixar’s first to star Asian characters, and the first to spotlight a Canadian city, showing Toronto’s streetcars, cute neighbourhoods and the SkyDome in all their specific, sometimes broken-down beauty.
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Turning Red earned rave reviews when it was released in 2022
The movie’s theatrical release was dampened by Omicron, but critical reception was stellar, and Shi—who was recently promoted to Pixar’s VP of creative—is already at work on a follow-up she describes as bigger and bolder. (Yes, bigger and bolder than a red panda the size of the SkyDome.)
6. Brendan Fraser is back—and standing by his values
In 2018, Brendan Fraser went public with allegations that a former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, or HFPA, had groped him during a luncheon in 2003, saying that this incident was part of why he pulled away from the industry (the official in question denied the allegations). Up until last year, he was earning paycheques from conventions to meet fans of The Mummy franchise, and then came a call from auteur Darren Aronofsky for The Whale. Fraser plays Charlie, a writing instructor struggling with obesity who wants to reconnect with his family before he dies. From its earliest screening, Fraser’s performance has been a praise magnet—at TIFF they staged a tribute in his honour. But in January, he was a no-show at the Golden Globes, which is put on by the HFPA. He said his mother didn’t raise a hypocrite. But she did raise a star.
7. Michael Hackman is making space for movie magic
CEO, Hackman capital partners
The streaming era has brought unprecedented demand for new content—which means an unprecedented need for spaces to make it in. In this supply desert, Toronto has emerged as a new Studio City, with Michael Hackman as the de facto mayor. In 2021, the city announced a partnership with the California-based Hackman Capital Partners, or HCP, to build the Basin Media Hub, a $250-million investment that will include eight soundstages and anchor a larger innovation-themed district along the waterfront. HCP is also financing a $200-million redevelopment of the old Bombardier factory. Together, the projects scheduled for completion next year will add a whopping 1.5 million square feet of studio space—ideal for superhero smackdowns, epic space odysseys or whatever Guillermo del Toro might be dreaming up.
8. Sharon Taylor is working on family-friendly fun for everyone
COO, Animal Logic
More than a decade ago, Sharon Taylor quit a stable career in accounting to join Animal Logic, an animation studio working on its first feature: Happy Feet. In 2015, she left Australia, where Animal Logic is based, to oversee the launch of a Vancouver office. Since then, it’s been a slew of kids’ box-office hits that parents actually want to see: the Lego franchise, two live-action Peter Rabbit movies and, most recently, DC League of Super-Pets, a Warner Bros. co-production that opened at No. 1 last July.
Did you know that exactly 9 years ago, @TheLEGOMovie was released in US theatres? 🧱 How time flies when everything is awesome! 🎵#TheLEGOMovie #AnimalLogic pic.twitter.com/WmZBBfpFGB
— Animal Logic (@animallogic) February 7, 2023
That same month, Animal Logic announced a Netflix partnership on top of upcoming deals with Warner Bros., Disney and New Line Cinema. Further expansion is afoot: the company’s new 110,000-square-foot studio in Vancouver will anchor Main Alley Development, a Westbank hub dedicated to creative and tech industries.
9. Iman Vellani is superheroically breaking barriers on television
Iman Vellani was a super-fan before she was a superhero: two years before scoring her breakout acting gig on the eponymous TV show, she dressed up as Ms. Marvel for Halloween. Her character can stretch and morph her body like Silly Putty, but Vellani’s power may be her unshakable confidence: she shared four pages of questions with Marvel president Kevin Feige soon after they met, and he actually answered some of them. Ms. Marvel was an important milestone, featuring the MCU’s first-ever Muslim superhero. Beloved by critics and embraced by fans, the show was named best superhero series on Rotten Tomatoes, and devotees are lobbying hard for a season two. In the meantime, Vellani will star in this fall’s The Marvels, featuring an all-female superhero squad, including Captain Marvel (played by Brie Larson), plus Avengers: Secret Wars, coming in 2026.
10. Tantoo Cardinal is having a cinematic renaissance
Tantoo Cardinal made her name in ’90s hits like Dances With Wolves and Legends of the Fall and, in 2009, was named to the Order of Canada. Normally this honour would be a sign of an impressive career on its way out to pasture, but for the 72-year-old Cree-Métis actor, the 2020s have been a renaissance of McConaugheyian proportions. Last December, she had a key supporting role in Three Pines, Amazon Prime’s detective thriller based on Louise Penny’s novels, which features the first pop culture depiction of Canada’s residential schools murders. Next up, Gen Z will meet Cardinal in Marvel’s Echo series, alongside fellow Indigenous star Graham Greene. Speaking of cinematic royalty: Cardinal has an important role in Martin Scorsese’s forthcoming Killers of the Flower Moon, a mystery based on the real-life murders of members of the Osage nation in the 1920s.
Check out the full 2023 Power List here
This article appears in print in the March 2023 issue of Maclean’s magazine. Buy the issue for $9.99 or better yet, subscribe to the monthly print magazine for just $39.99.