The Year Ahead: Culture in 2023

The fate of Canadian superheroes, Hollywood North, the Weeknd and more

Courtney Shea
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Photographs by Murdo MacLeod (Catton), CBC, Canadian Canoe Museum, Getty Images, CP Images, iStock, Illustration by Selman Hosgör

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” collection. Read the rest of our predictions for 2023 here.

This year, a handful of new museums and movie studios kick CanCon up a notch. Meanwhile, new stars continue their ascent, with fresh releases from Drake’s pal Daniel Caesar and bestselling author Ashley Audrain. Here’s a look at the year ahead in culture: 

1. Sook-Yin Lee will take us back to the ’90s

In 1996, Canadian radio host, musician, actor and film director Sook-Yin Lee split up with her boyfriend, the cartoonist Chester Brown. Fifteen years later, Brown published Paying For It, chronicling his post-breakup decision to pay for sex rather than deal with emotional entanglements. Now Lee is directing a feature film based on Brown’s memoir, in which her namesake character has a significant role. It’s quirky and irreverent and perfectly on-brand for one of the country’s most original multi-hyphenates, who also has an acting role in the upcoming The Incident Report, executive-produced by madcap maverick Charlie Kaufman.

2. Dune: Part Two will stage a battle of the hunks

When Canada’s auteur of moody action Denis Villeneuve signed on to make a film adaptation of Dune, Frank Herbert’s seminal 1965 sci-fi novel, he insisted on doing it in two installments. A good call, given the book’s famously byzantine plot and Game of Thrones–level character roster. The first film, released in 2021, told the cosmic love story between Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and Chani (Zendaya). Part Two, out in November, will expand the focus to include the Atreides family’s mortal enemies, House Harkonnen, fronted by Elvis star Austin
Butler—arguably the only young Hollywood actor who gives Chalamet a run for his reigning-hunk status. 

3. Shania Twain will return as the queen of country (and techno?) 

Man—it feels like a lifetime. In fact, it’s been five years, two rounds of open throat surgery, and one surprise, sequin-soaked duet with Harry Styles at Coachella 2022 since Canada’s country queen released new music. “Waking up Dreaming” is the first single off Twain’s sixth album, Queen of Me, out in February. The song’s technopop beats and Twain’s Gaga-esque appearance in the music video feel and sound like a diversion from those cowgirl karaoke classics that most Canadians can belt by heart. Lest long-time fans fear Shania has left her roots behind, here’s a dose of reassurance: last September, she celebrated her return by posing topless with her beloved Stetson. 

4. Eleanor Catton’s new novel will give us another reason to worry about billionaires

Ten years ago, at age 28, Eleanor Catton became the youngest author in history to win the Booker Prize for The Luminaries, a historical mystery set during New Zealand’s 19th-century gold rush. Now Catton—who was born in London, Ontario—returns with a contemporary thriller in the emerging sub-genre known as cli-fi, or climate fiction. Birnam Wood (a Macbeth reference) follows two idealistic environmental activists who encounter a mysterious magnate with a nefarious agenda. Catton has said the book explores the current political moment without being partisan: the plot mirrors a real-life trend of American billionaires (including Trump adviser Peter Thiel) purchasing doomsday bunkers in rural New Zealand.

5. Daniel Caesar, pal of Drake, Bieber and the Weeknd, will get us grooving

Signing to Republic Records was a big deal for the 27-year-old Caesar, who previously shied away from major labels. But that was before the Grammy win, before the 2021 “Peaches” duet with Justin Bieber that went to No. 1 on the Billboard 100 chart, before the Biebs crashed his 2022 Coachella set—topless—to perform their hit. While often compared to fellow Six stars Drake and the Weeknd, Caesar draws more from gospel and soul influences. Last year’s single “Please Do Not Lean,” featuring the Toronto collective BadBadNotGood, is a ’90s makeout jam with hints of Motown. 

6. Three museums will inject new life into history

A trio of history hubs are upping Canada’s cultural cred, starting with the Canadian Canoe Museum, a new $40-million, 65,000-square-foot facility located on the shores of Little Lake in Peterborough, Ontario, and shaped like—you guessed it—a canoe. Inside are hundreds of examples of our national transport vehicle, including birchbark versions from the 1700s and one that belonged to prolific paddler Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Further north, the Yellowknife Historical Society Museum and Interpretive Centre will explore the history and geology of the city (the site is located on a former gold mine). And in Montreal, the Holocaust Museum is breaking ground this year on a new $90-million complex, with classrooms, exhibition spaces and a memorial garden. Its mandate—to advance human rights, and fight anti-Semitism and discrimation—couldn’t be more timely.

7. Ashley Audrain’s latest page-turner will give us the creeps

A boy falls from his bedroom window after a boozy neighbourhood barbecue, and his family and neighbours must reckon with their roles in the horrible incident. Toronto author Audrain’s new novel, The Whispers, features the same brand of engrossing domestic noir that made her a global superstar with 2021’s The Push, a dark take on motherhood that earned a $3-million deal, weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and a forthcoming screen adaptation. In The Whispers, the drama plays out over a single week and is recounted by three narrators. 

8. Hollywood North will heat up

The battle over which Canadian city can lay claim to the “Hollywood North” title gets a little more interesting with three major film hubs adding to their arsenals in 2023. Montreal’s new $53-million studio, MELS 4, will focus on attracting more blockbusters (movies from the X-Men and Transformers series were shot at MELS locations). In Toronto, Basin Media Hub will plant eight new soundstages along the Port Lands and generate a predicted quarter of a billion dollars in economic activity. And in Burnaby, an LED volume soundstage will feature the same kind of cutting-edge tech that produced Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Mandalorian. All of which is to say that Hollywood could eventually be known as Canada South. 

9. Canadian superheroes will prevail over Marvel villains

Marvel has discovered Canada. Iman Vellani, a 20-year-old actor from Markham, Ontario, is the superhero in Ms. Marvel, and Orphan Black Emmy-winner Tatiana Maslany stars in She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (both shows are on Disney+). The Canadianization of the comic book universe will continue in a series about an Indigenous superhero: Marvel’s Echo, a spinoff of 2021’s Hawkeye, tells the story of a young deaf woman who must contend with her special powers and her ancestral roots. The titular role is played by Native American actress Alaqua Cox, and the supporting cast is a who’s-who of Indigenous Canadian talent: veterans Tantoo Cardinal and Graham Greene, and newcomers Devery Jacobs and Cody Lightning.

10. The natural world will get a glow-up with a high-tech art experience

Toronto’s Museum of Contemporary Art is one of 10 international locations to simultaneously host “Seeing the Invisible,” an augmented-reality exhibit that places virtual art against natural backdrops (in Toronto, the leafy hectares of Sorauren Park and High Park). The out-there art pieces—including original work by acclaimed artists such as Ai Weiwei and Pamela Rosenkranz—explore the slippery boundaries between art and technology and inspire contemplation of the fragility of nature. No fancy headsets required—just download the app and show up at the GPS-marked locations. And we suggest you bring your Airpods: some of the pieces include complementary soundscapes.

This story is part of our annual “Year Ahead” collection. Read the rest of our predictions for 2023 here.

Correction: This article originally referred to Charlie Kaufman as the producer of the film, The Incident Report. Kaufman is the film’s executive producer. 

This article appears in print in the January 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.