Inside Vancouver’s abandoned WATCHMEN set

Here are three things you might enjoy about the film Watchmen (2009), directed by Zack Snyder that was shot in Vancouver:

  1. A overly-visually faithful representation of a brilliant 1986 comic book miniseries (that never needed to be a movie)
  2. So many uses of the Most Obvious Song possible for many scenes, excluding:
  3.  One of the wildest and cringiest uses of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah

One thing you might not enjoy is trying to find any Vancouver locations – a rarity for superheroic things that film in Vancouver. That’s because to create an alternate-timeline ’80s America filled with damaged superheroes, Snyder took a hyper-faithful world-building approach to its dense source material, expertly disguising the few Vancouver locations with CGI or filming on closed sets.

The most impressive example of this was a 12-acre backlot used to build six New York City streets – about four blocks – complete with alleyways. It’s an enormous, immersive space that’s still being used for filming.

The photos below give a sense of how big the set was and the detail used (ripped up posters featuring Doctor Manhattan and the Gunga Diner). There’s also a majorly apocalyptic vibe in the empty streets, like it was either cleared out by either a giant squid monster or a Dr. Manhattan-esque radioactive explosion.

If you are looking for Vancouver locations, it’s hard to beat the opening credits, where an alternate American history unfolds with superheroes literally changing key moments in America’s past, set to Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing (that subtly with the music) – and where hero Dollar Bill has been shot and killed after getting his cape stuck in the revolving doors of the Marine Building. You hate to see it.

There’s also a few other Vancouver connections to Watchmen:

  • The 2019 HBO series was rumoured to film here.
  • David Hayter announced in the early 2000s at a VIFF forum that he was going write a Watchmen adaption
  • And in the 2019 HBO series, the three cities that get pelted with mini-squid attacks are Tulsa, Leningrad and… Vancouver! Which definitely begs the question: would Vancouverites freak out more over raining mini-squids or snow?