Scandinavian Crime Movies & Series – Best 15 Nordic Noir

Scandinavian crime movies The Girl with the Dragon Tatto

Crime movies from Scandinavia are most often based on a native novel. Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo or Camilla Lackberg are names that set the canon of this literature. Their acclaimed screen adaptations are also triumphant. This strand of Scandinavian culture has become known as Nordic noir.

Crime fiction in the 21st century has completely dominated Scandinavian genre cinema. However, an earlier era of film already had significant pictures of this trend. The 1976 “Man on the Roof”, directed by Bo Widerberg, is still considered the most successful Swedish crime film. The picture was based on the novel by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. Set in Stockholm, the film is the story of the search for a murderer, but at the same time it is a critique of Swedish state institutions that create an apparatus of violence against citizens.

In Danish cinema, on the other hand, the 1970s saw the great triumphs of Erik Balling’s crime comedy series “Olsen’s Gang”. Interestingly, only the third part of the series – 1971’s “Olsen Gang in Jutland” was met with great enthusiasm, both from critics and audiences. The three petty criminals Egon (Ove Sprogoe), Benny (Morten Grunwald) and Kjeld (Poul Bundgaard) won the hearts of viewers around the world with their hilarious vices and ever-present bad luck. The peculiar Danish sense of humor combined with criminal intrigue for many years became the benchmark of the success of this cinematography.

The Nordic noir current, which includes both literature and Scandinavian film, of course, refers to the tradition of black American cinema of the 1940s. At the same time, however, the criminal plot here is strongly linked with the social problems characteristic of Scandinavia. A very important role is also played by the very scenery and climate of the far north: winter landscapes, open space, scarcity of sunshine and prevalence of gloomy mood. The criminal intrigue, on the other hand, serves not only to solve an interesting mystery, but reveals the paradoxes of a “Scandinavian paradise” populated by truly terrifying demons.

Scandinavian movies and crime series

1. “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” (“Män som hatar kvinnor”, 2009)

Scandinavian movies The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2009

“The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” is the first part of the popular Millennium trilogy, based on the prose of Stieg Larsson. The BAFTA award-winning film was remade by Niels Arden Oplev. The main character of the picture is an investigative journalist, Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who tries to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a teenage girl decades ago. It turns out that his assistant in unraveling the mysterious case becomes a young hacker Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace).

2. “The Girl Who Played with Fire” (“Flickan som lekte med elden, Millennium part 2”, 2009)

The best scndinavian crime movies - The Girl who played with fire

“The Girl Who Played with Fire” is the second part of Millennium, directed by Daniel Alfredson. Suspicion unexpectedly falls on Lisbeth for the murder of two investigative journalists. This time Mikael will have to get involved in helping a former friend. The film did not get as positive reviews as the first part, but you can find here the typical gloomy Scandinavian atmosphere for which viewers love Nordic noir.

3. “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” (“Luftslottet som sprängdes”, 2009)

The best scandinavian crime films - The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets Nest

Daniel Alredson’s “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is the final link in Stieg Larsson’s series of screen adaptations. It is a further part of the story of Lisbeth recovering from severe injuries. The girl also faces a difficult trial. Mikael tries at all costs to help her prove her innocence. He prepares an exposing article that will expose the dark mechanisms of power.

4. “Headhunters” (“Hodejegerne”, 2011)

Scandinavian crime series - Headhunters

“Headhunters” is a screen adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s popular novel. The venture was undertaken by Morten Tydlum, and stars Aksel Hennie, Synnove Macody Lund and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Roger Brown is a wealthy businessman who fulfills all the whims of his beautiful wife. In reality, however, the man’s income comes from trading in stolen artwork. One day Roger’s stabilized life changes – someone tries to murder him and turns the protagonist’s existence into a constant escape.

5. “The Killing” (“Forbrydelsen”, TV Series 2007 – 2012)

Scandinavian crime series - The Killing

“The Killing” is a BAFTA award-winning and two Emmy nominations Scandinavian crime series. The movie lived to see an American version, screened in Poland under the title Dochodzenie. The series is set in Copenhagen. The main character is detective Sarah Lund, who tries to solve the mystery of the mysterious death of a 19-year-old girl. Her partner in the investigation becomes Inspector Jan Meyer (Soren Malling). The performer of the main role, Sofie Grabol, received an Emmy nomination for her performance.

6. “The Hour of the Lynx” (“I Lossens time”, 2013)

The best scandinavian crime movies and series - The Hour of the Lynx

“The Hour of the Lynx” is a Scandinavian crime film directed by Soren Kragh-Jacobsen. The picture is set in a psychiatric hospital. A psychologist (Signe Egholm Olsen) working with patients decides to try a new method of therapy – each patient is given an animal to take care of. Unexpectedly, one of the patients makes a suicide attempt after this experiment, claiming that he did it on God’s command. Frightened by the results of the treatment, Lisbeth seeks help from a woman pastor, Helen (Sofie Grabol). The cooperation of the two women leads to surprising conclusions.

7. “Insomnia” (1997)

The best scandinavian series - Insomnia 1997

“Insomnia” is a high-profile movie by Erik Skjoldbjaerg, set in the scenery of a Norwegian town. During the polar day, a young girl is murdered. An intelligent detective, Jonas Engstrom (Stellan Skarsgard), arrives on the scene. The man has to face not only the mystery, but also the forces of nature. In the course of the investigation, Jonas accidentally kills his colleague.

8. “Solstorm” (2007)

Top scandinavian crime movies - Solstorm

“Solstorm” is a film directed by Leif Lindbloom and starring Izabella Scorupco. The actress played the role of a lawyer, Rebecka Martinsson, who returns to her hometown to explain the mysterious death of a local clergyman. The man is the brother of Rebecka’s friend, who is suspected of committing the murder. The return to Kiruna brings back painful memories of the heroine’s past.

9. “The Hypnotist” (“Hypnotisoren”, 2012)

The best nordic noir - The Hypnotist

Lasse Halstrom’s “The Hypnotist” is a Swedish crime film about the investigation led by Commissioner Joon Linn (Tobias Zilliacus). The policeman must unravel the mystery of a brutal murder of an entire family. The sole survivor of the massacre, a teenager, has suffered severe trauma and it is difficult to communicate with him. The commissioner asks for help from well-known psychiatrist Erik Bark (Mikael Persbrandt), who is to restore the boy’s memory with the help of hypnosis.

10. “ID:A” (2011)

The best nordic movies - ID:A

“ID:A” by Christian E. Christiansen is a Scandinavian detective story, whose main character is Aliena (played by Tuva Novotny). A woman loses her memory and wakes up in France, on the bank of a river. Next to her is a suitcase filled with money. Because of the language she speaks, the heroine comes to the conclusion that she is Danish, and in order to get to the truth about her identity she must go to Scandinavia. Over time, Aliena realizes that someone is following her.

11. “Pusher” (1996)

The best scandinavian crime thrillers - Pusher

Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher” is the story of a drug dealer who is accidentally arrested one day. His merchandise is lost, and he has to pay off his debt to the owners of heroin as soon as possible after his release from prison. At stake is the man’s life. Thus begins a frantic race against time. The role of the main character was played by Kim Bodnia. His friend Tonny, on the other hand, was played by Mads Mikkelsen. “Pusher” marked the beginning of a Scandinavian trilogy of films about drug bosses, the sequels to which were 2004’s “Pusher II” and 2005’s “Pusher III”.

12. “The Bridge” (“Bron”, TV Series 2011 – 2018)

Best nordic shows - The Bridge

“The Bridge” is a high-profile Scandinavian crime series set on the Swedish-Danish border. The two countries are connected by the title bridge over the Sound, where one day the remains of two murder victims are found: a well-known politician and a prostitute. The investigation is led by Swedish policewoman Saga Noren (Sofia Helin) and Danish detective Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia).

13. “Department Q: The Absent One” (“Fasandraeberne”, 2014)

Scandinavian crime shows - Department Q

“Department Q: The Absent One” is a gripping crime story from 2014 by Mikkel Norgaard. The plot centers around a mystery from twenty years ago. In the 1990s, twin siblings are murdered and the perpetrator is apprehended. However, detectives Carl Morck (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Assad (Fares Fares) decide to reopen the investigation. The film is the second part of a series based on the prose of Jussi Adler-Olsen. The first work in the series was Woman in a Cage.

14. “Wallander” (TV Series 2008 – 2016)

Nordic Noir Series - Wallander

“Wallander” is a Scandinavian series based on Henning Mankell’s popular novels. The main character of the series is Kurt Wallander (Krister Henriksson), a police officer of the crime department in the small Swedish town of Ystad. The man is struggling with serious personal problems – his marriage has broken down, his daughter has tried to kill herself, and his father has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The commissioner seeks escape in his job, in which he is an overly effective investigator. The British version of the series received as many as five Bafta Awards, and the actor playing the lead role, Kenneth Branagh, received an Emmy statuette.

15. “Mammon” (TV Series 2014 – 2016)

Scandinavian crime drama - Mammon

Arrangement is a Norwegian series whose main character is investigative journalist Peter Veras. One day the man gets information about financial irregularities in a large multinational corporation. After the publication of an article on the subject, the journalist’s brother, involved in the case, commits suicide. Five years after these events, the protagonist undertakes an independent investigation. The arrangement won an Emmy statuette for best drama series of 2017.

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