18 Best Scandinavian Films Movies to Watch

Staff & contributors

It comes as no surprise that former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor in Cannes for delivering on this challenging role. In this merciless thriller by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, the ice-eyed actor plays Lucas, an out-of-luck high school teacher struggling to start a new life. After a bitter divorce, he returns to the close-knit community he grew up in to work as a kindergarten teacher.

A few weeks before Christmas, a child from his class, who has an innocent crush on the popular teacher, hints to a colleague that he had exposed himself to her. The young girl’s intimation galvanizes the small hunter’s town into a witch-hunt that leaves Lucas’ life hanging from a string. Trapped in the lies, the more he fights back, the more irrational the mob becomes. In all its brutal honesty, The Hunt is one of those rare thrillers that will haunt you for days. Extraordinary and thought-provoking!

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Rapaport, Allan Wibor Christensen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp, Bjarne Henriksen, Daniel Engstrup, Frank Rubæk, Jacob Højlev Jørgensen, Josefine Gråbøl, Jytte Kvinesdal, Lars Ranthe, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Mads Mikkelsen, Mona C. Soliman, Nicolai Dahl Hamilton, Ole Dupont, Øyvind Hagen-Traberg, Rasmus Lind Rubin, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Søren Rønholt, Susse Wold, Thomas Bo Larsen, Troels Thorsen

Director: Thomas Vinterberg

Rating: R

Danish films somehow have a unique approach to emotions that are rarely matched and this Susanne Bier-directed drama is no exception. Its protagonist is Jacob Peterson, a driven idealist played by Mads Mikkelsen, who runs a fledgling orphanage in India. Close to giving up, Peterson returns to Copenhagen to meet a billionaire, who is offering to fund his charity project. However, there is a dark secret at the heart of this relationship, throwing Peterson into disarray. This elegant and Academy-Award-nominated Danish film has it all: fantastic cast, great direction, and a few special ingredients that turn a good drama into a thrilling one!

Genre: Drama

Actor: Anne Fletting, Christian Tafdrup, Claus Flygare, Erni Arneson, Henning Jensen, Henrik Larsen, Ida Dwinger, Jonatan Spang, Julie R. Olgaard, Mads Mikkelsen, Marie-Louise Coninck, Mona Malm, Neel Rønholt, Neeral Mulchandani, Niels Anders Thorn, Rita Angela, Rolf Lassgård, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen, Swini Khara, Tanya Sharma, Thomas Voss, Troels II Munk

Director: Susanne Bier

Rating: R

Joshua Oppenheimer's daring feat is a documentary unlike anything ever done. Despite it being one of the most difficult things to watch for any human being (or because of it), The Act of Killing received praise across the board, including an Academy Award nomination. Without Oppenheimer's efforts, you might have never heard of the unspeakable events that happened when, in 1965-66, Suharto overthrew the then-president of Indonesia and a gangster-led death squad killed almost a million people. Did they pay for their crimes? Quite the contrary: said gangsters went on becoming political mainstays in modern-day Indonesia, are still now heralded as heroes, and admit to all these crimes with a smile and not a hint of regret. The gruesome twist of this documentary is that Oppenheimer asks them to re-enact the killings in surreal, sadistic snuff movies inspired by the murderer's favorite action movies. You are forced to stand idly by as they re-create brutal mass murder and joke about raping a 14-year-old. However, somewhere amidst this terrifying farce, the killers, too, have fleeting moments of realization that what they're doing is wrong. If you make it through this in one piece, try watching its more victim-focused follow-up The Look of Silence. Bone-chilling but very powerful stuff.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Adi Zulkadry, Anwar Congo, Haji Anif, Herman Koto, Ibrahim Sinik, Safit Pardede, Syamsul Arifin

Director: Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer

Rating: Not Rated

Based on Fredrick Backman's 2012 best-selling book of the same name, this Swedish hit comedy-drama introduces us to Ove, an elderly man who feels like his life is over. After losing his wife, the short-fused retiree spends his days grumpily enforcing block association rules in his neighborhood. He is your typical unhappy, old neighbor, somebody you would try to avoid. One new family does not give up and befriends Ove, played by an impeccable Rolf Lassgård, despite his best intentions to put them off. As the plot unfolds, however, you learn more about the story behind the man, and, in classic walk-a-mile-in-his-shoes fashion, start to find him rather loveable. After all, nobody is born grumpy and cynical. Naturally, this is a sweet and sentimental film. But an amazing lead performance and a charming, darkly funny script rescue it from drifting too far off the shore. The result is a wholesome, fun, and thoughtful dramedy with a beautiful message.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anna Granath, Bahar Pars, Borje Lundberg, Chatarina Larsson, Christoffer Nordenrot, Erik Ståhlberg, Filip Berg, Fredrik Evers, Ida Engvoll, Jerker Fahlström, Jessica Olsson, Johan Friberg, Johan Widerberg, Karin de Frumerie, Klas Wiljergard, Magnus Sundberg, Maja Rung, Poyan Karimi, Rolf Lassgård, Simon Edenroth, Simon Reithner, Sofie Gällerspång, Stefan Godicke, Tobias Almborg

Director: Hannes Holm

Rating: PG-13

The original Swedish mystery thriller that was later remade by David Fincher. It's the same story of a wealthy man hiring a journalist and scrappy hacker to solver a murder, but told better. This version is slower, has more attention to detail and pace. In casting, authenticity triumphs over good looks. In staging, aesthetics are given as much importance as thrills. And in the story, intelligence wins over plot. This gives the main character of Lisbeth Salander (played by Noomi Rapace) better space to deploy her full mysticism and enigmatic nature. Danish director Niels Arden Oplev masterfully brings everything together to make for a movie that will forever be remembered.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Alexandra Pascalidou, Annika Hallin, Barbro Enberg, Bjorn Granath, Christian Fiedler, Daniel Abreu, David Dencik, Emil Almén, Ewa Fröling, Fredrik Ohlsson, Georgi Staykov, Gösta Bredefeldt, Gunnel Lindblom, Henrik Knutsson, Henrik Kvarnlöt, Ingvar Hirdwall, Jacob Ericksson, Jan Mybrand, Jannike Grut, Julia Sporre, Kalled Mustonen, Karl Oscar Törnros, Lena Endre, Lennart R. Svensson, Louise Ryme, Margareta Stone, Marika Lagercrantz, Michael Nyqvist, Michalis Koutsogiannakis, Mikael Rahm, Nina Norén, Noomi Rapace, Pale Olofsson, Peter Andersson, Peter Haber, Reuben Sallmander, Shaun R.L. King, Sofia Ledarp, Sovi Rydén, Stefan Sauk, Sven-Bertil Taube, Tehilla Blad, Tomas Köhler, Willie Andréason, Yasmine Garbi

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Rating: R

With its 69-minute runtime, ultra-minimalist approach to camera movement, and dialogue so sparse it could fit onto a single page, the first word that comes to mind when describing The Match Factory Girl is “lean.” The second word is “bleak”: for most of the film’s slight duration, we watch as the lonely titular character (Iris, played by Kati Outinen) passively endures a relentless barrage of cruelties, whether from her coldly detached parents, callous love interest, or simply fate itself. 

And yet, these words — apt descriptors of the film as they are — only capture part of what makes The Match Factory Girl such a magnetic and unforgettable watch. When a late twist sees the film swerve into even darker territory, director Aki Kaurismäki’s twin approaches fuse into one that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Rendered in his characteristic deadpan style, the shocking event becomes sardonically funny — a gutsy move that only a real master of tone, as Kaurismäki is, could pull off.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Elina Salo, Esko Nikkari, Kati Outinen, Klaus Heydemann, Outi Mäenpää, Reijo Taipale, Richard Reitinger, Silu Seppälä, Vesa Vierikko

Director: Aki Kaurismäki

Danish writer-director Lars von Trier concludes his so-called Depression trilogy with the two parts of Nymphomaniac, an elaborate retelling of the life of a young woman (played by Stacy Martin and then, by Charlotte Gainsbourg) lived from one libidinous pleasure to another. The film's elaborate subplots have a life of their own and flashbacks often take center stage in Joe's auto-narration. Nymphomaniac I introduces the audience to adolescence and early adulthood, through disappointments, adultery, death drive, and extreme ambivalence. Joe's process of self-actualization seems contested and inspiring at the same time, and Gainsbourg is really given the screen time to shine; even more so than in Trier's previous psycho-social drama, Antichrist. Typically for the rich treasury of cultural references, Bach, Edgar Allan Poe, and Fibonacci play crucial parts in reconstructing the symbolic planes in Joe's story. Oh, and Part One opens with Rammstein's "Führe mich", which in itself is an perfectly valid reason to give it a go.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Ananya Berg, Anders Hove, Andreas Grötzinger, Charlie Hawkins, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Christian Slater, Christoph Jöde, Christoph Schechinger, Clayton Nemrow, Connie Nielsen, Cyron Melville, David Halina, George Dawson, Hugo Speer, James Northcote, Jamie Bell, Jeff Burrell, Jens Albinus, Jesper Christensen, Jesse Inman, Johannes Kienast, Jonas Baeck, Markus Tomczyk, Mia Goth, Michael Pas, Nicolas Bro, Peter Gilbert Cotton, Saskia Reeves, Shia LaBeouf, Simon Böer, Sofie Kasten, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Stacy Martin, Stellan Skarsgård, Tomas Spencer, Uma Thurman, Willem Dafoe

Director: Lars von Trier

Rating: Not Rated, NR

Set in the small town of Åmål, western Sweden, the debut feature by Lukas Moodysson (We Are the Best), is itself a metonymy for the bigger questions of life. It's playful and dead serious at the same time, in the way it portrays teenager Agnes, who, after two years of living in Åmål, still hasn't made any friends that would attend her birthday party. Instead, she spends her time typing away on her computer, poetic diaries and love confessions to a girl from school named Elin. She's the popular one and therefore, out of reach. The amount of tension and escalating ambivalence the film conjures with just a simple narrative decision—a bet, a kiss, an apology—is palpable throughout the 86 minutes of its runtime. A perfect capsule of lesbian desire and first love, Show Me Love is a gem of a movie; one that would make you think Close was a tad overrated. Oh, and don't forget to add the titular song by Swedish pop star Robyn to your Spotify favorites.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Actor: Alexandra Dahlström, Bo Lyckman, Erica Carlson, Jill Ung, Josefine Nyberg, Maria Hedborg, Mathias Rust, Ralph Carlsson, Rebecka Liljeberg, Stefan Horberg

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Rating: Not Rated

A Danish cargo ship is hijacked by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean. The pirates demand millions of dollars in ransom and from there on, a psychological drama between the pirates and the ship owner develops, as they negotiate the price for the ship and its crew. A really great thing about this film is the fact that it doesn't get tangled up in the weepy feelings of the families back home - but instead focuses on the shrinking hope of the ship's crew and the psychological consequences of the brutal negotiation, that drives the ship owner to the edge of madness. Inspired by a true story. Brilliantly acted.

Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller

Actor: Abdihakin Asgar, Allan Arnby, Amalie Ihle Alstrup, Andre Royo, Carsten Eigil Hedegaard, Clancy Brown, Dar Salim, Gary Skjoldmose Porter, Jacob Lentz, Keith Pearson, Linda Laursen, Michael Christensen, Ole Dupont, Pilou Asbæk, Pilou Asbæk, Roland Møller, Roland Moller, Søren Malling, Søren Malling, Stephen Gevedon

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

Filmed as a “found footage” of a Norwegian college film crew investigating local poachers, this movie really surprised me. To be fair, I didn’t really know what to expect. But I definitely didn’t expect to like this movie as much as I did. The pacing is on point. The suspense hits you at just the right times. There are a few drops of humour trickled throughout to keep a smile on your face. And that’s how my face stayed when the credits rolled.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Horror

Actor: André Øvredal, Anton Yelchin, Eirik Bech, Glenn Erland Tosterud, Hans Morten Hansen, Inge Erik Henjesand, Johanna Mørck, Johanna Mørck, Kelsey Grammer, Knut Nærum, Knut Nærum, Lexi Medrano, Otto Jespersen, Robert Stoltenberg, Tomas Alf Larsen, TomTom Jorgensen, Torunn Lødemel Stokkeland, Urmila Berg-Domaas

Director: André Øvredal, André Øvredal

Rating: PG-13

A Swedish film about a world-famous conductor who suddenly interrupts his career to return alone to his childhood village in Norrland. It doesn't take long before he is asked to come and listen to the fragment of a church choir, which practices every Thursday in the parish hall. "Just come along and give a little bit of good advice". He can't say no, and from that moment, nothing in the village is the same again. The choir develops and grows. He makes both friends and enemies. And he finds love. It's a wonderful movie about faith, values, and the exploration of one's spirit.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Romance

Actor: André Sjöberg, Barbro Kollberg, Frida Hallgren, Helen Sjöholm, Helen Sjöholm, Ingela Olsson, Kristina Törnqvist, Lasse Petterson, Lasse Pettersson, Lennart Jähkel, Lennart Jähkel, Michael Nyqvist, Mikael Rahm, Mircea Krishan, Niklas Falk, Per Morberg, Ulla-Britt Norrman-Olsson, Verena Buratti, Ylva Lööf, Ylva Lööf

Director: Kay Pollak

Rating: Not Rated

One woman’s main character syndrome reaches shocking lows in this vicious Norwegian satire of social-media-era narcissists. Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) and her artist boyfriend Thomas (Eirik Sæther) are a deeply toxic couple who torture everyone around them with their constant, petty one-upmanship. When he lands a flashy magazine spread, though, Signe’s usual tactics for slyly redirecting attention her way don’t cut it anymore, and so this compulsive liar takes drastic action and begins overdosing on pills banned for their serious dermatological side effects.

Signe's Munchausen-esque actions have their desired effect: the physically dramatic results instantly make her the center of attention — but not indefinitely. As she craves increasingly bigger spotlights, the film toggles between reality and scenes from her imagination, including a morbid sexual fantasy in which her funeral proves so popular the priest becomes a bouncer, turning away sobbing mourners whom Signe noticed hadn’t visited her in hospital. The rampant narcissism on display here is at turns hilarious and excruciating: Sick of Myself’s sharp social observation skills make it feel, in places, like a movie by cringe-master Ruben Östlund. That stomach-turning effect carries through to the ending, which darkly suggests that, for someone like Signe, even narcissism itself is a condition that can be weaponized for attention.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Anders Danielsen Lie, Andrea Bræin Hovig, Erlend Mørch, Fredrik Stenberg Ditlev-Simonsen, Henrik Mestad, Ingrid Vollan, Kristine Kujath Thorp, Kristoffer Borgli, Robert Skjærstad, Sarah Francesca Brænne, Seda Witt, Steinar Klouman Hallert, Terje Strømdahl

Director: Kristoffer Borgli

, 2015

A War (Krigen) is a Danish war drama that focuses on Commander Claus Pedersen (Pilou Asbæk) as he leads a company of soldiers in modern day Afghanistan, while his wife at home in Denmark struggles to care for their three children. During a mission to rescue a family from Taliban threat, Claus’ unit is overcome by enemy fire, forcing him to make a dramatic decision that has a complicated effect upon himself, his fellow soldiers, and his family back home. A War is a tense yet thoroughly involving drama that offers a profound example of moral ambiguity and the repercussions of warfare. The acting and direction are utterly superb across the board—another enthralling and superbly humanistic affair from Danish filmmaker Tobias Lindholm (A Hijacking).

Genre: Drama, War

Actor: Alex Høgh Andersen, Charlotte Munck, Dar Salim, Dulfi Al-Jabouri, Petrine Agger, Pilou Asbæk, Pilou Asbæk, Søren Malling, Søren Malling, Tuva Novotny

Director: Tobias Lindholm

Rating: R

If you’ve been paying close attention to Royal Families in general, then get a snack and settle in, because A Royal Affair’s got it all for you: the steamy scenes, dirty, affair-laden hands, the corsets, and a stunning backdrop of 18th Century Europe. Quite literally deranged and mentally incapable King Christian of Denmark (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) marries the brave Princess Caroline of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander), only to find out that he isn’t cut out for the wedded life. Enlightenment comes in the form of Dr. Johann Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a German physician to the infantile King and true-born reformer. Mostly saddened by her unfortunate fate, the now-Queen Caroline finds herself falling in love with the intellectual; thus, beginning a whirlwind of events that shakes up the entire Kingdom.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Alicia Vikander, Bent Mejding, Cyron Melville, Daniel Bambas, David Dencik, Frederik Christian Johansen, Harriet Walter, Ivan G'Vera, Ivan Vodochodský, Jacob Ulrik Lohmann, John Martinus, Julia Wentzel Olsen, Karel Polišenský, Klaus Tange, Kristian Fjord, Laura Bro, Mads Mikkelsen, Michaela Horká, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, Morten Holst, Nikolaj Arcel, Petr Janiš, Rosalinde Mynster, Søren Malling, Søren Spanning, Tereza Terberová, Thomas W. Gabrielsson, Trine Dyrholm, William Jøhnk Nielsen, Zinnini Elkington

Director: Nikolaj Arcel

Rating: R

This movie is pretty much in every regard a Norwegian Kill Bill. It’s a dark gory comedy where, naturally, the substitute for Uma Thurman doing damage is an emotionless Stellan Skarsgård. After his son is killed by a drug gang, Skarsgård’s character, fresh off a win of a “citizen of the year” award, embarks on a ruthless journey to track and kill the murderers. This takes place in one of the most remote areas in Norway, where the main character works as a snowplow driver. You guessed it, some people will get snowplowed. Seems familiar? That’s because this year it was turned into a horribly sub-par American movie called Cold Pursuit, with, ugh, Liam Neeson.

Genre: Action, Comedy, Crime, Thriller

Actor: Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Arben Bala, Arthur Berning, Atle Antonsen, Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Birgitte Hjort Sorensen, Bjørn Moan, Bruno Ganz, David Sakurai, Espen Reboli Bjerke, Gard B. Eidsvold, Goran Navojec, Hildegun Riise, Jack Moland, Jakob Oftebro, Jan Gunnar Røise, Jon Øigarden, Jon Øigarden, Julia Bache-Wiig, Kåre Conradi, Kristofer Hivju, Leo Ajkic, Martin Furulund, Miodrag 'Miki' Krstović, Miodrag Krstović, Ola G. Furuseth, Pål Sverre Hagen, Peter Andersson, Sergej Trifunović, Stellan Skarsgård, Stig Henrik Hoff, Thomas Hildebrand, Tobias Santelmann

Director: Hans Petter Moland

Rating: R