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The 23 Best Scandinavian Movies of The 21st Century

06 November 2015 | Features, Film Lists | by Evan Davies

best scandinavian movies

Scandinavia’s film history is unfortunately overlooked. The region is responsible for many of the most exciting and thoughtful contemporary films. From the Dogme filmmakers to lighthearted documentarians, Scandinavian filmmakers have recently created wonderful, distinct films. Inspired by the legacy of masters such as Ingmar Bergman and Lasse Halstromm, Scandinavian filmmakers create works that distinctly reflect the influences from these auteurs.

Viewers tend to be drawn to Scandinavian cinema for its dark, philosophical tone, frank dialogue, and unique sense of humor. Many attribute the distinct quality of Scandinavian films to the socioeconomic context in which these films are created. Because there is great financial support for artists in these countries, directors likely feel less pressure to create commercially successful films, giving them more flexibility and allowance to experiment.

Others attribute the current state of Scandinavian cinema to the region’s history of experimentation in film. The list below exhibits some of Scandinavia’s greatest films since 2000. While there are many great films not listed below, the intent of this list is to expose readers to a wide variety of contemporary Scandinavian films.

 

1. Klown (2010)

Klown

Outrageous, raucous, shocking. It is difficult to articulate just how ridiculous this film is. Based off of a television show with the same title, Klown is a refreshing take on the classic travel comedy. In an attempt to demonstrate his potential as a father to his pregnant girlfriend, Frank brings his twelve year-old nephew on a yearly canoeing trip with his friend Casper. Despite his good intentions to simulate fatherhood, Frank instead experiences a disastrous journey with his two companions.

Though one may be tempted to compare this film to American works such as The Hangover or Curb Your Enthusiasm, such comparisons do not do the film justice. This is a truly fearless comedy. Perhaps because of its Scandinavian origins, this film is willing to address comedic material untouched by or considered off limits to most American comedies.

Klown masterfully employs cringe-inducing discomfort, self-deprecation, and various taboos to craft a frank, hilarious, and surprisingly optimistic story. Viewers watching Klown for the first time will marvel at the shocking moralities of Frank and Casper. If you are easily offended, this film may not be for you.

 

2. Troll Hunter (2010)

Trollhunter

Another Scandi-comedy, Troll Hunter blends the found footage/documentary style of many horror films such as Cloverfield with distinctly Scandinavian dark, dry humor. With many references to Norwegian culture and folklore, some aspects of the film may go over the heads of foreign viewers. However, all will delight in the humorous dialogue and startling action sequences.

Troll Hunter centers around three university students, a cameraman, and Hans, a mysterious hunter of trolls, as they try to document the killing of these wild and dangerous creatures. The film can also be read as a subtle, clever critique of Norway, and the way it deals with societal problems such as the trolls. Fans of films such as District 9 as well as Scandinavian humor will delight in Troll Hunter’s unique interpretation of the fantasy and thriller genres.

 

3. King of Devil’s Island (2010)

King of Devil’s Island

King of Devil’s Island is the harrowing story of a harsh juvenile detention center for boys on the island of Bastoy. The facility is run by the governor, played by the masterful Stellan Skarsgard of Sweden. When the treatment by the administration becomes intolerable, the boys revolt. Featuring stark imagery, cryptic dialogue, and strong performances by Benjamin Helstad and Trond Nilssen, this film is a compelling testament to courage in the face of great adversity.

Despite a seemingly simple plot, King of Devil’s Island contains a few surprising moments. There is little dialogue and the editing style moves the story along at a steady pace, without revealing too much to the audience. This film may remind viewers of films such as Lord of the Flies in that it addresses the power dynamics of male relationships,

 

4. Headhunters (2011)

Headhunters (2011)

Intricate and action-packed, Headhunters is the story of Roger Brown, a corporate headhunter who steals expensive paintings in his free time. Business is booming until he steals a painting from the wrong person. Chock full of car chases, shootouts, explosions, and sex, this film may remind viewers of movies such as Scarface or the Ocean’s trilogy. However, Headhunters, for an action film, has a surprisingly complex and layered plot, with plenty of twists, turns, and red herrings.

Like many action films, Headhunters has cliché moments, but if one is willing to suspend disbelief, they will surely enjoy the antics of Roger and Ove as well as the many action scenes. Heavily influenced by Hollywood heist films, Headhunters will be remade into a television series by HBO for American audiences.

 

5. Antichrist (2009)

antichrist

The first of von Trier’s most recent “Depression” trilogy, Antichrist is the disturbing tale of a grieving couple who escape to a cabin in the woods to seek peace and refuge. However, rather than healing in the quiet of nature, they instead spiral into a violent psychological breakdown. With outstanding performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Defoe, Antichrist is a powerfully provocative film about the loneliness of mania and paranoia.

Like many of von Trier’s other films, Antichrist is often accused of being intentionally provocative, designed to punish the audience. When considering some of von Trier’s other works, such as Nymphomania and The Idiots, the accusations are understandable.

Love him or loath him, von Trier certainly has a distinct style, largely informed by the Dogme 95, a creative movement led by von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg. Intended to refocus filmmaking away from large studios and special effects, the Dogme sought to return film production to the traditional elements of story, acting, and theme without overly flashy modern technology.

While von Trier has since deviated from the Dogme, which was created in the 90’s, traces of its values can still be observed in Antichrist, such as the refusal to create genre films. Antichrist blends elements of traditional genres such as horror and drama with some of von Trier’s distinct, more experimental techniques.

 

6. We Are the Best! (2013)

We Are the Best

The latest from Scandinavian film hero Lukas Moodysson, We Are the Best! is the charming story of three Swedish teenage girls who decide to start a punk band. Despite having little experience, the rambunctious trio is determined to prove to the world, and fellow punks, that they can rock.

Though set in 1980’s Sweden, anyone can relate to the film’s honest and accurate portrayal of the rebellion and angst of being teenager. The natural dialogue still manages to be laugh-out-loud funny and the cinematography pleasantly captures the eclectic colors and aesthetics of punk and the 80’s.

The relationship of these three punks manages to capture all the growing pains and rebellious tendencies of adolescence. The girls begin to form their identities, discover themselves, and discover boys. They are drawn to music as a rejection of their community’s popular culture, of which they are outcasts.

With outstanding performances from Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne, We Are the Best! will uplift audiences and remind them of their turbulent and exciting teen years. The soundtrack, full of 80’s songs and punk anthems, also perfectly compliments the films rebellious tone.

 

7. The Hunt (2012)

the hunt

The Hunt features many of Scandinavia’s greatest talents. Expertly directed by Danish auteur Thomas Vinterberg of The Celebration fame, this film features Scandinavian regulars Mads Mikkelsen and Thomas Bo Larsen. Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a kindergarten teacher in rural Denmark. His life is changed when one of his students accuses him of a terrible crime.

Despite proclaiming his innocence, Lucas’ friends and family turn on him, all while he attempts to gain custody of his son. The film depicts the dangers of rumors and the ambiguity of truth. Masterfully written, the film keeps the audience guessing, never sure what to believe.

Through Lucas’ interaction with his community we see the horrors of contagious insanity, the gripping hold of paranoia, and the dangers of herd mentality. The explosive relationship between Mikkelsen and Larsens’ characters is likely one of the greatest moments in recent Scandinavian film history.

This brooding psychological drama unflinchingly addresses difficult material viewers may not be used to seeing on screen. The outstanding acting and gorgeous cinematography featured in The Hunt places it firmly within this list.

 

 

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  • Unkle Amon

    Melancholia before Antichrist. With blood on my hands and I am the angel of death. Also, Du Levande could fit here.

  • Paul Steventon

    I don’t think there is any ambiguity about the truth in The Hunt, one of the things that makes the film so torturous and difficult to watch is the fact that you as the viewer know the truth quite clearly

    • Gines Velazquez

      That´s the point… there is no ambiguity from the spectator view

  • Georgia Papakwn

    Not a fan of Headhunters

  • Marco Aurelio Miranda

    open hearts
    festen

  • Fabienne McCallister

    Flickering Lights & The Green Butchers

    • Jeroen Ledderhof

      And Adams Apple (the best of the three) 😉

  • Fabienne McCallister

    Festen, as perfect as it is, was made in the 20st century 😉

  • Marie-Eve

    My favorite scandinavian movie is not in this list: I Am Dina, featuring Maria Bonnevie, Gerard Depardieu and Mads Mikkelsen. The acting was intense, the music and cinematography were marvelous and I really liked the story. Worth watching.

  • Santiago Zerpa

    Great list.

  • Alexis Roussos

    Songs from the second floor, After the wedding, The Hunt and Let the right one in

  • Guy Guérin

    Ingmar Bergman movies… maybe!

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000005/

    • Bergman doesn’t have great movies after 2001. But magnificent director, indeed.

  • Norman Fernandes

    I have seen “The Hunt”. I could relate to it because something very similar had happened to me.

  • ladyofargonne

    The English language version of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was necessary because Rooney Mara gave the performance of a life time. She was unrecognizable.

  • Lars Sundgot Slagsvold

    Not a bad list! I`ve liked to see Oslo 31.august by Joachim Trier on it, but hey…. What about Villmark? BTW tasteofcinema, you got something wrong on this list you should fix. Nr 19.Bridgend has a picture from another film, thats not on the list, but is this Years Norwegian Oscar contender “The Wave”

  • I must add the movie ‘The hour of the lynx’ (2013,Sweden, Denmark). Here is my review: http://www.vessiana.com/2015/11/top-5-scandinavian-movies-4the-hour-of.html

  • Rudi

    Jagten is such a terrible movie in so many ways, I really don’t understand why it always ranks so high. The acting is dreadful by more or less the whole cast, the whole community reacts in a highly unlogical way but most of all, the movie just looks so extemely boring. Like they didn’t even try to come up with good shots.

    3/10

    Antichrist and The Girl… are great though.

  • Miguel Valdez-Lopez

    Great list. I get the feeling I might have seen something that should be added to it, but the titles you already have are fun ones.

  • Mladen Terlevic

    Anyone know the name of the movie which takes place in 15th century and they somehow get through some kind of portal into today world?I think is Norway film.And danish or swedish one where people that don’t contribute to society get in some kind of concentration camps?

  • Sebastian Haas

    I think “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” should be there, maybe instead of Trollhunter.

    • Arild Johansen

      It’s not scandinavian

      • Sebastian Haas

        Ah, weird, I always thought Finland was also Scandinavia… well, TIL…

  • Dimitrije Stojanovic

    Couple of suggestions:
    – Pushers 2 and 3 missing
    – Roy Anderson is far more important filmmaker than Susane Bier, for example. Probably all of his 3 movies should be here
    – Vinterberg’s Submarino, surely missing.
    – Direktoren for det hele is quite overlooked, but very original and inovative Von Trier’s movie.
    – No Kaurismaki at all? Seems strange.
    – 101 Reykiavik is the best Islandian movie I watched.
    – Den brysomme mannen is hidden gem which in my opinion should be here.
    Anyway – not a bad list.

  • FornavnEtternavn

    Oslo, August 31st and Kitchen Stories are the best two Norwegian movies of this century by quite a margin. Both missing here.

  • Nicole Coffield

    Number 19’s photo is from the film Bølgen (The Wave).

  • Geisha de Rhin

    KON-TIKI from Norway, is breathtaking and beautiful.

    And this might be a little mainstream, but I really enjoy A ROYAL AFFAIR from Denmark with Alicia Vikander.

  • Troy Clavell

    Lilya 4 Ever? Moodysson’s other work is included so why not his best work?
    Also I agree with a previous poster that Melancholia should be on here since other international works by Scandinavian filmmakes are listed.

  • Loved Troll Hunter.

  • Bergur Árnason

    No icelandic films and Vinterberg’s “Submarino” missing. Wrong spelling on Noomi Rapace’s name and wrong picture for #19. Truly poorly made list, sorry.