Five Scandinavian Crime Thrillers

The best of Nordic noir

Corinna Osei

06 Aug 21

Dark, daring, morally complex: Nordic noir made its big break in the nineties and has been a breakthrough hit outside of its Scandinavian home ever since, merging the dramatic intensity of 'cops versus criminals' thrillers with the still, wintery climate of its homeland. These five Scandinavian crime thrillers represent some of the best of Nordic noir, telling stories from the police point of view, delving into the minds of kingpins and small-scale criminals, and exploring what happens when a crime goes horribly wrong. Read on to add some thrillingly tense titles to your watchlist.

Pusher (1996)

This 1996 Danish film was a commercial success in his homeland and the breakout film for Drive director Nicholas Winding Refn – and it also happens to be Mads Mikkelsen's film debut. It centres on one of the city's best drug dealers, Frank (played by Mikkelsen), who tries to secure a major deal - but after it goes wrong, he's left with a large debt to a relentless drug lord. 

Insomnia (1997)

This chilling psychological thriller stars Stellan Skarsgård in one of his most well-known roles in his home country (and a far cry from his Mamma Mia! antics). He plays detective Jonas who gets called in to investigate a homicide, but as the plan to arrest the killer goes wrong, Jonas ends up killing Erik (Sveere Anker Ousdal), his partner, and blames his death on the suspect who escaped. Jonas goes on a quest to catch the killer but as his guilt ends up making him sleep deprived, he begins to wonder if he made a mistake.

The Girl with The Dragan Tattoo (2009) 

You might have seen David Fincher's 2011 adaptation of the best-selling Millennium series' first book, but have you seen its homegrown original? The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the story of a journalist on the search for a killer believed to be dead for forty years – with the help of the now-iconic hacker Lisbeth Salander (played in a breakout performance by Noomi Rapace).

Headhunters (2011)

This twisted and darkly comedic Norwegian thriller stars Aksel Hennie as an accomplished headhunter who plans to steal a valuable painting owned by a former mercenary (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Taking its cues from plenty of crime classics, it's a riotously enjoyable cat-and-mouse chase that'll take you on a whirlwind of a journey.

Wildland (2021)

Last but certainly not least, Jeanette Nordahl's debut feature is this list's most recent addition to the Nordic noir genre – and one that's just as compelling as its predecessors. Nordahl got her start working on Scandi-noir staples like Borgen,  and it's clear that she's learned from the best: this thriller tells the story of Ida, a 17 year old who ends up in a car accident that kills her mother. She's sent to live with her aunt Bodil (Sidse Babett Knudsen, as seen on TV's Westworld and in the indie horrors of Peter Strickland), who welcomes her with open arms – that is, until Ida gets closer to the family's business dealings, and leans that the family's finances are sourced by considerably shady means. Tensions continue to build, and love and violence become impossible to separate.