Nordic dramas have a unique feel about them. The dark settings and stories, slow-building plots, and shocking conclusions are chilling in more ways that one. The cold of the austere landscapes seeps into your bones as deeply held secrets come to light. The veneer of normalcy is torn away to reveal sinister truths hiding beneath everyday life.
For fans of Nordic noir, nothing else will do.
Which is why we have collected the best Nordic dramas, both foreign language hits and those inspired by them, that you can stream on Netflix and Amazon Prime right now. So grab a blanket, turn off the lights, and settle down with one of these great movies or TV shows.
1. The Dragon Tattoo Trilogy
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo introduced much of the world to Nordic noir. The books and movies in the series chilled audiences with their dark sets, moody characters, and shocking violence. The first series of movies, filmed in Swedish, is considered by many to be the best by far.
If you aren’t already familiar with the story, here’s the short version: a journalist hires a young hacker to help him solve an old murder. The murder (as is always the case in Nordic crime dramas) is much more complicated than he expects, and he’s soon drawn into multiple webs of deceit. And the hacker, Lisbeth Salander, has her own disturbing world to navigate.
Set over a period of six days, this Norwegian thriller follows an uncompromising journalist who uncovers some dark evidence about his own brother. He goes to print with it, but soon finds himself entangled in a mystery that takes over his life.
Mammon goes into the world of politics and banking, exposing the corruption that bubbles on the surface, which is all suitably cliche. However, there’s plenty of surprises along the way to keep things engaging. Everyone here seems to have dark secrets and it’s only a matter of time before they’re exposed.
Bouncing between scenic locales like Oslo and Bergen, and supported by some outstanding performances, Mammon shows that the Norwegians are more than capable of producing gripping drama.
British TV has produced a slew of great Nordic-style shows over the past few years, and Fortitude is one of them. A murder shocks a small, remote Norwegian town near the Arctic Circle, and, of course, everything starts unraveling after that.
Stanley Tucci, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston, Richard Dormer, Sofie Gråbøl, and Dennis Quaid provide all-star backing to this show, but even the minor characters are well-crafted.
If you’re looking for a slow-burning, suspenseful trip into the deep Arctic snows, you can’t go wrong with Fortitude. There are two seasons available on Amazon Prime, and there are rumors of a potential third season in the works.
4. The Lava Field
This mini-series is only four episodes long, making it immensely easy to wolf down. Iceland is a wonderful country, and its landscapes can make for the perfect stark backdrops. The Lava Field uses them to great effect.
Helgi Marvin is a detective, played excellently by Björn Hlynur Haraldsson, who comes to investigate a suicide of a wealthy man in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Of course, things aren’t going to be exactly as they seem. This suicide may actually be murder.
As Marvin investigates the case, his own personal life begins to overshadow the investigation. Secrets best kept that way begin to escape and our troubled lead must decide whether to overlook the crime in order to protect his family.
5. Tin Star
In Tin Star, Tim Roth plays a police detective called Jim Worth who has moved, with his wife and children, from London to a small Canadian town to try and escape his violent past. However, it isn’t long before everything he’s trying to flee comes catching up: murder, deceit and twists are all around the corner and ready to make their mark.
The remote, desolate locations bring that wonderful Nordic vibe, as do the mysteries that untangle through the episodes. While Jim is battling his own demons, an oil company has invaded the town and his daughter falls for a troublesome youth. Try as he might, Jim can’t escape the bloodshed.
When Bordertown first aired in its native Finland, over a fifth of the country’s population watched it. It’s no surprise: the story is captivating, it’s beautifully shot, and it’s very skillfully led by Ville Virtanen as quirky, Sherlock-like detective Kari Sorjonen.
Sorjonen is working for the National Bureau of Investigation in Finland when his wife only just survives cancer. Hoping for a more peaceful life, the family uproot to near the Russian border. However, things don’t go according to plan, as he uncovers sex trafficking, drug trading, and more shadiness.
The murders uncovered are all connected to one another, but also to Sorjonen’s family. So much for the quiet he wanted. But it’s all the better for the creepy, claustrophobic thrills that we get to enjoy.
Iceland may be known for its remarkably low murder rate (less than two per year, on average), but it’s a perfect setting for a Nordic noir murder mystery. A limbless, headless corpse appears in the harbor, and a storm ensures that no one can leave the small Icelandic town. It’s up to the three-person police department to solve the crime.
Trapped was made especially poignant because it paralleled one of the few real murder mysteries in Icelandic history, as recounted by The New York Times. If you like hearing about real-life crimes, check out these true crime podcasts.
The conflicted and jaded detective, bleak backdrops, and horrible secrets held by seemingly mundane people make this a shining example of Nordic drama. The first season is available now on Amazon Prime.
Another example of the best of British crime dramas, Broadchurch is an exquisitely paced, intricately plotted exploration of a small-town murder. David Tennant is, as usual, on cracking form, and both Olivia Colman and Jodie Whittaker contribute phenomenal performances.
While the murder of a boy is the primary plot driver, there’s much more to this show. Viewers will see what suspicion, attention, grief, and rebuilding do to the town and its residents.
The show is highly awarded, with Colman receiving Best Actress at the 2014 BAFTA awards. The dreary British backdrop—punctuated with gorgeous architecture and seaside vistas—are a perfect setting for this gripping story.
Embrace the Darkness and Start Streaming
Scandinavian noir is full of the darkness hiding behind the façade of everyday life. But there are glimpses of light, too. You just have to dig through the bodies to find them.
These movies and TV shows are great examples of Nordic drama, and all can be streamed on Netflix or Amazon Prime as soon as you finish reading this article.
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