Engineer’s Room: Nordic Noir

Nordic noir[1] could be described as “Film noir, but more bleak – and in color.” More precisely, Nordic noir (also called “Scandi noir” or “Scandinavian noir”) began as a literary genre of crime fiction,[2] generally (but not always) police procedurals following a criminal investigation in one of the Scandinavian or Nordic countries.[3]

The most common adjective used to describe Nordic noir is the aforementioned “bleak” – referring to both the landscapes and the mood. As with film noir, the stories are often morally complex and explore the darkness that lies beneath the bland and comfortable façade so often associated with the well-functioning Nordic welfare states. According to a MHz Choice review, Nordic noir features “immersive dramas, complex mysteries and conflicted, imperfect characters (with) a deliciously dark sense of despair and mystery.” This contrasts sharply with the cozy mysteries and country house murders that often take place across the English Channel.[4]

The genre traces its roots to the Martin Beck novels of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, published from 1965-1975.[5] The identifiable elements of Nordic noir coalesced in the 1990s and are particularly associated with Karin Fossum’s[6]Inspector Sejer series and the Kurt Wallander novels from Henning Mankell.[7] According to Scandification, the key elements of Nordic noir are:

  • Bleak settings, usually in remote landscapes and bland, unassuming streets.
  • Plots that involve brutal crimes like murder, misogyny, misandry,[8] racism, and rape.
  • A troubled and tortured protagonist battling their inner demons.
  • A solid story with complex themes, fatalistic storylines, and twists.
  • A social critique that sheds light on the flaws of society and the underbelly of society.
  • Tales that move at a melancholic tempo with slow, minimalistic background music.[9]

Nordic noir has also found a home on film and TV, featuring both adaptations of popular Nordic noir novels as well as original screenplays. Notable examples include:

  • Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne, the basis for Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1997)
  • Forbrydelsen (2007) a.k.a., The Killing – remade in the US, Turkey, and Egypt[10]
  • The Lisbeth Salander series (The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo (2009), etc.), including three in Swedish and two in English[11]
  • Broen (2011) a.k.a., The Bridge – originally Denmark/Sweden then remade for the Estonia/Russia, Germany/Austria, Greece/Turkey, Malaysia/Singapore, UK/France, and US/Mexico.
  • Wallander (2005), based on the Wallander novels, remade in English, then spinning off an English reboot/prequel, Young Wallander (2020).

In addition to Nordic noir stories re-made for the international market, there is also a significant influence across the Channel, as seen in the Ann Cleeves Shetland novels (and subsequent ITV/BBC Scotland TV series), the ITV series Broadchurch, and BBC series The Missing. This is perhaps not surprising, since, according to critic Rebecca Patton, writing in Bustle magazine, “After all, no one does brooding crime shows like the Scandinavians.”

So, if you’re looking for a counterpoint to hot summer days, you’ll find hours of dark, chilling entertainment in Nordic noir, starting with the following 90 works of Nordic noir identified in the EIDR registry.

[1] The term was coined in 2010 by the Scandinavian Department at the University College of London and gained popularity following the BBC documentary Nordic Noir: The Story of Scandinavian Crime Fiction (2010).

[2] Nordic crime fiction itself dates back to the Danish novel Præsten i Vejlbye (1829) by Steen Steensen Blicher’s and the Norwegian Mordet på Maskinbygger Roolfsen (1839) by Maurits Hansen, with international appeal growing particularly strong in the post-WWII years.

[3] All of Scandinavia is Nordic, but not all Nordic countries are Scandinavian. (And not all are actually countries. The Nordic countries include five sovereign states, two autonomous territories, one autonomous region, two unincorporated areas, one dependency, and two Antarctic claims.) The Scandinavian countries are Denmark, Norway, and Sweden (which all share mutually intelligible North Germanic languages) and may be extended to include Åland, Faroe Islands, Finland, and Iceland (which do not). The Nordic “countries” add Bouvet Island, Greenland, Jan Mayen, Peter I Island, Svalbard, and Queen Maud Land to the list.

[4] There is also the lighthearted Detective Varg series by Alexander McCall Smith, set in Sweden and described as “Scandi blanc.”

[5] Influenced by the English-language police procedural novels from Ed McBain.

[6] The “Norwegian queen of crime.”

[7] The “father of Nordic noir.”

[8] Essentially, misogyny directed at men.

[9] Though this last bit rarely applies to novels.

[10] Even though they re-tell a Nordic noir story, they’re re-set in new locations and have other changes that take them out of the core Nordic noir genre.

[11] Since the English versions retain the original Swedish locale and themes, they qualify as Nordic noir, even though they’re not in one of the Nordic languages.

A Nordic Noir Filmography

Title Year EIDR ID
Mannen på balkongen (The Man on the Balcony) 1993 10.5240/0DA2-D0D2-0462-E86C-074E-U
Roseanna 1993 10.5240/B96F-B0FA-6E18-55B9-8E16-K
Nightwatch (Nightwatch) 1994 10.5240/B6A8-1531-4424-D9B9-4A65-I
Jägarna (The Hunters) 1996 10.5240/9AA2-2FC8-7570-BE5E-9021-A
Beck 1997 10.5240/9CC8-1974-63EF-E8EB-2197-S
Insomnia 1997 10.5240/A57A-94D2-E24C-F660-AFE9-B
Smilla’s Sense of Snow 1997 10.5240/93A1-9B02-AEE9-5B4F-9886-Q
Smala Sussie (Slim Susie) 2003 10.5240/BEF7-4FAD-1EC9-ABBF-84FC-Z
Wallander 2005 10.5240/F3B6-E3EA-D68E-5F69-E2F1-R
Mýrin (Jar City) 2006 10.5240/12CA-7E7B-A36D-6970-F65D-P
The Killing (Forbrydelsen) 2007 10.5240/D257-83B3-0974-665A-7C6C-Q
Varg Veum 2007 10.5240/1743-E0A9-EEF3-B58E-A378-3
Reykjavík-Rotterdam 2008 10.5240/57F7-24DF-3DA4-8648-F4C0-R
Wallander 2008 10.5240/E1D9-601A-3A43-58AF-2F7F-5
Flickan som lekte med elden (The Girl Who Played with Fire) 2009 10.5240/C9FF-12EE-322D-6798-0652-F
Luftslottet som sprängdes (The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) 2009 10.5240/474D-A6B7-2C11-21A9-1205-A
Män som hatar kvinnor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) 2009 10.5240/65DA-5010-8761-2461-0D58-U
The Sandhamn Murders 2010 10.5240/F658-C21F-2936-3559-052B-7
Varg Veum – Skriften på veggen (The Writing on the Wall) 2010 10.5240/0B60-1279-3F0E-4DCB-5F5F-4
Hodejegerne (Headhunters) 2011 10.5240/B6BE-14C2-0EAD-08D5-F3D6-G
Jägarna 2 (False Trail) 2011 10.5240/583F-4F3F-EF5D-7A12-69D7-Q
The Bridge 2011 10.5240/EEC0-6917-4A43-1F4C-6F01-0
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 2011 10.5240/7C9F-6897-BAFD-ACD3-22DB-C
Varg Veum – Svarte får (Black Sheep) 2011 10.5240/6F41-F5CE-30D4-4AA7-776F-A
Jagten (The Hunt) 2012 10.5240/7949-EEC7-75CE-484F-C30F-S
Nobels Testamente (Nobel’s Last Will) 2012 10.5240/9E8C-C736-A2AE-EB68-444A-V
Svartur á leik (Black’s Game) 2012 10.5240/BF17-734F-7AA4-3943-D6B4-U
Kvinden i buret (Department Q: The Keeper of Lost Causes) 2013 10.5240/CA46-3EB0-153C-6E85-A9D1-0
Fasandræberne (Department Q: The Absent One) 2014 10.5240/8128-83C4-DE2B-AF1B-613B-F
Hraunið 2014 10.5240/9064-352B-736D-9450-22F0-F
Tellus 2014 10.5240/3EB9-E05F-CF7D-36DF-AC1A-4
Frikjent 2015 10.5240/286E-8E5D-DB3D-FD24-2822-Z
Gäsmamman (Mother Goose) 2015 10.5240/3CC6-74F2-A020-3293-BDA6-V
Jordskott 2015 10.5240/F798-6CC0-278B-1A6D-A62E-U
Koukussa (Hooked) 2015 10.5240/4498-D782-6BFE-C78B-E200-0
Norskov 2015 10.5240/1552-EAB5-69F7-2C14-5643-F
Ófærð (Trapped) 2015 10.5240/CECE-566E-297D-2D7F-BF40-W
Okkupert (Occupied) 2015 10.5240/2DAB-CF16-5736-DC97-2989-8
Bakerman 2016 10.5240/606D-2535-A758-395E-6ADE-G
Bedrag 2016 10.5240/7196-77B5-E084-E330-EBB7-B
Flaskepost fra P (Department Q: A Conspiracy of Faith) 2016 10.5240/697A-0745-9EB5-83FE-CBF5-6
Sorjonen (Bordertown) 2016 10.5240/A530-9DED-62E3-9C59-AF80-Z
Aallonmurtaja 2017 10.5240/24AC-EB69-5C83-D6BB-BEDE-I
Advokaten (The Lawyer) 2017 10.5240/6191-FAC8-A8C3-8D5C-F245-J
Innan vi dör (Before We Die) 2017 10.5240/FB48-6EFA-0865-531B-8803-L
Monster 2017 10.5240/9EC0-AB88-4CDB-7A0D-610B-C
Rebecka Martinsson 2017 10.5240/F16F-7273-FCC5-7502-A2D4-J
Saknad (Missing) 2017 10.5240/B5C8-C38B-1E43-4413-21AB-W
Det som göms i snö 2018 10.5240/9F1C-D007-CFC5-C817-694D-X
Ivalo (Arctic Circle) 2018 10.5240/3D02-0903-D947-A2FA-0AFB-4
Karppi (Deadwind) 2018 10.5240/332C-AF84-98FA-0C2B-B3B5-F
Rikoksen musta pohjoinen 2018 10.5240/0FD0-28F9-85E5-7E84-FC2F-3
Sankarit (Bullets) 2018 10.5240/72D0-0D30-A36D-25BA-D652-Z
Sthlm Rekviem (Sthlm Requiem) 2018 10.5240/F5C0-CA03-4715-B919-031C-G
The Girl in the Spider’s Web 2018 10.5240/34C1-8E49-47C9-3340-2D3E-0
Den som dræber – Fanget af mørket (Darkness: Those Who Kill) 2019 10.5240/8042-AE02-0290-8DEC-6A29-2
DNA 2019 10.5240/43B8-69BB-F216-6CC7-844F-Z
Forhøret 2019 10.5240/361F-5526-BAA8-EC0F-0080-X
Fred til lands (Deliver Us) 2019 10.5240/7DF8-D180-AE40-79CD-3B5A-Y
Heder 2019 10.5240/117E-1336-EAF3-7FF0-B197-D
Kaikki synnit (All the Sins) 2019 10.5240/3FF4-A340-7F6B-AED4-86BA-F
Pagan Peak 2019 10.5240/3DD6-693A-B8EE-F06A-4E36-S
Quicksand 2019 10.5240/3C1E-D2F9-7F20-E059-FFED-B
The Valhalla Murders (Brot) 2019 10.5240/31BE-080C-EAB3-6F22-4DC2-J
Wisting 2019 10.5240/CC84-F109-8218-8A84-7A4F-T
Alfa (Grow) 2020 10.5240/9980-9351-F4E2-8BC8-9AB1-S
Beartown 2020 10.5240/D854-E546-1ADB-D868-A433-Q
Efterforskningen (The Investigation) 2020 10.5240/2703-86B7-1690-154E-8325-T
Paratiisi (The Paradise) 2020 10.5240/627E-3E36-C317-C2AD-0478-L
Top Dog 2020 10.5240/5474-27CE-9CD2-D4B6-00E4-R
Young Wallander 2020 10.5240/A99F-913F-9AA3-334E-946B-7
Furia 2021 10.5240/395C-47C0-A487-D3F0-C0E0-9
Hautalehto: Kylmä syli 2021 10.5240/C3D1-53E8-534B-29A8-0AE1-I
Huss 2021 10.5240/3755-71C1-3D73-B050-020A-J
Kastanjemanden (The Chestnut Man) 2021 10.5240/9456-8D49-D61E-918B-595D-Y
Kontakti 2021 10.5240/9B82-0DF6-E0E1-26F4-5F46-Y
Skremmende 2021 10.5240/D103-D90B-8BA5-199D-4A8F-9
Snabba Cash 2021 10.5240/7A0F-364F-5CAC-0473-D574-P
Snöänglar 2021 10.5240/DD94-8522-A0AE-E7CA-2D92-H
Sorjonen: Muraalimurhat (Bordertown: The Mural Murders) 2021 10.5240/78FE-5278-4E28-6E57-D89C-6
A Place They Don’t Go 2022 10.5240/3295-0ED9-6A1A-EC00-376F-F
Desertören (The Deserter) 2022 10.5240/33DD-E7FB-4285-5C27-08CF-G
Harjunpää (Helsinki Crimes) 2022 10.5240/EA6C-3F01-4E28-C170-23E6-N
Hilma 2022 10.5240/FD8A-2F01-E98A-96F7-25FF-B
Transport 2022 10.5240/A5A7-3030-DD4A-93E7-C280-4
Trom 2022 10.5240/4F3D-84D7-F136-E076-933E-4
A Nearly Normal Family 2023 10.5240/0E18-0578-DB2E-A473-55CC-O
Copenhagen Cowboy 2023 10.5240/B291-5CD2-42B6-D3A0-AC7C-R
Händelser vid vatten (Blackwater) 2023 10.5240/B04F-8D4D-ACF5-F0BF-F6CD-S