A guide to the best Danish films to watch right now, written by our resident film expert. Whether you're into Lars von Trier, Nordic Noir, Mads Mikkelsen or something else, it's a great introduction to Danish cinema. Perfect if you want to visit Denmark from home.
A crucial point in Danish cinema, ‘Nattevagten’ marks the debut feature film of both director Ole Bornedal and star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. It’s a gruesome tale about a young nightwatchman who starts working in a morgue while a serial killer stalks the streets of Copenhagen, and to this day is still considered the finest horror film to ever come out of Denmark. In 1997 Bornedal directed an American remake titled ‘Nightwatch’ starring Ewan McGregor, Nick Nolte and Josh Brolin.
Photo: Rolf Konow - Obel Film
Before solidifying himself as one of modern cinema’s coolest cats with titles like ‘Drive’ and ‘Valhalla Rising’, Nicholas Winding Refn created quite a stir in Denmark with his debut feature. ‘Pusher’ is a gritty crime-thriller painting the peaceful city of Copenhagen with an unusually filthy palette. The film also sported the film debut of a cleanshaven young actor named Mads Mikkelsen.
Photo: Nordisk Film
The first film in the controversial and hugely successful Dogma95-movement, Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Festen’ won the jury award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and solidified Denmark as a nation of innovative filmmakers. The suspenseful and deeply emotional story about a family gathering from hell is held together by captivating performances from a star-studded cast and that very particular wry humor, so typical of Danish cinema.
Photo: Nimbus Film
What sounds as a typical romantic comedy won over an entire country with its wit, charm and amazing lead performances. Sidse Babett Knudsen (whom international audiences will recognize from ‘Westworld’ and Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’) plays Sus who meets the handyman Niller (Niels Olsen) when he installs her new kitchen. The two soon fall in love and a classic romance starts to bloom, albeit one dipped in Danish sarcasm, dry wit and surprising twists.
Photo: Nordisk Film
If someone were to say that one couldn’t create an emotionally draining and socio-realistic musical, look no further than Danish film’s enfant terrible, Lars Von Trier. Enlisting Icelandic singer Björk in her first film role, Trier created a thoroughly unique film which landed him top honors at the Cannes Film Festival. ‘Dancer in the Dark’ is quite a ride, both emotionally and musically, but boy, is it worth it.
Photo: David Koskas - Zentropa
A who’s who of Danish actors starring Ulrich Thomsen, Mads Mikkelsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Sofie Gråbøl, Iben Hjejle and Søren Pilmark, ‘Blinkende Lygter’ is a smart, witty and surprisingly touching story of four smalltime crooks who happen to fall upon a big loot. With its big name cast, rural Danish setting, characteristic humor and dialogue, Anders Thomas Jensen’s box office hit might just be the ultimate Danish film of the early 2000s.
Photo: Rolf Konow - M&M Productions
Von Trier again, but this time wrestling with one of Danish cinema’s other big voices, documentarian Jørgen Leth. The idea is simple: Trier challenges Leth to remake his classic 1968 short film, ‘The Perfect Human’ five times, but with a new obstruction each time. The result is a truly unique and highly entertaining documentary on the creative process, human nature and art itself.
Photo: Dan Holmberg - Zentropa
Denmark is known as a country that doesn’t hold back. In art, anything goes and there is no boundary that cannot be pushed. This goes for comedies as well, as witnessed in Casper Christensen and Frank Hvam’s hugely successful film adaptation of their TV series ‘Klovn’. The two play massively flawed versions of themselves as they head on an adventure that will push the idea of bad taste, awkwardness and political incorrectness to new lows. The film has had two sequels so far.
Photo: Nutmeg Productions
Adapting Jussi Adler-Olsen’s massively successful crime novels, the four films about criminal detective Carl Mørck and his partner Assad, are among the most successful Danish films of recent years. Creating similar moods to the revered Nordic noir movement in TV, the films Kvinden i Buret (2013), Fasandræberne (2014), Flaskepost fra P (2016) and Journal 64 (2018) tell engaging, dark stories riddled with flawed characters taking us all over Denmark.
Photo: Henrik Ohsten - Zentropa
How can a film that takes place in just one location and in which the characters are mostly talking on the phone become one of the most talked about thrillers in the world? Gustav Møller’s debut feature film is a masterclass in suspense that uses limitations to amazing effect. Set in an emergency call center and almost exclusively featuring actor Jakob Cedergren, ‘Den Skyldige’ really is an experience unlike any other. Jake Gyllenhaall will reportedly star in an upcoming American remake.
Photo: Nikolai Møller / Nordisk Film Spring