The 10 Best Nordic Noir TV Shows EVER

David

David

When he isn't helping you watch TV abroad, David enjoys watching comedy and documentaries. He's a big fan of The Detectorists and Blue Planet. He also loves watching English football, for his sins he supports Arsenal.

Nordic noir, or Scandinavian noir as it is sometimes known, is a TV genre that has evolved out of the highly popular Scandi-noir novels that took the world by storm in the early noughties.

If you were one of the many millions of people who read ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’, you would know what I am talking about.

They tend to share bleak, cold landscapes and dark, cold characters and often look into dark, twisted criminal worlds that exist in the shadows outside normal Scandinavian society.

It was not inevitable that this genre of TV would break through in the rest of Europe and North America, but it has, and then some.

These shows have been some of the few non-English language productions to get mainstream broadcast in places like the UK and USA.

Some have received English-language remakes, while some of the star names have even managed to establish TV and movie careers in the USA.

But the success of Nordic Noir has also seen a lot of shows being made that don’t live up to the best in the genre. So, if you want to delve into Nordic Noir, keep reading to find out what are the top ten Nordic Noir series ever made.

The Bridge

The Bridge is based around the Øresund Bridge, which connects the Danish capital city of Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmo.

It begins with the discovery of a corpse at the centre of the bridge, exactly on the border between the two countries. A joint investigation is set up led by Swedish detective Saga Norén, played by Sofia Helin.

In the first two series, she is ably assisted by her Danish equivalent Martin Rohde (Kim Bodnia), while in series three and four her Danish associate is Henrik Sabroe (Thure Lindhardt). Needless to say, there are character clashes, and they work together to solve the murder.

The Bridge was first broadcast in 2011, and its four series have been shown in more than 100 different countries around the world.

This is the show that set the standard by which all Nordic Noir shows have tried to reach. A few have come close, but it is safe to say that none have surpassed the dark and sinister atmosphere created by this classic TV series.

The Killing

The Killing is the Danish cop drama that made global stars out of both its lead actress, Sofie Gråbøl and the thick woollen jumpers that she wore throughout this show.

In the series, Gråbøl plays Sarah Lund, a Detective Inspector who, in each series, is investigating a different murder. Each episode follows a new day on the case and covers exactly 24 hours.

The Killing is packed with plot twists and dark turns, while it has also been lauded for its focus on the family of the victim as well as the police investigating the murder.

It won a Primetime Emmy and a BAFTA award and was remade in America too. But the original Danish series is by far the best version.

It has the stunning Copenhagen vistas, superb acting by the entire cast, and that cold dark quality that defines the very best Nordic Noir TV series.

Trapped

Trapped takes us to a small village in Iceland where police are investigating the death of a villager whose mutilated body is pulled from the sea by local fishermen.

As their investigation develops, more sinister goings-on emerge, but a powerful storm is also closing on the village, meaning no one can arrive or leave.

It stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson as Andri Ólafsson, the local chief of police tasked with unravelling what’s happened. The cast is exceptional, with praise being lavished on the show for its well-developed characters.

However, as great as the ensemble cast is, the scenery also takes a starring role as the bleak and beautiful wilderness of coastal Iceland is captured perfectly and matches the atmosphere and mood of this dark and compelling police drama perfectly.

Trapped had one of the biggest budgets in Icelandic TV history, but the investment certainly paid off, and this is a compelling show that has also been renewed for two additional series and is one that could definitely run and run.

It can be best summed up by quoting the Guardian, whose critic, Graeme Virtue described Trapped as “a thrilling saga of ice and fire”. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Wallander

The Wallander TV series was adapted from the Swedish novels by Henning Mankell. There was a Swedish version of the series starring Krister Henriksson which are good but, unusually for this list, we are going to recommend the British remake which is in English and, in our view, is even better.

The UK version stars Kenneth Brannagh in the titular role and ran for four series of three feature-length episodes each.

In the show, Wallander is a police detective in the small Swedish town of Ystad who investigates a variety of bizarre murders and other crimes that take place there.

But Wallander is also battling his own demons, disillusioned with his life, and taking on the challenges of his job with a somewhat existential and philosophically curious approach.

His team includes Nyberg (Richard McCabe), Magnus Martinsson (Tom Hiddleston), and he is also assisted by his father Poval Wallander (David Warner).

The reason we have opted for the British Wallander series is that they have the budget to capture the stunning Swedish scenery far more spectacularly. Top-notch cinematography is a big hallmark of Nordic Noir, and Wallander delivers that in spades.

It also has dark criminal undertakings, suspense, black humour, and everything else you could want from such a show. It’s almost as if the Nordic Noir traditions are starting to rub off on British TV makers too.

Border Town

Off to Finland now, where Detective Inspector Kari Sorjonen, played by Ville Virtanen, thinks that moving his family to a small town on the Russian border will give them a more peaceful life as his wife recovers from brain cancer.

He takes a new role as the head of SECRI, the Serious Crime Unit there. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. The three series see Sorjonen taking on various crimes while trying (and usually failing) to be there for his family when they need him.

This dilemma is a running theme throughout the series, with work often taking precedence and Sorjonen often struggling to cope with this. He does have close relations with his team but also displays some autistic traits making him a complex and compelling character.

The scenery is not at the forefront of Border Town, but the characterisation and the dark, underside of Scandinavian life is there in spades, and this is a show that has been lauded by such people as Stephen King, Eric Idle, and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Big endorsements for a very fine show.

The Valhalla Murders

The Valhalla Murders is an Icelandic series that became the first after Trapped to make it onto Netflix and receive worldwide exposure. It certainly deserves all the praise it can get.

The plot follows veteran Reykjavik detective Kata, played superbly by Nína Dögg Filippusdóttir, who is called to investigate the discovery of a body that has been stabbed to death in the city’s harbour.

When another body is found with the same wounds, they decide to call in an outside investigator to help. The bodies are soon linked to a nearby children’s home, and a tale of abuse and murder quickly emerges.

There are plenty of twists and turns, lots of dark plot twists, and some truly stunning and bleak Icelandic scenery once more. As with most Nordic Noir, the strong characterisation and impressive ensemble acting are key to the series success.

The Valhalla Murders only ran for a single series of eight episodes. But it ticks all the boxes and truly deserves its place on this list.

The Chestnut Man

The Chestnut Man is a Danish series which has taken Netflix by storm since it was launched last year.

It is based on a great Scandi-Noir book of the same name by Søren Sveistrup and stars Danica Curcic as Naia Thulin and Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as Mark Hess, two cops tasked with investigating the murders of several women in which a mysterious chestnut figurine has been left at the scene of the crime.

They connect the murder of the first woman to the slaying of an entire family back in 1987 and then to the missing daughter of a prominent Danish Government minister.

The show was an immediate hit with viewers and critics alike, earning a rare 100% rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website and being described as “gripping and gruesome”.

Perhaps that isn’t a huge surprise since this show comes from the makers of The Killing and seems to live up to that billing. There is a single series of six episodes available so far, but if you enjoy that, the good news is that a second series has already been commissioned.

Wisting

It is a sign of the high regard which Nordic Noir TV series are held that even US movie stars are being attracted to star in them.

Wisting is a Norwegian police drama that follows William Wisting, a senior detective and widower who is portrayed by Sven Nording.

However, it is co-star as an FBI Special Agent, which has attracted all the attention as Carrie-Anne Moss, who played Trinity in The Matrix franchise and has starred in numerous other movies, including Memento and Chocolat, takes the role.

The show tells the tale of a murder victim in rural Norway who is linked to a US serial killer who has been on the run for more than 20 years.

The FBI send a team to help with the case, and needless to say, the web of intrigue grows, and there are lots of plot twists and links with other crimes emerge.

There have been three series of Wisting so far, and it has proved hugely popular with viewers in Norway, the states, and other countries around the world.

That is no surprise, mind you, since this is another Nordic Noir film that has got it all, beautiful scenery, and a dark and suspenseful plot. But Wisting throws a genuine Hollywood star into the mix too, and is all the better for it.

Bäckström

Bäckström is a Swedish crime drama that ticks all the boxes of a classic detective series. It stars Kjell Bergqvst in the titular role as Evert Bäckström, a classic gruff detective who routinely breaks the rules to get the job done.

Bäckström is an arrogant and even unlikable lead character, but as his toughest case opens up, he grows on the viewer.

The storyline of season one picks up with the discovery of a body in an uninhabited archipelago in Stockholm. Bäckström clashes with his bosses over whether she was murdered or not, but the case is turned upside down when her identity is revealed.

The subsequent investigation takes Bäckström to Thailand, and as he follows a theory that none of his colleagues agrees with. He is suspended, needless to say, but keeps on digging as all good detectives do as he is determined to solve the case.

Bäckström is not a show to watch for the scenery. It is based in Stockholm but filmed mostly in Gothenberg. But if you like a classic detective drama with a Nordic Noir twist, this show is definitely one for you.

Borderliner

Last, but by no means least, on our rundown of the ten best Nordic Noir series ever is Borderliner, a Norwegian crime drama that once again follows a classic and well-trodden plotline.

The show revolves around an Oslo Police detective, Nikolai Andreassen, played by Tobias Santelmann, who returns to his hometown to investigate the apparent suicide of a young man.

There are suspicions of foul play, and it looks like Nikolai’s brother might be involved, which leads to the detective planting evidence to protect his sibling.

From there, the plot moves fast, taking in accusations of paedophilia, drug dealing, and an awful lot of forensic skullduggery.

Nikolai is the undoubted star of the show, managing to tread the fine line between being a hero and an anti-hero with a deft and well-honed performance.

Critics have described Borderliner as being “as dark and atmospheric as Scandi-noir comes, but it’s also elegantly beautiful and extremely tense”. It’s impossible to disagree. This is Nordic Noir at its picturesque yet macabre best and a fitting show to end this rundown with.

Now that you’ve checked out the best Nordic Noir series, why not check out the Best US Detective shows or even the Best British Detective shows?

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