Best Swedish Movies

The best Swedish movies of all time: 12 must-see Swedish films to watch

Over the years, Swedish cinema has gained international acclaim because of its original and innovative approach to filmmaking. This list of the best Swedish movies of all time will introduce you to a genre of foreign cinema that will stimulate your imagination.

If you have a penchant for foreign cinema, you might want to consider adding a few Swedish titles to your watchlist. Among the pantheon of Scandinavian movies, Swedish films rank at the top.

Along with Nordic noir and Scandinavian novels, people have developed a love for Scandinavian movies, particularly Swedish ones. Its burgeoning popularity in the 20th century made Swedish cinema one of the most prominent in the world.

The global influence of Swedish movies can be attributed to the popularity of directors like Ingmar Bergman, Victor Sjöström and recent talents like Lasse Hallström, Roy Andersson and Lukas Moodysson. All of them are known for their unique styles in movie-making.

Some Swedish actors have made a name for themselves across the ocean in Hollywood. Actors like Greta Garbo and Ingrid Bergman became household names in the early-mid 1900s. 

More recently, movie stars such as Alicia Vikander, Noomi Rapace, Stellan Skarsgård and Alexander Skarsgård have brought Swedish talent into the Hollywood spotlight. 

To fully understand the appeal of Swedish cinema, it’s best to look at some of the best Swedish movies of all time and how they stand out in terms of their artistic themes and story-telling approach.

Characteristics of Swedish film

Since its early beginning when it was screened at the Stockholm Exhibition in 1897, Swedish cinema has developed a reputation for innovative cinema and unique cinematography.

Two characteristics define the essence of Swedish cinema: “The Swedish Gloom” or “Det Svenska Tungsinnet” and “The Swedish Sin.”

The Swedish cinema has a heaviness, described as “The Swedish Gloom.” The movies feature stories about dysfunctional families and an underlying sense of coldness, bitterness and melancholy. 

Like the Nordic Noir films, these films take place against the backdrop of dark and grim and cold winters. Influential director Ingar Bergman, who made more than 60 movies in his career, mastered the art of depicting Swedish gloom in his films.

Another important theme of Swedish cinema is “the Swedish Sin,” which portrays a liberal view of sexuality. During the sexual revolution in the 60s and 70s, Swedish cinema strongly mirrors these ideals in its movies.

The movie “Jag är nyfiken — gul”—which has explicit scenes of sexually liberated women—was held in U.S. customs for many months before it was released. Although it was only shown in 10 states (it was banned in 18), it became one of the most successful international movie export to the U.S.

The space between the Swedish gloom and sin leaves plenty of room for experimentation, character contrasts and philosophical exploration in a film. You can watch movies about a rebellious kid who smokes outside the classroom or a contemplative and troubled class nerd.  

No matter what your movie-watching preferences are, sin or gloom, you’ll find a Swedish movie that will entertain you.

The evolution of the Swedish film industry

There’s a lot more to Swedish cinema than Hollywood appropriations. Its long and rich history is evident in the country’s numerous historically and artistically distinguished theatres. Sweden also has the most screens per capita in Europe.  

Swedish films rose to prominence in the early 1900s when directors Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller produced a host of outstanding silent films, many of which were adaptations of stories by Nobel-prizewinning novelist Selma Lagerlöf.

Even early Swedish movies showed a visual affinity for the Swedish landscape, enhancing the characters and emotions. They also became known for their incisive commentary and metaphysical ruminations about the human condition.

Ingmar Bergman was the pioneer in Swedish cinema who set the standard early on. His sustained body of work overshadowed all the other Swedish filmmakers who were his contemporaries. Many film historians say that his films epitomized not just Scandinavian cinema but also European art movies.

Along with other Swedish directors, Mauritz Stiller, Victor Sjöström, Carl Theodor Dreyer and Georg af Klercker, Bergman’s work gave rise to the Golden Age of Swedish film that lasted well into the 1920s. 

They could make movies even during the tumultuous time of World War I because Sweden took a neutral stance in the war. Sweden’s leading production company Svenska Filmindustri was also gaining power and flourishing. 

With the introduction of talkies, Swedish films moved toward provincial and lesser artistic content. Directors like Alf Sjöberg and Hasse Ekman chose heavier issues to tackle. This new focus in Swedish cinema in the 1950s received praise, winning many awards in the film festival circuit.

In the following decade, the Swedish government developed a program to bolster the Swedish film industry, which led to a new crop of creative directors like Jan Troell, Vilgot Sjöman and Bo Widerberg. 

Lesser-known directors rode the wave of Sweden’s “sexually liberated” reputation and created a new type of Swedish export described as soft-core sexploitation films.

Another notable Swedish post-war filmmaker is Bo Widerberg. He is widely regarded for creating Swedish classics like Raven’s End (Kvarteret Korpen) and The Man on the Roof (Mannen på taket). Over the course of Widerberg’s career, his movie received three Academy Award nominations for Best Foreign-Language Film.

Female Swedish directors like Gunnel Lindblom, Marianne Ahrne entered the film-making arena in the 1970s and 1980s. Shortly after that, several immigrant filmmakers such as Josef Fares and Geir Hansteen Jörgensen started adding a fresh perspective to Swedish cinema. 

Best Swedish movies of all time

If you’re curious about Swedish cinema and what makes it special, try watching these famous Swedish movies that have been favorites for many years. 

Here are twelve essential Swedish films that will give you a taste of Trollywood, the informal name for a Swedish film production facility…

Contemporary Swedish movies

Let the Right One In

Movie title in Swedish: Låt den rätte komma in

Year: 2008

Director: Tomas Alfredson

Movie length: 1h 54m

Based on: A 2004 novel of the same title by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

This Nordic romantic horror movie takes place in Stockholm’s silent, snowy streets. A sensitive 12-year-old boy named Oskar, who was bullied in school, strikes up a friendship with his new neighbor, Eli. 

Eli is a moody and mysterious teenager who eventually shares her dark, morbid secret with Oskar, revealing that she is a vampire on a mission to exact revenge on bullies. 

Even though Eli and Oskar develop a close bond, her recent appearance in the neighborhood coincides with a host of suspicious deaths in the area and breeds suspicions about her role in it.

The Square

Movie title in Swedish: The Square

Year: 2017

Director: Ruben Östlund

Movie length: 2h 22m

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Christian is an esteemed curator of Stockholm’s prestigious contemporary art museum. A divorced, devoted father of two, he supports good causes and drives electric cars. 

However, after being targeted by a pick-pocketing scam, Christian experiences a meltdown and an existential crisis. He decides to set up a controversial new exhibit called “The Square,” centered on altruism and invites people to remind them of their role as responsible beings. 

The show ends in disaster as Christian struggles to live up to his own ideals after his foolish response to the theft of his phone drags him into disgrace.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Movie title in Swedish: Män somhatar kvinnor

Year: 2009

Director: Niels Arden Oplev

Movie length: 2h 32m

Based on: A psychological thriller novel by Swedish author Stieg Larsson

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist found a chance to redeem himself after being convicted of libel for writing an article about billionaire financier Hans-Erik Wennerström. Wealthy Swedish industrialist Henrik Vanger hired him to find out what happened to his niece, Harriet, who disappeared 40 years ago. 

Vagner believes that someone from their own family killed her. With the help of a computer hacker, he sets forth on a long investigation to solve the mystery, and as he digs deeper, he discovers secrets that he never expected. 

A Man Called Ove

Movie title in Swedish: En mansom heter Ove

Year: 2015

Director: Hannes Holm

Movie length: 1h 56m

Based on: A 2012 novel by Swedish writer Fredrik Backman

Where to stream: Netflix

Ove is the quintessential grumpy old man next door. A loner retiree with a short fuse, he spends his days enforcing block association rules and visiting his wife’s grave. Ove sticks to his strict routines and staunch principles and guards his solitary ways. People who live near him call him the bitter neighbor from hell, not realizing that a story of sadness lies behind that hard and cranky exterior. 

That all changed after a lively and boisterous young family moved in next door. Ove and the family strike up an unexpected friendship after accidentally flattening Ove’s mailbox. The company that they share changes Ove for the better and gives a new lease on life.

As it is in Heaven

Movie title in Swedish: Så somi himmelen

Year: 2004

Director: Kay Pollak

Movie length: 2h 12m

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

This Oscar-nominated movie is about a famous and successful international conductor who decides to step away from the limelight and return to his remote childhood town in Sweden. When he gets there, he is invited to listen to a church choir and offer his advice. 

Unable to refuse, he accepts the invitation and ends up making both enemies and friends as the choir grows. He also finds love along the way.

Force Majeure

Movie title in Swedish: Turist

Year: 2004

Director: Ruben Östlund

Movie length: 2h

Where to stream: Hulu

This wickedly witty psychodrama, which was a favorite at the Cannes Festival, tells the story of a family vacationing in the French Alps who were confronted with a dangerous avalanche. During a leisurely lunch with his family on a mountainside restaurant, the avalanche suddenly comes down on the diners. 

Handsome businessman Tomas reacts selfishly to the events, causing a crack in his marriage and his relationship with his two children. The decision he makes leaves him struggling to repair his relationship with his family and reclaim his role as the family patriarch.

Classic Swedish Movies

Fanny and Alexander

Movie title in Swedish: Fanny och Alexander

Year: 1982

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Movie length: 5h 12m

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

This semi-autobiographical turn-of-the-century drama is based on the life of Ingmar Bergman. It won four Academy Awards and is considered one of his best works. 

The movie features two Swedish children, Alexander Ekdahl and his younger sister Fanny who lead a happy life with their parents who own a local theater. 

After their father unexpectedly dies, the siblings end up in the bleak and dreary home of a stern and controlling bishop, who their mother marries. The situation grows worse and his mother and relative have to find a way to extricate themselves from the situation.

Show Me Love

Movie title in Swedish: Fucking Åmål

Year: 1998

Director: Lukas Moodysson

Movie length: 1h 29m

Where to stream: Netflix

This drama-comedy is about the love story of two teenage girls living in a small town in Sweden called Åmål. Elin is popular and outgoing, while Agnes is sad, friendless and secretly in love with Elin. Both girls are frustrated with their circumstances for their own reasons and dream of fleeing their dull town. 

When Elin kisses Agnes after being dared to do it, she apologizes and the two grow close and help each other solve their problems. The movie touches on important themes around love, friendship and peer pressure.

The Seventh Seal

Movie title in Swedish: Det sjunde inseglet

Year: 1957

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Movie length: 1h 36m

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

After returning home from the crusades, a medieval knight finds his country ravaged by the Black Death. Troubled by the possibility that God does not exist, he sets off on a journey to find answers. As they approach home, Death appears to the knight and tells him that it’s his time. 

He tries to save himself from the grips of this fate by challenging the Grim Reaper to a life-or-death game of chess. The two play as turmoil takes place around them. Through this experience, they try to find their own way to cope with the upheaval of the plague.

The Emigrants

Movie title in Swedish: Utvandrarna

Year: 1971

Director: Jan Troell

Movie length: 2h 31m

Based on: A novel written by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg

Where to stream: Google Play

This widely-acclaimed movie tells the epic tale of a Swedish family’s pursuit of the American dream. The film is set in the 1850s when Sweden was an impoverished nation and around a million Swedes emigrated to the U.S. 

The family struggles to survive in their barren land in Småland, Sweden and decides to leave and embark on an arduous and dangerous journey to the American Midwest. The couple meets one emotional and physical trial after another on their way there. 

Finally, after facing struggles and strife, they reach the idyllic destination of Minnesota. 

Wild Strawberries

Movie title in Swedish: Smultronstället

Year: 1957

Director: Ingmar Bergman

Movie length: 1h 31m

Where to stream: Amazon Prime

Renowned physician and doctor Isak Borg travels to receive an honorary degree for his life’s work, awarded by a university. However, his life experiences have left him feeling distant, cold and unfeeling. 

During his travels with his daughter-in-law Marianne, estranged from his son Ewald, he’s forced to reckon with his past after meeting several hitchhikers. Each of them causes the elderly doctor to reflect on his past pleasures and the failures of his own life and the inevitably of his approaching death. 

He also has strange dreams about his personal transformation and what lies ahead of him. 

Raven’s End

Movie title in Swedish: Kvarteret Korpen

Year: 1964

Director: Bo Widerberg

Movie length: 1h 41m

Where to stream: Hulu

This drama is about an aspiring working-class writer named Anders, working in blue color Malmö during the 1930s, who is desperate to escape these bleak conditions and pursue his dreams elsewhere. Ander’s father is an unemployed alcoholic, and his mother supports the family by doing laundry. 

An opportunity for a new beginning appears after Anders finishes his first novel and sends it to a publisher in Stockholm. However, after his girlfriend gets pregnant, his life turns upside down. Although the story is similar to Widerberg’s own life events, he claims it’s entirely fictional.

Discovering the best Swedish movies

This comprehensive list covers some of the best Swedish movies of all time. There are, of course, many more Swedish films to watch, but these movies are an excellent place to start. So, get your popcorn ready as you prepare yourself to be enveloped in Swedish cinematic magic. 

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