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Nordic Noir

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A very different kind of cold case.
Nordic Noir or Scandinavian Noir is a genre of Crime Fiction from the Scandinavian countries, which broke through around the Turn of the Millennium and since.

They often, but not always, take the form of a Police Procedural. The Hero is often an Anti-Hero; typically a Defective Detective. Many of the series have been adapted to film, and then remade for other audiences. The genre arguably originated with Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall's Martin Beck novels, which introduced many of the concepts and conventions, such as deconstructing the clean surface of the welfare state, dealing with older, down on their luck cops and social commentary and social realism, set in deserted sceneries in an an unforgiving climate. However, it truly took off in the English-speaking world with the English publication of Henning Mankell's novels, most of which feature the depressive Inspector Kurt Wallander.

While the name suggests that Nordic Noir must be set in the Nordics, the genre's popularity in certain English-speaking countries has ensured the creation of many crime procedural works that take heavy inspiration from the cold, rural settings of Nordic Noir, but are set in Britain, Ireland, Canada or the frigid regions of the United States. Whether these works still qualify as "Nordic" Noir is up for debate.

Compare with Giallo and Heroic Bloodshed, for other region specific crime thrillers.


Film — Live-Action


Live-Action TV

  • Arne Dahl
  • Backstrom, adaptation of the Backstrom novels. An American procedural that kept the original's cynical edge while softening down some of the protagonist's other flaws.
  • Bäckström (2020) a slightly Truer to the Text adaptation of the fourth Backstrom novel.
  • Bankenrot ("Broke") was essentially a Nordic version of Breaking Bad, changing down-on-his-luck chemistry teacher for down-on-his-luck chef. The attempt by AMC to adapt it to American audiences, Feed The Beast, unfortunately became an Audience-Alienating Premise and only lasted a single season.
  • Black Mirror has a couple episodes heavily inspired by this genre, though mixed with Black Mirror's trademark speculative science fiction.
  • The Break, a Franco-Belgian take on the genre.
  • The Bridge (2011)
  • Bullets
  • Cardinal, a Canadian take on the genre, which was positively critiqued throughout Canada.
  • The Chestnut Man, a Danish take on the genre.
  • Dark, a German science fiction thriller, has frequently been described as Stranger Things with a Nordic Noir aesthetic, particularly in its first season.
  • Deadwind, as pictured above.
  • Fallet is a comedic take on the genre.
  • Forbrydelsen, arguably the Trope Codifier for people who don't read prose crime fiction.
  • Fortitude is what you get when a British TV channel decides to make its own Nordic Noir, still in a Scandinavian setting.
  • Gentlemen and its sequel Gangsters by Klas Östergren
  • Jordskott
  • Lilyhammer
  • Midnight Sun (2016) (Midnattssol / Nuit Polare), a French-Swedish coproduction playing in Kiruna, Sweden.
  • Øyevitne, a six-part Norwegian crime series that was also remade as Eyewitness (2016) for the US market.
  • Raid, a Finnish mini-series, and the two movies that followed. Unusually enough, it's set 20 Minutes into the Future.
  • Roland Hassel, a classic nordic-noir-crime-thriller from the 80's, famous in Sweden for the protagonist being more intelligent than cocky.
  • Shetland is a Scottish take on the genre, set in a region of Scotland that's the closest thing to a Nordic country that speaks English.note 
  • Sorjonen, a Finnish take on the genre.
  • Spring Tide is a Swedish series which kicks off with the investigation of a pregnant woman's death.
  • Trapped (2015) (Original title Ófærð), an Icelandic TV series in 10 parts.
  • Thin Ice
  • True Detective: Season 4 (titled Night Country), though set in the Alaskan High Arctic rather than an actual Nordic country, has many of the hallmarks, including the Defective Detective (2 of them, both women to boot), the social themes, and the grisly murder implicating both the personal lives of the perpetrator and the victim on one hand and wider issues on the other. The setting during polar night also adds to the noirness. However, it's distinguished from most other examples by including (somewhat ambiguous) supernatural elements. (Also for what it's worth, much of it was filmed in Iceland.)
  • Twin, which has many of the hallmarks of a Nordic Noir drama, with some police procedural aspects, but the detective is merely a side character and the focus of the story is on the victim's twin brother.
  • Der Usedom-Krimi is a German series set on the island of Usedom in the Baltic Sea, which is far enough north to have a Scandinavian flavour.
  • Wallander, the other blockbuster literary example.
  • Y Gwyll, a Welsh take on the genre.

Video Games

  • Alan Wake II by the Finnish Remedy Entertainment is set in Washington State, but follows many of the tropes of a Nordic Noir with a detective deuteragonist, grisly murders, and police procedural elements.
  • Disco Elysium, though technically created on the other side of the Baltic Sea (ZA/UM are Estonian), blends the themes of Nordic Noir with New Weird elements, with the framework of a grisly murder investigation being used to explore both broader sociopolitical themes as well as the private inner demons of the Defective Detective player character in a world that may or may not be slowly willing itself into collective oblivion.
  • Draugen is somewhat of a retro take on the genre, placing a missing person's case in a rural Norwegian village in the year of 1923.
  • Whispers of a Machine combines the genre with Cyberpunk.

Web Video


  • Scandinavia and the World: "Save the day" contrasts Nordic action protagonists with American and British ones. America is a gun-toting Leeroy Jenkins, Britain is a suave spy, while Denmark, Sweden and Finland are hapless, regular guys in disheveled clothing, smoking and maybe wielding a gun, alluding to the somber tone of Nordic Noir.

Tropes typical to the genre:

  • Action Girl: Female characters are as likely to partake in action scenes as male ones.
  • All Bikers are Hells Angels: Common villains, nearly always Mooks.
  • Asshole Victim: As often as not investigation into the murder victim, or somebody who has been offended against, reveals they are not exactly clean-living citizens. The paradox of policing repeatedly emerges - that nobody is ever completely innocent, and that often material witnesses are evasive or reluctant to come forward for fear their shadier doings might be exposed. (Even if unrelated to the case being investigated).
  • Cowboy Cop: Yes, Scandinavia has them too. However they are usually portrayed realistically, more like in The Shield than Dirty Harry. The most famous ones are probably Gunvald Larsson from Martin Beck and Roland Hassel from the eponymous book series by Olov Svedelid. There's also the Swedish film "I lagens namn" ("In the name of the law") from 1986, which was loosely based on the "baseball gang", a group of real-life Stockholm cops infamous for their vigilante tactics.
  • Crapsaccharine World: Many such works often depict Nordic society as this, their progressive welfare states and social justice-minded values masking mean streaks of intolerance and misogyny.
  • Defective Detective and Fallen Hero
  • Dreaming of a White Christmas: Reality Is Unrealistic, as Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen and Helsinki are usually not covered by snow in late December.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Many of these works tend to depict every single character as deeply disturbed and unhappy, even the non-violent ones.
  • Germanic Depressives: That might specifically target Germans, but it's not hard for the Nordics to top them for depressive moods when you're based even farther north and the winters are even longer and colder.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: This genre has most of its market in Britain and Germany. Sjöwall and Wahlöö's Martin Beck series was huge in the Soviet Union, as due to authors being socialists and their social critique resonating well with the Soviet ideology, the books were widely translated and published, while the people mostly read them for the good stories they were.
  • Historical Detective Fiction: The shortlived Swedish show, Anno 1790, was set in Stockholm after the end of the Russo-Swedish war of 1788 and follows the adventures of a veteran Combat Medic turned cop.
  • National Stereotypes: Especially in cross-Scandinavian franchises, such as Bron|Broen.
  • Norse by Norsewest: Deconstructed, in the typical case. Though these countries are known to be clean and well-organized, crime, corruption and filthy environments do exist.
  • Ruthless Foreign Gangsters: Typically The Mafiya. Truth in Television to some degree.
  • Sexy Scandinavian: Some of these works have explicit sex scenes, although Fan Disservice is also common.
  • Snow Means Cold / Snow Means Death