When it comes to Scandinavian broadcast media like films and TV shows, crime dramas are a surprisingly popular genre – and they’re very good at it, too!
There’s something about the lush greenery, structured architecture, looming mountains, and vast countryside that lends just the right kind of mystery that’s perfect for the genre – not to mention the sometimes gloomy, Winter-y weather in the latter months!
Scandinavia is an umbrella term for a region of Northern Europe that’s often noted to be comprised of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. In some cases, Iceland and Finland are also included along with other islands and constituent countries (like Greenland, or the Faroe Islands, for example).
They are certainly beautiful countries worth a visit at least once in your lifetime. With the current state of the world, however, we’re forced to live vicariously through our screens and imagination.
With that, we’ve put together a list of the best Scandinavian crime dramas for you to binge when you’re looking for that mix of mystery, thrill, and beautiful Scandinavian scenery! The sheer number of shows here is a real testament to the popularity of the genre, too.
So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the best crime dramas from Scandinavia!
The Bridge, SVT1/DR1 (2011 – 2018)
We’re starting off our list with a strong one: a Swedish-Danish co-production nominated for BAFTA TV’s Best International Award and winner of 9 more international accolades.
The Bridge has aired in more than 100 countries and now, it will be made available to stream in the US on Topic, with the first season released on July 8 and the next three dropping every Thursday after.
The Bridge starts us off with a brutal double murder right on the Sweden-Denmark border.
What looks to be a single body turns out to be two halves of different victims sewn together, and this is only the beginning of a string of violence that will leave both countries’ police forces changed forever.
The Killing, DR1 (2007 – 2012)
Danish series The Killing is yet another international success with 12 accolades including BAFTA TV’s Best International Award!
While there is an American adaptation of this show, fans in the US can now watch the original series when the first season is released on Topic beginning on August 12 (with subsequent seasons released weekly).
Each season of The Killing covers one specific case, diving deep into the investigation and how the crime has affected not just the victim’s family but the social and political environment.
It starts off with the grisly murder of a young woman and its ties with the local government, while the following seasons cover the death of military personnel and the kidnapping of an industrial magnate’s daughter.
Follow the Money, DR1 (2016 – 2019)
As a departure from the previous two shows, DR1’s Follow the Money instead dives primarily into cases within the world of finance.
Like The Killing, this will be the first time that Follow the Money is being made available to viewers in the US and it’s all thanks to Topic! All three seasons are already available for viewing on the platform, with the latest dropping just last month.
Call it the negative side of capitalism, greed, or corruption – when it comes down to the pursuit of wealth, there are no lines that criminals wouldn’t be willing to cross.
Follow the Money takes us to corporate boardrooms and banks where fraud, embezzlement, and money laundering are abound.
The first season even has a mix of murder – proving that following the money can be a truly dangerous game to play.
The Valhalla Murders, RÚV (2019 – 2020)
If you ever wanted a scenic view of the beautiful sights in Iceland, the miniseries The Valhalla Murders will do that for you.
We follow veteran police detective Kata and foreign investigator Arnar Böðvarsson on the trail of a killer, of course.
What began with a stabbing at the Reykjavik Harbor soon escalates into a series of murders across the country, forcing Arnar to return home to Iceland from his international post in Norway to help the local police force investigate.
The events in The Valhalla Murders are actually loosely based on a real-life incident of abuse at an institution for young and troubled boys, though there was no death involved in real life.
Bordertown, Yle TV1 (2016 – 2019)
Bordertown is a Finnish crime drama that has received high praises both in Finland and internationally, with fans including renowned horror writer Stephen King.
The series follows Detective inspector Kari Sorjonen, an exceptional and highly respected officer in Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation with high-functioning autism and possible savantism.
When Sorjonen accepts a new job leading the Serious Crimes Unit, he moves himself and his family to a city in South Karelia, near the Russian border. Hoping for a more peaceful life, things turn out to be quite the opposite when he is pulled into the investigation of violent murders, all of which seem to be connected.
Borderliner, TV 2 (2017)
In Norwegian series Borderliner, we are transported to Halden, a beautiful town near the Tista river in Norway and the Swedish border, where any crime becomes a big deal.
So when a young man is suspected of having completed suicide, a seasoned police detective named Nikolai Andreassen returns to his hometown from Oslo in order to help with the investigation.
Unfortunately, Nikolai discovers that his younger brother, a local cop, may be implicated in the crime and thus crosses a line in trying to cover for him. This leads to a dangerous game with his partner, one that’s full of twists and deceptions as she investigates her suspicion of foul play.
Wallander, TV4 (2005 – 2013)
Wallander takes us straight into Sweden, to a town called Ystad near the southernmost tip of the country. The series is based on Swedish crime writer Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels, lending its main character’s name to the show.
Though each of the three seasons has only about 10 to 11 episodes, each one is roughly the length of a full movie!
Wallander follows the titular police detective as he investigates a series of murders throughout each episode, including mysterious deaths tied into government policies, bank heists, religious cults, international drug trade, internal corruption, and many more.
Those Who Kill, TV2 (2011)
It’s always a joy to see one series evolving into several spin-offs, reboots, and international remakes because you know that it’s a good one, and Those Who Kill is one of those on the list.
The original Danish series follows the investigations conducted by a fictional crime unit within the Copenhagen police department that specializes in serial killings.
With five two-part episodes that detailed the connections between various murders, the series wrapped up with a feature film. However, in 2019, Those Who Kill was rebooted and features the main character, criminal profiler Louise Bergstein, as she assists in local investigations of serial killings.
On top of this reboot, an American remake premiered in 2014 and a Dutch one in 2016!
All the Sins, Elisa Viihde (2019 – 2020)
Much like many of the shows already on the list, All the Sins involves the return of the main character to their hometown.
The town in question is in Varjakka, northern Finland, and is a devoutly Laestadian Lutheran community. This is part of the reason why the main character, Lauri Räihä left all those years ago – he was rejected by the community because of who he was.
Now, he’s back in town with his husband to investigate the murder of two local men. In the process, both Lauri and his partner dive into the crimes and discover more about themselves and their town.
Arctic Circle, Elisa Viihde/Yle (2018)
Set in the beautifully icy Finnish Lapland, viewers of Arctic Circle are taken to the northernmost region of Finland right smack in the middle of winter.
Against the backdrop of snowy landscapes, subzero temperatures, and shorter days of sunshine, police officer Nina Kautsalo finds the body of a prostitute in the basement of a remote cabin in the wilderness.
Barely alive and the victim of an attempted murder, the woman is also found to be the infected host of a deadly new virus. Seeking the help of German virologist Thomas Lorenz, the pair race against time to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Midnight Sun, SVT (2016)
Midnight Sun is a Swedish-French joint production that aired for just one season of eight episodes.
The series starts off with the circumstances surrounding the brutal death of a Frenchman named Pierre Carnot in Kiruna, the northernmost town in the Swedish Lapland.
As part of the investigation into his death, French police lieutenant Kahina Zadi is assigned to fly to Sweden to assist the local deputy police prosecutor Anders Harnesk.
The deeper the pair dive into the murder, the more they discover about its creepy, dark, ritualistic nature and its ties with the town’s past – and present.
The Sandhamn Murders, TV4 (2010 – present)
Based on the popular series of crime novels by Viveca Sten, The Sandhamn Murders is a long-running Swedish crime drama series that is currently awaiting the premiere of its eighth season sometime this year.
Sandhamn is a small settlement in the Stockholm archipelago where Sten’s family would spend their summer vacations; while it’s a popular tourist destination in real life, the area is rife with crime in The Sandhamn Murders.
That’s where crime inspector Thomas Andreasson and his colleague Carina Persson come in – they’re tasked with investigating each case regardless of its difficulty, lack of leads, or circumstances, starting with the discovery of a man’s body washed up on the shore.
More often than not, the cases are revealed to be much more complex than they had initially presumed.
Trapped, RÚV (2015 – present)
In the Icelandic series Trapped, viewers witness how harsh the cold winter months can be in the country, especially when a snowstorm hits.
The series follows Andri Olafsson, the chief of police at a small town as he attempts to solve the mystery of the man whose mutilated body turns up on the shores of the fjord.
Not long before the body was discovered by fishermen, a ferry with over 300 passengers from Denmark docked and were left trapped in the town by a blizzard, complicating the investigation further and leaving Olafsson with more suspects than expected.
Succeeding seasons see the return of Olafsson, with the third season currently in development!
Warrior (miniseries), TV 2 (2018)
Warrior is a six-part miniseries that’s in a much different vein than those that came before it on this list.
Where those were centered on murders, Warrior looks into the world of organized crime in Denmark. More specifically, a turf war between rivaling crime gangs that’s right on the verge of blowing up into something completely out of control.
Interspersed with this gang war is Louise, a widowed police detective, and her late husband’s best friend CC, a war veteran, as they attempt to infiltrate a local biker gang called the Wolves.
Despite the potential danger of going undercover, CC feels that he owes it to Louise to do whatever it takes to take them down – a result of his guilt over her husband’s death.
Quicksand, Netflix (2019)
Another series based on a popular and successful novel (written by Malin Persson Giolito), Quicksand premiered on Netflix as its first Swedish language series.
The crime at the center of Quicksand does involve murder, but of a very different kind from the targeted serial killings we’ve been seeing on the list thus far. No, this series covers a school shooting at a senior high school and tells the story from the main character, who is the one suspected of the crime.
What further sets Quicksand apart from other crime dramas is that it shifts focus from the who to the why – is the suspect really the one to blame here?
Any kind of murder is inexcusable, of course, but Quicksand dives into the circumstances leading up to it and the extent to which the suspect was really involved.
Deadwind, Yle TV2 (2018)
Next on the list is Deadwind, a Finnish Nordic noir crime drama with strong viewership and reviews, even being described by critics as “compelling” and “addictive”, leading to a third season coming this fall 2021.
The show’s protagonist is Sofia Karppi, a Finnish police detective and mother of two young children.
After an accident resulting in her husband’s death, she moves back to Helsinki to work as a homicide detective with the local police force.
Along with her new partner Sakari Nurmi, the pair investigate the disappearance and murder of Anna Bergdahl, a social affairs consultant, and its connection to a wind power research firm named Tempo.
Eyewitness, NRK (2014)
Eyewitness tells a compelling story over the span of its six episodes; it’s a story that focuses less on the crime itself and more on how it has affected those unwillingly involved.
From the title alone, you can probably glean that the series revolves around two essential eyewitnesses to the point-blank shooting of four members of a criminal gang.
These witnesses are Philip and Henning, teenaged young men secretly in love, who saw the crime while out on a secret rendezvous.
Out of desperation to hide their own secret, they don’t come forward to the cops but this puts them in the line of danger both from the killer himself, and the police who are cracking down on any lead they can find.
Millennium (miniseries), SVT1 (2010)
If you’re familiar with Stieg Larsson’s Millennium book series (starting with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), then you’re going to love this six-episode miniseries.
Millennium isn’t so much a standalone adaptation of the novels or the films that followed; in fact, the series is an expansion of the movies!
Each film is further detailed throughout two film-length episodes, with extended scenes that provide more background to the story and the characters.
The series follows two main protagonists: Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist and the publisher of the titular Millennium magazine, and Lisbeth Salander, a computer hacker with a photographic memory who prefers to work in solitude, as they investigate major cases together.
Before We Die (2017 – 2019)
In the two-season Swedish crime drama Before We Die, viewers are taken into the world of financial crime as they meet Hanna Svensson, a police officer in the Financial Crime Unit of the Stockholm police department.
She’s good at her job, but her morals are tested when Sven, a colleague from the agency’s organized crime unit and Hanna’s lover, goes missing.
In the search for her partner, Hanna gets sucked into the criminal underbelly and to make matters even worse, discovers that her estranged son is also involved with the gang she’s taking down.
Caliphate, SVT1 (2020)
The last show on our list touches upon themes that are a little heavier and more realistic for many people, as it has borrowed from many real-life people, events, and organizations.
Caliphate is a Swedish crime thriller based on the case of the Bethnal Green trio, three teenage girls who left their homes in London to join the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, a group designated by the US to be a terrorist organization.
The series, in turn, tells the story of three women caught up in the different branches of ISIL as the threat of an attack continues to grow over Sweden.