8 Nordic noir books that have been made into films

By Linnéa Pesonen

Photo: Getty

From Stieg Larsson’s classic The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to Jo Nesbø’s dark thriller Headhunters here are some of the chilling Scandi noir novels to hit the big screen

Dramatic landscapes boasting desolate, icy tundras and pristine, snow-blanketed forests. Plunging fjords and frozen lakes. Towering mountains and dark river valleys. The gloomy atmosphere of bleak urban surroundings, where the sun barely rises or shines painfully bright all night.

Considering the circumstances we sometimes experience in Scandinavia, it's hardly surprising that a distinct, sinister crime fiction genre has developed from the region. Nordic noir, or Scandi noir, is a genre that started to gain momentum in the late 1990s, thanks to authors such as Henning Mankel, Karin Fossum and Stieg Larsson and spurred on by TV shows such as The Killing. Defined by its murky and melancholic aesthetic and brooding, troubled protagonists, the chill of Scandi noir goes beyond its settings. The genre's typically complex, multi-layered crime mysteries, social commentary and psychological tension make for deeply engrossing storylines – and it’s little surprise that there’s been a rush of big (and small) screen adaptations.

Below, Vogue Scandinavia looks at the Scandi noir books that have been made into movies.


The Snowman

Directed by Tomas Alfredson, The Snowman (2017) is an adaptation of Norwegian author Jo Nesbø’s bestselling book of the same name, published in 2007. The psychological thriller follows Nesbø’s infamous protagonist, detective Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender), who investigates the elusive death of a young woman during the winter’s first snowfall. As Harry delves deeper into the case, his investigation guides him to “The Snowman Killer”, a cold sociopath who keeps teasing the detective with callous games. As the murders continue, Harry teams up with a bright partner in the hopes of catching the mysterious maniac.


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was published posthumously in 2005, and is the first novel of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s ultra-popular Millennium series. Once the book was translated into English in 2008, it became an international sensation, catapulting Scandi noir into the Zeitgeist. In 2011, a film based on the book followed, directed by David Fincher. As in the novel, the film sees investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), hired to solve a 40-year-old murder, join forces with young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara). As the duo embarks on the dangerous quest, they must learn to trust each other to uncover the truth.


Jar City

Frozen tundras, snow-capped mountains, steaming lava fields and black sand beaches create the perfect, rugged setting for Jar City, a chilling novel by Icelandic author Arnaldur Indriðason, published in 2000. The book and the film that followed in 2006 centre around detective Erlendur Sveinsson, who is investigating the death of an elderly man in his grimy Reykjavik flat. However, when Erlendur discovers a photograph on the body, he realises it could indicate that the murder is a part of a decades-old rape case.



Published in 2008, Jo Nesbø’s thriller novel Headhunters follows devious headhunter Roger Brown, who meets with wealthy men and women to discuss their careers, only to steal their expensive art collections. When one of his victims turns out to be a former mercenary, Roger finds himself in deep trouble. The plot thickens further as Roger’s wife has an affair with the mark, resulting in more scheming, unexpected twists and violence. Directed by Morten Tyldum, the film adaptation was released in 2011, starring Aksel Hennie (Roger), Synnøve Macody Lund (Diana) and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Clas Greve).


The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire is the second novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series. Published posthumously in 2006 (in English in 2009), the book centres around many of the same characters as in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, such as investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and fiery computer hacker Lisbeth Salander. This time, Lisbeth approaches Mikael, claiming that she has found evidence indicating that senior officials are involved in sex trafficking.

As the duo investigates further, Lisbeth is framed for murder and has to go on the run while Mikael tries to solve the case and clear Lisbeth’s name. Directed by Daniel Alfredson, the film adaptation was released in 2009, starring Noomi Rapace (Lisbeth) and Michael Nyqvist (Mikael).


The Keeper of Lost Causes

A book that landed Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen on the New York Times bestseller list, The Keeper of Lost Causes contains everything one would expect from a Nordic noir masterpiece: a puzzling murder mystery, a complex yet captivating protagonist and a chilling, psychological thrill. Published in 2007, the book follows detective Carl Mørck who’s in charge of a special department, trying to solve the coldest case in Copenhagen: the cryptic disappearance of a woman named Merete Lynggaard. Everyone thinks she is dead, telling Carl he’s only wasting his time…

In 2013, a hotly anticipated film based on the book arrived. Directed by Mikkel Nørgaard, the movie stars Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Carl), Sonja Richter (Merete) and Fares Fares (Assad).


Smilla’s Sense of Snow

Another New York Times bestseller, Peter Høeg's 1992 novel Smilla's Sense of Snow, centres around Smilla Jaspersen, a Greenlander living in Copenhagen. It's a crisp, freezing winter day in the Danish capital, and Smilla finds a young boy in the snow who has apparently fallen to his death from the top of his apartment building. Although the police rule the death as an accident, Smilla has an eerie feeling that the young boy didn't fall on his own.

As she starts to do her own investigative work, Smilla discovers clues that take her on a courageous journey toward uncovering a dark secret beneath the ice. Smilla's Sense of Snow was made into a hugely popular film in 1997, directed by Bille August and with Julia Ormond leading the cast.


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The third novel of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was published in 2007, and a film based on the book followed in 2009. As in the previous novels and movies, the storyline focuses on the main characters Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). Lisbeth is in the hospital recovering from serious injuries, and still awaiting trial for three murders; Mikael continues to fight to clear her name.

Yet the road to proving Lisbeth’s innocence is rocky, as the crimes she’s accused of involve people with great power. While fighting for justice, Lisbeth begins to plot revenge on the corrupt government institutions and the man who had tried to kill her.