Here are 10 acts to know in Swedish film, alphabetical order.
1. Alexander Skarsgård
Alexander Skarsgård’s made his first Hollywood appearance as a not-so-bright model in Ben Stiller’s cult comedy Zoolander in 2001 when he was still building his name in Sweden.
His real US breakthrough came via his portrayal of vampire Eric Northman in the HBO series True Blood (2008–2014). Since then, he’s portrayed everything from Tarzan in The Legend of Tarzan (2016) to Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband in Big Little Lies (2017–2019), the series that earned him a Golden Globe nomination.
Throughout his career, Skarsgård has moved quite freely between series and the big screen. In 2021, he delighted fans both with the lead role as Dr. Lind in MonsterVerse film Godzilla vs Kong and with a guest role as the confrontational tech founder Lukas Mattsson in Season 3 of Succession. He went on to portray Mattsson in Season 4 as well, in 2023.
In 2022, he headlined in Robert Eggers' thriller The Northman as Amleth, a Viking prince who seeks revenge against an uncle who murdered his father. Hamlet similarities? Quite a few. Setting? Iceland. On ‘second fiddles’? Nicole Kidman, Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Björk.
In 2023, Skarsgård has a notable role in Lee, the biographical film about the female pioneer Lee Miller. American Miller, portrayed by Kate Winslet, among many things served as war photographer during World War II, and Skarsgård plays the English artist Roland Penrose, the man Miller eventually marries.
Gender equality-rating of film
A-rating is a campaign initiated in Sweden to raise awareness about representation in film. The rating is based on the Bechdel Wallace test, which rates films based on how gender equal they are.
To get A-rated ('A' for 'Approved Bechdel Wallace Test'), a movie must have at least two named female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man.
2. Alicia Vikander
She is already an Oscar winner, having bagged the Best Supporting Actress statuette in 2016 for her portrayal of artist Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. But Alicia Vikander’s star is still on the rise.
‘I just think of these once-in-a-generation actresses who kind of explode onto the scene and what strikes me about her is I can’t see where her limits are,’ Matt Damon said after acting with her in Jason Bourne.
Raider of tombs, royalty, artist, agent, humanoid robot – there doesn’t seem to be a role that Vikander can’t master. The last few years, she has stayed busy with productions both in Hollywood and Europe, mainstream and independent.
In 2021, Vikander featured in three very different films: She acted with John David Washington in Beckett, a Netflix thriller about a holidaying couple who get entangled in a violent conspiracy in Greece. She starred alongside Justin Chon in his film Blue Bayou, a deportation drama about a Korean–American man who gets haunted by his past. And she played Lady / Essel in The Green Knight, a fantasy version of the medieval story of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Last year, she headlined in Irma Vep, an HBO mini-series loosely based on the French art film of the same name (1996). Olivier Assayas – the man behind the original film – both wrote and directed the series.
In 2023, Vikander starred in Firebrand, which premiered at Cannes Film Festival. It's a Tudor drama with Vikander as Catherine Parr, King Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. Jude Law portrays King Henry VIII in the film, which was directed by Karim Aïnouz.
3. Amanda Kernell
After a string of short films, Amanda Kernell’s first feature Sami Blood arrived in 2016. The film explores a dark side of Swedish history – the discrimination of the indigenous Sami population in the 1930s.
Both written and directed by Kernell, the film centres around the struggles of Elle-Marja, a 14-year-old Sami girl who is forced to learn the Swedish language at a boarding school, where she’s also subjected to racial–biological examinations.
Kernell, from Umeå and with Sami heritage herself, was named Best Young Director at the 2016 Venice Film Festival with the feature, which went on to be showered with awards both internationally and on home soil.
Kernell’s follow-up Charter, again both written and directed by her, arrived in 2020. It’s a story about a mother who decides to abduct her two children and take them with her to the Canary Islands. This drama was Sweden’s submission for an Academy Award in the Best International Feature Film category in 2021.
More recently, Kernell has been writing on a new project, described as a love story set in the Sápmi region. Let’s hope the script makes it into production!
4. Gizem Erdogan
From thrillers to drama to comedies, Gizem Erdogan (born 1987) has already covered a wide range of genres.
Having impressed both audiences and people in the film industry with her versatility, Erdogan was listed as one of the European Shooting Stars at the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival.
Charismatic like few, Erdogan got her big breakthrough in 2020. That’s when the Swedish drama series ‘Caliphate’ (2020) arrived on Swedish public television (SVT). In the series, Erdogan portrays Pervin, a Swedish woman who travels with her husband to Syria to join ISIS.
The role won her a best actress award at Kristallen, which is something of a Swedish equivalent to the Emmys, and ‘Caliphate’ was later picked up by Netflix, which brought Erdogan international praise.
Later that year, Erdogan portrayed the ambitious but stiff literary agent Denise Konar in the romantic drama comedy series ‘Love and Anarchy’, which premiered on Netflix.
More recently, she portrayed Petra Hansson, head of legal at Spotify in the Netflix series ‘The Playlist’ (2022). In the series – which tells the story of the making of Spotify – Erdogan went for a serious makeover, dying her black hair blond and wearing green contact lenses for the role.
5. Important Looking Pirates
You may not have heard of them, but you’re bound to know the films they’ve been involved in.
Stockholm-based studio Important Looking Pirates (ILP) has entertained audiences worldwide with their visual effects and digital animations in Hollywood blockbusters.
Among the films on their resumé: Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017), Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019), Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (2023), and The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (2023).
They’ve done plenty of series, too: Crossbones (2014), an adventure-drama about real-life pirate Edward Teach, portrayed by John Malkovich; robot thriller Westworld (season 2, 2018); retro-horror Stranger Things (season 4, 2022); and Ahsoka (2023), a miniseries of the Star Wars franchise.
6. Ludwig Göransson (yup, that’s how we Swedes spell his name)
At the 2019 Academy Awards, Ludwig Göransson became the first Swede to win an Oscar for best music, for his original score to the film Black Panther (2018). With the same music he also won a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
He has also composed music to blockbusters Creed I & II (2015, 2018), Venom (2018) and – more recently – Tenet, an espionage thriller directed by Christopher Nolan (2020). The latter earned Göransson another Best Original Score nomination, at the 2021 Academy Awards.
Göransson, who has a degree from the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, started working on shorts and television shows while a student at University of Southern California, and had his first real break making the music for the popular sitcom Community (2009–2015).
He doesn’t limit himself to film music and has produced artists such as Alicia Keys, Travis Scott, Chance the Rapper and, perhaps most notably, Childish Gambino. The collaborations with Childish Gambino resulted in two Grammys for Göransson in 2018.
Göransson has scored the music to Oppenheimer (2023), Christopher Nolan’s film about American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in the development of the atomic bomb.
7. Rebecca Ferguson
With Hugh Grant, she helped Meryl Streep make us feel really good in Florence Foster Jenkins (2016), the comedy about a New York heiress who lives her dream at Carnegie Hall despite being tone deaf.
In The Greatest Showman (2017), a biographical drama starring Hugh Jackman as American circus entrepreneur P.T. Barnum, she sang on the stage of a packed opera, portraying the great Swedish singer Jenny Lind.
And since 2015, she fights bad guys together with Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible film series. Rebecca Ferguson might not be as famous as the international films she has acted in, but her talent and range should be undeniable by now.
A great introduction to Ferguson’s talents is sci-fi epos Dune (2021), where she portrays Lady Jessica, the mother of main character Paul Atreides. Here, Ferguson brings a nuanced mix of dignity, strength and warmth to a character that is mother, warrior and mind-reader at once. Following her performance, the film’s director Denis Villeneuve called Ferguson ‘an actress of extraordinary precision’.
We can’t wait for Dune: Part Two – Villeneuve’s sequel set for release in 2024 – where Ferguson once again features.
8. Ruben Östlund
It takes a special kind of talent to make the audience giggle while brooding on the absurdity of human behaviour. Ruben Östlund manages to tip-toe between realism and the absurd, coaxing a laugh here and there as he goes. In his own words, all his films are about people trying to avoid losing face. Artists, suicide jumpers, fathers.
And for being such a ‘serious’ writer–director, he certainly has a handle on the parodic. With that handle, he wins over audiences and critics alike. His 2017 release, The Square, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival and was also nominated for an Academy Award.
Then in 2022, Östlund joined an exclusive club of two-time Palme d'Or winners by clinching the Cannes award again with his latest film Triangle of Sadness. This reversal-of-hierarchy comedy went on to dominate the 2022 European Film Awards, winning in the cateogries best film, director, actor and screenwriter.
And at the 2023 Academy Awards, Östlund was nominated for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, with Triangle of Sadness also nominated for Best Film.
What's the film about? A celebrity model couple are invited on a luxury cruise, helmed by a not-so-sane captain potrayed by Woody Harrelson. The trip does not go according to plan, to say the least. Let's leave the plot at that for now. Fun trivia: The boat scenes were shot on an old yacht that belonged to Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy.
Östlund is said to been keen to discuss his next film project, The entertainment system is down, to gain new insights and inspiration. How the film finally turns out, we can only imagine, but Östlund never stops to surprise us.
Östlund's next film has the working title 'The Entertainment System Is Down'. Setting? A long-haul flight. What happens? The digital entertainment system breaks down. How will that be handled by the passengers, who are used to constant screen distractions?
9. Tarik Saleh
‘What motivates me is to create something I myself yearn to watch,’ Tarik Saleh has said in an interview. And what he wants to watch is apparently almost always daunting.
From co-directing two charged documentaries with Erik Gandini – one about the death of Che Guevara in 2001 and then Gitmo (2005) about interrogation methods at Guantánamo Bay – he moved on to create Metropia (2009), a dystopian computer-animated drama that landed him an award from Venice.
In 2017 he upped the ante again and made The Nile Hilton Incident, a crime thriller set in Cairo. The film is in Arabic, a language Saleh barely speaks, but it nevertheless earned him a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
The Contractor (2022) – Saleh’s first American film – stars Chris Pine as a discharged US Special Forces sergeant who puts his family at risk by joining a private contracting organisation.
Saleh's latest film, Boy from Heaven, is also set in Cairo. This thriller about religious power struggles in Egypt earned Saleh the Best Screenplay award at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
10. Tuva Novotny
Few actors or actresses can match the versatility of Tuva Novotny. She moves comfortably between roles in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish, not to mention English in which she’s held her own alongside Julia Roberts (Eat, Pray, Love) and Natalie Portman (Annihilation). But Novotny will not limit herself to just acting and is now also establishing herself as a director.
In 2019 she released her first film in Swedish, the feelgood drama Britt-Marie was here, with Pernilla August in the lead role. The story of the recently divorced Britt-Marie, who at the age of 63 gets a fresh start in life by getting to coach a young football team, is based on a novel by Swedish best-selling author Fredrik Backman.
Novotny’s debut feature Blind Spot (2018) is a more grave drama, dealing with mental illness, and is all shot in one take. It’s in Norwegian, written by none other than Novotny herself.
In 2022, Novotny returned as writer–director with her third feature Diorama, which follows the love story of Frida and Björn in phases, from a scientific perspective. She also acted in Rick Dugdale’s Zero Contact, a thriller that was produced in 17 different countries during the global Covid-19 pandemic. The film follows five characters around the globe, all connected by their devotion to tech titan Finley Hart, portrayed by a certain Anthony Hopkins.
In 2023, Novotny plays the lead in Avgrunden (‘The abyss’), a disaster film set in the mining town of Kiruna, way up north in Sweden.