Here are 12 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.
In 2022, he headlines in 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.
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 2020, she and Julianne Moore along with two other actresses all portrayed women’s rights activist Gloria Steinem in the biographical drama The Glorias (2020).
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.
Now she’s filming Irma Vep, an HBO series loosely based on the French art film of the same name (1996). And production of Tomb Raider 2, with Vikander reprising her lead role as Lara Croft, has been announced.
Gender equality-rating of film
A-rating is a campaign initiated in Sweden to raise awareness about representation in film, 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.
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 harrowing 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. Anna Odell
First, she stirred a cultural debate with an art school project where she faked a suicide attempt and was rushed to a psychiatric hospital. Then, four years later, Anna Odell turned around to charm Swedish critics and audiences with her directorial debut The Reunion (2013), which she also wrote and starred in.
The film is as complex as it sounds: An artist who isn’t invited to her class reunion makes a film about what could have happened had she gone, and then shows this film to her former classmates. It’s a disturbing but highly engaging film, which deservedly earned her international awards, including two at Venice.
Her follow-up film, X&Y (2018) – which like The Reunion is also framed by a fictitious film project – is an examination of gender roles, starring herself alongside Mikael Persbrandt, perhaps Sweden's most known leading man on home soil.
At the 2020 Gothenburg Film Festival, Odell unveiled The Gynecological Cinema Chair, a video art piece where she talked one-on-one with several Swedish men she perceives as men in power, about equality, power and empathy. As part of the work, these men had to decide whether to undergo a gynecological exam.
Odell has yet to announce her next project, but we dare say it will be daring.
5. 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 is currently scoring the music to Oppenheimer, Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film about American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer’s role in the development of the atomic bomb. The film is scheduled for release in 2023.
6. Max von Sydow
From Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957) to the television phenomena Game of Thrones, Max von Sydow (1929–2020) enticed new audiences throughout his career. There was no character imaginable that he couldn’t lend his magic to, and almost no celebrated director he didn’t work with.
In The Seventh Seal, he immortalised the medieval knight who played chess with Death – arguably the single most famous and also most parodied of all of Bergman’s film scenes.
He went on to act alongside Charlton Heston (The Greatest Story Ever Told, 1965), Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist, 1973), Robert De Niro (Awakenings, 1990), Tom Cruise (Minority Report, 2002) and Leonardo DiCaprio (Shutter Island, 2010) – to name just a handful.
And like any decent movie star, he also guested The Simpsons.
7. Ninja Thyberg
‘No film has ever shown just how raw, shocking and disturbing porn can be quite like Ninja Thyberg’s Pleasure’, Variety wrote.
Yes, Thyberg’s debut feature – expanded upon the concept of a short film she released in 2013 – is about the adult film industry. It is told through the journey of Linnéa, a Swedish girl who has moved to Los Angeles with the goal of becoming an international porn star, using the stage name Bella Cherry.
It’s a work of fiction, but the film sure comes with a documentary feel. Several cast members are real-life porn actors, and prior to production Thyberg had spent years in Los Angeles as something of an infiltrator on the porn scene. Thyberg has stated that many of the disturbing scenes in her film are based on things she has seen first-hand.
Pleasure premiered at the 2021 Sundance Festival and Thyberg went on to be nominated as Best Director at the 2022 Independent Spirit Awards.
It is fair to say Hollywood has taken notice of this feminist force of a filmmaker. Thyberg recently signed with Warner Bros. to write and direct a remake of the fantasy comedy The Witches of Eastwick.
Will she base her remake on George Miller's movie (1987) – a Jack Nicholson seduction fest of Cher, Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer – or go back to John Updike’s more satirical novel? Place your bets.
8. 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 Villeneuve’s sequel with Ferguson, which has been announced and is set for release in 2023.
9. 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 in Cannes and was nominated for an Academy Award.
His latest work, Triangle of Sadness, competes for the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
How to describe the the film? It’s a dark reversal-of-hierarchy comedy, with Woody Harrelson in one of the leads, partly shot in the Mediterranean Sea – on an old yacht that belonged to Aristotle Onassis and Jackie Kennedy. Let’s leave it at that for now.
10. 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 is another thriller set in Cairo: Boy from Heaven. The film competes for the Palme d'Or at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
11. Tomas Alfredson
For years, family entertainment and comedy pretty much covered everything that Tomas Alfredson worked with, culminating with Four Shades of Brown (2004), which was as much a drama as it was a comedy.
Then he made a film about a bloodthirsty teenager in a Stockholm suburb, Let the Right One In (2008), a film that was heaped with international awards and gave Alfredson the chance to direct English-speaking films.
He followed up by directing the spy thriller Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), a film that won the BAFTA award for Best British Film and starred Gary Oldman, Colin Firth and Tom Hardy. Then in 2017, he moved on with the crime mystery The Snowman, starring Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson.
Having directed Se upp för Jönssonligan (‘Watch out for the Jönsson Gang’, 2020) – a reboot of the famous Swedish crime-comedy saga Jönssonligan (‘The Jönsson Gang’) – Alfredson looks set to resume his international career with Seance on a Wet Afternoon, a literary adaptation that is in pre-production. Based on Mark McShane’s suspense novel by the same name, the film is set to star Rachel Weisz.
12. 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 returns 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 acts in Rick Dugale’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.