Cinema and Media Studies Scandinavian Cinema
Anders Marklund, Kimmo Laine
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0267


This bibliography covers the cinemas of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. These are usually called the Nordic countries, while Scandinavia is sometimes defined more narrowly, with reference to geography or linguistics. Here, however, Scandinavian and Nordic are used as synonyms. While the Nordic countries certainly share parts of their film histories with each other, there are also notable differences. Denmark was the first country to reach a prominent position in film production and distribution in the early 1910s, followed by Sweden a few years later. Norway witnessed regular film production only in the 1920s. Neither Finland nor Iceland were independent countries in the early silent cinema era. Finnish film production was relatively modest before the country gained independence from Russia in 1917, and it was only in the 1920s that film producing became a profitable business. Iceland gained significant independence from Denmark in 1918, but it would take until the end of 1970s until regular film production could be upheld. What the Nordic countries do share, especially since the latter part of the 1900s, is the strong role of the welfare society in relation to cinema. This includes regulations on the one hand, and state subsidy systems channeled through national film institutes on the other. Initially, subsidies were directed primarily to arthouse production, but recently a wider industry support has taken root. Although Scandinavian cinema has not generally had a significant international impact, certain periods and filmmakers have been widely recognized and distributed. This has usually been due to perceived quality, with much focus on prestigious filmmakers such as Ingmar Bergman or Carl Theodor Dreyer, and this has also generated substantial interest among film scholars—both local and international. Sometimes international attention has been awarded for more sensationalist reasons, as when nudity and sexuality facilitated film production and exports—also a source of interest to scholars. Compared with arthouse and auteur studies, research on popular cinema has, until recently, been relatively scarce, and it has, at best, been done by scholars within Scandinavia. Since the turn of the 21st century, however, there has been increased collaboration between film scholars from different Scandinavian countries, and with those outside of Scandinavia also. Still, the most common outcome is that the separate national cinemas are placed side by side in journal issues and edited volumes; more rarely do scholars work comparatively, or collaborate on a joint topic.

General Overviews

There seems to be some correlation between the international success of Scandinavian films—usually in arthouse circuits—and the amount of literature reflecting this success. Hardy 1952 is a case in point, reacting to the postwar breakthrough of a new generation of filmmakers, especially those from Sweden. Cowie 1992 follows the model of the earliest overviews in its tendency to discuss Scandinavian cinema as a collection of separate national cinemas. Although continuing in this tradition, Soila, et al. 1998 adopts a more culturally oriented and less auteurist approach than previous studies. The more recent books included in this section are all collections of essays instead of monographs. They are more sensitive to transnational and global perspectives than the earlier accounts, but none of them aims at a general history of the region’s cinema. Soila 2005 is a collection of illuminating close readings of individual films, while Nestingen and Elkington 2005, Thomson 2006, and Tucker 2012 incorporate new theoretical perspectives into the study of Scandinavian cinema. Hjort and Lindqvist 2016 is the most widely contextualized collection so far, with themes varying from film education to ecocinema.

  • Cowie, Peter. Scandinavian Cinema: A Survey of the Films and Film-makers of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. London: Tantivy on behalf of “Scandinavian Films,” 1992.

    Early English-language outline of Scandinavian cinema. The first part consists of introductions to each national cinema with focus on central directors. The second part is a now less useful filmography and director dictionary. Originally published in French (1990) in relation to screenings of Nordic films at the Centre George Pompidou.

  • Hardy, Forsyth. Scandinavian Cinema. London: Falcon, 1952.

    Part of the National Cinema series edited by Roger Manvell, this early, fifty-page survey is inspired by the then-recent international arthouse success of films by Carl Theodor Dreyer, Alf Sjöberg, and Ingmar Bergman. Also includes sections on earlier periods of Danish and Swedish film history, as well as a few pages on Norwegian cinema.

  • Hjort, Mette, and Ursula Lindqvist, eds. A Companion to Nordic Cinema. Malden, MA: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

    Very substantial volume covering a comprehensive selection of topics. Written by well-chosen experts, the chapters successfully aim to offer both an outline of an important area and quite detailed insights. The chapter references point to valuable and often interesting resources. For many, both researchers and students, this would be the preferred starting point for Scandinavian cinema.

  • Nestingen, Andrew, and Trevor G. Elkington, eds. Transnational Cinema in a Global North: Nordic Cinema in Transition. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2005.

    A pioneering collection of articles in its pursuit to approach Nordic cinema from transnational and global perspectives instead of as a group of national cinemas isolated from each other and the rest of the world. Includes studies of production and distribution practices as well as analyses of individual genres, films, and filmmakers.

  • Soila, Tytti, ed. The Cinema of Scandinavia. London: Wallflower, 2005.

    Well-written and detailed case studies on individual films from various genres, countries, and periods, from early cinema to the 2000s. The selection of films includes both established classics and forgotten films, and some of the key filmmakers like Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman are interestingly represented by their less-known works.

  • Soila, Tytti, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, and Gunnar Iversen. Nordic National Cinemas. London: Routledge, 1998.

    Separate chronological outlines of the film history of each Nordic country, primarily up to the 1980s. Too short of an entry for Denmark but otherwise well-balanced, culturally oriented introductions.

  • Thomson, Claire, ed. Northern Constellations: New Readings in Nordic Cinema. Norwich, UK: Norvik, 2006.

    A collection of diverse essays on films from all Nordic countries, covering a historical period from the silent era to contemporary cinema. The book is divided into thematic sections such as body/space, history/memory, local/global, and auteur/subjectivity.

  • Tucker, John, ed. Evaluating the Achievement of One Hundred Years of Scandinavian Cinema: Dreyer, Bergman, Von Trier, and Others. Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2012.

    This collection of twelve essays and an interview of the Icelandic director Ágúst Guðmundsson originally appeared as a special issue of Scandinavian-Canadian Studies/Etudes Scandinaves au Canada. The essays cover a vast range of topics both historically and thematically, from early film industrial practices to philosophical and intermedial readings of the films of contemporary filmmakers such as Lars von Trier, Roy Andersson, and Aki Kaurismäki.

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