The Nordic crime thriller boom has moved from page to screen and is opening up the mainstream global box office to other genres from the region. Andreas Wiseman reports

The Nordic region has long delivered critically acclaimed titles to the international arthouse market. But since the 2009 success of Yellow Bird’s Swedish-language The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the film adaptation of the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, Nordic sales companies have seen a surge in demand for commercially viable genre fare. In particular, the explosion of bestselling crime fiction from the territories is spawning a number of feature adaptations with real box-office potential.

“For us, [Daniel Espinosa’s 2010 Swedish hit] Easy Money was the starting point of a new wave in interest in crime-based films,” says Rikke Ennis, CEO of TrustNordisk.

Easy Money, one of the big Swedish hits of 2010, is the first part of Jens Lapidus’ popular noir series about a country boy’s career in Stockholm’s underworld. TrustNordisk has sold it widely around the world including to The Weinstein Company (TWC) which bought multi-territory rights. 

“The Millennium trilogy was the game-changer in this market,” says Ennis. 

‘Demand from the US and Canada is growing. That’s a new trend for us’

Rikke Ennis, TrustNordisk

Those three films are the highest-grossing Nordic titles worldwide of all time. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, directed by Niels Arden Oplev, is the first Nordic film to gross $100m globally and achieved the rare feat for a foreign-language release of grossing a double-digit sum ($12.7m) in North America, via Music Box Films. Sony Pictures is opening David Fincher’s English-language version starring Daniel Craig in the US on December 26.

The boom in crime features from the region goes hand in hand with an explosion in similar TV content. The 2005 TV series Wallander was an early pace-setter. The recent Mipcom TV market in October saw buoyant demand for Nordic TV crime series: Denmark’s The Killing and Those Who Kill, Sweden’s Sebastian Bergman and Denmark-Sweden co-production The Bridge sold extensively. There is also buzz around Svensk Filmindustri’s period crime drama Anno 1790

Among the most enticing crime properties at this year’s AFM were Swedish thrillers In The Interest Of The Nation and The Hypnotist, Icelandic thriller Black’s Game, and Danish production ID:A. Swedish titles The Fjallbacka Murders (both a TV and feature project) and Department Q, as well as further instalments in Finland’s Vares, are also in the works and hotly anticipated.

TrustNordisk’s latest crime feature is the fast-paced Norwegian thriller Headhunters, adapted from Jo Nesbo’s bestselling novel. The film took $8m in its local market and has already sold to more than 35 territories, most recently to China. Summit is planning an English-language US remake.

Momentum Pictures has UK rights to the original. Following a well-received launch at the London Film Festival in October, the distributor plans to open the film on around 80 prints in January. This is on a par with its other recent Nordic releases Let The Right One In ($1.6m) and Troll Hunter ($770,363), as well as the Millennium trilogy ($7.1m combined).

In the competitive UK market, pre-buying a Nordic crime title is becoming crucial. “We spotted Let The Right One In early, before it was successful on the festival circuit, “ says Momentum managing director Xavier Marchand. “We bought Headhunters in Berlin [this February] off the promo. The film was based on a book that hadn’t yet been published in the UK.”

Despite the critical buzz around these titles in the UK they remain cultish, foreign-language releases. “They are hard to break out in a major way,” says Marchand. “The Millennium trilogy did very well in [mainland] Europe where films are dubbed but in the UK you are still in the foreign-language category so it’s always limited.

“But if they are well made and you get good reviews a film can cross the $1.6m (£1m) mark at the box office. Then they all seem to have a very strong life on DVD as well.”

Momentum sold 1.5 million units of the Millennium series on DVD.

‘We bought Headhunters in Berlin off the promo’

Xavier Marchand, Momentum Pictures

Crime thrillers do not tell the whole story of the Nordic boom. In Finland, local title Rare Exports, an action comedy, grossed $3m to become one of the highest-grossing local releases of all time, while Troll Hunter, a Norwegian creature feature, notched up $3.9m in Norway in 2010. It has sold around the world including to Universal Pictures International for multiple territories.

And Nordic film-makers remain feted regulars at the A-list festivals, with Aki Kaurismaki’s dark Finnish comedy Le Havre, and Lars von Trier’s lyrical vision of the apocalypse Melancholia both popular titles at Cannes. Susanne Bier’s foreign-language Oscar winner In A Better World has proved her most commercial film to date, garnering $13.7m worldwide.

Bier is now in post on All You Need Is Love, a romantic comedy starring Pierce Brosnan with a Danish cast, which has also sold around Europe. Nikolaj Arcel’s Danish period drama A Royal Affair and Thomas Vinterberg’s Swedish—language revenge drama called The Hunt (formerly The Formula) are among the other interesting Nordic titles in production.

“For the budgets you spend in Nordic countries it’s impressive what you can get out of those films,” says Ennis.

“The mid-budget Nordic productions [from $3.4m-$4.8m] don’t work any more. Either you get talent on board a low-budget film and you experiment or you go the whole way and invest $6.8m and maximise what you have. Look at A Royal Affair, it has a budget of $8.1m but it looks $16.2m.”

While some territories are still hard sells for Nordic sales agents, Ennis says others are opening up.

“Asia is a very challenging market,” she explains. “Few of the original crime books have been published there which makes it difficult. However, the bigger projects from Lars von Trier and Susanne Bier easily sell to Latin America and Asia. And demand from the US and Canada is growing. That’s a new trend for us. The US is being much more aggressive, even pre-buying, which they hadn’t done for years.”