Films of Sweden

Created on : October 23, 2023 21:56 | Last updated on : January 18, 2024 11:48


During 20th century the Swedish film industry was the most prominent of Scandinavia. This is largely due to the popularity and prominence of directors like Victor Sjöström and especially Ingmar Bergman; and more recently Roy Andersson, Lasse Hallström, Lukas Moodysson and Ruben Östlund.


The Swedish Film Institute was founded in 1963 to support and develop the Swedish film industry. It supports Filmmaking in Sweden and allocates grants for film production, distribution, and public showing of Swedish films in their native country. It also promotes Swedish cinema internationally.

During 20th century the Swedish film industry was the most prominent of Scandinavia. This is largely due to the popularity and prominence of directors like Victor Sjöström and especially Ingmar Bergman; and more recently Roy Andersson, Lasse Hallström, Lukas Moodysson and Ruben Östlund.

History of Swedish Cinema

Svensk Filmindustri, (Swedish: “Swedish Film Industry”) oldest and one of the most important Swedish motion-picturestudios, as well as a major film distributor and exhibitor. Formed in 1919 by the merger of Svenska Biografteatern and Filmindustribolaget Skandia, Svensk Filmindustri initially produced pictures for international distribution. But competition from the growing American and German industries and the advent of sound forced it to concentrate on the home market and domestic educational films of Sweden.

Swedish film experienced its first boom in the latter half of the silent age of cinema, 1912-1924. This period is often called the Golden Age of Swedish Cinema when movies like Häxan (The Witch), Terje Viggen (A Man There Was), The Saga of Gösta Berling (Gösta Berlings Saga), The Phantom Carriage (Körkarlen), and Ingeborg Holm put Sweden on the cinematic map.

The most important Swedish directors of this period are Victor Sjöström and Mauritz Stiller. Eventually, they both crossed the Atlantic to try out their luck in Hollywood. Along for the ride was also a young Greta Garbo, having recently been cast by Stiller in her breakthrough performance in The Saga of Gösta Berling. Unfortunately, Sjöström and Stiller’s success as Hollywood directors was modest, at best. And when sound movies became the norm, they both moved back to Sweden. Garbo, of course, stayed behind and would eventually become one of the most iconic actors in cinema history.

Like most Scandinavian cinema markets, Sweden struggled more than the majority of countries in Europe to bounce back during the second year of the coronavirus outbreak. In 2021, it recorded the third lowest annual growth in box office gross among European economies, below 19 percent. Compared to two years earlier, before the pandemic, the revenue decreased by almost 58 percent. Sweden had the 15th highest film attendance in Europe in 2021, yet the figure – six million – amounted to less than 40 percent of the number of movie tickets sold in the Nordic country in 2019. The relevance of Swedish movies in those results also declined. In 2019, over 13 percent of Sweden's cinema attendance came from domestic films. Two years later, that share stood at 11 percent.

Journey of Swedish Films

The global expansion of the United States after World War I had its consequences in the dynamics of cinema and changed previous favorable market conditions that benefited Sweden's film exports to Europe. During wartime, Hollywood not only was able to conquer its domestic film market but also managed to increase its exports to European countries - which produced fewer films during wartime - and even to Latin America. The neutrality of Sweden could have been translated into the fortification of its global film industry, which to some extent was true since its film production grew relatively during this period, but its market share declined severely. In 1913, the last year before the War, the American share in Sweden was only about 4%; in 1919, the first year after the war, it was 80% to make Swedish films more appealing to Swedish film Audiences, the challenge was the maintenance of their specificity - stories with a background based on literature about Nordic countryside was one of the "national" trademarks - with some aspects that made Hollywood successful, such as an agile narrative pace. The new market dynamics established new aesthetic expressions for Swedish cinema and its narratives expressed the duality between cosmopolitanism and Swedish heritage.

The attempts to construct a national cinema able to be also universal was a response to Hollywood dominance, which, in the end, is the consequence of the consolidation of the United States' economic supremacy; after all, European films were not able to develop the same capacity of escalation in production and exhibition. The capitalist tendency of constituting monopolies and concentrating wealth is extended also to cinema. By the end of the 1920s, all major US exhibitors had offices in Sweden. The advent of the talking movie at the beginning of the 1930s brought about financial stabilization for Swedish cinema, but the industry sacrificed artistic and international ambitions for this financial success. Some provincial comedies emerged, created for the local film market.

The influential Swedish filmmaker Ingmar Bergman rose to prominence in the fifties after he began making films in the mid-forties. His film Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) brought him international attention. A year later, he made one of his most famous films, The Seventh Seal (1957). In the 1960s, Bergman won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film for two consecutive years, with The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan) in 1960 and Through a Glass Darkly(Såsom i en spegel) in 1961. He won the award again in 1983, for the period family drama Fanny and Alexander (Fanny och Alexander). Bergman was nominated once for the Best Picture award, for the 1973 film Cries and Whispers(Viskningar och rop), the story of two sisters watching over their third sister's deathbed, both afraid she might die, but hoping she does. It lost to The Sting. Although it was not nominated in the Foreign Language category, gave Bergman the first of three nominations for Best Director. Bergman also won four Golden Globe Awards for Best Foreign Language Film.

Jan Troell started his career as Widerberg's director of photography, but could soon debut with his own film Here's Your Life (Här har du ditt liv). He went on to direct The Emigrants (Utvandrarna) in 1971 and its sequel The New Land(Nybyggarna) the following year. The films are based on Vilhelm Moberg's epic novels about Swedish emigration to America in the 19th century, books extremely well known in Sweden. The Emigrants was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Director and Best Picture. Troell then went to Hollywood, where he directed Zandy's Bride, starring Gene Hackman, and Hurricane. He returned to Sweden to make The Flight of the Eagle (Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd), a film about the Swedish explorer Andrée's disastrous 1897 polar expedition. The film was nominated for an Academy Awards for best foreign language film. Later works include the controversial Il Capitano: A Swedish Requiem (Il Capitano), Hamsun, about Knut Hamsun, As White as in Snow (Så vit som en snö), and several documentaries.

In the 1960s Ingmar Bergman saw a comedic duo's variety show on Gröna Lund and told his studio "There are two funny guys down at Gröna Lund. Why don't you let them do a movie? There aren't too many funny movies these days." The duo was Hans Alfredsson and Tage Danielsson, known as Hasse & Tage, who made a movie called Svenska bilder. Their own production company AB Svenska Ord made many more movies after that one, directed either by Hasse or Tage. They include, among others Docking the Boat (Att angöra en brygga), The Apple War (Äppelkriget), The Man Who Quit Smoking (Mannen som slutade röka), Release the Prisoners to Spring (Släpp fångarne loss – det är vår!), Ägget är löst, The Adventures of Picasso (Picassos äventyr), SOPOR and The Simple-Minded Murder (Den enfaldige mördaren). These films have cult status in contemporary Sweden.

Roy Andersson had a breakthrough with his first feature-length film of Sweden, A Swedish Love Story in 1969, and was awarded four prizes at the International Film Festival in Berlin the same year. Following the financial and critical disaster of his 1975 film Giliap, he took a two-decade break from film directing. In March 1996, Andersson began filming Songs from the Second Floor, which premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, winning the Special Jury Prize. Andersson's return to filmmaking was a major success with the critics, earning him five Guldbagge Awards in Sweden for best film, direction, cinematography, screenplay and sound.

Director Lasse Hallström made his feature-length film debut in 1975 with the comedy A Guy and a Gal (En kille och en tjej) featuring the well-known Swedish comic duo Magnus Härenstam and Brasse Brännström. He was the man behind most of ABBA's music videos, as well as the film ABBA: The Movie. My Life as a Dog, released in Sweden in 1985, was nominated for two 1987 Academy Awards, for directing and for adapted screenplay. In 1987, it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Following the film's international success, Hallström has worked on American films – What's Eating Gilbert Grape, The Cider House Rules, Chocolat and Casanova, among others.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, several young filmmakers started exploring genre films that had earlier been almost non-existent, Mikael Håfström's slasher film Strandvaskaren, Anders Banke's vampire comedy Frostbite which was the first Swedish vampire film, Anders Jacobsson's satire Evil Ed and Måns Mårlind's and Björn Stein's fantasy-thriller Storm. None of these films proved to be successful in Sweden but went to receive both acclaim and audiences in foreign countries. In 2001 the low-budget comedy-horror film Terror i Rock 'n' Roll Önsjön became Sweden's zombie film.

In 2009, the feature films The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor), The Girl Who Played with Fire(Flickan som lekte med elden) and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest (Luftslottet som sprängdes) became international hits with the first film making more than $100 million worldwide. All three films were based on the hit novels of the same names that together comprise the "Millennium series" by Swedish author/journalist Stieg Larsson.



Despite accounting for little more than one-tenth of tickets sold, Swedish movies made up for nearly one-fifth of films theatrically released in Sweden in 2021. Filmmaking in the Scandinavian country followed a clear pattern that year. About half of all Swedish movies to hit the big screen were documentaries. This trend left relatively smaller room for the genres within the realm of fiction. In 2021, the number of fictional feature films made in Sweden added up to 25 – with one of them being a hybrid between film documentaries and nonfactual stories. Since 2011, only twice that figure surpassed 30.

Created by American cartoonist Alison Bechdel, the Bechdel test became more notorious after the traditional Swedish Film Institute supported its adoption in the early 2010s. It consists in asking whether a movie includes at least two women talking to each other about something other than a male character. It promptly boosted Sweden's reputation for championing gender equality in film. In 2021, that translated into almost 40 percent of domestic movies having leading roles shared between male and female protagonists, up from 24 percent among foreign films. Meanwhile, 21 percent of Swedish productions had female leads versus 31 percent of movies made elsewhere. On the other hand, the average wages of women directing and/or producing films and films’ theatre plays in Sweden was nearly 15 percent lower than that of their male counterparts in 2021. Between 2014 and 2020, female professionals enjoyed a higher average.

Swedish films truly began with the founding of the Svensk Biographteatern in 1907. The company, later becoming the Svensk Filmindustri in 1919, held the monopoly on Swedish-produced films for decades and marked the beginning of Sweden’s Golden Age of Cinema.

Sweden kicked back into the international cinema scene during WWII. Similarly to the First World War, the nation’s neutrality proved fruitful to the Swedish film industry. Sjostrom returned to become artistic director at Svensk Filmindustri, beginning a period of experimentation as Swedish cinema attempts to define itself artistically. With themes stretching from reflection on the effects of Sweden’s neutrality to examination of the psychology of individuals, this era aimed to prove that Sweden was ready to take on more artistic pursuits than the folksier films of the last two decades. Films such as Arne Mattsson’s One Summer of Happiness garnered international acclaim, making the world eager to see what would come out of Sweden next.

Current Swedish Film Market Condition

It’ll perhaps take a bit more time to see what defines the Swedish cinema of today, but it can be agreed that it is still a thriving place for film. Numerous Swedish movies have found global critical and financial success from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy films to the vampire horror flick Let the Right One In. It will no doubt be interesting to see what they will have coming next. Ruben Ostlund’s family drama Force Majeure is shaping up to be a top contender for this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Without question Sweden is still an all-mighty figure to be reckoned with in international cinema.


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