Sofia De Vera combines a heartfelt passion for cinema with over 15 years of critiquing for esteemed film publications, wielding academic credentials from the University of Southern California and New York University, to serve as your personal guide through the enchanting worlds of film and television.
Copenhagen has a lot to offer for both national and international filmmakers. The city is characterized by its amazing architecture, canals, and community spirit. It is also well known for its rich culture and delicious cuisine. So it will come as no surprise that there are so many wonderful movies set in Copenhagen.
There are many things that Copenhagen has to offer. From a long history of art and history and a rich culture to some of the most comforting food and music ever made. But those things can be found in many European cities and other films set in Europe, you could say.
Well, what you’ll surely not be able to find in other European cities is the warmth a love with which Danish people treat each other.
Once you step foot in Copenhagen, you’ll forget all the stereotypes you think you know about Nordic Europeans. The people there are thoroughly welcoming to anyone visiting, as long as you are as amicable as them. And it isn’t only the people, it’s also the city: it was built so that you can go everywhere walking or biking, a sustainable hub for those looking to see a little bit of green while out in the town.
These films set in Copenhagen have narratives that rely on their settings as much as their main protagonists, and as a result, spectators get a glimpse of this iconic city through the director’s eyes. To honor the concept of cinematic travel, we have also assembled lists of our favorite films shot in some of our all-time favorite travel destinations: Budapest, Florence, Rome, Berlin and Paris.
Wondering where to watch? It depends on where you live in the world and which streaming services you have. We link to the streaming service we watch on in each case - be it Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV+, or elsewhere.
You can get one month free of Amazon Prime (or a 6-month trial for students) of Amazon Prime and also get immediate access to FREE Two Day shipping, Amazon Video, and Music. While you won't be charged for your free trial, you'll be upgraded to a paid membership plan automatically at the end of the trial period - though if you have already binged all these, you could just cancel before the trial ends.
Apple TV+ also has a one-week trial, and Hulu has a one-month trial (which can be bundled with Disney!). Another option might be using a VPN to access Netflix titles locked to other regions. Netflix is now available in more than 190 countries worldwide and each country has a different library and availability. US Netflix is (understandably) one of the best.
While we wish everything could just be in one place - for now, it seems these are the best streaming platforms to watch on.
One of the best movies set in Copenhagen that offer a stunning portrayal of the city while not compromising on a good story is 2014 Copenhagen. Written and directed by Mark Raso, the film is a coming-of-age that sees a young and dumb American man travel to the old city of Copenhagen to learn who his father was.
But he will do so with the help of a young local girl who lies to him about her age. The film won many awards in different film festivals—a total of four jury prizes, as well as audience and director’s choice awards.
Copenhagen catches up with William (Gethin Anthony) after he has spent several weeks visiting Europe. It seems like he arrived in the old city by chance, but with him, he carries a letter that Williams’s father wrote to his own estranged father when he was living in the city.
While staying in a hotel he meets Effy (Frederikke Dahl Hansen) a young girl who works there and who shows interest in helping William. The two of them will explore the city of Copenhagen, learning about each other’s cultures. But when William learns that Effy is a minor, the relationship they’ve built begins to crumble.
When talking about this film, it should be disclosed that the relationship between William and Effy isn’t platonic: during the time they spend together, they become close, eventually developing romantic feelings for each other. Of course, this wouldn’t be a problem in Effy weren’t underage.
The film treats this touchy subject with much care and respect. But viewers should be advised that the character’s feelings for each other are a big part of the story.
Reconstruction is a powerful romantic drama that has been compared to several great movies that came before; from David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive to Luis Buñuel’s That Obscure Object of Desire. It would seem that film’s style is so hard to pin down that it evokes the most disparate of references. However, they aren’t wrong.
Reconstruction has a little bit of Lynch and a little bit of Buñuel in it. It tells a story within a story, a story of doubles and doppelgängers, exploring the idea of being lost in the throes of love with its powerful imagery and creative shots.
The film follows Alex (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and his girlfriend Simone (Maria Bonnevie). While Alex is Danish, Simone comes from Sweden. But that isn’t the only problem in their relationship. He’s a volatile figure, a photographer that chases mysteries and beauty.
When he meets Aimee (also played by Maria Bonnevie), he goes after her too. Before the story delves too deep into its captivating premise, we’re told by a narrator that what we’re watching is a film written by a Swedish author known as August Holm (Krister Henriksson).
Even the harshest critic of the film has agreed that its visual style is one of a kind. In that sense, everybody has praised director Christoffer Boe’s work. The beautiful shots naturalistic shots of Copenhagen that you’ll see in this film were, surprisingly, filmed with only the light that was available.
This is most unusual in films, no matter where they are produced. It’s also really hard to get a good image without artificial lighting. So, it’s no surprise that the cinematographer, Manuel Alberto Claro, won the Camera D’Or at Cannes.
This captivating thriller marks the beginning of a popular Danish actor’s career. Even though Game of Thrones has ended on a sour note, leaving fans in a very bad mood with its rushed ending, the good things about the show still stand out.
Without a doubt, one of them was the character of Jaimie Lannister, whose contradicting emotions were portrayed beautifully by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. While it wasn’t until the popular fantasy series that Coster-Waldau would reach true fame, he had been a recognized name in the Danish film industry for quite some time. But Nightwatch was the film that put his name on the map.
The film follows a young student named Martin (played by Coster-Waldau). He’s in his first couple of years studying law at an institute in Copenhagen. Wishing to make some money in his free time, he begins working as a night watchman.
His place of work, however, isn’t the best: he must patrol the Forensic Medicine institute. At first, he’s only a little nervous, but willing to get the best out of the job. But when strange things being to happen in the morgue, Martin’s paranoia will get the best of him.
Nightwatch was a big deal in Denmark. The people in the country were happy to see a locally made film in the style of a Hollywood production. While the movie was “just a thriller”, it also was Danish, so the public got behind it. Not only did it begin Coster-Waldau’s career, but also gave the director, Ole Bornedal, the chance to work in America. There he collaborated with Guillermo del Toro and even directed a remake of this film.
As you’ll see from these movies set in Copenhagen (and movies set in Denmark), the people of Denmark are very keen on thrillers. This one is an adaptation of a chilling novel by Peter Høeg, which was more than a simple detective story, touching on themes of race and colonialism. Smilla’s Sense of Snow more or less follows the book, with the most distinct part being the ending.
It was directed by Bille August, one of Denmark’s best-regarded directors, who not only won the Cannes Palme d’Or twice, but he also won the three most prestigious film awards at the same time with his 1987 film Pelle the Conqueror: the Palme d’Or, the Golden Globe and the Academy Award.
Smilla’s Sense of Snow follows Smilla Jaspersen (Julia Ormond), a woman who emigrated from Greenland to Copenhagen in order to escape her troubled past. There she’s unemployed even though she studied geology.
One night, she returns home from work only to find a horrible sight: the son of her Inuit neighbors is lying dead in the snow. At first, she’s shocked by what happened, but quickly she starts to think about what could’ve happened and concludes that something doesn’t add up.
While visiting the morgue, she finds out that the doctor who performed the autopsy was the same doctor who was seeing the boy every month under unknown circumstances.
As she dives deeper into the mystery, she finds a link between what just happened and a cover-up about the real reason behind the death of many Greenlander miners. Smilla will follow the leads through to the end when she confronts the people behind all of these crimes.
Images of Liberation [Befrielsesbilleder] (1982)
Images of Liberation marks Lars Von Trier’s debut as a director. For those who are unfamiliar with the Danish director, this statement won’t mean much. For those who do know who he is and the movies he has done, you’ll either be very uninterested or very excited.
That’s how things are with Von Trier. He’s a polarizing figure, not only due to the fact that his movies can be hard to sit through, but also because he has done and said very bad things. Whatever way you feel about him, there’s no denying that he is a key part of Danish culture and cinema.
For one, it bears mentioning that Von Trier was one of the ringleaders behind the Dogme 95 movement. In a manifesto written by him and Thomas Vinterberg, they declared that directors should abstain from all elaborate uses of technologies: you were supposed to film things as they were, with natural light and sound, all in non-assuming shots. As weird as it may sound, this movement breathed new life into the film community as a whole.
Going back to his earlier films can be a great way to gain a better understanding of his work as a whole. Images of Liberation is set in Copenhagen during World War II. It tells the story of a German officer who, after the forces of the Axis leave Denmark, goes back to the city to visit his mistress.
Foreshadowing what would come next, even Von Trier’s first work is controversial: it takes a look at the crimes committed by Danish resistance fighters by splicing documentary footage and fictional enactments with the main story.
There are a few key players in the Danish film industry that need to be mentioned, and both had their film debut with Pusher. First, there’s Nicolas Winding Refn, one of the country’s most influential directors. While he made several great films, you’re probably familiar with Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, which made him achieve international fame and earned him the Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Director.
He’s a master of style. With just a single shot, Refn can either tell you lots about the film or tell you very little while captivating you with its composition and colors.
There’s someone else that needs to be talked about when it comes to influential figures in Danish cinema. And that is Mads Mikkelsen. Before becoming a world-renowned star, appearing in Casino Royale and playing Hannibal, Mikkelsen first became a star in his own country. He did many films, several of which are featured in this list, which made him a staple of Danish cinema. And Pusher was the first one.
Pusher tells the story of a drug dealer called Frank (Kim Bodnia) and his partner, Tonny (Mikkelsen), as they try to navigate the criminal underworld of Copenhagen. The film begins when the two of them think that they’re on top of the world, taking riskier jobs each time, they get a chance.
But Frank’s luck will run out when he loses a large amount of heroin after a deal has gone bad. Since he already owed lots of money to a local drug lord, Frank will have to have to pay his debts or suffer the wrath of one of the most important people in the criminal underworld of the city.
This emotional drama is sure to put a tear in your eye. It tells the story of Jacob (played by Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish man who for the last fifteen years has run an orphanage in India. There he lives a happy life taking care of the children, although he’s constantly struggling to make ends meet. Among the children is Pramod, a young boy who has been in Jacob’s care all his life.
When he receives an offer from a Danish company to make a very big donation to the orphanage, he’s beyond happy. But things aren’t as they seem.
For some reason, the CEO of this company wants Jacob to visit him personally in Copenhagen. Desperate for the money, he goes back to his home country. There he meets Jørgen Hannson (Rolf Lassgård), who tells him that he’s still making up his mind about whether or not to donate to the orphanage. Out of the blue, he invites Jacob to his daughter’s wedding.
After the Wedding is a captivating movie. It was directed by Susanne Bier, a Danish filmmaker who would go on to make the surprise hit that was Bird Box. The movie earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film but did not win the prize. If you don’t want to know where the story goes, look away!
At the wedding, Jacob finally puts together was happening: not only is Jørgen married to the woman that Jacob used to date twenty years ago, but his daughter is actually Jacob’s. This will put him in a compromising spot, having to choose between his orphans and the family he didn’t know he had until then.
A Royal Affair is set in the 18th century and is based on the true story of the famous mad King of Denmark, Christian VII, and the dealings in his court; mainly, the affair between the royal physician Johann Struensee, and his wife Caroline of Great Britain.
The film was supposed to be an adaptation of Per Olov Enquist’s novel on the subject, titled The Visit of the Royal Physician, but the company couldn’t get the rights. So, they ended up licensing Prinsesse af blodet, by Caroline Mathilde, which tells the story through the eyes of the Princess.
The film is told through the eyes of Caroline (Alicia Vikander), via a letter that she leaves to her children where he tells them the truth about what happened in the court during the King’s mentally ill state. A Royal Affair reveals that, after having his first son, the King stopped visiting Caroline in her bedroom. She was living a boring life that seemed to be just for show. But then someone new arrives in the court.
At first, doctor Johann Struensee doesn’t interest Caroline very much. That’s until she learns that the doctor is a liberal thinker and a follower of the Enlightenment, things he doesn’t disclose in the court for fear of being imprisoned or worse. However, Caroline also shares those views.
What begins as innocent chats about politics and philosophy ends up becoming a passionate love affair. Both written and directed by Nikolaj Arcel, the film earned two awards at the Berlin International Film Festival, as well as nominations for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe.
While only by name, Thomas Vinterberg has been mentioned before in this list. He was a close friend of Von Trier and ended up becoming a very important figure in Danish cinema as well. It is of note that, like Von Trier, he made a couple of films adhering to the Dogme 95 manifesto.
Yet most directors who were part of the movement ended up moving on from it, citing that it had become too generic and boring. However, even in Vinterberg’s most recent films, one can see that the influence of Dogme 95 still lives on. It may be more subtle than it was in the manifesto, but there’s a certain realness to his films that evokes that same spirit
Submarino is an adaptation of a novel by the same name by Jonas T. Bengtsson. The film tells the story of two brothers who have lived a very grim life. They were very poor and, on top of that, they had to deal with abusive and mentally ill parents.
The film focuses on one of them in particular, Nick (Jakob Cedergren), a bodybuilder who has just been released from prison. Enjoying his freedom, his only motivation is to work out and try to survive. His brother (Peter Plaugborg), who is not named, is a drug addict and dealer who is trying to take care of his son. The two of them don’t meet during most of the movie, but when they do, it’s in the worst circumstances.
The film received lots of accolades, among which stands out the Nordic Council Film Prize. It’s also worth noting that it was nominated for fifteen Robert Awards, the most prestigious film prize in Denmark. Of those fifteen, it won five.
Another Round is Thomas Vinterberg’s most recent work and its most celebrated to date. He had enjoyed plenty of success before, but this film has marked his place as one of the greatest filmmakers not only in Denmark but in the whole world. Another thing that this film marks is his return to collaborating with Mads Mikkelsen.
The two of them had worked on The Hunt together, a very critically acclaimed film that showed their prowess in each of their respective areas—it even won Mikkelsen the Best Actor Award at Cannes and Vinterberg a nomination for Best Foreign Language film.
Vinterberg didn’t win the Academy Award that time, but this new collaboration with Mikkelsen got him both a nomination for Best Director (the first time a Danish director was nominated) and the prize for Best International Feature.
It seems fitting that a movie like Another Round became such a cause for celebration, considering what it’s about. It should be mentioned that the film also won several other awards and nominations: a BAFTA, several Robert Awards, and European Film Awards, among many others.
Another Round has a quirky premise that is sure to captivate you just as you are watching it: a group of university teachers in Copenhagen decides to test a theory that having a constant 0.05% blood alcohol content can make your brain work better.
They sneak alcohol into the institution and drink a little bit the whole day long. They find that they are actually happier and more creative, but then they get too happy about it and end up more drunk than they can handle.