A Nerd’s Guide To Iceland

Staff at CCP Headquarters

What has Iceland contributed to the world’s favourite media franchises? Will nerds and fans recognise locations from their most beloved shows and films? Read on to discover just why Iceland is the perfect travel destination for geeks and freaks! 

Remember the days when people were derided as “nerds?” It might seem like a relic of the past, but large swathes of the population have been named as such simply for enjoying interests and hobbies outside of the mainstream. 

Thankfully, these days are long behind us. In the age of the internet, nerds, geeks, and dorks rule the world. Not only have they founded huge fan communities around countless IP’s and franchises, but they have contributed strange and unfathomable leaps in technology, media, and art.

CCP
Photo: Golli. Headquarters of CCP Games in Iceland

Why might nerds travel to Iceland? 


If ever a criticism was thrown at nerds, it was that they were unable – or unwilling – to live in reality. This might explain their affinity for fantastical settings like Middle Earth, Westeros, or far planets like
Star Wars’ Naboo or Dune’s Arrakis. 

Well, good news, geeks! 

If there was any country that could be easily construed as having leapt from a creative imagination, it would be Iceland. With its smooth table-top mountains, blackened coastlines, and quaint settlements, it’s easy to imagine yourself travelling through a place of pure fantasy.  

Iceland was discovered by the Vikings

Reykjavík statue
Photo: Golli. A statue in Reykjavík

Excluding the few Irish monks who once lived on Papey Island, it was the Vikings who discovered Iceland. Having braved cold and tempestuous seas in longships, Norwegian settlers were responsible for the founding of Icelandic society. 

Anyone familiar with the Berserker archetype in fantasy – commonly appearing in universes like Warhammer, Dungeons & Dragons, and Final Fantasy – might be interested to know that it was the Vikings who first inspired it. 

 

 

In Old Norse, the term berserkr described warriors renowned for their sheer brutality and lack of fear. Fighting while entrenched in a hallucinatory daze, these terrifying barbarians instilled horror in all that faced them in battle. By all accounts, such warriors seemed unkillable.

It is commonly believed that these trances might have been the result of them having ingested the psychedelic strain of mushrooms that grow freely around Iceland. While it may sound like a powerful trip, nerds in Iceland may want to avoid this for the sake of their sanity… 

Visit the Viking Festival in Iceland

Viking Festival Hafnarfjörður

For nerds in Iceland seeking out cosplay opportunities, the Viking Festival is held every June in the town of Hafnarfjörður. 

Visitors will see firsthand how Iceland’s earliest settlers dressed, lived, and spent their time. Expect interesting dining options, colourful outfits, and a spot of sword fighting or wrestling. 

J.R.R Tolkien’s Interest in Iceland

Portrait of Tolkien
Photo: J.R.R Tolkien. Public Domain. CC.

J.R.R Tolkien is famously known as the author of The Hobbit, The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and The Silmarillion. These are sprawling works of genius that define fantasy to its very roots. Some may know that the writer found much inspiration in the Icelandic Sagas.

But not so many realise that he actually heard many stories of hidden elves and trolls from his Icelandic au-pair, Arndís Þorbjarnardóttir, who lived alongside the Tolkien family in 1929. 

J.R.R Tolkien never had the pleasure of travelling to Iceland himself. But he strongly believed that a knowledge of the Icelandic Sagas was crucial to understanding the foundation of mediaeval writing. In fact, he taught the subject as a Professor of English Language and Literature.

 

 

Actually, it might surprise readers to know that Tolkien did not put much importance on actually visiting the places that inspired him, opting instead to learn about them by deeply immersing himself in written works. In a 1943 letter to his son, Christopher, Tolkien writes:

“The bigger things get the smaller and duller or flatter the globe gets. It is getting to be all one blasted little provincial suburb. At any rate it ought to cut down on travel. There will be nowhere to go. So people will (I opine) go all the faster.”

Nerds in Iceland – know that you’re taking part in an adventure that Tolkien never had the joy of discovering. You can read more about ancient Icelandic beliefs in our article; Icelandic Folklore | Myths & Creatures

The creators largely filmed Game of Thrones in Iceland.

 

 

Winter is coming… 

This iconic phrase – the ominous words of the northern House Stark – is uttered by almost everyone come September in Iceland. 

It is not just for the novelty and truth behind these words. 

In fact, many locations from HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones, were filmed in Iceland. Given that fact, this island is forever linked with George R.R Martin’s spectacular fantasy franchise. 

Primarily, Iceland’s snowy winter landscapes stood in for anywhere “north of the wall.” This describes that mysterious and unruly region inhabited by wildling tribes, packs of direwolves, and the White Walkers’ terrifying army of the dead. 

When you watch our hero, Jon Snow, traipsing across a plateau of snow, blackened volcanic rock, and expansive sheet ice, there is an excellent chance you’re looking at the Icelandic countryside.

 

Where was Game of Thrones filmed in Iceland? 

File:Joseph gatt game of thrones iceland set.jpeg
Photo: Actor, Joseph Gatt, at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Some of the most famous Game of Thrones shooting locations that nerds in Iceland will want to explore include:

  • Þingvellir National Park 
  • Svínafellsjökull glacier
  • Mýrdalsjökull glacier
  • Lake Mývatn
  • Grótagjá cave
  • Hverir geothermal area
  • Kirkjufell mountain 
  • Dyrhólaey rock arch
  • Skógafoss waterfall 
  • Stakkholtsgjá canyon
  • Þórufoss waterfall 
  • Þjórsárdalur Valley
  • Reynisfjara black sand beach
  • Dimmuborgir 

Filming Locations in Iceland for Star Wars… and other Sci-Fi

 

 

If there is one beloved science-fiction franchise that dominates all others, it is Star Wars. 

Lightsabers. Jedi knights. Death Stars. Luke Skywalker. Darth Vader. Even those who have not seen the films know all too well what such terms point to. 

In fact, George Lucas’ fantastical world has made such a dent on global culture that it’s impossible to imagine a world without it. Well, wouldn’t you know that two Star Wars films have actually used Iceland as a shooting location?

Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader
Photo: Mirko Toller. Wikimedia. CC.

If you remember the opening scenes of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), you may recall how an imperial spacecraft lands on terrain defined by its black pebbles. From the ship steps out an officer of the Galactic Empire. Stormtroopers adorned in black-shell suits guard him on either side, demonstrating their superior rank compared to the more typical, easily-killed white-dressed soldiers.

You might not have realised on watching it, but that’s actually Mýrdalssandur desert, an outwash plain of Mýrdalsjökull ice cap. You can visit this site and others while on a sightseeing trip along Iceland’s picturesque South Coast. 

Iceland was also used in Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015). The volcano, Krafla, stood in for the infamous ice planet, Starkiller Base. 

What other science-fiction movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

There are numerous other examples of Icelandic landscapes standing in for the glorious settings found in science-fiction. Nerds in Iceland will want to catch up on their movies before travelling here.

Most people know that Ridley Scott’s follow-up to the Alien films, Prometheus (2012), famously used Dettifoss waterfall in its opening scene. Then there was Christopher Nolan’s 2014 epic, Interstellar, that used the mighty ice cap, Svínafellsjökull, for trailers and marketing materials. 

Only a year before, Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013) picked out Reynisfjara beach, marking the first time a film in the franchise was shot outside of the US. Another film that year – Oblivion starring Tom Cruise – used Hrossaborg volcanic crater, Jarlhettur ridge, and Drekavatn lake as shooting locations.  

What Superheroes movies were filmed in Iceland? 

 

 

Superhero movies have become a genre in and of themselves. And with so many action-packed blockbusters released every year, it’s little wonder that some of them used Iceland as a primary filming location. 

One of the first superhero movies to shoot in Iceland was Batman Begins (2005). Christian Bale is seen training in front of the glaciers,  Svínafellsjökull and Vatnajökull, standing in for the heavenly mountains of the Himalayas.

Other superhero films that have since been shot in Iceland include Captain America: Civil War (2016), Justice League (2017), Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), and Thor: The Dark World (2013). 

Are there any other movies that were filmed in Iceland? 

Ben Stiller in Iceland
Photo: Ben Stiller on set in Iceland. Wikimedia. CC.

Wouldn’t you know it… there are! 

One film that puts Iceland firmly in the spotlight is Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga (2020). Starring Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams, the story follows two Icelandic musicians as they take part in the Eurovision Song Contest – a long held dream of the Icelandic people. 

Another famous movie shot in Iceland is The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013), starring Ben Stiller. Many people often cite this uplifting dramatic comedy as their first introduction to Iceland.

Not only does much of the story take place here, but the director places great emphasis on sweeping landscape shots, unveiling this island’s beauty in true cinematic form.  

Ultimately, Hollywood has used Iceland as a production stage for so many features that it’s tricky to give them all due credit. Among other big titles include Flags of Our Fathers (2006), Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008), Jupiter Ascending (2015), and The Fate of the Furious (2017). 

Iceland developed EVE Online.

CCP headquarterrs interior
Photo: Golli. CCP Games in Iceland

As mentioned, Icelanders are well adept when it comes to technology. Our young island boasts very fast internet speeds thanks to being between Europe and North America. Thus, it has more-than-capable data centres and servers, making it one of the best places in the world to develop video games. 

The best known video game to come out of Iceland is the epic and complex EVE Online. For those unaccustomed to the game, CCP’s major ongoing project is an enormous living universe where ship captains – or capsuleers, as they are known – take on various missions as part of their chosen faction. 

 

 

Whether that be dominating a nearby star system, or trading in expensive minerals to earn a profit, EVE Online offers its players plenty to do. Though, be warned: EVE Online has been out for over a decade now. With the difficult mechanics and ever changing in-game economy to take into consideration, it will likely take time to truly maximise your time in space.

For those nerds in Iceland interested, CCP commissioned the EVE Online Monument in tribute to their player base. Located at Reykjavik’s scenic Old Harbour, visitors will discover the usernames of thousands inscribed onto the dual domes of the sculpture. It is an interesting and fitting dedication to how users have helped develop and grow the world of EVE Online. 

The Nexus Store – Where Icelandic Nerds Unite!

No photo description available.
Photo: Nexus Facebook.

Nerds in Iceland – are you looking for merchandise from your favourite movie and literature franchises while exploring the country? If so, the famous Nexus Store has you covered. 

Figurines, board games, costumes, and comics are all found at Nexus. While many belong to globally beloved franchises, a devoted selection is dedicated solely to local creations. After all, you may not speak or read Icelandic, but a comic book written and published in this island’s mother tongue still makes for a brilliant souvenir or gift! 

However, be aware that no Nexus stores are located in downtown Reykjavik, so you may need to make a special trip in order to browse their wares. 

Nexus also boasts a great online shop. Even if you can’t make it in-person, it’s worth stopping by its website to see the wide selection of items on offer. 

The Best Icelandic Movies and Its Cinematic History

People sitting in a cinema, eating popcorn.

Iceland, with its beautiful landscapes immortalised in productions like Game of Thrones, Secret Life of Walter Mitty, James Bond and more, isn’t just a scenic backdrop for Hollywood blockbusters. It also boasts a rich history of filmmaking dating back to the 1920s. With numerous acclaimed films that have captivated movie fans worldwide, Iceland´s movie industry has a lot to offer. 

The first Icelandic movie

Director Loftur Guðmundsson holds a significant place in Icelandic movie history. He was the man behind both the first-ever Icelandic fiction film, the 1923 short farce Ævintýri Jóns og Gvendar (The Adventures of Jón and Gvendur), and the first Icelandic feature film, Milli fjalls og fjöru (Between Mountain and Shore) released in 1949. 

Loftur’s contributions to Icelandic filmmaking paved the way for the many filmmakers who followed.

Lights, camera, Iceland!

In a landmark moment for Icelandic cinema, director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson received an Oscar nomination in 1991 for his film Börn náttúrunnar (Children of Nature). This remarkable achievement remains unmatched, though it’s worth noting Hildur Guðnadóttir’s win for Best Original Score in 2020 for her work on Joker.

Other notable Icelandic directors include Ragnar Bragason, Dagur Kári, Sólveig Halldórsdóttir and Baltasar Kormákur, who is undoubtedly one of the leading figures in Icelandic cinema today. 

 

The Top 5 Best Icelandic movies

Despite its modest population, Iceland has an active film industry and produces a remarkable number of movies per capita. Several Icelandic films have garnered international acclaim, earning their place among the best in global cinema.

According to IMDB these are the top 5 best Icelandic movies:

1. Rams (2015), directed by Grímur Hákonarson

This drama film won over 30 prizes both internationally and in Iceland, as well as acclaim from the newspaper Kjarninn, which voted it the second best Icelandic movie of all time. The movie tells a tale of two estranged brothers who, after 40 years of silence, unite to try and save their cherished sheep.

2. Everest (2015), directed by Baltasar Kormákur

This star-studded film achieved remarkable commercial success, serving as a gripping depiction of real-life events. In 1996, a group of hikers found themselves ensnared in a terrifying storm atop Mount Everest, forcing them into a desperate struggle against the relentless forces of nature.

3. Life in a Fishbowl (2014), directed by Baldur Zophaníasson

The film follows the journey of a preschool teacher and mother who resorts to selling herself to make ends meet, a former athlete navigating the corporate world  and an older man grappling with the demons of alcoholism. 

4. The Deep (2012), directed by Baltasar Kormákur

The film brings the extraordinary true story of fisherman Guðlaugur Friðþórsson to life. Guðlaugur´s astonishing survival in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic captivates the audience. The Deep was shortlisted for an Oscar nomination in 2013 as Best Foreign Language film but went on to win numerous awards in Iceland.

 5. 101 Reykjavík (2000) by Baltasar Kormákur

This movie is an adaptation of the eponymous novel that won the Discovery Film Award at the Toronto Film Festival. The movie tells the story of Hlynur, an almost 30 year old leading a leisurely life under his mother´s roof, sustained by social welfare. However things change when his mother´s friend Lola, a Spanish dance teacher, pays a visit and stays through the holidays. This quirky romantic comedy quickly solidified its status as an all time favourite in Icelandic cinema.

Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson Wins Best Actor in BIF & ST Awards

Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson

Icelandic actor Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson has won best lead actor in the 2023 Bari International Film & TV Festival (BIF & ST) for his role in the 2022 film Driving Mum (Á ferð með mömmu), directed by Hilmar Oddson.

The award ceremony took place April 1 at the Teatro Petruzzelli in Bari.

In his winning performance, Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson portrays Jón, whose mother has recently passed away. The film, a black comedy, documents a road trip across Iceland with Jón, his dog, and his deceased mother.

In his acceptance speech, Þröstur thanked his colleague Kristbjörg Kjeld, director and writer Hilmar Oddson, and also producer Hlín Jóhannesdóttir for their cooperation. The dog Dreki, notable for his numerous appearances in Icelandic film, also received special thanks.

This is the third international award Driving Mum has received. Other prizes include the Grand Prix and Best Original Score at the 26th annual Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival (PÖFF).

With the award, Þröstur Leó Gunnarsson joins the rank of such past recipients as Max von Sydow, Helen Mirren, and Roberto Benigni.

 

 

 

Where Can I Watch “A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism?”

Friðrik Þór Friðriksson

Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s 2009 documentary, “A Mother’s Courage: Talking Back to Autism” (originally Sólskinsdrengurinn, or “The Sunshine Boy”) was a critically well-received film about autism.

The narrative of the film centers around the mother Margret Dagmar Ericsdóttir and her search for help to understand her son, Keli’s, condition.

Many of Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s films explore the lives of people who are socially marginalized in some way, such as in “Angels of the Universe,” which features a mentally ill artist.

The documentary was also narrated by Kate Winslet and scored by Sigur Rós and Björk.

During the filming of the documentary, actress Kate Winslet and mother Margret Dagmar Ericsdóttir met and together founded the Golden Hat Foundation, a nonprofit organization for raising autism awareness. The organization aims to “change the way people on the autism spectrum are perceived, by shining a light on their abilities and emphasizing their great potential.”

Additionally, a book arose from the nonprofit and film, called “The Golden Hat: Talking Back to Autism.” It compiled correspondence between Kate Winslet and Margret Dagmar Ericsdóttir, in addition to statements from various celebrities and Margret’s son, Keli.

It may be difficult to find on a major streaming service, so if you want to watch it, then your best bet is likely acquiring it on DVD.

Icelandic Film, Lamb, Wins 2022 Nordic Council Film Prize

icelandic film lamb

The 2022 Nordic Council Film Prize, awarded in Helsinki yesterday evening, Tuesday, November 1, has been awarded to the recent Icelandic film, Lamb. Directed by Valdimar Jóhannsson and co-written with notable Icelandic author, Sjón, the folk horror film was described as “a unique story of loss, grief, and fear.”

Hrönn Krisinsdóttir and Sara Nassim were also honoured in their role as producers, with the DKK 300,00 (USD 39,900, EUR 40,300) prize money split evenly between the recipients, reflecting the co-operative nature of filmmaking.

Also present at the ceremony was Finnish PM Sanna Marin, who awarded the prize.

Lamb, starring Noomi Rapace and Hilmir Snær Guðnason, revolves around a farming couple who live in a remote region of Iceland. Supernatural events influence their relationship when one of their sheep gives birth to a human-sheep hybrid.

The film, originally called Dýrið in Icelandic, has already garnered recognition, premiering in the Cannes film festival’s Un Certain Regard section, and taking home the Icelandic Edda award, the official award ceremony for the Icelandic film industry.

The Nordic Council awards five prizes each year for literature, film, music, environmental activism, and youth literature. 

Other recipients of the 2022 prize include Swedish composer Karin Rehnqvist for her work “Silent Earth,” the Norwegian graphic novelist Nora Dåsnes for her work “Ubesvart anrop,” an account of the 2011 terror attacks in Norway, and also the city of Mariehamn in Åland, for its environmental work in preserving its wetlands.

Record Year Ahead for Icelandic Film and Television

Ráðherrann The Minister Ólafur Darri

A record number of Icelandic films and television series are scheduled for release in 2021, Icelandic film and TV media outlet Klapptré reports. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in more demand for new content and increased government investment in the arts, says Laufey Guðjónsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Film Centre.

A staggering 13 Icelandic films and eight TV series are set to premiere this year, and if they do, it will be a record release year for the country of 368,000. The large amount of new content is partly accounted for by films scheduled to release in 2020 but delayed due to the pandemic. However, Laufey told RÚV additional government funding in response to COVID-19, and the successful management of the local pandemic, have also helped keep production rolling.

Upcoming TV shows include the much-anticipated Katla as well as the third season of beloved show Trapped. One of the local films set to come out this year is Skjálfti, based on the well-received book Grand Mal by Auður Jónsdóttir. It bears to mention, however, that many of the Icelandic films and shows set to be released this year do not have a confirmed release date as of yet.

European Film Awards in Reykjavík Postponed to 2022

The European Film Awards will take place in Reykjavík in 2022, not this December as originally planned, due to COVID-19. A press release from the Icelandic government announced the decision to postpone the event. A digital ceremony will, however, be streamed live from Berlin on December 12, 2020.

“We were looking forward to welcoming our foreign guests this year and showing them everything we have to offer,” stated Reykjavík Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. “But this is the best option in the current situation in light of the pandemic.” Minister of Culture Lilja Alfreðsdóttir stated that the festival program will be “glorious and diverse,” “it will just not be this year.” She called the festival “a very exciting opportunity for Icelandic film culture and the film industry in this country,” adding that “we will make good use of it.”

The festival will be held in Harpa Concert Hall with the collaboration of national broadcaster RÚV.

Beloved Cinema Bíó Paradís Reopens on Friday

Rekjavík indie movie theatre Bíó Paradís is reopening this Friday, following several months of closure and a The cinema had officially closed its doors on May 1 and laid off its staff after an approaching rent hike and the COVID-19 pandemic had put its existence in jeopardy. Thanks to support from the City of Reykjavík and the Ministry of Culture, the cinema is now reopening – and according to its Managing Director, it’s better than ever.

“This is Paradise like you’ve never seen it before,” Hrönn Sveinsdóttir, Bíó Paradís’ managing director told Fréttablaðið. Since the theatres’ closure in May, Hrönn has been working day and night to complete much-needed renovations to the cinema, alongside staff and an army of volunteers. “People have been showing up here, no joke, to do volunteer work, over and over and over. Weekend after weekend. People just show up. It’s amazing. We ourselves have of course been working day and night. None of us has taken a summer vacation and we have been working most weekends since the theatre was closed in March in order to try and make this a reality.” Bíó Paradís now boasts new projection screens, a new projector, and a new bar, alongside countless other fixes and upgrades to its ventilation system, washrooms, and more.

Today is the cinema’s 10th anniversary, and when it opens on Friday, there will be no shortage of films to celebrate the milestone. This weekend’s programming features four premieres and Icelandic Documentary Film Festival Skjaldborg. The festival is normally held in Patreksfjörður in the Westfjords, and Hrönn points out that this year presents a unique opportunity for capital area residents to attend. “Skjaldborg is in my opinion the most fun film festival in the world. It’s more fun than Cannes… no one should let themselves miss it!”

Indie Theatre Bíó Paradís to Reopen This Fall

Bíó Paradís

Bíó Paradís, Reykjavík’s only downtown movie theatre, will reopen this fall after a several-months closure. The independent cinema is scheduled to reopen in mid-September, just in time to celebrate its 10-year anniversary. The cinema closed its doors on May 1 and laid off its staff after an approaching rent hike and COVID-19 put its operations and future existence in jeopardy.

Bíó Paradís closed its doors after it could not reach an agreement with its landlords regarding rent terms and necessary long-term renovations and maintenance of the building. A notice from the Ministry of Education and Culture states that the theatre has now come to a new agreement with its landlords and updated partnership agreements with the City of Reykjavík and the state.

“This is a true cause for celebration,” stated Reykjavík mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson. “With this we are ensuring that Bíó Paradís continues the important cultural activities it has performed over the past decade. The movie theatres is a true cradle of film culture in Reykjavík and in the whole country.”

The theatre’s Managing Director Hrönn Sveinsdóttir says she is overjoyed at the outcome. “We would like to thank all of Bíó Paradís’ supporters for their support, but especially the Ministry of Education and Culture, the City of Reykjavík, and the owners of the building, Karl Mikli ehf. We can’t wait to return to tending film culture again and continuing to bring all countrymen a diverse cinematic experience in better facilities.”

The reopening is particularly timely as Iceland is set to host the European Film Awards this winter.

Netflix Continues Production in Iceland, Crediting Strong COVID Response

Vatnajökull Grímsfjall Grímsvötn Bárðarbunga Kverkfjöll Jöklar Jökull Vísindi

With people quarantined around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic, viewership on streaming services such as Netflix has surged, even as production on new content has basically come to a halt. Even so, Netflix is currently in production in both South Korea and Iceland, thanks to those countries’ strong response in containing and tracking the novel coronavirus. This was among the information shared as part of the streaming giant’s first-quarter earnings report and a subsequent call with company executives.

“When it comes to production, almost all filming has now been stopped globally, with the exception of a few countries like Korea [sic] and Iceland,” Netflix content chief Theodore A. Sarandos explained. Both South Korea and Iceland have been “very aggressive about testing and tracking early,” he continued, which he says “lays out a good framework for future rollouts” in other parts of the world.

While Sarandos did not indicate specific productions that are underway in either country, previous Netflix shows and/or co-productions that have been filmed in Iceland include Sense8 and The Valhalla Murders.

Extensive testing in a country or state is a prerequisite for Netflix relaunching production efforts, Sarandos noted – “We have to be able to look our employees and cast and crew in the eyes and say, ‘This is a safe place to work.’”