The Best Icelandic Movies and Its Cinematic History Skip to content

The Best Icelandic Movies and Its Cinematic History

By Telma

People sitting in a cinema, eating popcorn.
Photo: Photo: Golli. People sitting in a cinema..

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.

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