Norway is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe, and while guidebooks can get you excited about your upcoming itinerary, treating yourself to visual teases of the nation’s unspoiled fjords, Arctic panoramas, and bustling cityscapes can help you formulate a sense of this nation’s scope and grandeur.
What unifies the Norwegian film’s we’ve highlighted is this sense of vitality that permeates national culture; through animation, comedy, introspective narrative, and historical portraits, you can get a feel for the people and energy in the Land of the Midnight Sun.
#1 The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix
This charming stop-motion animation classic left an indelible mark on Norway’s popular culture. Not only is this the most successful and widely seen Norwegian film of all time, it also held the box office record for any stop-motion film until 1993, when it was dethroned by The Nightmare Before Christmas. Directed by Ivo Caprino, The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix brings to life beloved characters by cartoonist and author Kjell Aukrust. And while the film is animated, it depicts a stylized version of a real mountain in Lom, Oppland county.
The adventure begins in Flåklypa, a tiny mountain town where Theodore Rimspoke, a bicycle-repairman and fantastical inventor, lives and works with his animal sidekicks: Sonny Duckworth (a bubbly magpie) and Lambert (a pessimistic hedgehog). The friends discover that Theodore’s former assistant stole his prized design for an engine, using it to become a world champion driver. Rudolph challenges anyone to face him in a race, and seeking their revenge, the trio takes the bait. Hijinks and sabotage ensue en route to the starting line, and the film culminates in a thrilling race sequence around the mountain.
The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix is great to watch if you’re heading to Jotunheim National Park, a premier destination in Norway for hiking and fishing. In addition to exploring the Flåklypa valley beneath the mountain captured in the film, head to Lom to take in stunning views of the highest mountains in Northern Europe—and be sure to save time for Lom Stave Church, one of the few remaining stave churches in the country (a few more are listed here).
#2 Kon-Tiki (1950)
One of the lasting legacies of Norway’s Viking heritage is the intrepid spirit and drive for exploration still treasured by contemporary Norwegians. Although this Academy Award-winning documentary is set in the warm waters of South America and Polynesia, it focuses on national hero Thor Heyerdahl, the famed 20th-century explorer and experimental ethnographer.
Heyerdahl postulated that the pre-Columbians of South America sailed to and colonized the Polynesian islands over 1500 years ago. Seeking proof, Heyerdahl constructed Kon-Tiki, his own tiny balsa-wood raft, using the same exact pre-Columbian materials and methods in 1947 that the ancient explorers would have utilized. With his raft and a small crew, he set out to recreate the same expedition from Peru to Tahiti.
While modern movie-goers may feel drawn to the 2012 narrative retelling of this story, try the original documentary instead. Heyerdahl and his team of fellow scientists captured all the film’s footage on a single black and white 16mm camera, and the documentary introduces you to finer points of the explorer’s theories and methods. There's nothing more thrilling than feeling like you're right there on the raft with his team for 101 days.
Once you’re in Oslo, visit the real raft at the Kon-Tiki museum, which also features an extensive library with about 8000 volumes, maps from the expedition and other vessels Heyerdahl recreated for future expeditions. The museum is also very kid-friendly, with main exhibitions specifically curated to be approachable for little ones (here are more great kid-friendly ideas in Norway's cities). After, take advantage of your location on the water by checking out the Fram Museum, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Viking Ship Museum, or the Norwegian Maritime Museum before tucking into some spectacular seafood nearby.
#3 Troll Hunter
Norse mythology offers a panoply of creatures and characters, but this hilarious mockumentary capitalizes on a particularly terrifying and infamous breed: trolls. Troll Hunter is a dark comedy that combines fantasy with cinema-verite and unites a cast of both well-known Norwegian comedians and non-actors, all of whom improvised dialogue on set. This clever box office hit has been compared to The Blair Witch Project for its use of found footage and has been heralded as a modern classic—think shaky, hand-held shots of the frozen tundra paired with fantastically realized CGI creatures.
The film follows a group of three film students as they make a documentary about a suspected bear poacher named Hans. They soon discover that it isn't bears that Hans is after, but trolls—whose existence in the North has been elaborately covered up by the government. The young filmmakers plunge themselves into danger as they chase enormous creatures, try to verify the truth, and find themselves the target of government agents who want to keep their massive secret on the down low.
Troll Hunter was filmed in the mountains of Western Norway and is a fun preview of the types of landscapes you’ll encounter around Bergen, Skei, or Flåm. Here's a guide to experiencing Bergen like a local, and this article offers some great itinerary ideas for spending a week around the region.
#4 Insomnia (1997)
This semi-noir psychological drama utilizes the near perpetual daylight of the Midnight Sun above the Arctic circle to symbolize guilt and anxiety. Insomnia follows Stellan Skarsgård as Jonas Engström, a detective investigating the murder of a teenage girl in Tromsø, a town in the far north of Norway where, in the summer, there is almost constant daylight.
As the film opens, Engström has been exiled from Oslo after tainting his reputation in a previous case. Reassigned to Tromsø, he meets his match with an equally clever murderer. At a bungled rendezvous, Engström—delirious from insomnia—runs through a blanket of fog and shoots, missing the suspect and killing his own colleague. What unfolds is a suspenseful, psychological miasma as Engström tries to cover up his mistake while continuing his investigation. All the while, our detective cannot rest, perpetually haunted by guilt and insomnia.
The film is filled with otherworldly vistas of the Arctic and the communities of the north. Whether you’re visiting Tromsø in the winter to chase the Northern Lights or exploring the area during brighter times of the year, don’t miss the lively town, which boasts the highest number of pubs per capita in Norway. As the gateway to the Arctic, Tromsø is also the perfect town to learn about Sami culture at the Tromsø University Museum, feed arctic reindeer, visit the Polar Museum, and even journey into the fjords for a whale safari. Here are a few more ideas for summer experiences in northern Norway.
#5 Elling (2001)
Elling is an Oscar-nominated deadpan comedy about two dysfunctional men in their 40’s who become unlikely friends and roommates. Elling, the protagonist, is so paralyzed by agoraphobia that after his beloved mother’s death, he must be sent to a mental institution. There, he meets Kjell Bjarne, a sex-obsessed slob who can’t function in normal society after a lifetime of institutionalized living.
Two years later, the government gives the men an opportunity to live independently, moving them into a furnished apartment in Oslo—and to their horror, a social worker breaks the news that the men must interact with society. Kjell falls for their drunk and pregnant neighbor and Elling befriends a famous poet, eventually leading the characters to get outside their comfort zones and experience the lives they’ve been avoiding.
Elling brilliantly juxtaposes two mentally ill men in a society that prizes its status as the happiest nation in the world. What’s more, the film refuses to stigmatize its lead characters or enforce any kind of moral lesson about mental illness: this is a story about two fully realized characters confronted with participating in the banality of everyday life.
While the film journeys into the gorgeous countryside, it also provides a glimpse into the rhythms of Oslo, Europe’s fastest growing city center, filled with endless dining options, museums, and history. Heading there yourself? Consider this itinerary for a perfect day in Oslo.