It’s no secret that many of the most successful European actors have had a split career when it comes to their film work — starring in small artistically appreciated dramas in their native countries, then coming to Hollywood on occasion to land a supporting role in a big budget film (and usually a much bigger paycheck). But few actors have had quite a gulf in their film careers as Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen. Originally trained as a ballet dancer, Mikkelsen gradually transitioned to film acting in his native Denmark, notably bringing a grace of movement to his small dramas there and later, a tough-guy swagger to his (usually bad-guy) roles in Hollywood. In our gallery below, we dive into the Top 10 Mads Mikkelsen movies ranked from worst to best.
Mikkelsen’s gallery of characters in Europe often captures the lives of people with whom the audience can easily relate — a teacher, soldier, doctor, or even the kind-hearted owner of an orphanage. When he comes to Hollywood and enters the worlds of Marvel, Star Wars or James Bond, however, he excels in bringing the nasty (though usually with a sly bit of humor). In his 2022 film “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore,” Mikkelsen returns to big-budget bad-guy roles again, taking over from Johnny Depp as Gellert Grindelwald, the dark wizard whose belief in wizarding superiority has led to global havoc in his quest to establish his Wizarding World Order. Mikkelsen brings an extra bit of villainous flair to the role, which adds an entertaining dimension to this third film in the “Harry Potter” spin-off series.
Mikkelsen is one of those rare actors who have starred in films that have been Oscar-nominated for Best International Feature on four separate occasions. The first was for the 2006 dark comedy “After the Wedding,” followed by the 2012 historical romance “A Royal Affair” and the 2013 drama “The Hunt,” culminating in an Academy Award win for his 2020 black comedy “Another Round.” Mikkelsen himself won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival for “The Hunt” and earned his first BAFTA nomination as Best Actor for “Another Round.”
10. THE SALVATION (2014)
Director: Kristian Levring.
Writers: Anders Thomas Jensen, Kristian Levring.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Jonathan Pryce, Eric Cantona.
Mads Mikkelsen in a Western? Why not? As Jon, an emigre seeking a new life in the West with his wife and young son, Mikkelsen exudes hope and optimism, but when his family murdered by outlaws, a broken-hearted Jon swears vengeance. It’s a familiar tale, but Mikkelsen brings the necessary swagger fighting this time on the side of good against the sadistic plans of an evil land baron (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, in a role that you’d expect Mikkelsen to play). That small casting switch-up does wonders for “The Salvation,” lending a tasty European seasoning to the traditional shoot-’em-up stew.
9. ROGUE ONE (2016)
Director: Gareth Edwards.
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy.
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Riz Ahmed.
Though often identified with the fearsome characters he plays, Mikkelsen can show a paternal side as well, especially with the teachers he portrayed in his films with Thomas Vinterberg. But he has never been more paternal than in Gareth Edwards’ “Star Wars” story “Rogue One,” in which he plays Galen Erso, designer of the Death Star who nonetheless supports the Rebellion and offers them tips on where that battle station is weak, thus ensuring a successful attack. His death scene with his daughter Jyn is among the most touching in Mikkelsen’s career.
8. ARCTIC (2019)
Director: Joe Penna.
Writers: Joe Penna, Ryan Morrison.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Maria Thelma Smáradóttir.
In what is virtually a one-man show, Mikkelsen’s pilot Overgard must go it alone when his cargo plane crashes in the frozen tundra in Joe Penna’s highly-regarded survival drama. The dilemma facing Overgard — whether to stay in the safety of his shelter or set out into the wilderness in hopes of finding civilization — is a decision that makes us all wonder what we would do in the same situation. Though survival movies are a familiar staple in genre filmmaking, what makes “Arctic” truly work is Mikkelsen, who makes us root for Overgard both for his courage in his extensive survival instincts and his heart in doing whatever it takes so that he may survive his ordeal.
7. DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Director: Scott Derrickson.
Writers: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkselsen, Tilda Swinton.
Mikkelson entered the Marvel Universe as the villainous Kaecilius, a sorcerer and Master of the Mystic Arts who does battle with Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch). Mikkelsen approaches Kaecilius as a thinker, a man who offers a perfectly logical explanation as to why he does the horrible things that he does that in its own weird way makes sense, a refreshing change from many Marvel villains. And Mikkelsen, an actor who exudes intelligence no matter what the part, proves to be the perfect man for the role.
6. A ROYAL AFFAIR (2012)
Director: Nikolaj Arcel.
Writers: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Alicia Vikander, Mikkel Følsgaard, David Dencik.
In Nikolaj Arcel’s Oscar-nominated drama, Mikkelsen, in one of his few period performances, portrays real-life Johann Friedrich Struensee, who was the royal physician to the mentally ill King Christian VII of Denmark (Mikkel Følsgaard) in the mid-18th Century. Unhappily married to Christian, Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (Alicia Vikander) finds herself attracted to the dashing doctor, and the two begin a torrid affair, resulting in the birth of a daughter, whom Christian is led to believe is his. It’s a delicious tale, one which gives Mikkelsen a rare (and welcome) romantic role.
5. CASINO ROYALE (2006)
Director: Martin Campbell.
Writers: Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen. Jeffrey Wright, Judi Dench.
In Martin Campbell’s 2006 “Casino Royale,” Mikkelsen set a high bar for all future Bond villains in the Daniel Craig era. (To my mind, only Javier Bardem in “Skyfall” ever came close.) Mikkelsen portrays Le Chiffre, a confident banker who helps to fund SPECTRE with his enormous winnings at poker, as an urban sophisticate who is hiding a dark sadistic streak. The role gave the actor the worldwide exposure that he had long deserved, which only helped to burnish his movie-star credentials in the years to come.
4. AFTER THE WEDDING (2006)
Director: Susanne Bier.
Writer: Anders Thomas Jensen.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Rolf Lassgård, Sidse Barett Knudsen, Stine Fischer Christensen.
Susanne Bier’s Oscar-nominated drama stars Mikkelsen as Jacob, who runs a financially strapped orphanage in India who must return home to Denmark to accept a much-needed donation from a benefactor (Rolf Lassgard) who asks him to stay to attend a family wedding. Once there, however, Jacob is stunned as he comes face to face with an ex-lover (Sidse Babett Knudsen), the mother of the bride who may very well be Jacob’s. Mikkelsen plays this good guy in an effectively low-key manner that hits the right tone amid the madness around him. A 2019 American remake starred Michelle Williams in the Mikkelsen role.
3. RIDERS OF JUSTICE (2021)
Writer/Director: Anders Thomas Jensen.
Starring: Mads Mikkselsen, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Lars Brygmann, Nicolas Bro.
Mikkelsen reunites with his long time colleague, writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen, in this unexpected genre mashup — a film that begins as a deadly serious Liam Neeson-type revenge thriller only to be hijacked by a Preston Sturges-style comedy with a melancholic undertone of grief and loss thrown in. When his wife is murdered in a terrorist incident, Mikkelsen’s Markus vows brutal revenge but soon finds that the only way to identify the killers is with the help of a trio of goofball researchers. There’s the requisite blood and violence, but primarily, “Riders of Justice” has something that’s rare in Mikkelsen movies: a sense of absolute delight.
2. THE HUNT (2013)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg.
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Anika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm.
Mikkelsen’s first collaboration with director Thomas Vinterberg resulted in this Oscar-nominated drama in which Mikkelsen’s performance earned him the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The disturbing story focuses on Lucas (Mikkelsen), a kindergarten teacher in a small Danish town, who cares for all of his students, particularly young Klara who comes from a troubled home. But when Klara by mistake suggests that Lucas was inappropriate with her, the teacher is labelled a pedophile and soon becomes the target of violence by the town’s mob. The subject matter might have made “The Hunt” might have been a tough sit were it not for Mikkelsen’s empathetic performance which draws the audience closer to his tragic dilemma.
1. ANOTHER ROUND (2020)
Director: Thomas Vinterberg.
Writers: Tobias Lindholm, Thomas Vinterberg.
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe.
Mikkelsen gives perhaps his most layered performance to date in Thomas Vinterberg’s Oscar-winning portrait of male middle-age malaise. Mikkelsen’s Martin is a high-school teacher who has come to realize that his most productive days may be behind him unless he does something about it now. That something turns out to be alcohol, as Martin joins three other colleagues in upping their daily consumption, a practice that leads to tragic results. Mikkelsen drew upon his background as a dancer for the film’s memorable climax, and for his performance, he received his first BAFTA nomination as Best Actor.