Despite the circumstances that led to it, it is still pretty exciting to see Mads Mikkelsen join the cast of Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore as the Harry Potter prequel franchise’s new Gellert Grindelwald. Reason being: the Danish actor can play one mean villain, as also seen in almost every major franchise he has been apart of so far, including the Bond films and the MCU.
However, his mastery of menace is far from his only valuable tool as a performer, having also played a few heroic badasses in his day and flexed his comedic muscles as characters you would have never expected from him. Let’s take a look at the many shades of the actor with our picks for Mads Mikkelsen’s best movies, along with tips on where to find them on streaming, as a digital rental, or for purchase on physical media, starting with his first movie and its sequel.
Pusher And Pusher II (1996, 2004)
A low-level drug dealer (Kim Bodnia) becomes the target of his ruthless employers after a bust leaves him without product or profit and, years later, his friend and former business partner (Mads Mikkelsen) struggles desperately to turn his life around after he is released from prison for a second time.
Why they are some of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: After making his feature film debut in Pusher – also the debut of writer and director Nicolas Winding Refn of Drive fame – Mikkelsen would reprise his role as Tonny eight years later in Pusher II – the second installment of this daringly brutal trilogy set in Denmark’s criminal underworld.
Valhalla Rising (2009)
An undefeated pagan warrior prisoner (Mads Mikkelsen) and an adolescent fellow slave (Maarten Stevenson) manage to escape together, but only to join a crew of Vikings on an ill-fated quest by boat into the unknown in 1,000 A.D.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: In his first collaboration with writer and director Nicolas Winding Refn after the Pusher Trilogy, Mikkelsen proves that he can still put on a lasting, tour de force performance even with the use of just one eye and without speaking a word, in Valhalla Rising – one of Refn’s most unique experiments, but not without his signature brutality, inspired by Norse mythology.
Casino Royale (2006)
Soon after he is promoted to “double-0” status, a maverick MI-6 agent (Daniel Craig) is assigned to put his noteworthy poker skills to use in a high-stakes international tournament against a notorious banker (Mikkelsen) known for funding terrorists.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: Mikkelsen first introduced his talent for villainy to the American mainstream with his spine-tingling face-off against first-time 007 actor Craig as Le Chiffre in Casino Royale – director Martin Campbell’s gritty reinvention of the James Bond saga.
Doctor Strange (2016)
After suffering a devastating car accident that makes him unable to continue his work, a once renowned surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) is led by his desperate search for a cure to discover the mystic arts, which he must use to defend his dimension from a looming threat.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: Perhaps Mads Mikkelsen’s second best known villain role is the power-hungry sorcerer, Kaecilius, in Doctor Strange – horror director Scott Derrickson’s first foray into the comic book movie genre and one of the most visually stunning installments of Marvel Cinematic Universe yet.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
A disillusioned loner (Felicity Jones) joins a ragtag group of resistance fighters for a mission to steal the blueprints for a moon-sized, planet destroying weapon from the Galactic Empire.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: For his second appearance in a Disney-owned franchise in 2016, Mads Mikkelsen joined the Star Wars universe as the designer of the Death Star, but is still, surprisingly, not the villain of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – a thrilling direct prequel to the 1977 original film that feels like more of a real war film than most installments of the franchise.
The Salvation (2014)
After losing his wife and son to murderous kidnappers, a Danish settler (Mads Mikkelsen) kills them out of revenge and puts himself at odds with their brother, a ruthless land baron (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), and citizens of a small town too frightened to stand up to him in 1870s America.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: Mikkelsen would reunite with Casino Royale’s Bond girl, Eva Green, but, this time, would get to play the heroic badass opposite another actor well-regarded for a few villainous performances (Morgan) in The Salvation – an old school revenge Western from Danish filmmaker Kristian Levring.
After suffering a crash landing in the Arctic Circle, a man (Mads Mikkelsen) must brave the biting cold weather and unforgivably rough terrain in hopes of finding a safe haven for him an injured young woman (Maria Thelma Smáradóttiir).
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: Mikkelsen, once again, gives a magnificent performance as a heroic badass in co-writer and director Joe Penna’s feature-length film debut, Arctic – a gripping survival thriller in which the villain is nature itself.
The Hunt (2014)
After losing his wife to divorce and in the midst of trying to gain custody of his son, a Kindergarten teacher (Mads Mikkelsen) struggles to prove his innocence to his colleagues and close friends after one of his students, falsely and without reason, accuses him of sexual abuse.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: Not to be confused with an action-horror flick of the same title from 2020, The Hunt is an intense drama that sees Mikkelsen give one of the most superb performances of his career and earned Danish co-writer, director, and producer Thomas Vinterberg an Academy Award nomination for Best International Feature Film (when it was still called Best Foreign Language Film).
Another Round (2020)
After discussing a theory that humans are, actually, born with too low a natural blood alcohol content, four high school teachers and close friends decide to test how drinking on a more regular basis might improve their lives – an experiment that eventually proves consequential.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: In his first collaboration with co-writer and director Thomas Vinterberg after The Hunt, Mads Mikkelsen demonstrates a superb balance of humor with grounded drama in Another Round – an inventive dramedy (with an English-language remake in the works) which also earned Vinterberg an Oscar nomination for directing and a win for the Best International Feature Film award that year.
Men & Chicken (2015)
After learning that their father was not their biological parent after his death, a disillusioned college professor (David Dencik) and his trivially minded brother (Mads Mikkelsen) travel to a distant island to get in touch with their eccentric true relative, leading to a startling discovery about themselves.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies: In one of his strangest collaborations with writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen (which is really saying something, believe me), Mikkelsen offers, once again, a superb balance of humor, but with slightly less grounded drama, in Men & Chicken – a very unique and sometimes unnerving dark comedy.
BONUS: Hannibal (2013-2015)
Despite gifts that make him a leading expert in the field of investigations, a young criminal profiler for the FBI (Hugh Dancy) enlists the professional and personal consultation of a mysteriously alluring forensic psychiatrist (Mads Mikkelson), who happens to have a few disturbing secrets of his own.
Why it’s one of the best Mads Mikkelsen TV shows: This may be a list of the best Mads Mikkelsen movies, but we feel that we have a certain obligation to give some attention to what is, arguably, his most chilling and definitive performance as the title role of NBC’s Hannibal – a short-lived, but much-loved, and visually engrossing crime drama inspired by the series of novels by Thomas Harris.
Mads Mikkelsen has said that he would return for another season as Dr. Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter in a heartbeat. For now, watching him bring madness to the Wizarding World in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore – in theaters April 15 – is splendid enough.