Anticipating ‘The Northman’ and why Norse mythology invades pop culture and modern entertainment
Audiences still can’t get enough of Norse mythology and Viking-inspired movies, and they’re going to be delighted in 2022 when Robert Eggers’ The Northman finally lands.
Starring Emmy Award winner Alexander Skarsgård and Oscar-winner Nicole Kidman, it is set to tell the tale of Viking prince Amleth, who sets out on a mission of revenge after his father is murdered. It promises to further capitalize on the popularity of the genre in current pop culture.
Whilst it promises to make a significant impact on movie-goers, it is not alone in bringing the Viking era to life. Twilight, Thirteen and Lords of Dogtown director Catherine Hardwicke is reportedly working with Constantin Film to create a film adaptation of Heathen, a recently concluded 12-issue comic book series. Heathen tells the story of Aydis, a young Viking who comes out as queer and is abandoned by her patriarchal community. In this gritty action-packed fantasy, Aydis sets out on a journey to challenge not just Viking society, but the Norse gods themselves.
Therein lies one of the key reasons why these myths and stories continue to dominate cinema and entertainment. Vikings tap into our lost sense of adventure and daring, which is why The Northman is so eagerly awaited. Historically known for being one of the most militarily capable people in ancient history, Vikings are famous for overcoming overwhelming odds. Being master sailors, they feared no uncharted territories. “It’s easy to see the appeal of the Vikings,” explains University of London medieval history lecturer, Dr. Simon Trafford. “The Vikings were uproarious and anti-authoritarian, but with a warrior code that values honour and loyalty. Those are evergreen themes, promising human experiences greater than what Monday morning in the office can provide.”
In short, films and stories about Vikings and their gods allow us to escape the mundane nature of modern-day life. But that can be said of any film genre or theme. What truly differentiates Norse-inspired films is their focus on rebel heroes. The western zeitgeist regards Vikings and Norse characters as rebels carving out their own destiny in the cruel world. In many ways, Vikings are the thematic ronin of the west.
For instance, known as the Apocalypse Now of Nordic cinema, the gritty film Valhalla Rising depicts a man’s journey to survive and determine his own future in a hellish world. The same can be said of The 13th Warrior, in which a foreigner from a distant land learns to embrace the Viking way of life and in the process find himself. Meanwhile, in the depiction of the Norse god Thor in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Avenger-god manages to save his people from Ragnarok – the supposedly inevitable end of times. And in the acclaimed series Vikings, the story of Ragnar Lothbrok is rewritten into a history-inspired fantasy that turns the raiding king into a relatable rebel.
Viking and Norse-themed movies are not just about escape – they’re also about control, power, and self-determination. In fact, outside of the popular series and movies, the influence of Norse mythology in modern media is most apparent in interactive games, in which players actually control the outcomes. This can be seen in next-gen roleplaying games like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and Lionheart Studios’ ODIN: Valhalla Rising, which immerses players into Norse-inspired tales. Meanwhile, in web-based gaming, online casinos have cashed in on the theme’s popularity as well. On the gaming website Gala Bingo, the Age of the Gods series has several titles inspired by Nordic myths, including King of Asgard, Book of Dwarves, and Gods and Giants. While these games are different from one another, they’re all geared towards fans of Norse mythology. And in many ways, each of these games give players a sense of control over their destinies.
From modern films and series to comics and video games, the modern Viking raid on entertainment media is far from over. Heathen is unlikely to be the last Norse mythology-inspired film to be released in this or the coming years. For as long as audiences need to escape life and exert a greater sense of control over the future, Vikings and Norse gods will dominate our screens.
That will continue on April 8th, when The Northman gets its cinematic release. It will play on the points we’ve made above, and likely be a success not just because of strong plot and dialogue, but a newfound love for all things Viking in pop culture.