Best Lars Von Trier Movies and Shows, Ranked


The Danish director Lars Von Trier is one of cinema’s most controversial auteurs, with films such as Europa (1991), Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000), Dogville (2003), Antichrist (2009), Melancholia (2011), Nymphomaniac (2013), The House That Jack Built (2018), and others.

Love him or hate him, it’s hard to ignore Von Trier. He has co-founded the Dogme 95 movement in filmmaking (which made movies seem more true to life) and shaken up the industry with his extreme cinematic trilogies about violence, desire, and much more (Europa, Golden Heart, USA – Land of Opportunities, and Depression). He won the Palme d’Or (for Dancer in the Dark) and the Grand Prix (for Breaking the Waves) at the Cannes Film Festival, battled alcoholism and depression, and became ‘persona non grata’ with comments about understanding Hitler, exiling him from the festival circuit.

Let’s look at some of his best movies and shows, ranked.


9/9 The Kingdom

Von Trier’s miniseries trilogy The Kingdom (Danish title: Riget) is a medical horror epic that chronicles the bizarre and supernatural events at a Danish neurosurgical hospital. Premiered in 1994 and followed by the second season in 1997, this sepia-toned dark tale achieved cult status and inspired Stephen King’s television series Kingdom Hospital.

Related: The Best Miniseries Based on Stephen King’s Books, Ranked

In 2022, 25 years after The Kingdom II, the director revived the hospital saga for the third and final season, one which has already received acclaim. “In the five hours that follow, there will be secret passages, ghostly apparitions, magic puzzles, questionable-taste provocations (including comments made about the region’s Nazi-related past), a near-death experience and what threatens to be an interdimensional annihilation event”, Variety promised.

8/9 The House That Jack Built

2018’s psychological slasher The House That Jack Built centers on Jack (Matt Dillon), a serial killer who views his murders as performance art. The titular antihero describes some of his worst crimes over a 12-year period. It is probably the director’s most sadistic film. Seeping with horrible moments, The House That Jack Built delivered the Cannes Film Festival’s standing ovation alongside mass walkouts.

7/9 Europa

The final film in Von Trier’s Europa trilogy (following 1984’s The Element of Crime and 1987’s Epidemic) that thematically deals with the loss of idealism, this Franz Kafka-excited 1991 experimental drama follows a naive American (Jean-Marc Barr) arriving in Germany after World War II with dreams of being a peace-bearer. He soon finds himself caught in a web of a pro-Nazi conspiracy. Europa (also known as Zentropa) is a remarkable monochrome film-noir experiment, for which Von Trier won his first Cannes prizes (the Technical Grand Prize, the Jury Prize, and the Award for Best Artistic Contribution), but not the Palme d’Or. In response, the director flipped the jury off.

6/9 Nymphomaniac

Split into two parts, 2013’s erotic art film Nymphomaniac conclude Von Trier’s Depression trilogy (preceded by 2009’s Antichrist and 2011’s Melancholia). The movie explores the sexual addictions of a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg as an adult and Stacy Martin as a teenager), recounting the story of her deviant life. Despite quite shocking and raw scenes designed to provoke the public, Nymphomaniac is a serious-minded look at human desire and relationships.

5/9 Dogville

Staged as if it were a bare bones theatrical play, 2003’s avant-garde drama Dogville is the first installment of Von Trier’s unfinished USA – Land of Opportunities trilogy (the second is 2005’s Manderlay). In this disturbing analysis of society, Nicole Kidman steps into the role of Grace, a desperate young woman on the run from the mobsters who seek asylum in a small American town. The town’s folks, who are initially warm to her, soon began to exploit the vulnerable Grace. “The point to the film is that evil can arise anywhere,” The New York Times quoted Von Trier.

4/9 Antichrist

Von Trier’s 2009 sinister horror poem opens with a gorgeous, slow-motion, black-and-white prologue, as She (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and He (Willem Dafoe) are making love as their child climbs from his crib to look at snowflakes outside and tumbles out of an open window. A grieving unnamed couple retreat to a cabin in the woods to cope with the tragedy – but things are going from bad to worse. Antichrist delivers enough chaos, religious motifs and allusions, pain, and beauty to be one of the director’s most memorable works.

3/9 Breaking the Waves

The first film in the director’s Golden Heart trilogy (succeeded by 1998’s The Idiots and 2000’s Dancer in the Dark), the 1996 drama Breaking the Waves is the extraordinary tale of how far someone would go for love. Philosophically complex, emotionally devastating, and incredibly powerful, the film follows Bess (Emily Watson), a naive wife of an oilman, doing everything possible (and more) to save her paralyzed husband’s life. Breaking the Waves is the director’s first English language feature that introduced Von Trier to American audiences.

Related: 19 Saddest Movies That Are Certified Tearjerkers

2/9 Dancer in the Dark

Winner of the 2000 Palme d’Or, this heart-rending musical drama tells the story of Selma (played by Icelandic musician Björk), a factory worker who has to cope with losing her eyesight. Touchingly childlike in the same way as Breaking the Waves’ Bess, Dancer in the Dark‘s Selma wants to save her young son Gene, who may also lose vision. “The storyline may be pure melodrama, but Bjork’s performance and Von Trier’s off-kilter direction turn it in to real tragedy,” Empire stated.

1/9 Melancholia

Von Trier’s visually stunning apocalyptic drama stars Kirsten Dunst and the director’s favorite, Charlotte Gainsbourg, as the deeply depressed Justine and her sister Claire with a mask of calm. They sit helpless in a teepee as a blue planet called Melancholia appears in the sky and is about to collide with Earth. Melancholia is Von Trier’s most personal film. With this movie, the director dug to the very depths of a depressive episode he suffered, and the result is one of the most beautifully haunting films in recent memory.

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