10 Best Environmental Movies

10 Best Environmental Movies

13 Mar 2023

There is just something soothing and appealing in ending your day with a movie. You have finished all your work and chores for the day and now you can just relax, lie on your sofa and watch a movie of your choice. Movies are appealing because we can learn so much from them about other people, places, cultures, values, history. We can relate to their characters. They can make us laugh and they can make us cry. They can also educate us, raise our awareness and even inspire us to take action, and all that in just 90 minutes or so. This is exactly the purpose of this list and all the movies on it.

1. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020)

Who better to talk about our planet, than Sir David Attenborough, the man who has probably seen every corner of it? Many of us grew up listening to his calm, gentle, yet authoritative voice and watching his amazing nature programs. He has introduced us to the most breath-taking wonders of nature and wildlife in his 60-year long career, and listening to him again brings the sense of nostalgia. But this time, instead of just focusing on the natural wonders of the world, he now reflects on his career by presenting us some moments from his previous documentaries to point out the drastic changes that have happened on our planet in just a lifetime.

The decline of the ecosystem caused by human actions is obvious and unsettling, and the predictions of how it will continue to deteriorate if we don’t wake up and stop exploiting nature are even grimmer. But, not all is doom and gloom. Attenborough is still hopeful that there is a pathway to recovery and that we can reverse the damage. He offers feasible solutions to restore and stabilize our planet’s biodiversity and save not only our planet, but ourselves as well. Because, as he said it himself,’’This is not about saving our planet, it's about saving ourselves. The truth is, with our without us, the natural world will rebuild’’.

A Girl Hugging a Tree

2. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret (2014)

This audacious, and at times funny documentary reveals why animal farming is a huge environmental issue, responsible for more greenhouse gas emission than all means of transportation together. Yes, you read that correctly. In fact, it states that it is a number one contributor to greenhouse gases, and even if we stopped using our cars, trucks, trains and planes, there would still be an irreversible damage from global warming if we didn’t stop raising so many animals for food.

The effects of animal agriculture further cause deforestation, water pollution and it creates massive amounts of waste. The filmmaker also directly asks the question why this issue is not addressed by the major environmental organisations and shows their reluctance to openly answer and discuss the question. He also uncovers the dishonesty of some powerful institutions and how misleading they are to the public, all in order to protect their interests and profits.

Bird Carrying a Piece of Plastic

3. An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

This Oscar winning documentary is mainly based on a multimedia presentation followed by a lecture on global warming given by the former US presidential candidate and a longtime advocate for the environment, Al Gore. Shocking pictures in his slideshow presentation, along with detailed graphs show the present effects of the global warming around the world, as well as the future predictions.

He warns that global warming is real and refutes the ones who claim that it is insignificant. The temperature increase causes melting and disappearing of glaciers at a faster rate, and Al Gore shows the possible devastating effects, if this were to continue. Sea level would rise by 6 meters (20 feet), flooding coastal areas, and places such as Florida, Manhattan, Shanghai, or the area around Calcutta would end up being under water. At the end of this documentary, Al Gore states that we can still reverse the situation, he offers solutions and urges the viewers to make different choices and join efforts to save the planet.

A Polar Bear on a Glacier Global Warming

4. My Octopus Teacher (2020)

This is a more intimate story of a man named Craig Foster, who, after feeling a job burnout and disconnection from his family, finds a new passion in diving. In his daily visits to the sea, he follows a life of a female octopus for nearly a year. She becomes accustomed to him, and they form an unusual bond. This bond inspires him to reconnect with himself, his family, as well as nature, he finds a new purpose in life, and he ends up starting a Sea Change project.

This touching documentary reminds us of our amazing, but somewhat lost ability to connect to nature and all its creatures, and how soothing and healing nature actually is, if we stop for a bit and just observe it. It shows us that we are one with it and that, as Craig says: ’You are part of this place, not a visitor’.

5. Avatar (2009)

A movie most of us have probably seen, and can still vividly remember the amazing, colorful effects used to portray the pristine nature on planet Pandora. But equally breathtaking is the strong environmental message this film conveys. Set 200 years in the future, it shows that the gloomiest predictions have come true, as we have used up most of our resources and now we have to colonise other planets. The idyllic life and the perfect harmony of the indigenous people and nature on Pandora is now threatened by humans, who only care about taking and exploiting, disregarding the disaster they leave behind.

Apart from the obvious, ’mainstream’ ecological theme, the movie contains a ’deep’ ecological message as well. Deep ecology is ’an environmental movement and philosophy which regards human life as just one of many equal components of a global ecosystem’ (Oxford Dictionary). It challenges our need to conquer nature and it promotes the idea that all living beings have inherent worth. As part of it, humans should return to nature, reconnect with it and restore the harmony and balance.

6. Just Eat It! A Food Waste Story (2019)

This documentary is not only entertaining, but educational as well, as it follows a couple who decides to carry out an unusual experiment- quit grocery shopping for 6 months and live solely on food that is or will be discarded. What inspired them to embark on such an adventure is discovering the shocking fact that 40% of all the food that has been raised, grown or produced is not in fact eaten.

It is surprising how easy it is to find perfectly good food which is thrown away for reasons such as being at or near its ’sell by’ date or fruit not meeting the required shape or size standard. Along the way, they interview farmers and food activists who give their perspective on how and why so much food is wasted from farm to store to home.

Food Waste Concept

7. Before the Flood (2016)

It is praiseworthy when worldly famous celebrities devote their time and effort to address important issues, as they have the power to reach, influence and inspire masses. As the producer and narrator in this movie, presented by National Geographic, Leonardo DiCaprio not only talks about the worsening problem of climate change, but goes on a worldwide journey to witness and show us the damaging effects of it firsthand.

He states that the US is the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, and uncovers the fact that the US congress is heavily lobbied by oil and energy giants to ignore the issue. He meets activists, scientists, and world leaders (such as Barack Obama, Ban Ki-Moon, Elon Musk and Pope Francis) to discuss the devastating effects of climate change, as well as possible solutions.

The movie conveys the message that we do have the means to stop and reverse the damage, but that the key might lie in ‘ordinary’ people’s hands, and once they are convinced they need to take action and demand change, politicians will have no other choice but to follow.

8. Virunga (2014)

This Oscar nominated documentary follows the story of four brave people who put their lives at risk to save Virunga National Park and some of the world’s last mountain gorillas that live there. The Congo’s national park is a place of amazing beauty with an abundance of wonderful flora and fauna, but is sadly threatened by exploitation, corruption and violence.

The story covers the events during the M23 rebellion in 2012 and the civil war between the M23 paramilitary organization and the Congolese government. It also investigates the oil exploration of a British company SOCO International within the national park and makes a shocking discovery that the company itself uses bribery to fuel the civil war and encourage the killing of gorillas which are seen as the main reason this region is protected as a national park. So, saying that the four main protagonists of the story risk their lives on a daily basis to save Virunga and its gorillas is not an exaggeration.

Gorilla in the Forest

Their efforts and dedication are admirable. And when Andre, one of the rangers says: ‘You must justify why you are on this earth - gorillas justify why I am here, they are my life. So if it is about dying, I will die for the gorillas’, it shows us what a humble, selfless human being he is, and makes us wonder how we can justify our existence on this planet.

9. RiverBlue (2017)

RiverBlue follows Mark Angelo, a renowned Canadian conservationist on his three-year long journey through some of the cleanest and most polluted rivers around the world. Primarily filmed to raise awareness of the importance of preserving our rivers, this documentary also uncovers the dark side of the global fashion industry. It exposes the harsh chemical processes our textile and leather goods go through and the amount of toxic chemical waste irresponsibly dumped into our waterways by this industry.

The images are supported by interviews with experts who offer additional insight. It is saddening to realise that our favorite blue jeans are actually taking the ‘blue’ out of our rivers and the movie definitely inspires us to question our own over-consumerism and the constant need to buy more and more clothes.

10. 2040 (2019)

When it comes to an optimistic approach, we have saved the best for last, as this uplifting movie offers incredible reasons for hope. Damon, the filmmaker, structured this documentary as a ‘visual letter to his 4-year-old daughter’, believing that by the time she turns 25, she will be living in a brighter future. Instead of scolding us and showing us the grim reality of the state of our environment, Damon embarks on a journey around the world in search of some incredible innovative solutions and creative alternatives to tackle the issues of pollution and climate change.

The fact that these solutions are available to us now, and that they are not far-fetched and dreamy is what makes this movie inspiring and hopeful. It shows us that there are people around the world, experts and ‘ordinary’ people who are already implementing these ideas and doing good, and that we just need to follow in their footsteps and start change by ourselves.

Father Planting a Tree With His Daughter

Clearly, there are many more movies that could be on this list, but this is a great ’starter pack’ for all of us to become aware of the burning environmental issues we are facing and the devastating effects of our actions on our Mother Earth. They all convey powerful lessons and messages for us to take and act upon them and reduce our carbon footprint, so we can reverse this state. Even if we start with the smallest steps, it is important to start now, before it is too late, because there is no plan(et) B for us.
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