Green Films: The Best Environmental Documentaries E-mail
Monday, 23 June 2014 00:00  |  Written by Rick Theis | Article

Documentary Film Poster photo by room122There are many great environmental documentaries besides Al Gore’s informative and Academy Award-winning film, An Inconvenient Truth. To see the best, check out the brief environmental, ecology and nature movie reviews presented below from A to Z. If you are in the mood for some ecology related "edutainment" in the form of a motion picture, you'll be hard-pressed to top them.

  • Elemental (2013) - Character studies of three flawed but fascinating environmentalists--one Asian, one Australian, one North American—trying to lead their mostly disinterested, sometimes hostile fellow humans in a last-ditch effort to save our critically ill planet. More information
  • A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash (2007) - This film expertly interweaves new and archival footage with experts warning that our addiction to oil—unless we shift to alternatives—will destabilize the world politically and decimate it economically as oil reserves continue their inevitable decline. Buy it
  • Big Boys Gone Bananas!* (2012) - This film offers a gripping account of the multinational Dole Food Corporation's Orwellian attempt to suppress Swedish filmmaker Fredrik Gertten's documentary depicting the company's use of a banned perticide on its banana crop in Nicaragua. Buy it
  • Blind Spot (2008) - The thesis of this powerful documentary is that by humanity's massive reliance on finite fossil fuels, we have painted ourselves into a corner. If we stop using them, our economy will collapse; if we continue, we will destroy our ecology. Hopefully this film is the slap in the face we need to figure a way out of this conundrum. Buy it
  • Blue Gold: World Water Wars (2009) - Since water is essentiaql to life, you may have thought that it is a shared resource. This is the story of how corporations have been battling to privitize our water supply—and succeeding. What's next, corporate control of air? Buy it
  • Blue Planet: Seas of Life (2002) - Explores life in the oceans with amazing underwater photography (eight-part BBC series). Buy it
  • Blue Vinyl (2005) - When a woman documentary filmmaker discovers her parents want to install blue vinyl siding on their house, she begins an investigation of the anti-ecological manufacturing process and ends up in Italy at the manslaughter trial of an Italian purveyor of toxic vinyl siding. Buy it
  • Burning The Future: Coal in America (2008) - Appalachian residents battle a coal industry that is poisoning ground water and flattening mountains with the equivalent of a Hiroshima-sized atom bomb every 11-1/2 days—all to extract coal that will contribute 36% of America's global warming emissions. Buy it
  • Cane Toads: An Unnatural History (2000) - Presents a short, comedic look at a misguided effort in Australia to import the predator of a local pest—another example of man trying to manipulate nature and being unable to anticipate the unintended consequences. Buy it
  • Crude (2009) - The largest environmental lawsuit to date is explored in this documentary about the Indigenous Amazon Rainforest dwellers who accuse oil giant Chevron of poisoning and destroying their rainforest. Buy it
  • Dirt! The Movie (2009) - A truly inspiring look at the importance of the humble ground beneath us in facilitating life on the planet—and the dire consequences of neglecting this essential resource. Buy it
  • Earth (2009) - James Earl Jones narrates this Disneynature (an independent Disney film subsidiary) documentary that shows how climate change has negatively impacted species across the planet by following polar bears, African elephants and humpback whales over a one-year period as they try to cope with the results. Buy it
  • Earthlings (2005) - Joaquin Phoenix narrates this comprehensive look at man's exploitation of other animals, including our use of them as food, clothing, pets, entertainment and in our scientific research. As enlightening as it is hard to watch. Buy it
  • Flow (2008) - Exposes the concerted effort by multinational corporations to privatize the world's water supply and what this means for our environment and our future. Buy it
  • Food, Inc. (2008) - Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore's Dilemma) and others participate in this engaging documentary about the dangerous state of our food supply thanks to unchecked corporate greed. Buy it
  • Forks Over Knives (2011) - Relies on persuasive scientific evidence to show that the Western diet is horrible for human health and the planet. Buy it
  • Fuel (2010) - Created over the course of 11 years, this documentary showcases America’s unhealthy dependence on fossil fuels and explores viable alternatives that are kinder to the ecology. Buy it
  • Garbage Warrior (2008) - About US architect Michael Reynolds who builds Earthship (self-sustaining) homes from tires and beer cans. As he says, "a family of four could live here and never have to leave—not for food, water or electricity." Buy it
  • Gasland (2010) - A stirring exposé of the widespread water pollution resulting from hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, a process of using high-pressure fluids to crack surrounding rock formations in order to stimulate oil and gas wells. Buy it
  • Go Further (2005) - Highly entertaining and humorous film that follows Woody Harrelson as he roams the country in a hemp-powered van touting environmental consciousness. 'Nough said. Buy it
  • Home (2009) - Visually stunning aerial views of the Earth that illustrate the complex web of ecosystems on the planet, and how, along with sunlight and water, they make life possible. Narrated by Glenn Close. Buy it
  • Idle Threat (2012) - Ten billion gallons of gasoline are burned each year by idling vehicles with untold economic, health and environmental costs. This offbeat documentary focuses on one man's battle to get New York City to enforce its anti-idling laws. More info
  • In Search Of The Holey Veil (2012) - An entertaining video journal of mushroom hunter and photographer Taylor F. Lockwood's trek across India, China, Thailand and Nepal looking for exotic mushrooms. We see tons of Lockwood's beautiful photographs and learn a lot about the wonders of nature along the way. View trailer
  • King Corn (2008) - Highlights the ubiquity of genetically engineered corn in our food supply, thanks to government corn subsidies, and how this degrades our ecology and threatens our survival. Buy it
  • Last Call At The Oasis (2011) - Water is important to our economy and essential to our very survival, yet we are running out. Academy Award®-winning director Jessica Yu looks at communities already experiencing problems, what this portends for our future and what creative solutions have been proposed. Buy it
  • Life And Debt (2001) - Shows how the International Monetary Fund’s regulation of Jamaica’s economy has adversely affected its ecology. Buy it
  • Manufactured Landscapes (2007) - This eco documentary reports on the environmental effects of strip mining in China. Buy it
  • March Of The Penguins (2005) - A gripping chronicle of the treacherous and suspenseful lives of Emperor Penguins as they struggle to survive and breed in a harsh, sub-zero-temperature climate. Buy it
  • Microcosmos (1996) - Absolutely stunning cinematography from innovative micro-cameras take the viewer down to the level of insects, giving an appreciation and empathy for these, our fellow species. Highly recommended for both adults and kids. Buy it
  • Monumental: David Brower's Fight For Wild America (2005) - A survey (using his own films) of the life of environmental activist David Brower (1912-2000), who was instrumental in passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, saving the Grand Canyon from damming and creating both Point Reyes National Seashore and Redwoods National Park. Buy it
  • National Geographic: Human Footprint (2008) - Graphically illustrates the environmental impact each of us has on the planet. Buy it
  • No Impact Man (2008) - Fascinating story of a man, his wife, two-year-old daughter and dog who go off-grid for one year in New York City in order to minimize their environmental impact. Is it possible? You'll see. Buy it
  • Planet Earth: The Complete BBC Series (2007) - A beautifully filmed survey of life as it exists in wide-ranging ecosystems across the globe. Buy it
  • Planet In Peril (2008) - A wide-ranging 3-hour documentary, shot in high definition, that engagingly covers four key environmental issues: climate change, vanishing ecosystems, loss of species and the human population explosion. Buy it
  • Rivers And Tides (2006) - An eco-art documentary that examines the work and philosophy of nature sculptor Andy Goldsworthy. Buy it
  • Samsara (2012) - This visually stunning movie is the creation of Ron Frike and Mark Magidson who gave us Baraka and Chronos. The title means "the ever turning wheel of life" in Sanskrit and that is an apt description of the soulful subject matter: nature, society, life, death, rebirth, etc. Prepare to be mesmerized by the masterful super hi-definition cinematography, editing and music. Buy it
  • Tapped (2010) - A shocking look at the attempt by multinational corporations to privatize water—a resource that is essential to our survival and should be held in common—and sell it back to us in plastic bottles that end up clogging our oceans. Buy it
  • The Corporation (2004) - The history of that legal construct we call a corporation with an emphasis on its (environmental and other) pathologies. This film is a must-see for understanding why our world is in such a bad state and how we might fix it. Buy it
  • The Cove (2009) - This Academy Award winner depicts the gruesome ritualistic slaughter of bottlenose dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Not recommended for the squeamish. Buy it
  • The End Of The Line (2010) - Looks at the ecological devastation—on both global and local levels—caused by overfishing and sends out a dire warning from scientists that we may have a fish-less ocean by 2048 if we don't implement sustainable fishing practices soon. Buy it
  • The Future Of Food (2005) - Exposes how the food industry uses its political influence to eviscerate the government’s environmental and safely regulations. Buy it
  • The Garden (2008) - When the largest community garden in the US is threatened with closure, social and political battles ensue as many working class families resist this greed-based decision. Buy it
  • The Power Of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil (2006) - An empowering look at how communities in Cuba worked together to decrease their dependence on fossil fuels when their oil imports were cut in half as a result of the fall of their ally and oil supplier, the Soviet Union. Buy it
  • The Unforeseen (2007) - Examines the friction aroused by the competing goals of economic development and environmental protection in Austin, Texas. Buy it
  • The 11th Hour (2008) - Some of our top scientists, environmentalists and politicians discuss the imminent ecological crisis we face and what we must do now to prevent it. Buy it
  • Toxic Soup (2011) - This is a fascinating David-and-Goliath story of ordinary people around the world battling giant corporations to keep their air, water and blood free from pollution. Buy it
  • Trashed (2007) - A graphic look at the amount of garbage we produce, where it goes and why this level of trash generation is unsustainable. Buy it
  • Vegucated (2010) - Engaging saga of three New Yorkers—representing very different demographics—who agree to give up eating and wearing animal products for six weeks. Will they stick with it and, if so, how will their health and atttitudes change? Persuasively pro-vegan and pro-environmental. Buy it
  • Waste Land (2010) - Follow Brazilian fine artist Vik Muniz as he enlists poverty striken trash pickers at the world's largest landfill in Rio de Janeiro to participate in an art project. If you are interested in art, humanity, overconsumption or recycling, it will more than satisfy you. Buy it
  • Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006) - Details car company General Motor’s efforts to bury its own electric-car research and development—and take back and destroy its electric cars from satisfied California drivers who want to keep them. Buy it

Additional film reviews:
The Film ‘Consumed’ Explores the Psychology Behind Environmental Destruction
‘Cool It’ Film Review: The Devil Is in the Details
The Film ‘Farmageddon’ Says It’s 1984 for Small Farmers
The Film ‘Ingredients’ Is a Peek at a Better Food Future
Green Movies: The Best Environmental Fictional Feature Films

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[You can find the above and other intriguing top environmental documentaries at Amazon.com. If we missed one of your favorite environmental documentary films, please comment below and we'll consider adding it. - Ed.]

Comments (19)add
Written by Miriam , August 10, 2014
One great movie that just came out is: "Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret"
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Written by Antonio Lopez , June 26, 2013
A fierce Green Fure (http://www.afiercegreenfire.com/) just came out. I haven't seen it, but it looks like it would be good for your list.
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Written by Rick , March 04, 2013
Thanks, Brian. I just added "Blind Spot." I overlooked your comment or I would have added it earlier.
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Written by Rick , March 04, 2013
Stephanie, I think the film you are talking about is "Cane Toads" which is listed above.
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Written by Rick , March 04, 2013
Fisch, thank you for suggesting that we add Blue Gold to the list. It's a worthy addition and we just did so!
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Written by Fisch , March 03, 2013
Blue Gold is a good one too
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Written by Rick , April 05, 2012
Ed and Peter, thank you for your great suggestions. Both films, "Forks Over Knives" and "Toxic Soup," have now been added to our list.
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Written by Stephanie , March 25, 2012
Does anyone remember a documentary about Australia from maybe as long ago as the 1980s? I saw it on t.v. and it was about human's impact in Australia. First, how they brought in rabbits and fox because the British wanted to be able to do fox hunting, and then something about a certain type of hedge they brought in to provide a border to ranches, each time, the consequences were disastrous because of no natural predators. It was a really fascinating documentary and I would love to track it down, and would recommend it for this list. Thanks!

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Written by Ed Lanigan , February 19, 2012
I just watched "Forks Over Knives" and it was amazing in the argument for whole-food-plant-based-diet for better health and lower impact on the planet. I suggest you add this one to the list!
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Written by Peter , January 31, 2012
You guys should consider "Toxic Soup" as well - it is also a hard watch, but an environmental documentary that people should be aware of dealing with chemicals leeching into our air, water and blood...
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Written by Rick , November 18, 2011
Thanks, Renard! We've added "Earthlings" per your suggestion. I certainly found it compelling.
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Written by Renard Naidoo , November 13, 2011
Earthlings...it's hard to watch but everyone needs to know. it's about man's dependence on animals and how they are treated.
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Written by Brian , July 30, 2011
I also recommend Blind Spot. Very good Doc on peak oil.
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Written by Editor , March 02, 2011
Thanks, Isaac, for the great suggestions. I've added them all, except for "Dreamland," as it doesn't seem to be available in the US.
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Written by Isaac T. , January 28, 2011
"Burning the Future: Coal in America" is excellent.
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Written by Isaac , December 22, 2010
Also add: "Home", "No Impact Man", "Gasland", "Tapped", "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil", "The End Of The Line", "A Crude Awakening" and "Dreamland".
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Written by Mara Jewell , October 19, 2010
I am searching for a eco documentary made in the 70's. I believe the name of the film was "But What About Tomorrow Christine. It was filmed in southern MN. Any help/suggestions would be appreciated.
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Written by Editor , May 21, 2010
Thanks, Victoria. We've added the two films you suggested!
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Written by Victoria , May 17, 2010
I would also add "FLOW: For the Love of Water" and "Food, Inc."
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