Green Films: The Best Environmental Documentaries E-mail
Monday, 02 March 2015 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.

  • Cross of the Moment (2015) - Bill McKibben, Guy McPherson, Gary Snyder and others discuss the monumental import of the climate crisis and call us all to revolution. Watch it
  • Forget Shorter Showers (2015) - Thought provoking mini documentary positing that individual environmental actions, although worthwhile, cannot in and of themselves save the Earth. Instead we need group action that directly challenges the industrial system controlling the world and leading to planetary destruction. Watch it
  • Revolution (2015) - From the director of Sharkwater comes this beautifully photographed documentary that builds a compelling case that our window of opportunity for averting planetary environmental catastrophe is closing quickly. Highly recommended. More info
  • Unacceptable Levels (2013) - In the modern world we are exposed to a cocktail of exotic chemicals on a daily basis, affecting our health and especially that of the most vulnerable among us, our children. This film explores the scope of the problem and offers hopeful solutions. Buy it
  • 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 info
  • 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
  • Red Gold: An Environmental Documentary (2013) - The natural beauty of Alaska's Bristol Bay is the star of this 55-minute film about how the largest proposed gold and copper mine might affect the salmon runs of the area. Buy it
  • Musicwood (2013) - World-renowned acoustic guitar-makers confront a Native American corporation that is clear-cutting the Tongass forest to supply them with wood. Fascinating on many levels. Buy it
  • Chasing Ice (2013) - Photographer James Balog employs time-lapse photography to graphically illustrate the speed and extent of climate change on Arctic glaciers. Buy it
  • DamNation (2014) - Beautiful cinematography documents how our attitudes about big dams are changing to the point that some are being removed allowing nature to return. More info
  • Wild Reverence (2014) - What begins as a Washington State fishing trip becomes a quest to expose the threat to iconic wild steelhead trout along the US Pacific coast. More info
  • The Last Ocean (2012) - It's environmentalists and scientists versus the fishing industry, which wants at the Antarctic toothfish in the Ross Sea of Antarctica, the most pristine ocean area left on the planet. More info
  • If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (2012) - Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Marshall Curry documents the rise and fall of the ELF while exploring our concepts of environmentalism, activism, and terrorism. Buy it
  • The Last Mountain (2011) - The beautiful Appalachian mountains are the backdrop for this expose of the threat mountain-top-removal coal mining poses to the environment—and our democracy. Buy it
  • 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 If we missed one of your favorite environmental documentary films, please comment below and we'll consider adding it. - Ed.]

Comments (35)add
Written by Sergi , June 24, 2016

Through a combination of hand-held and hidden camera footage, Lucent explores the darker side of Australia's pig farming industry, highlighting the day-to-day cruelty accepted by the industry as standard practice.

Lucent is the result of a successful crowdfunding campaign initiated in late 2013. Narrated by Lindsay McDougall (The Doctor from Triple J), the film contains footage from over 50 farms and slaughterhouses across Australia - much of this footage has never been seen before.
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Written by michaeljones , April 03, 2016
I am so glad that I came across this page. I have found a treasure reference for my works. I have watched Last Call at Oasis 2011.
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Written by Damla , February 24, 2016
Thank you so much for this!! Cowspiracy: the sustainability secret is a really good documentary as well.
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Written by Rick , December 31, 2015
Thanks, Will. Yes, we are still updating the list. I'll try to add some of your picks over the next few days.
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Written by Will F. , December 30, 2015
I am not sure if you all are still updating this list but since this has been a great help to me I figured I'd take the time to share some movies.

Red Gold
Music Wood
Chasing Ice
Wild Reverence
The Last Ocean
If a Tree Falls
The Last Mountain

Best and Thanks for your work!
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Written by Rick , November 05, 2015
Thanks for the great recommendation, Jake. This important film has been added to the top of our list.
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Written by Jake , November 04, 2015
check out New climate change doc with McKibben, Snyder, Jensen, McPherson, Stein, others...
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Written by Rick , November 02, 2015
Great film, Jore. Thanks! I've added it to the top of the list.
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Written by Jore , November 01, 2015
Hey there,
I've got a short film to potentially add to your list, if you're interested. It's about what we can do to actually stop this culture from killing the planet. I hope you like it.
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Written by Ceci , September 13, 2015
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Written by Rick , July 10, 2015
Hi, Sherrie. I believe the film you are referring to is "Unacceptable Levels," which I've just added to the list above. Thanks for the suggestion. I'm very glad your summer school includes a course on environmental awareness!
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Written by Sherrie Medina , July 09, 2015
We are putting together a summer school curriculum on environmental awareness and someone had mentioned seeing a great independent film on the environment and I think they said the title was "Intolerable Levels," but I am not able to find any info on a film titled that. Do you have any ideas on what this film might be? And maybe I have the title wrong?
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Written by Craig , May 22, 2015
Would also echo suggestion for A Fierce Green Fire, which capably covers the history of the modern environmental movement. Played theatrically and on PBS.
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Written by Melissa , March 30, 2015
I was recently shocked by the doc The Hole Story, detailing the mining history in Canada, the ties with the stock market, and the devastating effect on the environment. Big multinational corps own the mineral rights and literally sell the country away with impunity. It was a complete eye opener.
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Written by Linda Russ , March 13, 2015
Thanks so much for compiling this list and all the extras added into the comments section. I have seen a few of these already and they are enlightening.
Looks like I will be quite busy over the coming weeks getting through these.

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Written by dqt , January 13, 2015
I would also highly recommend to watch "Earth Days" (2009). This doc clearly outlines that history is due to repeat itself if we are to continue this excessive/throwaway lifestyles. Fortunately more and more people around the world are finally recognizing the severity of the environmental (and social) impact we're getting ourselves into, but I'm not sure this small incremental change is enough to make enough of a difference. I really really want to be optimistic.... :(
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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 ( 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 04, 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'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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Eco Tip

Become a vegetarian or vegan, or at least eat less meat. Meat is a big waster of water and energy—and generator of greenhouse gasses. It also exacerbates world hunger. One acre of land yields almost 18 times as much usable protein from plant versus animal sources—356 pounds if used to grow soybeans, 20 pounds if used to raise cattle for slaughter. More tips...

Eco Quote

He who knows what sweets and virtues are in the ground, the waters, the plants, the heavens, and how to come at these enchantments, is the rich and royal man. — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Essays, Second Series, 1844   More quotes...