22 of the Best Environmental Films for Your 2020 Staycation
*This post contains affilate links
2020 has become the year of the staycation.
With enforced travel bans, we’re spending a lot more time on our couch. So why not curl up with some beautiful and thought provoking flicks to help us get through the cabin fever.
Beyond placating our wanderlust, environmental films are a great way to get informed, inspired, and active in solving pressing issues. While we could easily come up with a list of 50, 100 environmental films, we’re starting with 22 of what we think are the best environmental films.
Whether you’re into wild places, how food security and shopping choices impact the planet, or simply want to learn more about the effects of plastic and climate science, this list has something for everyone.
And, to take a break from the standard eco-anxiety doom and gloom, we’ve included a few uplifting films, too.
QUICK LINKS FOR THE BEST ENVIRONMENTAL FILMS
Environmental Film Documentaries About Nature
1. PLANET EARTH
Environmentalism starts with understanding what we’re trying to save. There’s no better way to see our beautiful planet than through the eyes of the Planet Earth filmmakers. David Attenborough (and his enchanting voice) takes viewers on a journey around the globe—to 64 different countries over the course of four years.
The literally breathtaking shots of Earth’s plants and animals will leave you in awe at our marvelous planet. This is one of our all time faves.
2. THE BLUE PLANET
Keep the David Attenborough momentum going with The Blue Planet. Produced by BBC Earth, this 8-part TV docuseries is probably the best deep dive into the Earth’s oceans.
As a winner of two Primetime Emmys, Blue Planet does an excellent job balancing all of the wonders of our oceans and the creatures who call it home, while also documenting the problems they face.
If you haven’t gotten enough ocean-awe by the end, Blue Planet II will certainly wet your appetite.
3. CHASING CORAL
Perfect for those looking for environmental films on Netflix, this documentary takes viewers on a thrilling adventure to explore the coral reefs around the world that are quickly disappearing. It takes a look at the alien-like underwater world and starkly highlights the impacts of humans on these fragile eco-systems.
Chasing Coral is the product of more than 500 hours spent underwater in 30 different countries. The dedicated filmmakers won the Sundance Film Festival award among many others for this work of art.
4. CHASING ICE
Preceding Chasing Coral by a few years, Chasing Ice is the award-winning documentary that, quite literally, chases Earth’s disappearing ice. Earth’s landscape is changing drastically, glaciers perhaps most dramatically of all. While not everyone can visit such environments, this documentary captures the devastation in real-time.
If you’re looking for a stunning visual representation of how global warming is changing our planet, this is worth a Friday night screening. Especially since this environmental film on Netflix is accessible with the press of a button. Stop chasing down your next binge-able sitcom and start Chasing Ice instead.
When it comes to environmental films for kids (or adults, for that matter), there’s nothing more heartwarming than Kifaru.
The documentary follows the journey of two Kenyan conservancy workers who take care of ‘Sudan,’ the last male northern white rhino in the world. Spanning over several years, Kifaru provides an intimate look at the dangers to rhinos in Africa as well as a more broad view of the hard work behind wildlife conservation.
Patagonia (one of our favorite sustainable clothing companies) takes us beyond eco-friendly outerwear to explore some of the world’s most stunning forest landscapes.
Through the lens of pro-level skiers and snowboarders, Treeline is a four-part series that travels to British Columbia, Japan, and Nevada to remind us of our unique connection with trees. While adventure snow sports provide a level of visual excitement, the soundtrack and narration highlight the importance of nature in a culturally diverse and spiritual way.
*Pssst, this is one of our favorite free environmental films available on YouTube!
7. RACING EXTINCTION
“When you lose the small things, everything fails,” Academy Award-winning filmmaker Louie Psihoyos says. But with this next environmental film he doesn’t just say it. He shows it.
The 2015 “eco-thriller” Racing Extinction gives viewers a never-before-seen look at mass extinction and endangered species.
You may not know this, but the world is in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. With the survival of half of all species (seriously!) hanging in the balance, this documentary uses covert tactics and a powerful narrative style to teach views about extinction as it happens naturally, and how that process is being expedited by human actions (like our dependence on oil and gas).
Environmental Film Documentaries About Food
For environmental films with the most impact, many people consider Cowspiracy a life-changer. Taking a look at the planet’s most destructive industry—animal agriculture—the film highlights the impact of our diet on habitat loss, species extinction, erosion, and planetary warming.
This film will certainly make you second guess that cheeseburger you just ordered for dinner. If you need a final push towards a plant-based diet, this could be it.
This is another of our favorite environmental films on Netflix, as it’s not just informative but entertaining through and through. You know we’ve got a soft spot for that punny title.
9. WASTED! THE STORY OF FOOD WASTE
We’ve mentioned this time and time again here on Sustainable Jungle, food waste is one of the most prolific (yet entirely preventable) categories of waste out there. Which is why we’re such big proponents of composting.
If you don’t believe us, maybe you’ll believe the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, producer of our next eco film.
Looking at it another way what we eat impacts our planet, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste takes viewers on a journey from farm to landfill and shares how small (and tasty) changes can solve one of the 21st century’s greatest problems.
10. JUST EAT IT: A FOOD WASTE STORY
Speaking of food waste, have you ever looked at a grocery store or Starbucks dumpster and wondered what sort of edible goodies are in there? Partners Jen and Grant sure did, which led them to quit grocery shopping and survive only on discarded food.
Just Eat It is not only funny as fudge, but also takes a look at food waste in full, from farming to stores to our very own refrigerators.
For more zero waste shenanigans by Jen and Grant, you can also check out their first film, The Clean Bin Project, where the two competed to see who could produce the least amount of garbage across an entire year.
Award-winning Seed: The Untold Story reminds us of where life begins and how a loss in seed diversity will have grave impacts on our future. Winning 18 film festival awards and featuring the likes of Dr. Jane Goodall, Vandana Shiva, and Raj Patel, this is one of the most unique films about environmental issues not widely spoken of.
Watch how seed keepers are battling chemical seed companies and GMO monoliths to preserve the future of food as nature intended.
Environmental Film Documentaries About Capitalism & Fashion
12. THE TRUE COST
As the name suggests, The True Cost takes a look at the true cost of fast fashion and the impact of the clothing industry. Clothing has been getting cheaper and cheaper, while the environmental and social costs have grown tremendously.
This documentary begins with the Rana Plaza incident and takes soon-to-be-horrified fashionistas through fashion’s many issues. Beyond that, it offers a solution by showing what an ethical and sustainable fashion industry could look like.
This groundbreaking documentary will have you re-thinking your wardrobe (after which we have all sorts of sustainable fashion guides to help you out).
13. SURVIVING PROGRESS
Surviving Progress takes a look at where we are, how we’ve developed and the consequences our advancement has had (on the environment and society as a whole).
Featuring interviews with experts like Stephen Hawking, Margaret Atwood, and Jane Goodall, this film leaves viewers with one question: are we living in a truly thriving society? Can there simply be too much of a good thing?
14. THE MACHINISTS
While The True Cost tackles fashion’s unethical manufacturing from a macro level, this next one puts it under a microscope. Human rights-centered filmmaker Rainbow Collective provides viewers with a glimpse of the daily lives of three Bangladesh women garment workers and their fight for fair treatment.
The Machinists provides a much-needed look at the lives of those who keep clothing on the shelves of stores like Zara and H&M.
At just under an hour, this is one of the most eye-opening environmental short films.
Environmental Film Documentaries About Plastic
15. A PLASTIC OCEAN
“We need a wave of a change.” And if you don’t already believe those words, this next film will change your mind.
This Netflix documentary investigates how plastic pollution is ending up in Earth’s oceans. A Plastic Ocean features shots from more than 20 different locations to show viewers that the health of our waters may be more fragile than we think—but we can do something about it.
When it comes to films about environmental sustainability, we can’t ignore this one.
Tapped takes a look at one of the greatest threats to our environment—the bottled water industry. Exploring how bottled water affects climate change, pollution, our health, and our dependence on oil, this documentary will cause you to forever rethink what it means to stay hydrated.
17. BAG IT
Bag It started as a film about plastic bags but it ended up being so much more—an in-depth look at how plastic impacts our bodies, environment, and oceans. Plastic water bottles may be one of the most unnecessary plastics produced, but it’s far from being the only problem.
As one of the few funny environmental films out there, Jeb Berrier keeps viewers laughing as he addresses some of the complexities of our plastic-filled world.
Environmental Film Documentaries About Climate Change
18. AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER
Al Gore first introduced pop culture to the climate crisis with his documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Which was easily one of the top environmental films of all time, if for no other reason than it brining public awareness to the issue of climate change.
A decade later, he released An Inconvenient Sequel reminding us that the stakes have never been higher and we have what it takes to overcome climate change—passion and human ingenuity.
2040 is one of the refreshingly positive environmental films to come out of the past couple of years. While it presents viewers with a summary of some of the top issues that need a solution, it also highlights how capable we are at addressing some of this century’s greatest problems.
Told as a story to director Damon Gameau’s 4-year-old daughter, who will be 25 by the film’s namesake year, the film succinctly divides climate issues into categories (like renewable energy) and breaks down the progress and hopeful advancements being made in each.
“I think there’s room for a different story,” Gameau says in the darn near heartwarming film that can bring us all some much-needed climate optimism.
20. THE 11TH HOUR
There have been many good environmental films that have been released over the past couple of decades, but The 11th Hour gets extra points because it was one of the first.
This 2007 film was made by Leonardo DiCaprio and was one of the first to highlight the environmental challenges we face (second only to An Inconvenient Truth). Beyond calling out the issue, it also suggests tangible action for how to address global warming.
21. BEFORE THE FLOOD
Leonardo Dicaprio did it again in 2016 with the film, Before the Flood. The documentary features our favorite Hollywood heartthrob travelling around the globe to see the effects of climate change that are already happening as well as what can be done to solve the crisis we face.
Leo may be a great actor, but the drama behind our current situation steals the screen.
Featuring scientists, faith leaders, politicians, visionaries, and other experts, this is one of the environmental film documentaries everyone needs to watch.
22. LIVING THE CHANGE
To end this list on a more upbeat note, we highly encourage you to watch this film if you watch any of them at all. One of the most positive environmental films we’ve had the pleasure of viewing, Living the Change takes viewers on a trip around the world to inspiring individuals that have decided to act in the face of the near-insurmountable challenges.
From regenerative agriculture to a wildly successful private composting service, Living the Change showcases driven everyday folks to show that every single person can make a significant difference if we just take up the mantle of eco responsibility.
It’s not just up to the government or to corporations; it’s up to us.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE TOP ENVIRONMENTAL FILMS
It’s easy to get bogged down in sad statistics, grim climate reports, and news of political inaction.
But these environmental films have been catalysts for change and inspiration. They may capture the urgency with which we need to act, but ultimately do so in an empowering way…we still have time and our story can be different.
We know we’ve only scratched the surface of the best environmental films out there. So help us out. What are some that we’ve missed? Any epic flora and fauna docos you’ve been binging lately? Share some suggestions in the comments section so that we can all add it to our watch list!