Most of these recommended films are documentaries (D) addressing a wide variety of climate change issues and topics, starting with Al Gore’s award-winning An Inconvenient Truth, made almost twenty years ago in 2006.
For everyone who admires David Attenborough and his extraordinary A Life on Our Planet (2020), his latest, ‘Breaking Boundaries: The Science Of Our Planet’ was released in June, 2021.
In February, 2021, Yale Climate Connections published a piece reviewing five top new climate documentaries, which included Damon Gameau’s 2040, one of our top pics. You might also want to check out Meltdown – a documentary featuring Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change, and world-renowned art photographer Lynn Davis, which premiered on Valentine’s Day that year. An intimate exploration of art and science, beauty and tragedy, the personal and the global, it is set amidst the massive and spectacularly beautiful icebergs breaking off of Greenland at an accelerating rate.
Truly great feature films about the climate crisis are tough to come by. Occasionally a science fiction (SF) film gets both the storytelling and the science right, but rarely.
There is a great article by Jeremy Deaton addressing this issue: “Why Are There No Good Movies About Climate Change?” which concludes, “You have to invent a compelling story. It’s all about story.”
A 2004 action film The Day After Tomorrow (a bit of a masterpiece, actually) has the Atlantic ocean grinding to a halt and throwing the Earth into an ice age. A great feature film on climate did arrive in 2021 and it was a comedy: Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, not to mention Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance and Cate Blanchett). Not only entertaining (#1 for days on Netflix), but prescient. You can read more about it in David Robert’s newsletter Volts, where you can also see the YouTube trailer.
Extrapolations, a new series on AppleTV+ premiered in 2023. Written, produced and directed by Scott Z. Burns, its 8 episodes explore the future consequences of burning fossil fuels, as the effects of climate change become embedded into people’s everyday lives.
You might also want to take a look at the list of top 10 of the climate change movies that Earth.org published in the spring of 2023.
Films covering multiple categories will have no icon.
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- Emmy-winning narrator David Attenborough recounts his life, and the evolutionary history of life on Earth, to grieve the loss of wild places and offer a vision for the future.
- In the heart of the great Pacific, a story is taking place that may change the way you see everything. ALBATROSS is offered as a free public artwork. Watch the 3-minute trailer now.
- Renegade architect Michael Reynolds and his green disciples have devoted their time to advancing the art of “Earthship Biotecture” – passive, solar, off-the-grid, sustainable housing.
Hot Money outs the whole game, the whole charade, the whole crap shoot of the money system with all the humor and intelligence of a New Yorker cartoon.
- Meltdown presents an extraordinary convergence of art and science, as we see two fascinating perspectives on the world's most pressing issue of Climate Change. The film features acclaimed photographer Lynn Davis, who has earned global recognition with her spectacular collection of photos of icebergs off the coast of Greenland; and Tony Leiserowitz, the Director of Yale's Climate Change Communication Project. Meltdown follows Lynn and Tony to the tiny, picturesque town of Illulisat, Greenland, which is ""Ground Zero"" for the climate crisis facing the world. There they discuss how beauty and tragedy share the stage, and each enlightens the other on ways to appreciate the wonders of the world while addressing the issues of how to help solve global crises. It's a small, intimate conversation set on a large canvas, showing how art and science can co-exist.
- This documentary follows oceanographer Sylvia Earle's campaign to save the world's oceans from threats such as overfishing and toxic waste.
- In a time of growing inequality in America, there is one asset that remains in the hands of the American people: the 640 million acres of America's Public Lands. Given its status as the last large-scale public asset on the planet, powerful forces have aligned to attempt the largest land grab in modern history, rob Americans of this unique birthright, and make modern day vassals of the American people.
- On the morning of Nov. 8, 2018, a devastating firestorm engulfed the picturesque city of Paradise, California. By the time the Camp Fire was extinguished, it had killed 85 people, displaced 50,000 residents and destroyed 95% of local structures. It was the deadliest U.S. fire in 100 years — and the worst ever in California’s history. Rebuilding Paradise, from Academy Award-winning director Ron Howard, is a moving story of resilience in the face of tragedy, as a community ravaged by disaster comes together to recover what was lost and begin the important task of rebuilding.
- A vital investigation of the economic and environmental instability of America’s food system, from the agricultural issues we face — soil loss, water depletion, climate change, pesticide use — to the community of leaders who are determined to fix it. Sustainable is a film about the land, the people who work it and what must be done to sustain it for future generations.
- The Biggest Little Farm is a 2018 American documentary film, directed by Emmy Award Winning director John Chester. The film profiles the life of Chester and his wife Molly as they acquire and establish themselves on Apricot Lane Farms in Moorpark, California.
- As the sea ice between Canada and Greenland melts, the outside world sees unprecedented opportunity. Oil and gas deposits, faster shipping routes, tourism and fishing all provide financial incentive to exploit the newly opened waters. But for more than 100,000 Inuit who live in the Arctic, on and around the frozen ocean, an entire way of life is at stake. Development here threatens to upset the balance between their communities, land and wildlife, leaving the future of this region and their culture increasingly uncertain. Directed by Scott Ressler and executive produced by Dr. Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and founder of National Geographic Pristine Seas, The Last Ice, tells the story of Inuit communities fighting to protect the rapidly disappearing Arctic that has been their home for centuries.
- In a race against the end of farmable soil, three individuals fight for change in the industry of agricultural food production, calling for a revolution.
- YOUTH v GOV is the story of the Juliana v. The United States of America constitutional lawsuit and the 21 American youth, ages 14 to 25, who are taking on the world’s most powerful government. Since 2015, the legal non-profit Our Children’s Trust, has been representing these youth in their landmark case against the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty, personal safety, and property through their willful actions in creating the climate crisis they will inherit.
2040 is a hybrid feature documentary that looks to the future, but is vitally important NOW! The 2040 journey began with award-winning director Damon Gameau (That Sugar Film). Motivated by concerns about the planet his 4-year-old daughter would inherit, Damon embarked on a global journey to meet innovators and changemakers in the areas of economics, technology, civil society, agriculture, education and sustainability. Drawing on their expertise, he sought to identify the best solutions, available to us now, that would help improve the health of our planet and the societies that operate within it. From marine permaculture to decentralised renewable energy projects, he discovered that people all over the world are taking matters into their own hands. Read a review from ABC.
- If it was happening in one gyre, they suspected it was happening in all of them. But the filmmakers needed experts to prove it. Scientists were brought in at each stage to analyze the findings from one part of the story to add their data to the overall report on the five gyres. In the center of the Pacific Ocean gyre researchers found more plastic than plankton. A Plastic Ocean documents the newest science, proving how plastics, once they enter the oceans, break up into small particulates that enter the food chain where they attract toxins like a magnet. These toxins are stored in seafood’s fatty tissues, and eventually consumed by us.
- The journey of ALBATROSS began in 2008 as the director and activist/photographer Manuel Maqueda learned of a stunning environmental tragedy taking place on a tiny atoll in the center of the vast North Pacific Ocean. They travelled to Midway Island in September of 2009 to photograph and film thousands of young albatrosses that lay dead on the ground, their stomachs filled with plastic. The experience was devastating, not only for what it meant for the suffering of the birds, but also for what it reflected back to us about the destructive power of our culture of mass consumption, and humanity's damaged relationship with the living world. Directed by Chris Jordan-Bloch.
- A cinematic meditation on humanity’s massive reengineering of the planet, ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch is a four years in the making feature documentary film from the multiple-award winning team of Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky. The film follows the research of an international body of scientists, the Anthropocene Working Group who, after nearly 10 years of research, are arguing that the Holocene Epoch gave way to the Anthropocene Epoch in the mid-twentieth century, because of profound and lasting human changes to the Earth. From concrete seawalls in China that now cover 60% of the mainland coast, to the biggest terrestrial machines ever built in Germany, to psychedelic potash mines in Russia’s Ural Mountains, to metal festivals in the closed city of Norilsk, to the devastated Great Barrier Reef in Australia and surreal lithium evaporation ponds in the Atacama desert, the filmmakers have traversed the globe using high end production values and state of the art camera techniques to document evidence and experience of human planetary domination.
- Americans use 60,000 plastic bags every five minutes-single-use disposable bags that we mindlessly throw away. But where is "away?" Bag It follows "everyman" Jeb Berrier as he navigates our plastic world. Jeb's journey in this documentary film starts with simple questions: Are plastic bags really necessary? What are plastic bags made from? What happens to plastic bags after they are discarded?
- After hearing about expansive amounts of plastic in every major ocean, Port Phillip Baykeeper Neil Blake finds the sands of his local beaches are turning into a kind of micro-plastic confetti. In his journey to measure how far the age of plastics has invaded the bay, Neil discovers a growing community striving to protect Port Phillip's health for generations to come.
- Living in a Louisiana bayou community called “the Bathtub,” six-year-old Hush Puppy (youngest-ever Best Actress Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis) can’t get the prehistoric aurochs her teacher tells her will be released from melting ice caps off her mind – even as the world in front of her crumbles and cowers, the victim of powerful storms, failing levees, and familial health problems. While the film’s setting is technically fictional, it was inspired by several very real fishing villages in Southern Louisiana’s Terrebonne Parish. These small, isolated wetland communities are threatened by climate-driven erosion, extreme weather, and rising sea levels. Most notable among them is the rapidly disappearing Isle de Jean Charles, former home of “the first American climate refugees.”
- Featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and directed by Fisher Stevens, Before the Flood presents a riveting account of the dramatic changes occurring around the world due to climate change as actor Leonardo DiCaprio meets with scientists, activists and world leaders to discuss the dangers of climate change and possible solutions.Produced by National Geographic Channel.
- The industrialization that has occurred in the oceans over the last century, mirrors the events that triggered mass extinctions on land. Industrial scale fishing, habitat destruction, species loss and pollution have placed the ocean in peril. The very nature of the sea is being irretrievably altered. BLUE is a provocative journey into the ocean realm, witnessing this critical moment in time when the marine world is on a precipice.
- ‘Call Of The Forest – The Forgotten Wisdom Of Trees’ is a documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. The film follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system. Beresford-Kroeger explores the most beautiful forests in the Northern Hemisphere from the sacred sugi and cedar forests of Japan to the great boreal forest of Canada. She shares the amazing stories behind the history and legacy of these ancient forests while also explaining the science of trees and the irreplaceable roles they play in protecting and feeding the planet.
- From the same people who did Chasing Ice. Coral reefs around the world are vanishing at an unprecedented rate. A team of divers, photographers and scientists set out on a thrilling ocean adventure, taking us to some of the most exquisite coral reefs and fish communities remaining on the planet, to discover why and to reveal the underwater mystery to the world. Chasing Coral is luminous, honest, funny, and moving, a love letter to the magic of nature.
- Acclaimed photographer James Balog was once a skeptic about climate change. But through his Extreme Ice Survey, he discovers undeniable evidence of our changing planet. In Chasing Ice, Balog deploys revolutionary time-lapse cameras to capture a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate.
- Chicago suffered the worst heat disaster in U.S history in 1995, when 739 residents – mostly elderly and black – died over the course of one week. As COOKED links the heat wave’s devastation back to the underlying manmade disaster of structural racism it delves deep into one of our nation’s biggest growth industries: Disaster Preparedness. Peabody Award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand uses her signature serious-yet-quirky-style as interlocutor and narrator to forge inextricable connections between the cataclysmic natural disasters we’re willing to see and prepare for, and the slow-motion disasters we’re not. That is, until an extreme weather event hits and the slow motion disasters are made exponentially more deadly and visible.
- Follow the shocking, yet humorous, journey of an aspiring environmentalist, as he daringly seeks to find the real solution to the most pressing environmental issues and true path to sustainability. Supported with stunning statistics, he makes the case against animal agriculture, suggesting it is a major, not minor player in climate change.
- After climatologist Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid) is largely ignored by U.N. officials when presenting his environmental concerns, his research proves true when an enormous "superstorm" develops, setting off catastrophic natural disasters throughout the world. Trying to reach his son, Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is trapped in New York with his friend Laura (Emmy Rossum) and others, Jack and his crew must travel by foot from Philadelphia, braving the elements, to get to Sam before it's too late. Released by 20th Century Fox, the film became the 6th highest grossing film of 2004.
- Disruption takes an unflinching look at the devastating consequences of our inaction and goes behind the scenes of the largest climate march in history, the People's Climate March.
- A mini-documentary about a rising movement to take on the climate crisis and fight the fossil fuel industry by building a movement to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. This 42-minute mini-documentary, chronicles "America's leading environmentalist" Bill McKibben in a David-vs-Goliath battle to fight the fossil fuel industry and change the terrifying math of the climate crisis. The film also features a veritable who's who of the climate movement including Dr. James Hansen (Frmr. Director, NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies), Lester Brown (President, Earth Policy Institute), Michael Brune (Executive Director, Sierra Club), Bobby Kennedy Jr. (President, Waterkeeper Alliance), among others.
- Based upon a book of the same name, this film dispenses with politics, polemics or punditry; instead, it presents an objective, accessible assessment of the Earth’s problems and possibilities that will leave viewers informed, energized and optimistic. Host Richard Alley – a geologist, contributor to the United Nations panel on climate change and former oil company employee whom Andy Revkin of the New York Times once called “a cross between Woody Allen and Carl Sagan” – leads the audience on this engaging one-hour special about climate change and sustainable energy, premiering during Earth Month 2011.
- Fantastic Fungi, directed by Louie Schwartzberg, is a consciousness-shifting film that takes us on an immersive journey through time and scale into the magical earth beneath our feet, an underground network that can heal and save our planet. Through the eyes of renowned scientists and mycologists like Paul Stamets, best-selling authors Michael Pollan, Eugenia Bone, Andrew Weil and others, we become aware of the beauty, intelligence and solutions the fungi kingdom offers us in response to some of our most pressing medical, therapeutic, and environmental challenges.
- Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of the planet?
- Highlighting innovators and entrepreneurs in communities from Georgetown, Texas to Buffalo, New York, Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution follows Redford – grandson of a longtime Chevron worker and son of actor/environmental advocate Robert Redford – on an enlightening cross-country journey to discover the current state of clean energy and see what lies on the horizon.
- Oscar-nominated director Josh Fox (Gasland) continues in his deeply personal style, investigating climate change – the greatest threat our world has ever known. Traveling to 12 countries on six continents, the film acknowledges that it may be too late to stop some of the worst consequences and asks, what is it that climate change can’t destroy? What is so deep within us that no calamity can take it away?
- The story of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is told through compelling, never-before-seen footage in this intimate documentary from Swedish director Nathan Grossman.
Produced by Oscar-winner Leonardo DiCaprio, George DiCaprio and Mathew Schmid and directed by Leila Conners, Ice on Fire is an eye-opening documentary that focuses on many never-before-seen solutions designed to slow down our escalating environmental crisis. The film goes beyond the current climate change narrative and offers hope that we can actually stave off the worst effects of global warming. More coverage at BBC News and Living on Earth.
- After seeing former US Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, people worldwide finally understood the reality of the climate crisis devastating our planet. For many, it was the moment they knew they personally had to do something about it. The film’s impact continues to be felt more than a decade after it won the 2007 Academy Award for Best Documentary and took its place among the highest-grossing documentaries ever. An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, took that story further, showcasing both the amazing progress that’s been made as well as how much further we still have to go to solve the climate crisis. Both documentaries present the science and stakes of the crisis and ask viewers if they’re ready to fight like our world depends on it.
- Witness Dr. Jane Goodall's relentless commitment and determination to spread a message of hope. The Hope showcases a lifetime of conservation, inspiring future generations.
- While electricity availability doesn’t guarantee wealth, its absence almost always means poverty. Juice takes viewers to Beirut, Reykjavik, Kolkata, San Juan, Manhattan, and Boulder to tell the human story of electricity and to explain why power equals power. The defining inequality in the world today is the disparity between the electricity rich and the electricity poor. In fact, there are more than 3 billion people on the planet today who are using less electricity than what’s used by an average American refrigerator.
- Kiss the Ground is a full-length documentary narrated by Woody Harrelson that sheds light on an alternative approach to farming called “regenerative agriculture” that has the potential to balance our climate, replenish our vast water supplies, and feed the world.
- Our soils support 95 percent of all food production, and by 2060, our soils will be asked to give us as much food as we have consumed in the last 500 years. They filter our water. They are one of our most cost-effective reservoirs for sequestering carbon. They are our foundation for biodiversity. And they are vibrantly alive, teeming with 10,000 pounds of biological life in every acre. Yet in the last 150 years, we’ve lost half of the basic building block that makes soil productive.
- The Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation chose to compile the best scientific information on climate change and livestock farming, which is presently available and to translate this for a broader audience. The calculations on greenhouse gas emissions used in the film derive from and have been validated by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN (FAO), the WorldWatch Institute, the Institute for Environmental Studies of the Free University Amsterdam and numerous other authoritative sources.
- Through the eyes of those who handle its waste, this delicate but moving film is a deep dive into global consumption and culture. We follow the story of a young girl by the name of Yi-Jie, working in a recycling facility and dreaming of attending school.
- In Racing Extinction, Academy Award® winning director Louie Psihoyos (The Cove) assembles a team of artists and activists that go undercover to capture never-before-seen images that reveal the threat of mass extinction and endangered species on the brink.
- Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman is a Discovery Channel documentary about a group of Red States who become global warming believers as they try to stem the effects of climate change. “It’s about citizens who become environmentalists and who become political activists for the right reason,” narrator Tom Brokaw told Variety.
- We are proud to bring you Rollbacks - An Assault Against Life on Earth. You may not 'enjoy it', but it will motivate you to act. More than any other person on Earth, Donald Trump is a menace to humanity and all of life.
- The film is set in a future where a failed geoengineering experiment to counteract climate change plunges the planet into a new ice age, killing all life except for those lucky enough (a phrase we’re using loosely here) to have boarded the titular train. This train now circles the globe on a constant loop and a tyrannical class system has taken hold onboard. The train is a microcosm of the global population today, multicultural, with the 1% controlling the engine and those condemned to the last cars stoking its power. Selected by Al Gore’s Climate Reality site as one of 6 must see films, they said, “It confronts head-on the dangers of a “we’ll deal with this later” approach to climate action. Note:Isn’t one for younger audiences...
- Is access to clean drinking water a basic human right, or a commodity that should be bought and sold like any other article of commerce? Stephanie Soechtig’s debut feature is an unflinching examination of the big business of bottled water, including the toxic byproducts of manufacturing plastic water bottles.
- Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this captivating documentary explores the perilous state of our planet, the 11th hour is considered the final moment when change is possible. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking and former CIA director R. James Woolsey along with more than 50 other scientists, scholars, and leaders discuss pressing issues facing today's world. Specialists reveal how human actions impact the Earth's ecosystems, and what can be done to reverse or slow the damage before it is too late to save the planet. Directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Peterson.
- Through the lens of national security and global stability, a look at the impacts of climate change on increased resource scarcity and migration. As part of a case-study analysis, admirals, generals and military veterans take viewers beyond the headlines of the conflict in Syria, the social unrest of the Arab Spring, the rise of groups like ISIS, and the European refugee crisis -- and lay bare how climate change stressors interact with societal tensions, sparking conflict. Directed and Produced by Jared Scott.
- Not strictly a film on climate change, this environmental film exposes a decades-long corporate scandal surrounding a toxic Teflon chemical—and the power of a few determined people to change the world. Made by Kristin Lazure and Stephanie Soechtig (whose earlier film Tapped was about the bottled water industry).
- This film is perfect if you need a burst of optimism in your climate change education. The 2016 film follows grassroots movements across the country, featuring people enthusiastically fighting for a divestment from the fossil fuel economy and encouraging the transition to renewable energies, providing a counter-narrative to the global forces insisting on the necessity of continued reliance on “dead energy.”
- Jon Shenk’s The Island President is the story of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives, a man confronting a problem greater than any other world leader has ever faced—the literal survival of his country and everyone in it. After bringing democracy to the Maldives after thirty years of despotic rule, Nasheed is now faced with an even greater challenge: as one of the most low-lying countries in the world, a rise of three feet in sea level would submerge the 1200 islands of the Maldives enough to make them uninhabitable.
- We find ourselves in the soothing company of Ms./Dame Emma Thompson as she guides us through a journey that chronicles the rise of extreme energy, detailing the economic costs of more intensive energy production, and the people and wildlife caught in the crossfire.
- Showing how water barons find ways to work the system to their own advantage in California’s convoluted water system and a groundwater crisis, this National Geographic film exposes centers of power in conflict with small farmers and citizens as they suffer through drought years while others profit from the scarcity.
- This documentary delves into the creation of the first electric car and the reasons that ultimately, those original models were destroyed.