When done correctly, movies have the ability to cram a world’s worth of experience into an efficient 2-hour window. Also, there are often snacks involved.
While the bulk of environmentally themed movies tend to be documentaries, this list focuses on some of the greatest fictional films to ever be made. This is not to discount such great documentaries as “Revenge of the Electric Car” (which is the sequel to “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and the prequel to “Transformers: Age of Extinction”), only that sometimes, especially on hot summer evenings, eco-fiction is more appealing.
We have split this list up between movies for kids and movies for kids that are all grown-up (never stop being a kid).
A few notes for the grown-up list. Omitted are movies such as “the Day After Tomorrow” or “Children of Men” and other such movies that take place in a post-apocalyptic time or during a mass event that has to do with climate change or pollution. Such movies are plentiful and often quite painful.
Eco-Fiction Movies for Grown-Ups
This visually stunning Japanese animation film is hailed as a work of genius, and still culturally relevant despite being nearly 20 years old.
The movie takes place in an ancient era, when the world’s forests were beginning to be destroyed. The animals that still lived in the remaining forests owed their allegiance to the Forest Spirit.
As with many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films, there are heavy environmental themes throughout the film, and the story’s heroes are those that seek to protect the natural world.
Many believe that James Cameron’s 2009 “Avatar” is an analogy to the Alberta’s Oil Sands and the local indigenous populations. After the release of the film First Nations leaders in Alberta invited James Cameron to visit the area and explain their concerns that increased oil extraction in the area is leading to higher rates of cancer in their communities.
During the trip Cameron called on the Canadian government to require stricter regulations for bitumen extraction.
Cameron also promised that sequels to Avatar will continue with the futuristic environmental themes of the first film.
This film from 1979 has an all-star cast that includes Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon. The plot centers on a reporter who is seeking to out cover-ups at a nuclear plant. The real eerie part of this movie however, is that it was released just 12 days before the 3 Mile Island nuclear meltdown occurred.
Fire Down Below
This film was the first in what many were hoping would lead to Steven Seagal being cast in the lead role of a live-action Captain Planet series, but unfortunately hardly anyone actually enjoyed watching the film.
Heroic Seagal plays the role of Jack Taggert, an EPA agent whose hands must be registered as lethal weapons. Taggert discovers that a company is dumping toxic waste in the Appalachian Hills and sets out to stop the bad guys.
This film, which holds an 11% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, is not recommended for viewing, only for finding amusement in its existence.
Based on the real life experience of Brockovich’s fight to hold Pacific Gas and Electric Company liable for their groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, “Erin Brockovich” was released to very high praise.
The film is listed on the American Film Industry’s top 100 most inspirational films of the last 100 years.
A Civil Action
For a description of this movie please see above but change the location to Woburn, Mass and replace Julia Roberts with John Travolta.
Gorillas in the Mist
This movie is on the life of Dian Fossey and her work to protect Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda.
Fossey was one of anthropologist Louis Leakey’s “Trimates” along with Birute Galdikas and Jane Goodall. The three women were all chosen by Leakey to observe Hominids in their natural environment.
Eco-Films for Kids!
This Disney Pixar film takes place in the not too distant future when the world has become so polluted that humans have abandoned the planet.
Humans had purchased so many items from the “Buy N Large” corporation that Earth had become covered in trash.
Once the humans left somebody forgot to turn off one of the trash-cleaning robots however, and Wall-E and his cockroach friend go about their work and try to determine the meaning of life.
For years movie-goers have had to go to separate theaters if they wanted to see a movie about dancing penguins and a movie about environmental issues, but not anymore thanks to the Happy Feet franchise!
These animated dancing penguin movies seem to be just as geared towards a grown-up sense of humor as they are children’s, and carry important messages about living sustainably (and not over-fishing the Arctic).
Fern Gully: the Last Rainforest
This animated film from 1992 takes place in a magical Australian rainforest, where pixies and other fanciful creatures make their home. Unfortunately, for all the magical rainforest creatures logging companies are tearing down their home. A young logger is shrunk to the size of the fairies and works with them to help protect the last rainforest.
Some of the money that the film grossed was donated to environmental organizations around the world.
Robin Williams, Christian Slater and both Cheech and Chong voice characters in the film.
He is the Lorax, and he speaks for the trees, which others are chopping as quick as they please.
We have saved the best for last with “the Lorax”.
The 2012 feature film “the Lorax” was released on what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 108th birthday. Seuss had claimed the Lorax to be his favorite of all his books.
The film sends a message of living sustainably through the story of the Once-ler, who chopped down all the Truffula trees to make “Thneeds”.
This tale really is a beautiful story that is engaging for children and adults.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
What is your favorite nature film?