Top Ten Must-See Environmental Films

Top ten environmental films worth seeing, according to writer Josh Hubanks.

There are some fantastic films on the environment, but it can often be difficult to find the truly great ones. To make your life a little bit easier, here is a list of ten fantastic, eye-opening movies for any individual passionate about saving our planet.

10. Tapped, 2009

Director Stephanie Soechtig’s examination of the bottled water industry’s “effects on our health, climate change, pollution, and our reliance on oil.” The documentary debuted at last year’s Los Angeles United Film Festival and has yet to score major distribution, but fret not: Netflix is already offering a public queue in advance of a presumed-to-be forthcoming DVD release, so get in line for this one while it’s hot.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Tapped dares to challenge the moral and environmental efficacy of a habit all too many of us share: chronic bottled water consumption. The film deserves credit, especially, for never straying into the realm of moral high ground-itude, instead presenting a sober and earnest look at a lifestyle choice we all might behoove ourselves to rethink.

9. The 11th Hour, 2007

Narrated and produced by Leonardo DiCaprio, The 11th Hour takes a holistic look at the deluge of environmental problems currently facing our planet. Perhaps more than others of its ilk, The 11th Hour concerns itself with offering practical solutions, if only in theory, to the environmental truths it confronts.

Why It’s Noteworthy

In many ways, The 11th Hour is nothing more than An Inconvenient Truth with less teeth and more star power (Roger Ebert called it a bore, urging people to rent Gore’s film instead). Still, it deserves credit for at least attempting to contribute something to the canon of 2000s-era enviro-docs, even if lacks the punch packed by certain of its contemporaries.

8. Fast Food Nation, 2006

“Do you want lies with that?” reads the tagline of Fast Food Nation, Richard Linklater’s feature-length adaptation of Eric Schlosser’s 2001 book of the same name. In the film, an ensemble cast rounded out by the likes of Greg Kinnear and Wilmer Valderrama explores the political, environmental, economical, and social ethics pursuant to fast food meat production.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Part drama, part black comedy, Fast Food Nation is one of the most gleefully subversive polemics out there. Don’t plan to hit up McDonald’s after seeing this one, though; Fast Food Nation is far from feel-good fare, featuring scenes from a real-life abattoir. Yum!

7. King Corn, 2007

King Corn is the tale of two best friends from college who travel to America’s heartland to plant and farm one of our nation’s most heavily subsidized crops: corn. In attempting to trace the path of their product from field to market, the two friends uncover shocking truths about the inner workings of an industry we as Americans are inextricably linked to.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Hailed by the Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday as “required viewing before entering a supermarket” and boasting a formidable 100% rating on, King Corn is easily one of the best-reviewed environmental docs out there. That, coupled with its slick production, likable characters and down-home presentation, make King Corn a documentary anyone can enjoy — regardless of political stripe or environmental proclivity.

6. Avatar, 2009

Ostensibly Fern Gully with guns and aliens, James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster-to-end-all-blockbusters packs with its punch a surprisingly noble message: Don’t mess with nature, lest it mess back. In the film, paraplegic space marine Jake Sully is charged with infiltrating a race of blue, 10-foot-tall aliens in an effort to co-opt their resource-rich planet. New-found inter-species romance eventually intervenes, however, swaying hearts and minds while sparking interstellar war in the process. You know — that old chestnut.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Avatar is oft-interpreted as a parable for the United States’ seemingly insatiable thirst for oil, and frankly, it’s hard to walk away from the film with a reading to the contrary. Avatar deals heavily in the follies of ethnocentrism, too, and it’s for these reasons in aggregate that Cameron deserves credit: He’s crafted a film that’s at once technically stunning, hyper-mainstream, and appropriately didactic. I see you, James.

5. An Inconvenient Truth, 2006

Former Vice President Al Gore’s groundbreaking[ly infamous] foray into documentary filmmaking, An Inconvenient Truth boasts two Oscars and one of the highest-ever box office grosses for a film of its kind. The doc weaves Gore’s personal travails into a larger appeal to grassroots-level advocacy, urging its viewers to consider the mounting pile of evidence in support of climate change‘s existence.

Why It’s Noteworthy

To paraphrase a good friend of mine, “Screw the politics. What other movie in the past decade has spurred as much debate as An Inconvenient Truth?” And you know what? He’s right: Regardless of your disposition toward climate change, this documentary gets people talking. This reason alone justifies the film’s existence, and then some. See it.

4. Earthlings, 2005

Narrated by animal rights advocate, lifelong vegan, and Academy Award-nominee Joaquin Phoenix, Earthlings utilizes hidden-camera footage to chronicle “the day-to-day practices of the largest industries in the world, all of which rely entirely on animals for profit.” In a departure of form from similar documentaries, Earthlings opts not to focus solely on the animals-as-food controversy. Instead, Phoenix implores viewers to consider their reliance on animals for clothing, entertainment, experimentation, and companionship.

Why It’s Noteworthy

To the extent that animal consumption is linked to environmental concerns (read: wholly and as yet unalterably), this film makes a compelling, if pathos-heavy, argument. Moreover, Earthlings willfully denies its viewers the all-too-popular conceit that meat consumption is not an environmental issue. A strong word of caution to would-be viewers, though: Earthlings is not a film for the faint of heart.

3. Food, Inc., 2008

Robert Kenner’s Food, Inc. takes to task the notion that the modern-day food industry bears any resemblance to the bucolic, agrarian antecedent to which it professes kinship. In scene after stunning scene, the film deconstructs “the spinning of the pastoral fantasy,” positing instead a horrifyingly singular vision of for-profit conspiracy in which we’re all complicit.

Why It’s Noteworthy

The truths contained within Food, Inc. are truly hair-raising; for instance, who knew how nefarious an out-of-season piece of fruit could be made to seem? And yet this is the power of Food, Inc.: It can take the seemingly innocuous and impel you to reconsider its indispensability in your day-to-day life.

2. WALL-E, 2008

Academy Award-winner for Best Animated Feature in 2009, Pixar Studios’ WALL-E tells the story of a small waste-collecting robot who “inadvertently embarks on a space journey that will ultimately decide the fate of mankind.” For all its charming pretensions, though, WALL-E is more than just the Next Big Thing from the studio that brought the world Toy Story. Quite the opposite, WALL-E is a cautionary tale for the ages, foretelling what might be if mankind’s unsustainable habits are allowed to continue unabated.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Pixar’s depiction of a future in which Earth has been abandoned — rendered naught by environmental complacency — is simply astonishing. It’s in the conveyance of this bleak hypothetical that the film transcends its otherwise carefree ambitions, insisting instead that viewers consider the repercussions of an overly-consumptive lifestyle. As both a tool of education and a piece of entertainment, WALL-E is in a class of its own.

1. Koyaanisqatsi, 1982

Part documentary, part avant-garde concept piece, Godfrey Reggio’s 1982 opus is a work of visual and aural art unlike any other. The title, taken from the Hopi Indian language, means “life out of balance,” and it’s on this theme that the film dwells. With no characters, no plot and no dialogue to speak of, Koyaanisqatsi is 87 minutes of breathtaking imagery set to renowned composer Philip Glass’ now-famous score.

Why It’s Noteworthy

Koyaanisqatsi is the quintessence of filmmaking-as-art, functioning to simultaneously titillate, confound, and horrify its viewers into a consideration of the themes it treats. Of the films on this list, Koyaanisqatsi is among the least popular, but undoubtedly the most profound. It stands as both an exercise in and contention for environmental consciousness, and deserves to be seen without question or hesitation.

Facetious Runner-Up

The Happening, 2008 – (WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD) In writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s (The Sixth Sense, Signs) lowest cinematic low, sentient trees force people to kill themselves. (Yes, really.)

Why It’s Noteworthy

It’s not; it’s awful.

The Small Print

Blue Planet Green Living has not received any complimentary copies of any of the films described in this post. No compensation or incentive was provided to us for publishing this review.

Our policy is to review only those products we feel merit overall positive comments. If we do not like a product, we do not review it. We are not influenced by complimentary products and provide our honest opinions. For more information, please visit the Policies tab on the top navigation bar.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase these films or any other products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, we will receive a small financial compensation from Amazon, which we use to sustain this website.

Josh Hubanks

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)


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My son and his girlfriend arrived today from California for Joe’s daughter’s wedding. They’re omnivores, as are the rest of the offspring from our blended family. Whenever we have a family gathering, my three look forward to an old family recipe (graciously handed down from their dad’s Italian grandmother), Italian beef. This presents me with a dilemma.

Joe and I are trying hard to swear off meat. We’re not entirely successful, because food allergies limit access to other sources of protein: dairy, soy, and some nuts. We do need protein, of course, and we were starting to feel less-than-healthy on our vegan diet. But we do not want to support the factory farms that treat animals as mere commodities.

We abhor the way cattle and hogs and chickens (and ducks, and presumably just about every other food-producing animal) are so often housed in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in unsanitary and inhumane conditions. We are also disgusted and deeply saddened to read how dairy cows are misused, their offspring yanked away shortly after birth and their bones so weakened by the overproduction of milk that they often break on the way to the slaughterhouse at the end of their “useful” lives. But that’s another story.

"You'll never look at dinner the same way." Photo Courtesy: River Road Entertainment

"You'll never look at dinner the same way." Photo Courtesy: River Road Entertainment

So, I promised Italian beef to our family. Then, this morning, I came across a movie review by Roger Ebert. It’s a review of Food, Inc., a powerful recounting of the way food is produced by Big Ag in the United States. Ebert’s review touches on the very issues that made Joe and me want to forgo all meat and dairy products.

I haven’t yet seen Food, Inc., but I have heard that it is not to be missed. Ebert’s review is so powerful that I couldn’t write a better one, even if I had seen the movie. I urge you to read it, and then to see Food, Inc. when it comes to your local area. If you’ve already seen the movie, please give us your own review.

As I read Ebert‘s article, I felt increasingly guilty about my promise to my kids. Maybe I shouldn’t cook Italian beef for them. By doing so I’m betraying the values Joe and I have come to share. But, the truth is, he and I also eat meat at times. So is my promise to my kids any different than what we ourselves do now and then? No, it’s not. As Joe and I said when we first started this website, “We’re on a journey; we aren’t there yet.” That goes for living sustainably, for being vegetarian or vegan, and for being the best humans we can.

I’ll buy meat for my family, despite my reservations. We will serve Italian beef this weekend. But, if I can find it, we’ll eat grass-fed beef from a farmer who treats his animals well, not meat from a factory farm. I’d rather not serve meat at all, but it’s a compromise. Like religion, a vegetarian diet is a choice. But, also like religion, nonbelievers sometimes catch the fire — as long as it’s not forced upon them. I have to remember that our kids are on their own journeys, and they will come to agree with us — or not — in their own time.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)