Photo: Vladimka Production/Shutterstock

10 Environmental Films That Will Make You Think

by Frontier Mar 14, 2017

Princess Mononoke

The story begins with a peaceful village in Japan which is suddenly and violently attacked by a demon. Ashitaka, the last prince of his people, is forced to kill the demon but becomes afflicted in the process. This demon turns out to have once been the Boar God, Nago, driven mad by hatred. Fearing that Ashitaka will face the same fate the elders send him in search of a cure, subsequently finding the cause of Nago’s fate in the process.

Ashitaka finds an inharmonious mining town, ravaging the forest of resources, and creatures attempting to defend the forest against mining were turned demonic by the bitterness, violence and arrogance of Humans. The prince is then caught between the Human disregard for nature and Nature’s efforts to push back.

This film magically and poignantly sums up how we have fallen out of harmony with nature; that if we keep on taking and taking the wonder of nature will be lost leaving nothing but desolation and bitterness behind.

Into the Wild

Into the wild is the true story of Christopher McCandless and his journey across North America, Canada and Alaska between 1990 and 1992.

He sees that society has grown commercialised, greedy; overly materialistic and, with no desire to be part of such a society, McCandless burns his possessions, gives his $24,000 savings to Oxfam, and sets out to reconnect with nature.

“The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.”

The film was based off of Jon Krakauer’s book of the same name, which used exerts of McCandless’ travel journal. Society today has gotten to a point where we consume too much and throw even more away, and this film makes you not only question that and McCandless’ motives, but also recognise the value of nature. And most significantly stresses that you cannot have one without the other.

Into the Wild won a Best Original Song Golden Globe for Eddie Vedder’s song “Guaranteed”.

The Superior Human?

Una publicación compartida de CaronⓋ (@cranky_vegan) el

The 2012 documentary highlights the notion of the self-acclaimed bias that we humans are superior to other forms of life. This is a concept called speciesism and has had some pretty damaging effects on our planet. In fact, speciesism can be linked to every major detriment we’ve caused to the planet, as well as driven our direct role in species exploitation and extinction.

It touches on the origins of speciesism in religious texts, psychology and dodgy philosophy, and through deadpan delivery ridicules this perceived superiority by comparing our extremely infantile presence on Earth to life that has been here for millions of years already, while poignantly highlighting our abhorrent treatment of animals and other people as a result of our hierarchical outlook.

“Other lifeforms should begin to push industry, exploitation of resources and materialism to their limits; build military industrial complexes, and refuse their guarantee of future necessities like clean food, water and air if they want elevate their statuses to the level of some modern humans.”

This insightful documentary seeks to break down the prejudicial outlook we possess to be more respectful, harmonious, humble and moral towards the animals we share the planet with.

You can watch the full documentary here.


Una publicación compartida de Neytiri (@neytiriavatar) el

Set against the Sci-fi backdrop of interplanetary space travel, this is another rendition of the way we treat nature. Pandora is an alien world located in our closest star system Alpha Centauri. It is a lush, temperate moon of a gas giant and is in the process of Human colonisation. The reason for travelling so far is to mine for unobtanium, a mineral that acts as a superconductor at room temperature. However, the colonisation and mining efforts come to a head when faced with opposition from the planets indigenous intelligent humanoids, the Na’vi.

Pandora is 4.37 lightyears away and this vast distance is a metaphor for how unnecessarily far the illogical pursuit of expendable energy sources is taking us. The film also transparently tackles the persecution of indigenous people, drawing constants to our oppressive history of colonisation, whether it is the European colonists against Native American communities, or even Hernan Cortes against the Aztecs.


Una publicación compartida de timeto_film (@timeto_film) el

Back to the concept of consuming too much and throwing even more away, WALL-E definitely makes the list. Beginning in outer space the viewer is gradually taken past various nebulas and stars and the planets of our solar system until Earth is reached. However, upon approach, Earth looks vastly different. The outer atmosphere and low orbit is littered with space junk, and the lush green and blue is replaced with rusty browns and swampy tones.

The surface is peppered with mountains of garbage taller than skyscrapers, and a lone Waste Allocation Load Lifter – Earth-class unit has been left behind to clean up the mess.

Consumerism had put too much strain on the Earth and failure to do anything about it forced humans to leave on giant colonial spacecraft. The colony on the ship has grown obese through overconsumption and the same complacency that left the Earth in its state when they left (old habits…).

There is however a ray of hope, as always in Pixar films, but particularly relevant for us now as although an exaggeration of what will happen to the planet if we continue, is still a sobering thought that we can still set right.

The Cove

Una publicación compartida de Mya (@orcabeauty) el

Winning over 25 awards including an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, The Cove investigated the annual Dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan. By placing cameras disguised as rocks around the infamous cove, activist and former dolphin trainer Ric O’ Barry and his team were able to uncover the shocking scenes of the massacre. Several species of dolphin are killed in the hundreds for their meat, which harbours dangerously high levels of Mercury, or are captured alive and exported for aquariums.

The Taiji hunt has been analysed and reviewed by leading animal welfare experts has been found on every occasion to not even come close to any form of humane practise, and would be disregarded by any slaughter house in the developed world.

In 2010 the Japanese government stated the dolphin hunt as part of their traditional fishing culture and that the annual hunts were carried out lawfully. The Taiji annual Dolphin slaughter still continues today, but it is hoped the 2020 Olympics will provide enough public pressure to finally put a stop to it.

The Emerald Forest

Set in the Amazon Rainforest, the 1985 film touches on some pretty relevant struggles the great jungle is facing today. Powers Boothe dons the role of Bill Markham, an engineer contracted for the construction of a hydro-electric dam. The impact to the surrounding forest, although laid out clearly, doesn’t hinder the plans go-ahead.

Markham takes his wife and young son Tommy to Brazil whilst overseeing the dam’s construction, and decides to have a family picnic on the forest edge. An indigenous tribe watches from the tree line, witnessing the destruction and chaos the dam is bringing to the jungle. Not being able to bear the thought of an innocent child being left in the care of people destroying the world, the indigenous decide to, in their eyes, rescue young Tommy.

This film not only covers the ecological impacts of such developments, including severe flooding, deforestation and an increased human presence, but also the exploitation of indigenous peoples for the sake of progress. For instance, the Belo Monte dam brought severe flooding and overdevelopment to tribal home areas, displacing an estimated 20,000 indigenous people. And, the luckily now suspended, Sao Luiz do Tapajos dam threatened around 10,000 Munduruku people living along the Tapajos river.

Soylent Green

If sci-fi horror is more your thing the dark dystopia of Soylent Green (1973) presents a twisted solution to overpopulation and global warming. The effects of these anthropological stressors have forced humans into crowded metropolises which in the instance of New York can only be controlled by a militarised NYPD, spearheading crowd-control, peacekeeping and the rationed distribution of the wonder food Soylent Green.

This eponymous wonder food is the crux of human survival in the far flung future of 2022 as it is made seemingly on demand and inflicts zero environmental impact. This is because of its dark secret; that Soylent Green is made of deceased people.

There is a cold logic in this as burial and cremation isn’t an option due to eutrophication of the land or the release of more greenhouse gases, and seeing as there are too many mouths to feed anyway, why not use up the surplus? This film represents the corner we’re currently painting ourselves into with the rapid rate of our growing population in line with our unethical and unsustainable food production.


Cowspiracy has been dubbed as one of the most important documentaries in recent years, and is regarded in the same league as other influential films such as Blackfish and an Inconvenient Truth, with Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove, calling it the “film made to inspire saving the planet.”

Shining a shocking light on animal agriculture this film puts the industry’s impact into perspective. According to Cowspiracy the meat industry is responsible for 91% of amazon deforestation, as well as taking up 45% of the Earth’s land, a third of which being desertified. The meat and dairy industry also uses a third of Earth’s freshwater, whilst three quarters of world fisheries are being fished unsustainably.

This is undoubtedly a huge problem but can be helped if we all lessened our meat intake. This would not only let us get a handle on climate change, but the land saved from livestock use would mean we could produce 100x more plant based food per 1.5 acres for a more sustainable future.

Climate Change Denial Disorder

Una publicación compartida de Live Earth (@liveearth) el

Our last film is an American satirical short released in 2015, and is filmed in the style of a spoof public service announcement. The announcement parodies the denial of climate change as if it were a fictitious disease, leaving people incapable of comprehending words such as “melting”, “world” and “science”.

The film lists just some of the 56% of Republicans in Congress who are climate change deniers, despite the 97% consensus from the scientific community confirming it.

By Thomas Phillips – Frontier’s Online Journalism Intern

This article originally appeared on Frontier and is republished here with permission.

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