Are you planning to see a movie tonight? You might as well get a bit more educated on the way.
These are my favorite documentaries about environmental and climate issues, and sustainably living.
Please note that I constantly update this article with new movies as soon as I’ve seen them. In other words, feel free to bookmark this page and come back in a couple of months to see what I’ve seen lately!
Table of Contents
- In a hurry? Here’s a user-friendly overview of all the best environmental documentaries
- Deep insight about each and every documentary
- Food inc — the documentary that will change your look on the food industry
- Before the flood (2016)
- Ten Billion (2015)
- Cowspiracy (2014) – the movie that makes you stop eating hamburgers
- “The True Cost” – do you know the real cost of fast fashion?
- An inconvenient truth (2006)
- Sharkwater (2006)
- Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things
- Books or documentaries?
In a hurry? Here’s a user-friendly overview of all the best environmental documentaries
In order to make the process a bit easier for you, I have gathered all my recommendations into this pretty little table (ranked from highest to lowest on IMDB):
|Before the flood
|The environmental impact of beef and red meat
|Shark extinction / Biodiversity
|Sustainable food & Animal agriculture
|The True Cost
|An inconvenient truth
If you still want to know more about every movie, feel free to scroll down. Even though I am a big fan of movie trailers, I do not always feel that they give the most accurate picture of what a documentary is really about.
Deep insight about each and every documentary
So you want to learn a bit more about the documentaries? Great choice! Below you can read a brief review and summary of each and every one of them.
Food inc — the documentary that will change your look on the food industry
If you haven’t seen Food Inc., you have probably missed out on the most controversial movie about the food industry ever made. Shocking. Terrifying.
I strongly believe that, especially for our American readers, that this might be a movie that will change the way you eat. The movie gives uncensored insight about how the American food industry sacrifice human health, animal welfare and the environment to reach their absolute goal: profit.
If you previously haven’t looked much into how the food industry harms the environment, this is an excellent movie to start with. Next time you eat a McDonald’s hamburger, you will probably have to think that it came from a 1000 kilo cow that never was allowed to leave its “prison” in a farm in Texas. You will also learn that about 98% of all meat products in the USA are coming from only four suppliers — and you will quickly understand why that is a massive problem.
Before the flood (2016)
Leonardo DiCaprio is an excellent movie actor. He is also a person who deeply cares about educating people about the danger of climate change. Before the flood is a movie that takes over where “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) stopped. Not only does it illustrate the frightening development that we have seen over the last years, but the film also ends with a warning to the people:
Stop destroying our planet.
It is a high-budget movie that, among other things, include a longer interview with former US president Barack Obama.
Ten Billion (2015)
You might not have heard of Stephen Emmott? Understandable. He is very seldom a person that you can see in mainstream media. However, a couple years before Ten Billion was produced, he published a study about how the globe will look like in year 2100. And yes – you guessed right.
In 2100 we will roughly be 10 billion people on this planet.
As you might already have figured out, we have limited natural resources on this planet. When we currently struggle to feed some people living on this planet, we are facing a lot of challenges in the years to come.
Ten Billions is a good documentary that puts natural resource allocation and overpopulation into perspective.
Cowspiracy (2014) – the movie that makes you stop eating hamburgers
If you want a less “commercial” version of Food Inc, Cowspiracy is a movie from 2014 that really digs deep into the livestock industry. The movie makers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn are consistent on using data and scientific evidence to show how environmental hostile the beef industry is.
If you found Food Inc amusing (or is “amusing” the wrong word to use here?), there is a big chance that you will find Cowspiracy interesting.
Unfortunately, the movie sort of also touches into being a conspiracy theory when they in the end sort of concludes that the whole industry is being lead by people with “hidden interests”. It is an excellent movie as long as it sticks with data and evidence, but the conspiracy theories in the end destroys it a bit.
Well, what can you really write about this movie?
After you have seen it, you really do not know who to trust anymore. It is like knowing that your mum and dad have both been lying to you for ages. If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy yet, you do not know what I am talking about. Please let me explain.
This movie makes you aware how big of an environmental problem beef and red meat really is
The animal agriculture contributes to more greenhouse gas emissions than the whole transportation sector combined. And yes, that includes all airplanes in the world. The problem, and the reason why this documentary was filmed in the first place is that leading environmental organizations tend to ignore this issue. Yes, you read that right. So instead of asking people to buy & eat less meat, Greenpeace would rather ask us to not buy plastic bags, not shower too long, bike instead of drive, and so on. Those are all good things. But according to the documentary, they are quite small and insignificant in comparison to eating less beef.
Cowspiracy does not only criticize various organizations for not speaking out about this topic. It also goes down to the core problem: the beef industry. However, Kip Andersen, the guy who made the film, quickly understood that he is stepping into dangerous territory. More than 1000 people have been killed over the last 20 years for speaking out about the environmental impact from livestock – in Brazil alone.
This is an extremely powerful documentary that I really recommend. But please be aware that you will (probably) never see a hamburger in the same way afterward…
And that might be a good thing.
Anyway: absolutely worth seeing!
Warning: it might turn you into a vegan.
“The True Cost” – do you know the real cost of fast fashion?
I assume you are not sitting naked and reading this article. And if so: do you know the real cost of what you are currently wearing? Probably not. Not until you have seen this documentary from 2015.
The movie portraits how the fashion industry has changed over the last 50 years. And by “changed”, we don’t refer to new clothing styles or trends. But simply how the environmental footprint and number of factory work working in dangerous conditions have exploded.
After watching this movie, I wrote a quite long article about how things seem to remain unchanged despite being exploited in rather shocking environmental documentaries. That is an article worth reading – and you can read it by clicking here.
From an entertainment perspective, this is not the best sustainability documentary out there. I have to be that honest. It provides good and useful information, but it is not the best one on the list. Let me put it this way: if you are concerned and interested in the environmental footprint from the fashion industry: please see it. If you are not: there are better and more educational documentaries to spend your time on out there.
An inconvenient truth (2006)
For many, this is the movie that introduced global warming as an actual problem. I remember that our class was dragged down to the cinema by the science teachers to see it – and we were quite surprised. Not only had we studied nature and biology for almost 7 years at primary school without hearing about this before. Al Gore does tell a quite shocking story in this documentary.
So should you see “An Inconvenient Truth” if you haven’t seen it?
Good question. I would actually say that it is quite useful to see it if you are knowledgeable about the current environmental issues. If you want to see how things have developed in the wrong direction, it is definitely a good reference point. Despite the fact that you will find the info-graphics outdated, it is still a pretty decent movie.
10 years later: how did it go with the projections in “An Inconvenient Truth”?
Sciencenews published a rather excellent article on this topic. In 2016, exactly ten years after the documentary was released, they started to dig deep into some of the assumptions that were made by the filmmakers. You can read the whole article here.
When you read reports about the current status of shark extinction, you know that there is no point of being very optimistic about the future. “Sharkwater” helps to paint that picture even darker.
The focus is put on lack of government ban for shark fin soup. Rob Stewart, producer and movie maker, makes a point of the increasing demand for shark fin soup in Asia. Not to spoil anything for you (after all, it is quite a long time since the movie was published), but he actually succeeded to get a ban on those soups worldwide. This is one of the environmental documentaries that actually changed a whole industry, which is quite remarkable.
Is the problem gone?
No, it’s not. In fact, Mr. Stewart made a new movie in 2018 called “Sharkwater: Extinction”. In other words; things have taken a really bad turn. Banning the soup was only an invitation to hardcore criminals to start illegal shark fishing. If you haven’t seen any of these movies, I would actually recommend both. What about a Sunday evening where you binge watch Sharkwater 1 and Sharkwater: Extinction?
You would feel SO bad for the sharks afterward, believe me…
Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things
Do you feel happy when you buy a new Iphone? Or when you upgrade your living room by investing in a huge plasma TV?
If you do so, you are a part of the problem. According to “Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things”, we have created a culture where we buy a lot of unnecessary things. Most of us would agree with that. But the question is: how much do we really need?
This documentary is about two guys traveling around USA to talk about their new lifestyle. Lets face it: “Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things” is not a very good documentary.
Not only does it almost completely ignore all interesting facts/scientific reports about overconsumption. The film is more about an advertising campaign for the moviemakers, their “new” book and how good they are at talking people into Minimalism.
I really don’t want to be a guy that asks you to ignore some environmental documentary, but please don’t spend time on this one. The only reason why I saw the movie until the end was to make this review.
If I should make a 100 % legit review in one sentence, I would simply just quote this guy who wrote a comment under their movie trailer on Youtube:
Books or documentaries?
Watching a documentary is just one type of education. What I really enjoy better is reading a book. Don’t misunderstand me: a documentary can cover a topic pretty good. But if you
want that deep information that will really make you knowledgeable about a topic, you would need to pick up a book.
After I started this website, I have probably seen 15 documentaries and read 10 books about various topics within sustainability. From what I have seen, these are the main differences:
– As most of them are quite complex topics, reading a book is better for deep knowledge. Putting a lot of statistics and number into a documentary does not make it very “sexy”. If you want to educate yourself from a research perspective, a book is probably better.
– Movie makers have the clear advantage of being able to show pictures. Once you actually see the huge landfill where all the food and plastic end up, that is more scary than reading “500 kilo food will be wasted here – every week!”. So I think seeing a movie with graphic pictures helps a lot of people to understand how bad the environmental issue really is.
– The documentaries I have seen are often created to tell a story about something or someone. A book is there to make you smarter. From a “school perspective”, I feel much more educated after reading a book about the environment rather than seeing a documentary.
If you want to explore some of the books and get some recommendations, I have created this page. Once I read more books, I will make sure to update it. The goal is to have the ultimate list of books than can educate people about the environment.
Do you have suggestions to other documentaries that shed light on topics related to ecofriendliness and sustainability? If so, we are very interested in hearing your thoughts. The comment section below is open for anyone that got some good movie suggestions.
Please help us get more educated!