Are you looking for an inspirational nature documentary to watch?
Good – this is the right place to find one!
I love watching documentaries and have done since I was a kid. Give me a good documentary over a fiction film any day!
Environmental documentaries let you discover the real world and the wonders it contains. Importantly, eco-based documentaries help to educate, develop understanding and provide inspiration for action and change.
Let’s take positive strides and access all that information with some of my favourite documentaries below covering the topics of nature, the environment and being more sustainable.
If you like this blog, you might also like my post of the best sustainability books.
Quick list of the best nature and environmental documentaries
For me, nature, environmental and sustainability all go hand in hand. If something is good for nature, it’s generally good for the environment too!
For this reason, my list covers the topics of nature and the environment, as well as climate change plus some sustainable living.
Some of the documentaries below have a positive spin and message, whereas others are hard-hitting truthful watches.
- Kiss The Ground
- My Octopus Teacher
- A Life On Our Planet
- Our Planet
- Down To Earth
- The Ivory Game
- Chasing Coral
- A Plastic Ocean
- Mission Blue
- Dynasties I & II
- Frozen Planet I & II
- An Inconvenient Truth
My favourite environmental documentaries
Whether you want to be inspired to do your bit to help save the planet, live a more sustainable life or learn more about environmental sustainability this amazing world around us, this list of documentaries will do just that.
For more biology-based inspiration, check out this blog on 50 fascinating biodiversity facts.
2014, 1h 45m, nature documentary
Virunga is an incredible watch about the rangers risking their lives to protect Virunga National Park and the world’s last mountain gorillas who live there. Over 200 park rangers have been killed whilst protecting Virunga.
It’s not just poachers who are a threat to the gorillas, it’s oil companies, politicians and rebel groups too. Virunga is about much more than I first anticipated – investigative journalism, politics, corruption and on-going civil war happening all around the Congo.
Of course, it’s also about conservation and the truly dedicated work of the park rangers, park director and an inspiration gorilla caregiver. It’s an amazing watch and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary.
I was actually so inspired by this documentary that I bought a couple of posters from the Virunga website, with proceeds going towards the conservation and protection work of the park.
2013, 1h 23m, nature documentary
Blackfish is the story about Tilikum, a killer whale held in captivity at SeaWorld who has been involved in numerous human deaths. I think it was the first documentary I watched on Netflix and it still stays in my mind today.
It may be bright lights and showbiz at the SeaWorld shows, but the truth behind it all, the performances, the psychological stress and the way of life for the orcas live in and way of life is incredibly emotional.
Blackfish was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.
3. Kiss the Ground
2020, 1hr 24m, climate/environment documentary
Kiss the Ground is a compelling documentary about how the climate crisis we are facing can be solved. The answer is simple: through soil.
Obviously there is a bit more to it than that, but Kiss the Ground is all about protecting our all-important soils to stabilise our climate, draw down carbon dioxide and restore ecosystems.
The documentary focusses on the US farming scene and how mass food production methods are causing incredibly damage to topsoil. The logical and well-explained solution to combat this is through sustainable, organic, regenerative agriculture which works with nature rather than against it. Kiss the Ground also explores the practice of rewilding.
Kiss the Ground is an inspiring and positive watch.
4. My Octopus Teacher
2020, 1hr 25m, nature documentary
Way, way better than I thought it was going to be. I’ll be honest – when I first read the synopsis I thought ‘this isn’t for me’. I don’t mind admitting that I was incredibly wrong.
My Octopus Teacher is the story about a filmmaker and his incredibly, profound relationship with a wild octopus living in a kelp forest just off the South African coast.
It’s quite a raw, revealing and rewarding documentary that grows in depth every time Craig Foster (the filmmaker) free dives to see the octopus every day for almost a year. The footage is amazing, as is the story and the learnings that you can take from these incredibly intelligent animals.
My Octopus Teacher is about life education, connecting with nature and how important the little, simple things truly are. It’s been nominated for a 2021 best documentary Oscar and I urge you to watch it.
5. A Life On Our Planet
2020, 1h 23m, nature/climate documentary
A Life On Our Planet is Sir David Attenborough’s witness statement for the natural world. Born in 1926, David Attenborough has had a long, illustrious career studying nature and wildlife where he’s been active since the 1950s. I think we’d be hard pressed to find anyone alive today who’s seen more of our natural world – Attenborough has been producing nature documentaries for the BBC since before televisions were even popular!
This documentary discusses key moments in Attenborough’s life as well as the changing state of nature throughout the accompanying years. It mourns the mass loss of wildlife and biodiversity from land animals to fish in every corner of the planet.
Although we see potential stark visions of the future should humans carry on as they are, Attenborough gives his take on the actions that can be done to start reversing climate change and mass extinction, and it all relates back to biodiversity.
An essential watch for all from a truly legendary documentary maker.
6. Our Planet
2019, 8 x 1h episodes, nature documentary
Sticking with David Attenborough, his original BBC series ‘Our Planet’ is now available on Netflix.
For those of us in the UK, we’ve been lucky enough to have almost grown up with Attenborough documentaries (I know I have at least) and Our Planet is representation of where we are currently at: on a precipice.
The 8 episodes filmed in 50 countries cover everything from the North Pole and coastal seas to grasslands and rainforests and include the stunning imagery and beautiful scenes that have become a hallmark of the BBC team.
Our Planet demonstrates the changing angle of Attenborough’s documentaries with his sharp, to-the-point narration acting as a call to action. The docoseries highlights how all ecosystems are interconnected and the damage caused to one impacts another. It also presents the dangers that biodiversity faces in the future, now as fact. All the beauty we see could be lost if we humans as a species don’t do anything about it.
7. Down to Earth with Zac Efron
2020, 8 x 35-45m episodes, sustainability documentary
Down to Earth with Zac Efron is a light-hearted watch about health, nature and sustainable living. It follows Zac Efron and his mate, self-proclaimed wellness expert Darin Olien, around the world as they visit the likes of Iceland, Sardinia, Puerto Rico and Peru.
Apologies for judging, but I wasn’t expecting much from a sustainability docuseries with Zac Efron. But the series presents a fun, easy to watch and educational, if not a little simplistic, look at sustainable living.
Efron comes across as a very likeable, down to earth guy. His sidekick Olien is a more extreme in his views and health claims, which may work for him but aren’t always back up by science.
This series is interspersed with meaningful and important environmental messages, plus it was great to see new and amazing places. I enjoyed it.
8. Minimalism: A Documentary About The Important Things
2016, 1h 18m, sustainable living documentary
The Minimalists are Joshua Fields Milburn and Ryan Nicodemus, two friends and former corporate ladder climbers who quit it all after questioning what was really important to them.
The documentary is all about questioning that yourself and thinking ‘Do I really need all this stuff?’, ‘Is it adding value to my life?’ It takes a look at various people who have cut back and are happier for it.
It certainly is an inspiring watch and struck a note with me as this website is all about simple, sustainable living. I know I’ve got rid of a few things that I either hadn’t used for years or weren’t adding value to my life. it doesn’t have to be extreme but it does make you feel better.
There’s also a new 2021 documentary from the Minimalists called Less Is Now. For me, this didn’t add anything new and is a repetition of the first documentary, so I’d stick to ‘A Documentary About The Important Things’.
9. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
2014, 1h 30m, environmental/sustainability documentary
Cowspiracy is a hard-hitting documentary about factory farming and the animal agriculture industry. It explores how these industries negatively impact the environment, forests, oceans and climate. This doesn’t even mention the truly awful conditions that these mass produced animals spend their entire life in.
This is a great, thought-provoking environmental documentary that makes you consider your everyday lifestyle choices. I’ve certainly changed some of my habits and where I source my food from on the back of Cowspiracy. The documentary also questions the actions, or non-actions more accurately, of some environmental groups and NGOs.
Some of the numbers and science it is based on may be disputed but the premise and sentiment behind this documentary are true. Factory farming animals in mass production facilities is firstly no way to live for an animal, secondly damaging to the environment and thirdly not sustainable.
10. The Ivory Game
2016, 1h 52m, nature/sustainability documentary
Unfortunately, yes we are still talking about ivory trafficking in 2021. African elephants are being hunted to the point to extinction with now less than half a million left in the wild.
The Ivory Game follows filmmakers as they spend well over a year undercover, investigating the illegal poaching of elephants in Africa and smuggling by dealers over to China and Hong Kong.
It’s a sad watch about a desperate battle but there are plenty of wildlife campaigners, investigators and park rangers working hard to do the right thing. Ivory trade is illegal but there is a thriving black market and this documentary to present a stark warning to governments who need to do more to stop this barbaric and despairing fight once and for all.
2021, 1hr 30m, nature/sustainability documentary
Seaspiracy is a 2021 documentary on Netflix produced by the same team who made Cowspiracy (above) and What The Health.
The documentary is shot, often covertly, by Ali Tabrizi who travels around the world looking for answers after one question just leads to another.
Seaspiracy lifts the veil on the commercial fishing industry and significant levels of overfishing which is causing untold damage – not only in bringing many marine fish species to the brink of extinction (which is bad enough), but also on ecosystems, carbon drawdown and the climate.
They also take a look at farmed fishing and why this isn’t an alternative. You can take a look at the sustainability of line fishing here.
One of the most interesting parts of the documentary for me was the look at the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) eco-label often found on fish products. Labelling such as this gives consumers trust that the fish is from sustainable stocks. As the documentary explores, all may not be as it seems with MSC labelling and other sustainable organisations who, below the surface, have questionable priorities and links.
12. Chasing Coral
2017, 1h 29m, nature documentary
Many may think of coral reefs as colourful but immovable rocks. They are not.
Corals are animals. They are marine invertebrates who create colonies to form the coral reefs and provide integral habitats for many other marine wildlife.
Chasing Coral covers the degradation and dying off of coral habitats across the world due to ocean pollution and rising temperatures. This documentary is all about education and addressing the problems that has caused 50% loss of coral in the last 30 years.
13. A Plastic Ocean
2016, 1h 40m, sustainability/environmental documentary
A Plastic Ocean starts off with journalist Craig Leeson trying to find the elusive blue whale.
He soon discovers plastic in what should be a pristine ocean. Leeson then travels to 20 ocean locations across the world with free diver Tanya Streeter to assess to extent of the plastic pollution problem in our oceans.
14. Mission Blue
2014, 1h 34m, environmental documentary
Mission Blue is another provocative documentary about the state of our oceans. Following Dr Sylvia Earle, Mission Blue covers several key topics that are damaging oceans, including pollution, overfishing and climate change. Renown environmentalist and oceanographer, Earle leads a campaign to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries.
15. Dynasties I and II
2018-2020, 11 x 1 hour episodes, nature documentary
Dynasties is another BBC and David Attenborough special. I think it’s an exceptional production that’s gone a little under the radar.
There have been two seasons of Dynasties, named I and II, with 11 episodes in total. The premise is following the heroic struggle of individual families as they fight to survive, look after their family and flourish as a dynasty.
Each episode follows an individual family with immaculate story-telling. My favourite episodes have been Kali’s cheetah family in Zambia, elephants in Kenya’s Amboselia national park, hyenas in Zambia, lions of the Masai Mara, tigers in India and painted wolves in Zimbabwe (there honestly all so good).
16. Frozen Planet I and II
2011 & 2022, 6 x 1 hour episodes, nature documentary
I’ve recently finished Frozen Planet II and it was nothing short of magnificent.
Just when you think you’ve seen most things from an animal perspective, Attenborough (and the incredible BBC film crew) manage to push the boundaries even further.
In the latest season the WOW factor for me was seeing the orcas wave wash the seals off the ice sheets and the two polar bears playing for a few hours before heading back to their independent lives.
Each episode of the Frozen Planet series take a look at different locations around the globe and not just the ice caps.
17. An Inconvenient Truth
2006, 1hr 34 mins, climate change documentary
This famous documentary from Al Gore is now over 15 years old – but it’s still highly relevant. Even more so than it was! It’s also a two-time Oscar winner!
I first watched it around 2007 as I was starting my Biology degree at University. I struck me hard then and still does today.
The documentary covers former US vice president Al Gore and the educational lecture he delivered around the world. The lecture is about the threats that climate change present to Earth and all who live here.
It covers causes, effects and potential solutions to this planetary emergency we’re living through.
“We have everything we need to reduce carbon emissions, everything but political will!”
Can you believe we’re still struggling through the very same problems today?
Wrap up on the best nature and eco documentaries
And there you have it – some of my favourite environmental documentaries that I’ve watched.
Nothing left to do now other that grab a cup of sustainable coffee and spend an hour or two watching one of these inspiring documentaries before then heading into a bit of real world nature!
If you’ve watched any more inspiring environmental-themed documentaries and you think they should be included on the list, please send me a message!
If you liked that, you might like to read…
Ben is the Creator and Editor of Tiny Eco Home Life. I write and publish information about more sustainable, environmentally friendly living in and around the home.
Alongside this website, I love spending time in the natural world, living a simple life and spending time with my young family (Murphy the dog!) I round up my thoughts and recent blogs on the Eco Life Newsletter.