Sunday, May 19, 2024

9 Movies That Tackle Environmentalism and the Climate Crisis

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Does your climate action need a little motivation? These films about environmentalism and the climate crisis may be just the thing.

The climate crisis is a tough topic, but just because it’s heavy and difficult, doesn’t mean we should ignore it. Actually, quite the opposite. It’s vital that we face it head-on. And one of the best ways to get informed and motivated to do our bit for the Earth? Movies.

Climate movies

So next time you’re sat on the couch, flicking through the streaming platforms, trying to find inspiration, give one of these climate change movies a watch. Whether you’re all about dramatized fiction or hard-hitting documentaries, there’s something here for you. 

day after tomorrow

1. The Day After Tomorrow

Back in 2004, The Day After Tomorrow hit movie theatres for the first time. The plot follows a paleoclimatologist called Jack Hall (played by Dennis Quaid), who is concerned about the coming of a new ice age but is ignored by officials when he expresses his fears. Of course, he’s totally right, and the movie sees him trek across the country in freezing temperatures to rescue his son. The way events play out in the movie is not 100 percent scientifically accurate (this is Hollywood, after all), but the message is more relevant today than it has ever been: listen to the science or face disaster.

don't look up poster

2. Don’t Look Up

Released 17 years after The Day After Tomorrow, 2021’s Don’t Look Up follows a very similar formula to its predecessor. Officials ignore the warnings from experts (this time regarding a giant meteor speeding towards earth), and disaster ensues. “The movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen,” wrote NASA climate scientist Peter Kalmus for the Guardian after the film’s release.

erin brokovich poster

3. Erin Brockovich

It’s not about the climate changing, but 2000’s Erin Brockovich, which is based on a true story, is about the grim reality of water pollution and how it impacts communities. It follows the story of Erin Brockovich, played by Julia Roberts, who takes on the Pacific Gas and Electric Company after discovering that it is responsible for contaminating groundwater with carcinogens.

inconvenient truth

4. An Inconvenient Truth

The number of documentaries examining the extent of the climate crisis, and what we can do to mitigate it, is consistently rising. But one of the first was An Inconvenient Truth. Released in 2006, the film follows former Vice President Al Gore’s attempts to open people’s eyes to the alarming reality of global warming. At the time, it was highly regarded, receiving an Academy Award. It even won Gore a Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, there has also been a sequel, called An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, which was released in 2017. 

before the flood poster

5. Before the Flood

Presented by National Geographic, 2016’s Before the Flood follows actor Leonardo Dicaprio as he travels the world, facing up to climate change as he goes. He meets with experts, scientists, and political leaders, all in service of spreading awareness of the fate that awaits us if we don’t do enough to tackle the climate crisis today. “This documentary shows how interconnected the fate of all humanity is,” said DiCaprio. “But also the power we all possess as individuals to build a better future for our planet.”

Avatar movie poster

6. Avatar: The Way of Water

Directed by passionate conservationist James Cameron, it’s difficult to ignore the message of environmentalism that underpins all of the Avatar films. But the latest in the franchise, The Way of Water, is not about dark, scary messaging, according to Cameron. Instead, it’s more solutions-focused. “You can’t hit environmental messaging over the head. People are angsty enough,” he told The Hollywood Reporter last year, before adding “the filmmaker’s role is not to make it all gloom and doom anymore but to offer constructive solutions.”

david attenborough a life on our planet

7. David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

If there’s one person whose name has become synonymous with climate crisis awareness, it’s David Attenborough. The 96-year-old broadcaster, biologist, and natural historian has created more than 100 documentaries throughout his career, and this feature documentary is described as his “witness statement.”

I am greta

8. I Am Greta

From one of the oldest renowned environmentalists in the world to one of the youngest. After you’re done with A Life On Our Planet, watch I Am Greta. The documentary follows Greta Thunberg’s journey, from school strikes to zero-carbon yachts, as she battles to get politicians and the public to wake up to the looming climate crisis. I Am Greta warrants a recommendation purely on the basis of Thunberg herself, whose formidable passion and disarming humanity shine through in every frame,” writes film reviewer Matt Fagerhold for RogerEbert.com.

Common Ground movie poster.

9. Common Ground

Can soil save the planet? Advocates of regenerative farming say that is indeed the case. The conversation is explored in the award-winning 2023 documentary, Common Ground. With an all-star cast including Rosario Dawson, Laura Dern, Donald Glover, Ian Somerhalder, and Woody Harrelson, it’ll make you want to head straight outdoors and kiss some dirt.

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