The Best Feature Films With an Enviromental Theme E-mail
Sunday, 17 July 2016 00:00  |  Written by Ryan Miga | Article

The Start of the Show photo by Kenneth LuAs people become increasingly concerned about our ecology, we're seeing more movies centered around green issues or with environmental themes. Filmmakers are using a broken Earth as the ready-made “villain” for the 21st century. During the Cold War, movie heroes constantly fought against evil Russians; these days, film stars struggle against environmental collapse. Here are capsule reviews of the top—recent and classic—fictional environmental films for children and adults:

  • Cry Of The Penguins (1971) – Originally titled "Mr. Forbush and the Penguins," it follows a spoiled grad student (John Hurt) in swinging London who goes to Antarctica to study penguins to impress a girl, while also examining that ecosystem in detail, drawing parallels between human and animal behavior, and offering a warning to humanity. Surprisingly engaging. Buy it
  • Silent Running (1972) – Directed by the wizard behind many of the special effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey and with a theme song by Joan Baez, it stars the always interesting Bruce Dern as an astronaut in charge of man's last nature preserve, which is in a greenhouse circling the Earth. What will he do when he is ordered to destroy it—along with the last of the planet's plant life? Buy it
  • Chinatown (1973) – Widely regarded as one of the best movies ever made. The crime-noir thriller stars Jack Nicholson as a detective caught in a web of corruption surrounding control of the water supply for Los Angeles. Buy it
  • Soylent Green (1973) – Charlton Heston in a dystopian future plagued by overpopulation, pollution and catastrophic climate change. Most of the population lives on processed food tablets produced by a sinister mega-corporation. Buy it
  • Dersu Uzala (1975) – Akira Kurosawa directs this portrait of a man living in harmony with nature, struggling against the forces of modernity and “progress.” Buy it
  • China Syndrome (1979) – Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon investigate cover-ups at a nuclear power plant. Based on the true dangers of a nuclear meltdown, the title refers to the (fictional) idea that a nuclear meltdown would bore a hole straight through the Earth from the US to China. Buy it
  • Mad Max: The Road Warrior (1981) – The low-budget action franchise that brought Mel Gibson into the spotlight. Set in a post-apocalyptic Australia where gangs of bandits fight over disappearing fuel, it’s an extreme illustration of the dangers of peak oil. Buy it
  • Never Cry Wolf (1983) – In the Arctic wilderness, a government biologist sent to study the destruction of caribou herds ends up learning to respect the wolves he was told were the problem. Buy it
  • Gorillas in the Mist (1988) – Sigourney Weaver plays naturalist Dian Fossey befriending African mountain gorillas in Rwanda. Based on a tragic true story. Buy it
  • Dances With Wolves (1991) – The classic starring Kevin Costner as a Civil War lieutenant assimilated into the Native American Sioux tribe. One of the best fictional defenses of sustainability against modernity. Buy it
  • FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) – Animated kids movie about a bulldozer operator (voiced by Christian Slater) who is in the process of flattening the forest until he is shrunken to wee size by a forest fairy who wants him to see things from the view of forest creatures losing their homes. Robin Williams as a bat provides comic relief. Buy it
  • Free Willy (1994) – The kids’ classic about a boy making friends with a giant killer whale. There’s something ironic, however, about a movie criticizing the exploitation of captive animals starring a captive, trained animal. Buy it
  • Pocahontas (1995) – Basically Dances With Wolves for kids. Good for introducing green thinking to children; bad for accurate history lessons about how the English settlers really treated the Native Americans. Buy it
  • Fly Away Home (1997) – Based on a successful real-life experiment in teaching new migration patterns to geese using ultralight aircraft. In the movie, a young Anna Paquin plays a girl who adopts and rescues a flock of geese. Buy it
  • Princess Mononoke (1997) – A fantasy film about forest spirits and habitat destruction by genius Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki. Death and decapitation might make this one too intense for younger children. Buy it
  • To Walk With Lions (1999) – Based on renowned real-life conservationists George Adamson and Tony Fitzjohn. The movie deals with the rewards and dangers of protecting endangered animals in Africa. Buy it
  • Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002) – Another animated kids’ movie, this time with talking horses struggling to protect Native Americans from 19th-century settlers. Matt Damon voices the main character. Buy it
  • Whale Rider (2004) – This movie won the People’s Choice Award at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival. Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera about keeping traditional Pacific Island culture alive. Buy it
  • The Day After Tomorrow (2004) – Roland Emmerich’s eco-disaster blockbuster, starring Dennis Quaid and Jake Gyllenhaal. Catastrophic climate change destroys much of modern civilization. Buy it
  • Happy Feet (2006) – Animated talking penguins try to save their habitat from destruction by over-fishing. A great movie for kids of all ages. Buy it
  • Children of Men (2006) – A bleak dystopian thriller, starring Michael Caine and Julianna Moore, in which the world’s women are no longer able to reproduce. A scary reminder that tampering with nature can have disastrous and inexplicable consequences. Buy it
  • Into the Wild (2008)– A sobering portrait, based on the true story of a man who leaves his modern life behind to be closer to nature. Roger Ebert gave this one four stars and a big thumbs up. Buy it
  • WALL-E (2008) – A brilliant animation from PIXAR and one of the best eco-movies ever, it’s set in a future where the Earth has become a giant landfill and humanity lives in orbiting space stations. The main character is a lonely robot tasked with cleaning up the Earth’s trash and who falls in love along the way. Buy it
  • Avatar (2009) – James Cameron’s very pretty blockbuster. Interstellar human strip-miners struggle against blue tree-hugging aliens for control of a planet’s natural resources. Buy it
  • The Road (2009) – Environmental apocalypse, starring Viggo Mortenson and Charlize Theron, and based on the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same name. Be sure to load up on antidepressants before tackling this one. Buy it
  • The Lorax (1972) – This Dr. Seuss animated children's film is only 25 minutes long, so it doesn't qualify as a feature. But it more than deserves to be seen by adults and kids alike. It's a cautionary tale about an industrialist who ignores the warning of a wise creature known as the Lorax, clearcuts a forest to use the trees for some useless product and later regrets his decision. Buy it

Additional film reviews:
‘Cool It’ Film Review: The Devil Is in the Details
The Film ‘Farmageddon’ Says It’s 1984 for Small Farmers
The Film ‘Ingredients’ Is a Peek at a Better Food Future
Green Films: The Best Environmental Documentaries

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[You can find the above and other intriguing top environmental fictional feature films at If we missed one of your favorite fictional feature films with an environmental theme, please comment below and we'll consider adding it. - Ed.]

Comments (5)add
Written by anderson , May 05, 2016
Superb List.Everyone should watch and promote these kinds of movies.
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Written by April Lee , October 14, 2015
'The Apple Tree' carries an environmental message packaged in childhood nostalgia.!the-apple-tree/ruy3d

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or would like more details, etc.! :)
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Written by juancarlos , January 17, 2012
Hello!!!....may i ask....:) do we go about to find companies that would sponsor short films about protecting the environment?....your input would be very appreciated.
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Written by Editor , April 17, 2011
Cindy, thank you for the great suggestion. I just added it! At some point we'd like to post a list of our favorite short films about the environment. If you'd like to contribute such a piece to the site, or want to suggest other short films with an ecological theme, please make an additional comment. Thanks!
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Written by Cindy Godwin , April 15, 2011
How could you forget Seuss's "I am the Lorax, I speak for the Trees!"
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