Sustainability is all about ecological balance. We’ve collected 10 of our favorite films about sustainability so you can balance taking a movie break with learning something new about nature, wildlife or how the planet works.
At the very least, you can catch a film starring (maybe the only?) musical penguins or see another capturing the beauty of actual penguins. But before we get to the penguins, first up on the list is a documentary about the true costs of fashion.
Best about fashion: “The True Cost”
In “The True Cost” (2015), filmmaker Andrew Morgan travels the world to show how our clothes are made. Clothing has gotten cheaper over the past few decades, and this documentary contrasts runways and slums to capture resulting environmental and human costs.
Best about coral reefs: “Chasing Coral”
All over the world and at a terrifying rate, coral reefs are disappearing due to climate change. “Chasing Coral” (2017) chronicles the adventures of a team of divers and scientists to document this trend of destruction underwater and spur action.
Best about food: “Food, Inc.”
What about the sustainability of the food you eat? In “Food, Inc.” (2008), documentary filmmaker Robert Kenner reveals how giant corporations have solidified their control over basically all aspects of food production and distribution in the United States. This immense power in the hands of a few businesses has taken a toll on the welfare of the environment, animals, workers and consumers. But there are solutions.
Best animated: “Happy Feet”
Okay, we can’t let you fall completely into a rabbit hole of existential dread. The animated musical comedy “Happy Feet” (2006) is really about sustainability. Spoiler alert: By the end, the (adorable) main character, a penguin who dances but can’t sing unlike the rest of his population, prompts a global conversation about overfishing and governments end up banning fishing in the Antarctic.
Best about a wildlife mating ritual: “March of the Penguins”
More penguins! The nature documentary “March of the Penguins” (2005) showcases the beauty of emperor penguins’ yearly ritual of courtship, traveling inland from the ocean to visit their ancestral breeding grounds. Here’s the bad news about this incredible annual journey: this year, the emperor penguins fled from “unsteady ice after unprecedented failure to breed.”
Best about an environmentalist: “Mission Blue”
For some stunning marine life and ocean-saving inspiration, you have to watch “Mission Blue” (2014). This documentary captures Sylvia Earle’s enthusiasm as an oceanographer, marine biologist and environmentalist and provides a view of the life and work of Earle, one of the first women in the field of oceanography.
Best about a president: “The Island President”
“The Island President” (2011) is a documentary that takes you through the extensive efforts of then-president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, to protect the islands from the effects of climate change, especially rising sea levels.
Best about bees: “More Than Honey”
The documentary “More Than Honey” (2012) brings the viewer inside the world of bees and beekeepers. Scientists highlight the decline of bee populations and the risks that pose to our food supply.
Best about architecture: “Garbage Warrior”
“Garbage Warrior” (2007) documents eco-architecture through the lens of one particular renegade architect, Michael Reynolds. Reynolds promotes “Earthship Biotecture,” which is “solar, off-the-grid, sustainable housing.” The film shows the conflict between the building codes of the state of New Mexico and Reynolds’s vision of sustainable living.
Best for overall impact: “An Inconvenient Truth”
And of course, you can’t have a list of movies about sustainability without “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), which introduced many to the concept of global warming. Whether you’re talking about the destruction of coral reefs or declining wildlife populations, Al Gore’s urgent warning about the future of the planet still holds up, as climate change remains a pressing and increasingly visible issue today.