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The best nature documentaries to watch on Earth Day

In an era when the environment feels increasingly unstable, being reminded of all the natural wonder in the world around you is more important than ever. Nature documentaries can be a great way to connect to the natural beauty of the world and can often unveil things you may not know about all the life that surrounds us.

Not every nature documentary is worth your time, though. Some are filled with shallow platitudes and basic information, while others use their formats to provide genuine insights into the wonderful world around us. If you’re looking for a great way to celebrate Earth Day, these nature documentaries are your best bet.

Blackfish (2013)

83 %
Genre Documentary
Stars Dean Gomersall, Samantha Berg, John Jett
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Blackfish is more focused on animals than the planet broadly, but it is a startling look at how keeping animals in captivity can impact them. The film focuses on a performing Orca named Tilikum who lives at Sea World. The documentary is careful to highlight the whale’s intelligence and the ways Sea World’s practices have led it to live a more depressing life than the one it may have experienced otherwise. Blackfish tells one story of animal exploitation, and in doing so, attempted to wake people up to the ways animals are exploited every day.
Blackfish - Official Trailer

The Year Earth Changed (2021)

The Year Earth Changed
Genre Documentary
Stars David Attenborough, Bhashkar Bara, Dulu Bora
Directed by Tom Beard
This 2021 documentary from David Attenborough takes a timely look at the way the earth responded when people around the world began shutting themselves inside in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The movie shows the way the natural world began to reassert itself as humanity disappeared and is a testament to the resilient power of nature. The Year Earth Changed is also revelatory because of the way it highlights the damage human beings do to the planet every day without even thinking about it.
The Year Earth Changed — Official Trailer | Apple TV+

March of the Penguins (2005)

March of the Penguins
79 %
Genre Documentary, Family
Stars Morgan Freeman, Maryanne Slavich, Charles Berling
Directed by Luc Jacquet
March of the Penguins was a genuine phenomenon when it was first released, and for good reason. The movie’s chronicling of the yearly march that groups of penguins make through Antarctica at the end of the summer proved to be truly harrowing, in part because of the brutality of parts of the journey. With help from Morgan Freeman and some truly stunning cinematography, March of the Penguins exposed a lot of people to the wonders of the natural world, and even allowed them to sympathize with the penguins at the story’s center.
March of the Penguins Official Trailer #1 - (2005) HD

My Octopus Teacher (2020)

My Octopus Teacher
82 %
Genre Documentary
Stars Craig Foster, Tom Foster
Directed by James Reed, Philippa Ehrlich
A recent Oscar winner, My Octopus Teacher tells the intimate story of one man’s relationship with an octopus  and how that relationship ultimately leads him on a path of self-discovery. The film chronicles the bond that forms between a diver and a particularly curious octopus over the course of a year, and what’s remarkable about the movie is how moving that bond proves to be. In exploring a relationship between one man and an animal, the movie offers a startling perspective on the wonders of the natural world and our need to protect them.
My Octopus Teacher | Official Trailer | Netflix

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020)

David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet
72 %
Genre Documentary
Stars David Attenborough, Max Hughes
Directed by Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey, Jonathan Hughes
David Attenborough has two spots on this list, but that’s because his advocacy for the natural world is unparalleled. In A Life on Our Planet, Attenborough foregrounds his personal history as a way of highlighting how drastically the world has changed over the course of his work in advocacy. Attenborough, who narrates the documentary himself, uses his own story as a call to action and a reminder that the only way humanity is going to change its relationship with the planet is if individual people decide to start caring about it.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet | Official Trailer | Netflix

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Movie images and data from:
Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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