The days are growing shorter and chillier, which means it’s the perfect time of year to cuddle up with a cup of tea or hot chocolate and watch a movie with loved ones. I grew up in Cleveland, where the lake-effect snow and gray skies meant we spent most of the winter under blankets on the couch watching movies.
With Netflix and streaming services, we now have access to so many more movies than I did as a kid, but when it comes to choosing something for movie night, having this many options can be a little overwhelming. So to help you from spending ages scrolling, or just opting for a Hallmark special, we’ve put together a list of a few of our favorite climate-themed movies. There’s something for everyone, from animated Happy Feet to more serious documentaries. We hope you find something you can enjoy and that will also spur some good conversation!
If you’re hosting a big family gathering and want to keep something on while people are visiting, try Our Planet. This British nature documentary is the Netflix version of Planet Earth (another great choice) and is narrated by David Attenborough. It was released in April of this year, and each episode centers how climate change affects different parts of our planet.
The series is stunningly beautiful and takes you across our planet through deserts, grasslands, jungles, seas, forests, and frozen worlds. If you aren’t listening closely, you would think this was another beautiful nature documentary, but Our Planet tells viewers again and again that every creature they see on screen is impacted by human-caused climate change.
You can dip in and out, and you’ll always catch something beautiful and relatively family-friendly. Though, be warned, I cried during the walrus scene in “Frozen Worlds” and haven’t stopped thinking about it since.
Happy Feet (2006)
Happy Feet tells the story of the emperor penguin Mumble, who cannot sing his heart-song, but is a very talented tap dancer. Along with being a fun, music-filled story about embracing what makes you unique, Happy Feet does not shy away from the fact that penguins, and all of Antarctica, are threatened by climate change. It’s a great introduction to environmental issues, and fun for the whole family.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
This fairly straightforward animated movie pits loggers against a magical rainforest world. While the hand-drawn animation is nothing like the bright computer animation of Happy Feet, kids can still be drawn into the fairy world and their need to keep their rainforest intact. And this year, as the Amazon continues to burn, it is a great way for adults to consider our role in keeping magical places intact.
The Two Towers (2002)
The second movie in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is definitely for older kids, and it juxtaposes the barren, mechanical world of Isengard with the lush, green world of the shire, the elven cities built in trees, and the Ents — guardians of the forest who look like walking trees. Unlike other movies on the list, this is a great way to start a conversation about environmental issues without needing to choose something explicitly about climate change. Plus, the way that the Ents fight back is both inspiring and cathartic.
This epic sci-fi animated film has come back into the public eye after Walt Disney World opened Pandora – The World of Avatar in 2017. While the plot is a heavy-handed, the animated, alien world is beautiful. The planet, Pandora, is inhabited peacefully by blue-skinned giants who have an intimate connection with their land. The colonizers are looking to extract resources, and are fine with destroying the forest and its people in order to do so. The world is engaging for kids and the environmental message to listen to and support indigenous land protectors couldn’t be more clear (or more necessary). After watching, try starting a conversation about water protectors and the Key Stone Pipeline, or indigenous groups defending the Amazon.
Chasing Coral (2017)
This documentary follows a team of scientists, divers, and photographers who are attempting to capture coral bleaching on film. It’s about bearing witness in real time to our warming oceans and what that means for the vibrant life below their surface. You watch the colors fade, decay, and leave behind the haunting skeletal remains. It’s gorgeous, and it’s a drama that pulls you into the passion and urgency of the divers. Its message about caring for our fragile natural world ends with empathy and hope. It’s impossible to not feel inspired after watching, and it’s a great opportunity to discuss what we can do to help mitigate climate change.
More Great Choices
- Fish Tale (Help! I’m a Fish)
- Ice Age: The Meltdown
- Police Patrol
- Princess Mononoke
- A Beautiful Planet
- Chasing Ice
- Time To Choose
- This Changes Everything
By Sam Killmeyer