Weekly Warm-Up: Must-See Environmental Films

The Oscars are just around the corner, and it’s a good time to remember that movies are a great way to inspire people and mobilize them to action. In the case of environmental or conservation-minded films, this is especially true.

What do this year’s crop of Oscar-nominated films have to say about conservation and the environment? Here are five questions about some of the most popular nominees to get you started!

  • Inside Out (Animated Film): Compare the areas of Minnesota and California depicted in the film. How do those environments influence the way characters act?
  • Brooklyn (Best Picture): Compare the beaches in rural western Ireland and urban New York City. How are the environments different? How do those environments influence the way characters act?
  • The Martian (Best Picture): Matt Damon’s “space pirate” attributes his lonely survival on Mars to his career as a botanist. What environmental knowledge do botanists have that benefitted him?
  • The Revenant (Best Picture): How did both parties (Leonardo di Caprio and Tom Hardy) adapt to the rough environment of the Upper Midwest of the 19th century?
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (Best Picture): What resources are most valuable in the post-apocalyptic wasteland?

Here are some of our favorite environment-themed films. For more great movie recommendations, check out our lists here, here, here, or here!


I’m not normally one to go see animated features (read: cartoons), even if they are Pixar films. Reasons being: I don’t have a kid and I don’t want to be surrounded by 400 kids while watching a movie. However, while doing research in Alaska, I found myself at the movie theatre with no definitive choice of what to watch. WALL-E was one of my options, and seeing as how it was early in the day, I figured I would be spared from the legion of children.

I made a great decision: this movie is simply amazing. With astonishing graphics, a terrific story and a strong message, WALL-E transcends the realm of “kids’ movie.” Incendiary in its condemnation of pollution and consumption, the film makes a bold statement that, frankly, the world needs to see. (Former Nat Geo Intern Cameron Meyer)

The Greening of Southie

South Boston has always bled green, but, historically, affinity for the earthy hue has been linked to the Emerald Isle from which pluralities of neighborhood residents trace their ancestry. Today, as their compatriots in the old country explore sustainable energy alternatives, South Boston residents are likewise thinking differently about the concept of “green”—whether they want to or not.

The Greening of Southie chronicles construction of Boston’s first gold-standard, LEED-certified building, a luxury apartment complex erected at the crossroads of Boston city-proper and the South Boston peninsula. The case study raises critical questions of accessibility by addressing topics such as gentrification, environmental education, and cost nuances associated with green building. Through funny, thought-provoking interviews with developers, construction workers, and local residents, we hear multiple perspectives on the pluses and pitfalls.

The film is a must-see for all concerned with how to increase buy-in across the economic spectrum to grow environmentalism from a niche interest into a mass movement—or anyone who just wants to indulge in the charming (no bias here!) 🙂 Boston accent and have a little laugh. (Former Nat Geo Social Media Guru Sara Jane Caban)


Not only was this film directed by one National Geographic’s explorers—James Cameron—it explores many geographic themes including resource extraction, cultural sensitivity, and exploration. (Former Nat Geo Intern Brianna Besch)

Into the Wild

Into the Wild is a movie, originally based on a novel written by John Krakauer, is about a young man who chooses to travel across North America to live in the Alaskan wilderness. Though his journey rough, he must understand the dynamic relationships between the weather, native ecosystems and himself in order to survive. (Former Nat Geo Intern Brooke Barry)

Paddle to Seattle

Join adventurers Josh Thomas and J.J. Kelley as they masterfully navigate the 1,300-mile Inside Passage, traveling through waters that border North America’s largest temperate rainforest. Brown bears guard the shores. Rain pelts them for weeks without rest. They’ll even encounter deadly—not to mention dead—marine life. Enriched with interviews of colorful locals, our charming heroes’ stories are threaded together by their unconventional humor and wit. Ultimately, this is a story about friendship and how it survives the…Paddle to Seattle. (Former Nat Geo Producer Alison Michel)

Food, Inc.

As a companion piece to Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Inc. takes a polemical and in-depth look at the corporate controlled industrialized agriculture sector in the United States. Consuming food is arguably the most frequent and important interaction humans have with the environment. This movie touches on sustainability, health, socioeconomic factors, and ecology, and each are rooted among different places and at various scales within the U.S. (Former Nat Geo Intern Evan Gover)

Former Nat Geo Intern Cameron Meyer got this post started back in March 2009!

One thought on “Weekly Warm-Up: Must-See Environmental Films

  1. I do like your picks, except for Inconvenient Truth. When I was teaching I warned my students about taking it as gospel. Wrong statements like islands being evacuated (so far no one can name one) and China not allowing American cars because of emission standards (I take it he does not invest in Detroit [1]) led a British judge to declare nine fallacies concerning the movie [2].
    [1] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-06/17/content_6767990.htm
    [2] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/7037671.stm

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