First held on April 22, 1970, Earth Day is a day to celebrate the remarkable planet we call home and consider the importance of environmental conservation and sustainability to our future here. Through the years, documentary filmmakers have offered up both awe-inspiring looks at the wonders of Earth, and grave warnings of what lies in store for humanity should we continue to destroy our one home. From heartwarming explorations of our animal compatriots in March of the Penguins and The Elephant Queen to the calls to action of documentaries like Before The Flood and Virunga, these films have explored every corner of the planet and the relationship that humankind has with it.

This year, Earth Day is on Monday, April 22, 2024. Here, A.frame has compiled some of the most effective, entertaining and essential films to watch for Earth Day, to learn more about the challenges facing the Earth and the beauty and wonder that can thankfully still be found across our home planet.

All that Breathes

Indian filmmaker Shaunak Sen reinvents the environmental documentary with this poetic chronicle about two men in New Delhi working to protect the city's birds of prey. Set against the backdrop of ecological toxicity and civil unrest, the "kite brothers" — Mohammad Saud and Nadeem Shehzad — run a bird hospital dedicated to rehabilitating the majestic but misunderstood black kite until they can return to the skies, while also musing about their vision of a better world. At the 95th Oscars, All that Breathes received a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

An Inconvenient Truth

Former Vice President Al Gore was raising the alarm on global warming well before going into production on this Oscar-winning documentary. Inspired by a slideshow Gore estimates he's presented almost a thousand times, An Inconvenient Truth dives into the man-made causes of global warming, and the horrific effects if necessary changes are not made. The documentary came out in 2006, and has since had a sequel, An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power.

Before The Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio has been a tireless advocate for environmental causes for years, and his documentary Before the Flood is a culmination of those efforts. DiCaprio brings audiences along on his journey to better understand climate change and the devastation being caused as a result of it. He seeks important answers from experts to learn whether it is still possible to stop or even reverse the effects of climate change before it's too late. The documentary was released on the heels of DiCaprio's 2016 Oscar win for The Revenant, where he memorably used a portion of his time onstage to discuss the reality and impact of climate change.


Blackfish examines the tragedy of Tilikum, a captive orca responsible for the deaths of three people, including a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. The documentary exposes the conditions in which orcas are captured and held for captivity, and the psychological impact that could lead these powerful animals, which have never attacked a human in the wild, to become violent. The documentary stirred so much public outcry that SeaWorld eventually fazed out its live orca shows and breeding program.

Chasing Ice

Using innovative camerawork to track the minute by minute collapse of glaciers, Chasing Ice blends breathtaking images with a heartbreaking reality: we are losing significant features of our planet to global warming. National Geographic photographer James Balog shares his journey of filming multiple collapsing glaciers, from the technical issues to the cinematic triumphs. The footage serves as undeniable proof that the Earth’s environments are changing at a drastic pace, and that changes must be made immediately before they are gone forever.

David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet

Sir David Attenborough is synonymous with nature documentaries, lending his unmistakable voice to over one hundred documentaries on our planet throughout his unparalleled career. Described as his "witness statement," the staggering David Attenborough: A Life On Our Planet shares an overview of Attenborough's life and the utterly devastating changes to the earth's environment that he's witnessed throughout his 93 years on Earth. He highlights the potential outcome for our planet if humans continue to relentlessly destroy it, and explains the actions that can still be taken to avoid that catastrophic fate.

The Devil We Know

The Devil We Know tracks the impact of DuPont's production of Teflon, the non-stick coating that has been a consumer product mainstay for over half a century. The side effects of producing Teflon have been environmentally disastrous for humans, especially the ones who live in the backyard of DuPont's factories. The documentary follows some of the families affected by the chemical waste, examining what the company knew, when it knew what it knew, and its blatant disregard for the environmental and human hazards it tragically created. 

The Elephant Queen

Narrated by Chiwetel Ejiofor, The Elephant Queen follows a herd of elephants led by 50-year-old matriarch Athena. The herd must seek a new home after a drought forces them from their idyllic watering hole. Treating the members of the herd as characters and familiar archetypes, the documentary highlights the incredible family bonds elephants create, and their deep emotional intelligence that makes them such majestic animals.


Living in partnership with nature is key to both our survival and the planet's, and that delicate balance is detailed in the Oscar-nominated documentary Honeyland. The focus is on a lone beekeeper in Macedonia, who has been maintaining a gentle relationship with wild bees near her village for her entire life. That relationship is threatened when neighbors move in and want to get in on the beekeeping business, but without having the slightest understanding of how fragile the situation really is – for humans and bees alike.

I Am Greta

At just 15, Swedish student Greta Thunberg went on school strike to raise awareness for climate change. Since then, she has become a leading force in climate activism, raising awareness and often confronting political leaders directly about policy. I Am Greta explores her journey from student to activist, and culminates in her sailing journey to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. 

Kiss the Ground

Woody Harrelson narrates this documentary about the healing power of soil. Directed by Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, Kiss the Ground argues that an answer to our climate crisis is regenerative agriculture to save the planet's topsoil. The film features farmers, scientists and celebrity climate activists — like Oscar winner Patricia Arquette, Rosario Dawson and Ian Somerhalder — as they unpack the ways in which a healthier soil could be the key to reversing the effects of climate change.

March of the Penguins

March of the Penguins was a runaway hit in 2005, becoming one of the highest grossing documentaries of all time and taking home the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature. The documentary depicts the highs and lows of life for a colony of emperor penguins in Antarctica, presenting everything from their adorable, fluffy baby chicks hatching to the penguins evading predators and facing the harrowing reality of starvation. Their stories are helped along by narration from Morgan Freeman, guiding viewers through the penguins' journey.

My Octopus Teacher

In late 2020/early 2021, just about everyone was asking, "Hey, have you seen My Octopus Teacher?" The wildly popular and eventually Oscar-winning documentary follows the story of conservationist Craig Foster, who forms an unexpected bond with an octopus on his frequent dives in the waters off of South Africa. Through filming his remarkable interactions, Foster demystifies the fascinating creatures. The octopus he befriends changes his life in unexpected ways. The tale culminates in a heartbreaking ending that leaves the viewer tearful and hopeful at the same time.

Sea of Shadows

Leonardo DiCaprio appears again on this list, this time serving as an executive producer on this National Geographic documentary, following the environmental activists working to prevent the extinction of the vaquita, the smallest whale in the world. Their efforts go beyond simple conservation, as they face threats from cartels and traffickers, who aren't after the vaquita – but the totoaba – a species of fish heavily poached for its swim bladder (considered a delicacy in some cuisine). The overfishing of the region affects the entire ecosystem, and the documentary works to shed light on how the nearly extinct vaquita is just one part of an interconnected system that will fall apart if one piece goes missing.

The True Cost

The True Cost is a different kind of fashion documentary. Inspired by the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh — the deadliest garment-factory disaster in history, with a death toll of more than 1,000 deaths — filmmaker Andrew Morgan set out to explore the impact of fast fashion on the people who make our clothes and the planet. Morgan travels from the factories of Cambodia and Bangladesh to the cotton farms in Texas and the flagship stores on Fifth Avenue, linking the human cost of mass consumerism with environmental fallout such as river and soil pollution, pesticide contamination, disease, and death.


The Democratic Republic of the Congo's Virunga National Park is home to one of the world's last populations of mountain gorillas, who are tirelessly protected by its caretakers. But it is also home to a wealth of natural resources that have drawn the attention of military and economic interests, threatening the sanctity and safety of everything the park holds. Filmed in 2012 and released in 2014, the Oscar-nominated documentary Virunga follows conservationists, park rangers, and journalists as they work to protect the park from those outside interests during a time of rebellion within the country and a British oil company's efforts to explore oil opportunities within the park's confines.


Documentarian Damon Gameau takes a more hopeful approach to the fate of the planet in his documentary 2040. Inspired by wondering what the future could look like for his young daughter, Gameau examines the processes already available to us that would help turn the tide of global warming, pollution, and other environmental challenges. It's rather easy to focus on a grim vision of the future, but 2040 reminds the viewer that there are reasons to stay hopeful, and that there are things humans can do that affect real change to create a future worth living in for future generations. 


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