In less than a week, the world will celebrate Earth Day, the one day of the year when the spotlight shines on the environment. While ecological awareness should certainly be a year-round occupation, Earth Day gives us the opportunity to really appreciate the planet we live in and make concrete plans to defend it against assailants—especially ourselves.
In the days leading up to April 22, it would be wise to prepare for the celebration by being informed of pressing environmental issues—or at least having an idea of what the world is coming to because of our neglect and abuse of its resources. You could watch the news, read the paper, even listen to the pundits as they dissect the ecological stands of each presidential candidate. Or, to make things a little more enjoyable, you could have a “green movie” marathon!
Here, we’ve listed ten terrific films that are environmentally-themed—and not all of them are documentaries, surprisingly enough. Take a peek at our green screen lineup.
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006)
This Academy Award-winning documentary follows former US Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to educate citizens about the perils of global warming. In the film, Gore is shown in front of an audience as he presents a comprehensive slideshow about climate change, the greenhouse effect, and the clear and present danger posed by global warming. Director Davis Guggenheim intersperses the presentation with Gore’s personal anecdotes, segments to refute the critics and naysayers of global-warming, as well as lifestyle changes the audience can adopt to combat climate change. An Inconvenient Truth is a definite must-see for budding activists who want some answers!
(Photo courtesy of Paramount Classics)
ERIN BROCKOVICH (2000)
Based on a true story, this Oscar-nominated film with Julia Roberts in the title role details a single mother-turned-legal clerk’s success in exposing a major corporation whose industrial waste was poisoning the residents of an entire town. After badgering her way into a job at a small law firm, the broke but determined Erin Brockovich begins to investigate a shady real estate case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E). As it turns out, the company has been dumping a toxic waste called hexavalent chromium in the area of the town of Hinkley, and is now trying to buy that land bit by bit to cover up its dirty deeds—without the residents knowing. Riveting, heart-wrenching, and ultimately triumphant, Erin Brockovich is as much about girl power as it is about environmental awareness.
(Photo courtesy of Universal Studios)
GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988)
Also based on a true story, Gorillas in the Mist tells of naturalist Dian Fossey’s fight to save the rare mountain gorillas of Rwanda. After meeting archaeologist and fellow naturalist Louis Leakey, Fossey decides to commit her life to the study and preservation of primates. She uproots herself from the United States and builds a new life in Rwanda, Africa, where she is in close contact with wild gorillas. Massive poaching threatens the already-rare gorilla population, spurring Fossey into an aggressive campaign to defend the primates—which only brings her enemies. If you love animals and are passionate about protecting endangered species, this movie is perfect for you. But a word of warning: it’s a tearjerker!
(Photo courtesy of Universal Studios)
With a considerably large ensemble cast (including George Clooney and Matt Damon), several intertwining and simultaneous story lines, and the multi-faceted nature of its subject matter (the global oil industry), Syriana is one of those serious, complex movies that will probably take some time to absorb. This geopolitical thriller revolves around “petroleum politics,” or the nation-by-nation strategies to acquire oil—as well as the cutthroat tactics that both individuals and governments are willing to go through to get hold of their share. While the entire plot is too intricate to reduce to a few sentences, the main focus of the story is clear: the oil trade, and the vicious system in which it operates, has wrought alarming effects on international politics, the world economy, and society at large, not to mention the environment.
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.)
OVER THE HEDGE (2006)
This animated film should lighten things up a bit! A mixed pack of animals comprised of a raccoon, a bear, a box turtle, a squirrel, a skunk, a pair of opossums, and a family of hedgehogs awaken from hibernation only to discover that the area they live in has been completely urbanized, save for a small patch of forest. To feed themselves, the critters must now scavenge off the human community—inciting the frustration of homeowners and the subsequent appearance of a pest control specialist called The Verminator. While its light tone and cute characters makes it quite an easy watch, Over the Hedge still manages to highlight the issue of sprawl (the outward spread of development) and its negative effects on wildlife habitats.
(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
Controversial director Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown is a detective story and psychological thriller inspired by historical disputes over land and water in drought-ridden, flapper era California. J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is a private eye who specializes in matrimonial cases. He is commissioned by a jealous wife to tail her husband, the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, whom she suspects of adultery. As he investigates the alleged philanderer, Gittes not only realizes that both he and the suspect are being framed for something they did not do, but he also uncovers an even bigger secret—one that links the city’s dwindling water supply to under-the-table land grabs. Dark and compelling, this film will show you how the greed for power and wealth can fuel the most disturbing abuse of both natural and human resources.
(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures)
A CIVIL ACTION (1998)
Just like Erin Brockovich, the film A Civil Action (and the book it was adapted from) tells the true story of toxic poisoning due to corporate malfeasance. The water supply of Woburn, Massachusetts is contaminated by trichloroethylene, an industrial solvent, which causes the deaths of several children. Cocky attorney Jan Schlichtmann (played by John Travolta) takes the class action lawsuit filed by the residents of the city and sues two major corporations that are involved in the poisoning. The road to triumph is a rocky one, especially since Schlichtmann is arrogant and refuses to accept a settlement in lieu of a ruling, even when it damages the case and lands him in deep debt. Still, in the end, the contaminated groundwater is cleaned up and Schlichtmann learns a valuable lesson: that even money-grubbing lawyers can do something good, not because it pays well, but because it’s the right thing to do.
(Photo courtesy of Touchstone Pictures)
FOOD, INC. (2008)
As the documentary’s tagline says, you’ll never look at dinner the same way again. Nominated for this year’s Academy Awards, Food, Inc. explores the unsustainability of the meat and vegetables manufactured by agricultural industries as a food source. The film is divided into three segments. The first delves into the industrial production of chicken, beef, and pork, which is not only cruel and inhumane, but also unhealthy. The second examines the industrial production of corn and soy beans, which is healthier but still largely unsustainable. The last segment proves how established food companies get away with supplying goods that have been contaminated by pesticides and chemical fertilizers, and how the American public continues to fuel demand for such goods through bad eating habits. It’s enough to make you lose your appetite—or at least give up meat for the sake of the environment.
(Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)
HAPPY FEET (2006)
How can you resist a super cute colony of penguins serenading their mates and tap-dancing on glaciers? Animated hit Happy Feet struck a chord with audiences not only for its adorable characters and coming-of-age storyline, but also for the message it imparted about protecting each and every species on earth (penguin or not). In the film, the young Mumble is having a hard time fitting in with his peers because he tap dances (which penguins never do) instead of singing the heartsong that will unite him with his mate (which all penguins do). When the colony experiences a food shortage—caused in reality by an overpopulation of fishing boats—the penguins turn on Mumble and his happy feet. Little do they know that our protagonist’s dancing ways would soon bring the world’s attention and concern to the over-fishing in the Arctic!
(Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow)
SOYLENT GREEN (1973)
In the Charlton Heston classic Soylent Green, the world of 2022 is plagued by massive pollution, depleted oceans, a scorching climate, and raging overpopulation—so much so, in fact, that “real” food is scarce. A new “high-energy plankton” wafer called Soylent Green is manufactured to help alleviate this problem—but nobody knows what it’s made of. Upon investigating a murder, police detective Robert Thorn (Heston) comes across a document called “Soylent’s Oceanographic Survey Report,” which later on reveals a terrible, terrible secret about Soylent Green (are you ready?)—it’s processed from human corpses! Now, we know it’s just a movie—and thank God for that—but can you imagine what could happen if people continue to deplete the planet’s resources without considering the future? Food for thought.
(Photo courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer)
Now, we know that the movie world has many more eco-movies than we've listed here. Got a favorite that isn't listed? Why not leave a comment and tell us all about it?