News

12 Incredible Nature Documentary Series and Movies to Stream Right Now

From Our Planet and Blackfish to Planet Earth and The Ivory Game, these nature docs will inspire and enlighten.

by | April 22, 2020 | Comments

Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix

(Photo by Jamie McPherson/Silverback/Netflix)

What better way to spend this Earth Day – or any day, really – than learning about the wonders of our planet, all that threatens it, and some of the people working tirelessly to preserve it.

We’ve put together a list of some of the best planet-centric and environmentally conscious documentaries to watch on Earth Day. From harrowing investigative films like The Ivory Game and intimate series like Planet Earth (I and II!), to the vast oceans of Blue Planet and the chilly reality of Chasing Ice, this list taps into a number of fascinating ecosystems. It will also introduce you to some of the most inspiring people of our time, like Jane Goodall.

Whether you’re looking to admire Earth’s beauty or gain some perspective on the challenges it faces, the movies, series, and specials on this list are sure to awaken and inspire, and they’re all available to stream right now.

Don’t see your favorite nature special on this list? Share your recommendations in the comments.


Our Planet: Season 1 (2019) 93% (Netflix)

What it is: This Netflix series showcases the vast ecosystems of Earth, visiting 50 countries in the process. Each episode is practically a feature-length documentary in its own right. After the introductory episode, each installment focuses on a different habitat — “Deserts and Grasslands,” “Frozen Worlds,” “Forests,” and “Jungles” — and three separate episodes are dedications to freshwater and oceanic environments.

Critics Consensus: A cornucopia of visual wonder and environmental advocacy, Our Planet’s breathtaking cinematography explores more of this beautiful, blue marble while presenting an urgent call to action to its inhabitants.

Where to watch it: Netflix

Commitment: ~6 hours (8 episodes, around 50 minutes each)


Planet Earth: Miniseries (2007) 95% (Discovery Channel)

Discovery Channel/BBC

(Photo by Discovery Channel/BBC)

What it is: Like Our Planet, but released a decade earlier and by the BBC, Planet Earth charts the Earth’s ecosystems episodically. Perhaps no voice is more recognizable in the nature documentary genre than that of British natural historian David Attenborough, who narrates the BBC version of this documentary series (if you watch the Discovery Channel version, you’ll hear none other than Sigourney Weaver guiding you through each hour-long episode). Planet Earth is essentially the go-to for nature series. It won four Emmys the year it was released: non-fiction series, cinematography, sound editing, and music.

Critics Consensus: Planet Earth weaves innovative camera techniques and patient observation to deliver viewers an astounding glimpse of the world’s perils and wonders, capturing jaw-dropping scenery and animals on both an epic and intimate scale.

Where to watch it: YouTube, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu

Commitment: 9 hours (11 episodes, around 50 minutes each)


Planet Earth II: Miniseries (2017) 100% (Discovery Channel)

What it is: Ten years after the award-winning original, BBC’s Natural History Unit released a second, shorter sequel called Planet Earth II that takes viewers to new locales – and a few familiar ones – to document even more harrowing survival stories most of us have never seen before. This time around, the series also explores city-dwelling animals — and they’re probably not the species you’d expect to see thriving in urban environments.

Critics Consensus: Planet Earth II offers a spectacular, moving, unprecedented account of the natural world.

Where to watch it: Amazon, Google PlayiTunes, Vudu

Commitment: 5 hours (6 episodes, around 50 minutes each)


Blue Planet II: Miniseries (2017) 97% (BBC America)

What it is: Even before they made Planet Earth, in 2001 the BBC released the first Blue Planet, yet another nature documentary series narrated by Attenborough. The original won two Emmys for its cinematography and music composition. This follow-up series was released in the U.S. just last year — Attenborough returned, and won the series another Emmy for his narration to boot. Both iterations in the series provide intimate, breathtaking looks at the undersea world with particular focus on its occupants (from seahorses to squids and whales) and the environmental issues that threaten them.

Critics Consensus: Blue Planet II‘s hypnotic beauty is complemented by intense ethical musing, contrasting the micro and the macro in a humbling exploration of humanity’s relationship with the ground it stands on.

Where to watch it: Amazon, YouTube, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu

Commitment: ~6 hours (7 episodes, around 50 minutes each — plus an additional 6.5 hours if you want to watch the original series)


Chasing Ice (2012) 96% (National Geographic)

National Geographic

(Photo by National Geographic)

What it is: Chasing Ice follows a celebrated National Geographic photographer as he documents several years of climate change using time-lapse cameras. Critics called the film “spectacular but depressing” and “the most important documentary of the year.” Chasing Ice is a call to attention — and for some, a call to action.

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes

Commitment: 1 hour 30 minutes


Flight of the Butterflies (2012) 100% (SK Films)

What it is: If you’re short on time this Earth Day, or on any other binge day, but still want to marvel at the planet’s beauty, look no further than this short but marvelously compelling documentary. Flight of the Butterflies follows the yearlong migration cycle of monarch butterflies from Mexico through the U.S. to Canada and back.

Where to watch it: Amazon, iTunes, Vudu

Commitment: 45 minutes


Blackfish (2013) 98% (Magnolia Pictures)

What it is: This unforgettable documentary feature rattled the world when it was released in 2013. Blackfish follows the story of a performing orca named Tilikum, highlighting the species’ intelligence and the impact of lifelong captivity. Critics called the film “startling,” “powerful,” and “a troubling exposé of Sea World’s hazardous entertainment trade.” It was powerful enough for the amusement park to make several changes.

Critics Consensus: Blackfish is an aggressive, impassioned documentary that will change the way you look at performance killer whales.

Where to watch it: Amazon, FandangoNowiTunes, Vudu

Commitment: 83 minutes


The Ivory Game (2016) 81% (Netflix)

What it is: This Netflix documentary (produced by Leonardo DiCaprio) goes undercover to investigate the ivory trade (both illegal and legal), and brings to light the horrific practice of elephant tusk poaching. A call to action for activists and governments alike, The Ivory Game sheds light on and condemns the international ivory trade to prevent the imminent and violent extinction of elephants. Since its release, some of the poachers seen in the film have been apprehended and  sentenced to years in prison.

Critics Consensus: Hard-hitting and ambitious to a fault, The Ivory Game serves as a fittingly urgent call to action against a looming threat against vulnerable wildlife and a fragile ecosystem.

Where to watch it: Netflix

Commitment: 1hour 52 minutes


Virunga (2014) 100% (Netflix)

What it is: Virunga is titled after Virunga National Park in the Congo — “one of the most biologically diverse areas on the planet,” according to the park’s website, and home to an endangered group of mountain gorillas. This Netflix documentary not only aims to capture the wildlife in the national park, but also the dedication of teams aiming to protect it and the militia that target it. A year after Virunga was released, Netflix also provided a behind-the-scenes look at its production, with particular focus on the gorillas it features. Since the documentary’s release just a few years ago, the park has been temporarily closed to the public due to an increase in violence.

Critics Consensus: Virunga offers a heart-rending glimpse of natural wonders vulnerable to the atrocities of greed — and the people devoting their lives to defending them.

Where to watch it: Netflix

Commitment: 1 hour 40 minutes (plus 30 extra minutes if you want to watch Virunga: Gorillas in Peril, too)


Encounters at the End of the World (2007) 94% (Thinkfilm)

What it is: Another legendary voice in the documentary genre alongside Attenborough is German director Werner Herzog. In Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog serves as both narrator and guide on a trip to Antarctica, and the result is a thoughtful (if at times absurd) study of the environment and human nature.

Critics Consensus: Encounters at the End of the World offers a poignant study of the human psyche amid haunting landscapes.

Where to watch it: AmazonFandangoNowiTunesVudu

Commitment: 1 hour 40 minutes


Jane (2017) 98% (National Geographic)

What it is: This critically acclaimed National Geographic doc drew from more than 100 hours of previously never-before-seen footage to give viewers an intimate portrait of one of the most famous and beloved conservationists of our time, Jane Goodall. For those familiar with Goodall’s work and current activism, Jane will be particularly fascinating, as it transports viewers back to the 1960s when Goodall was in her mid-20s and doing her earliest work observing chimpanzees. The film features a score from composer Philip Glass.

Critics Consensus: Jane honors its subject’s legacy with an absorbing, beautifully filmed, and overall enlightening look at her decades of invaluable work.

Where to watch it: Disney+Amazon, FandangoNow, iTunes, Vudu

Commitment: 1 hour 30 minutes


Chasing Coral (2017) 100% (Netflix)

What it is: After directing Chasing Ice in 2012, Jeff Orlowski turned his focus from the arctic to the ocean with Chasing Coral in 2017. The latter documents coral bleaching and the environmental impact of carbon emissions and pesticides on the reefs. Like many films on this list, this Netflix documentary is a call to consciousness regarding the tangible, quantifiable impacts of global warming.

Critics Consensus: Chasing Coral offers a breathtakingly beautiful look at some of the Earth’s most incredible natural wonders while delivering a sobering warning about their uncertain future.

Where to watch it: Netflix

Commitment: 1 hour 30 minutes


Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

ESPN Film Festival YA Animation Nominations A24 Film Comic Book HBO Max X-Men GLAAD Fox Searchlight Trophy Talk emmy awards Pirates toy story Marathons streaming children's TV cancelled television Drama Star Wars ABC series Apple Paramount remakes 2017 zombie Kids & Family Reality Pop TV franchise Musicals natural history Baby Yoda Peacock The Walking Dead Character Guide justice league cancelled Tubi strong female leads Adult Swim nbcuniversal werewolf nature laika Star Trek 4/20 Fox News spy thriller richard e. Grant joker El Rey harry potter The Purge asian-american A&E parents Lifetime romance Country Acorn TV video on demand LGBTQ HBO Winter TV universal monsters Pop RT21 child's play Anna Paquin adaptation political drama PBS singing competition psycho Bravo Chilling Adventures of Sabrina 2016 Food Network dragons 24 frames TCA game show Crackle halloween tv Disney Plus Infographic Lifetime Christmas movies Ovation Mindy Kaling Turner Classic Movies Paramount Network Marvel Television superhero MSNBC DGA 71st Emmy Awards Lucasfilm Showtime NBC sequel rotten movies we love Rocketman Hulu 45 DC Comics batman biography movie historical drama blockbuster Travel Channel Thanksgiving Reality Competition Amazon Prime football facebook war Apple TV+ Rom-Com romantic comedy reboot french social media Podcast ratings japanese 2015 Pet Sematary Mary Tyler Moore worst movies free movies Cosplay latino TCM Classic Film sitcom boxoffice American Society of Cinematographers Lionsgate IFC Films YouTube Premium Tarantino canceled Esquire CMT VICE robots Apple TV Plus Sundance Now Fall TV Mystery BBC mutant toronto CBS fast and furious Family Elton John travel elevated horror anime Chernobyl dc stoner ghosts YouTube Red YouTube FXX Rock doctor who cartoon Britbox comics crime thriller E! Shudder zero dark thirty game of thrones Musical films Teen quibi BET spanish language cars See It Skip It south america Comedy Disney Polls and Games IFC Premiere Dates Crunchyroll USA Network PlayStation Mudbound DC Universe ITV Hear Us Out Pixar Awards MCU Quiz First Reviews discovery Superheroe adventure Rocky PaleyFest based on movie Arrowverse documentaries mission: impossible Set visit hist science fiction History Countdown Mary poppins MTV Epix Holiday comic Schedule binge mockumentary Dark Horse Comics festival Warner Bros. Captain marvel slashers sports The Academy APB Hallmark Awards Tour Syfy Brie Larson 007 green book Cannes Pride Month sag awards psychological thriller talk show jamie lee curtis space 72 Emmy Awards Red Carpet Television Academy TNT docudrama DirecTV zombies aliens Marvel Studios disaster Christmas spider-man The Arrangement obituary cops witnail casting FX spanish RT History christmas movies reviews diversity Heroines archives crime TCA Winter 2020 Sundance TV OWN Emmy Nominations Amazon Studios LGBT cinemax cancelled TV series Song of Ice and Fire BBC America blaxploitation Freeform FOX screen actors guild television SundanceTV name the review dceu New York Comic Con Funimation CNN versus TCA 2017 concert Disney streaming service Super Bowl documentary Shondaland criterion thriller Music screenings Columbia Pictures die hard Television Critics Association hollywood Biopics Fantasy italian foreign renewed TV shows crossover crime drama DC streaming service Writers Guild of America finale Black History Month Tomatazos supernatural comiccon worst stand-up comedy Sci-Fi Sneak Peek WGN dogs Amazon Prime Video VH1 SDCC venice indiana jones Nat Geo Netflix cults CW Seed President Year in Review Best and Worst scorecard SXSW TIFF Universal Walt Disney Pictures kids Marvel Endgame OneApp Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt a nightmare on elm street Extras Holidays serial killer Women's History Month National Geographic Trivia BAFTA movies Box Office what to watch 2019 nfl GoT spain Stephen King TCA Awards Logo independent Grammys chucky Discovery Channel breaking bad book San Diego Comic-Con 2018 animated Avengers TV twilight Superheroes Hallmark Christmas movies classics directors rotten revenge First Look anthology indie Trailer all-time Horror Academy Awards NYCC Masterpiece unscripted Election Turner Video Games Creative Arts Emmys 2020 canceled TV shows The CW The Witch best Sony Pictures medical drama Toys cancelled TV shows Summer cooking golden globes E3 satire period drama Sundance Spring TV Nickelodeon TV renewals award winner theme song halloween scary movies WarnerMedia composers Watching Series true crime dramedy Disney Channel vampires Winners Ghostbusters Emmys Martial Arts comedies festivals BBC One Disney+ Disney Plus Valentine's Day transformers Opinion Black Mirror Amazon TruTV police drama critics BET Awards GIFs spinoff FX on Hulu technology Cartoon Network video news tv talk USA Ellie Kemper Certified Fresh Vudu stop motion Tumblr Photos TBS dark Calendar Comedy Central Netflix Christmas movies hispanic VOD Action HBO Go Spectrum Originals Spike Binge Guide AMC Mary Poppins Returns Comics on TV Starz cats TV Land teaser 20th Century Fox Oscars politics Western CBS All Access miniseries Interview sequels TLC 21st Century Fox ABC Family