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) 77% (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

rotten movies we love TIFF harry potter The Academy Discovery Channel streaming travel boxoffice 71st Emmy Awards Calendar spinoff politics YouTube X-Men comiccon mutant romantic comedy what to watch Walt Disney Pictures sequels BET Awards universal monsters sports hist cancelled TV shows TCA Awards Writers Guild of America Ellie Kemper screen actors guild 4/20 E! SundanceTV sequel canceled directors aliens BET Masterpiece Emmy Nominations Toys comedies Vudu period drama game of thrones Spectrum Originals romance Valentine's Day Sony Pictures TCM PBS TCA Winter 2020 adventure police drama cooking christmas movies miniseries video on demand NYCC science fiction Apple TV+ American Society of Cinematographers stand-up comedy theme song latino 2018 quibi Rocky TruTV Premiere Dates Animation game show Tarantino screenings festival spy thriller E3 dark Martial Arts franchise Arrowverse The Walking Dead name the review Spike kids free movies BBC One Summer Red Carpet 2019 Video Games movie National Geographic Lifetime Christmas movies rotten independent APB See It Skip It BBC America HBO cartoon GoT fast and furious anime DC Comics Ovation Shondaland Action zombie Turner Lucasfilm USA fresh Pet Sematary french television comics 2020 SDCC Funimation Super Bowl Rock CNN The Purge singing competition Acorn TV Showtime Lifetime hispanic Stephen King HBO Go CW Seed Black Mirror Baby Yoda sag awards zombies Sundance Now TCA ID laika WGN DC Universe Anna Paquin rt archives toy story IFC Films Tubi Shudder reviews USA Network casting crime drama chucky renewed TV shows dc Mudbound parents Mary Poppins Returns worst spanish DGA FX on Hulu award winner stop motion strong female leads comic books crossover Endgame VH1 YouTube Red MSNBC transformers facebook Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Sneak Peek Netflix Christmas movies Disney Channel FXX a nightmare on elm street Thanksgiving anthology sitcom spider-man venice PlayStation war Black History Month zero dark thirty The Arrangement Marvel Television Netflix superhero Hear Us Out book Comedy Central VICE indiana jones 2015 LGBTQ Avengers australia scorecard Tumblr robots cops Film Rocketman RT21 Heroines Disney Schedule Family Country hollywood toronto AMC Reality Competition Paramount versus Apple TV Plus Academy Awards Binge Guide Trailer Fox Searchlight ITV Pixar Emmys CBS cinemax Hallmark Comics on TV YouTube Premium classics 24 frames obituary cancelled TV series YA children's TV reboot natural history Horror ABC Family Certified Fresh 21st Century Fox Dark Horse Comics ESPN green book Drama Hallmark Christmas movies CBS All Access Podcast GLAAD 007 political drama A24 Alien Amazon Prime Video Trophy Talk Cosplay DirecTV japanese Awards Television Academy Starz medical drama IFC crime finale Photos TV nbcuniversal Britbox dogs mockumentary BBC Universal Hulu 2016 Teen asian-american Sundance TV Opinion golden globes Oscars Star Trek CMT Polls and Games worst movies documentary nfl SXSW Amazon Prime Election nature festivals Music Ghostbusters doctor who die hard football batman ratings Mary Tyler Moore WarnerMedia Disney streaming service historical drama VOD ghosts Musicals jamie lee curtis Elton John Cannes MTV El Rey scary movies PaleyFest A&E Extras concert revenge joker psycho Character Guide Bravo TV Land social media TBS serial killer Interview NBC satire Kids & Family Chernobyl movies Travel Channel Spring TV Best and Worst Nominations Pop San Diego Comic-Con foreign OWN child's play documentaries Syfy Esquire unscripted Holiday GIFs The Witch witnail stoner cancelled Marvel Classic Film best cars films composers Television Critics Association Disney+ Disney Plus talk show New York Comic Con Epix Captain marvel Crunchyroll Disney Plus First Look Paramount Network Sci-Fi remakes thriller tv talk technology news Musical true crime mission: impossible FOX adaptation LGBT TCA 2017 Women's History Month HBO Max crime thriller docudrama south america blaxploitation italian based on movie cancelled television Holidays dramedy Logo Fall TV twilight Countdown ABC Superheroes Crackle Mary poppins Food Network Amazon Studios Tomatazos Awards Tour Comedy OneApp halloween tv The CW Marvel Studios Mindy Kaling halloween Pop TV First Reviews Nickelodeon DC streaming service cats Christmas MCU cults President justice league comic slashers Lionsgate Fantasy supernatural diversity dragons 2017 20th Century Fox Box Office Western Fox News Grammys Creative Arts Emmys Turner Classic Movies Columbia Pictures Comic Book space Star Wars Mystery Superheroe TV renewals Freeform 99% Film Festival canceled TV shows psychological thriller Adult Swim blockbuster Amazon Warner Bros. FX Winter TV archives disaster dceu Nat Geo Winners series james bond 72 Emmy Awards RT History Trivia TLC binge Rom-Com Brie Larson Infographic Year in Review elevated horror Peacock Quiz spain Pirates video Set visit Reality breaking bad Song of Ice and Fire Biopics deadpool boxing History richard e. Grant TNT Chilling Adventures of Sabrina werewolf spanish language biography all-time discovery black emmy awards Marathons Pride Month critics criterion Apple indie Watching Series teaser 45 Cartoon Network Sundance animated BAFTA vampires