10 More of the Best Nature Movies and Documentaries on The Planet
Stuck Indoors? Tune In To These Incredible Movies About The Great Outdoors!
Photo Credit: Billy Freeman
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Ah, nature, the famous muse of John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Henry David Thoreau, and Bill Watterson. There is a ton of nature-oriented content out there for people to sink their teeth into. Sometimes, however, the reading can be a bit dense. Often, a quick movie or series is the perfect solution to re-inspire your nature side, and below, we have the best of the best.
The beauty, danger and ultimate superiority of nature is one of the great permanent facts of life on earth. No matter how much we aim to tame the unknown, there will always be room for nature to surprise us. Nature’s unwavering commitment to awe the human species has led to some amazing individual accomplishments. From first ascents to stories of rescue, danger and recovery in nature, our relationship with (and often fighting against) the elements can invoke a deep sense of understanding and respect.
So, when various media reminds us of the adventure and importance of nature, we’re offered a chance to remember why we don’t pave paradise and put up a parking lot. The choices below are meant to inspire and deepen your appreciation of what’s on this little blue marble floating in space.
We love our outdoor movies here at Pathloom, and have covered this topic a few times in the past, but there are so many good ones out there that we wanted to revisit and recommend a few more for your viewing pleasure.
Photo Credit: Josh Miller
It is extremely helpful to break down the massive subject of nature movies into more manageable pieces. The word nature means the collective phenomena of the physical world - including animals, biomes, physical sciences, and everything in between. It’s quite a big topic to cover!
Generally, the best outdoor movies and series about nature fall into a few broad categories: survival, adventure/renewal, animals/environment, and accomplishments. Each category sheds light on not only how the planet works but our complex relationship with it. Let’s dive in.
Photo Credit: Simon Infanger
Movies about Survival and Tragedy
The two outdoor movies that spring out at me in this category both deal with human beings and their will to survive against all odds.
Touching the Void is a particularly searing tale of mountaineers in Peru, where glaciated mountains routinely rise over 20,000 feet in elevation as part of the impressive Andes Chain. It’s harrowing, inspiring and emotional in a way that few movies or documentaries have ever been.
The Mountain Between Us may be a bit less known, but I think it introduces an element missing from traditional outdoor-oriented movies: people with little to no survival experience. Movies like Touching the Void or 127 Hours (an honorable mention) have competent and ambitious outdoor folk at the center of the stories. The Mountain Between Us has two regular people forced into a survival situation. The plot is so-so, but the scenery is alive, and there’s seldom a time you don’t feel cold watching these two people try to get out of the mountains alive. I think it’s a great case study on fear, isolation, the human spirit, and ultimately how small decisions can have big impacts.
Movies about Adventure and Renewal
Many speak of the healing power of nature, either as an escape or an alternative to human-centric society. Nurturing that connection can be transformative in a wholly unique and profound way. Each of the movies in this category touch upon that experience.
A Walk in the Woods is an outdoor movie based on the book by Bill Bryson, where two aging friends decide to walk the more than 2,000-mile Appalachian Trail. It’s a thruhiking tale full of fantastic scenery, and distills the issues we all face in various aspects of life - as outdoor movies often do.
Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, is a similarly styled thruhiking renewal tale but with more of an urgent message. The main character is in a bad spot in life, and the wide-open spaces on the Pacific Crest Trail provide salvation for her. While the specifics of the story can be hard to relate to at times, the scenery and overall message of renewal through nature are certainly powerful storytelling components.
The last movie in this category is as strange a tale as it is fascinating. Based on the bestselling book (as many of these selections are), Into The Wild is both a tale of nature renewal and tragedy, dunked in a healthy amount of mystery. A seemingly happy man decides to go off the grid, completely change his life and live out of an abandoned school bus in the Alaskan countryside. Debated hotly to this day, both the movie and the book usually spur some fantastic and interesting conversation about freedom, choices, and the unknown.
Movies about Animals and the Environment
Without the natural order of things, we wouldn’t be able to survive on this planet, and yet still so little is truly known about the natural world. These two documentaries were chosen because they reinvigorated a sense of kinship between people and the natural world.
The family-friendly March of the Penguins follows Emperor Penguins on their long yearly journey through the frozen land of Antarctica. It not only shows us an intimate portrait of a land few will ever see in person, but does so through the instantly relatable connection of family and survival. Following the release of March of the Penguins, nature documentaries following specific animal species took off, and we’re blessed with a ton of fantastic options because of the impact this movie had.
As far as nature documentaries go, nothing beats Planet Earth (and its sequel Planet Earth II). This BBC-produced series redefined our understanding of the natural world through the gorgeous medium of film. Planet Earth was such a success when it was released that it inspired a renaissance of planet-focused documentaries. Without Planet Earth, we wouldn’t have the Blue Planet, Blue Planet II, Frozen Planet, Seven Worlds One Planet, and Our Planet, as well as so many others which combine riveting storytelling with amazing visual treats to create truly exceptional pieces of film.
Movies about Accomplishments
Our favorite movies about outdoor accomplishments have already been discussed in past articles on the Pathloom Blog covering our favorite movies. But who doesn’t enjoy watching people accomplish the unthinkable? These three documentaries are almost required viewing for anyone interested in exploration and adventure - and are so good they bear repeating here in this list as well!
The Dawn Wall is the oldest and perhaps least known of the three, but the actions of its central character are completely relatable, tragic and ultimately, uplifting. In fact, the accomplishments and camaraderie between Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson form the heart of the film - and remind us that while there’s a certain mysticism about conquering objectives on your own, nothing beats doing it with a friend.
A friend of Caldwell’s, Alex Honnold, would go on to make a name for himself in the climbing world by free soloing El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Unlike The Dawn Wall, where the two climbers mapped and pioneered what is routinely considered one of the most difficult big wall routes in the world, Honnold took an established route (The Freerider) and climbed the entire thing without ropes or any sort of safety harness. (?!) The documentary Free Solo is a stunning portrayal of a man without fear, and features some of the best and most inspiring scenery ever captured in a documentary.
The Alpinist takes the cake in terms of extreme accomplishments. While Caldwell and Honnold are far and away two of the greatest rock climbers to try the sport, Marc Andre Leclerc takes it one step further. He climbs big, technical mountains - solo. This involves rock climbing, ice climbing, mixed climbing and all sorts of extreme environmental conditions. To follow his adventures is a jaw-dropping journey, and is worth every viewing second.
There are always hits and misses with any list, and this one is no exception. Some of the best honorable mentions are listed below. These nature movies and series have a lot of the same qualities as the previous selections, they each offer more chances for us to further understand the earth and our relationship with it.
· 127 Hours (survival)
· The Way (renewal)
· Blue Planet/Blue Planet II (environment/animals)
· Frozen Planet (environment/animals)
· Seven Worlds One Planet (environment/animals)
· Fantastic Fungi (environment)
· Into the Inferno (environment)
· The Barkley Marathons (the wildest marathon on earth)
· Lord of the Rings Trilogy (totally true documentary)
(The last entry - while not exactly non-fiction, and not explicitly focused on nature, consistently and effectively shows the absolute best that the rich New Zealand natural scenery has to offer. Brilliant storytelling aside, it’s an example of the whimsical ambiance of iconic landscapes and the emotions they can conjure.)
Photo Credit: Seb Thomas
We don’t always have access to the beauty of nature - life (and sometimes inclement weather) gets in the way. It may be school, work, travel or family, but it’s not always easy to get outside. If you find yourself craving scenes of natural beauty, stories of survival, renewal and outdoor adventure, watching any of these nature movies with your favorite snack and a blanket is a great way to spend a few hours.
If these tales inspire you to get back outdoors as quickly as possible, we can help you plan your trip - we’re building what we hope will become the best outdoor trip planning app out there, and we need your help! Click the link for more information, and to sign up for our Beta!
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