And … action! We’ve reeled in a cast of green-themed flicks; pop some popcorn, see what made the cut, then play critic in the comments section at the bottom of the page.
An Inconvenient Truth
Mr. Gore went to Washington, and we all know how that turned out. But when Al hit Hollywood, it was a different story altogether. An Inconvenient Truth let the former veep shout his climate message from the proverbial rooftops. Who would have thought a documentary about a politician with a whiz-bang computer presentation would make such an impact, let alone win a couple of Academy Awards? But Gore’s star turn changed climate conversations forever. (2006)
Julia Roberts lends star power — and plenty of cleavage — to this based-on-a-true-story epic of wronged Californians rallying against a shady corporate polluter. The title character, a stereotype-bucking, working-class mom, transforms her professional inexperience into an asset, helping to coordinate one of the largest class-action lawsuits in U.S. history. (2000)
Before penguin peregrinations became all the rage, this documentary captured the grandeur of nature by following the migrations of more than a dozen bird species, spanning four years, 40 countries, and all seven continents. French filmmaker Jacques Perrin, working with a 450-person crew, used planes, gliders, helicopters, and hot-air balloons to capture the impressive journeys, which make waddling across ice look like child’s play. (2001)
The China Syndrome
Released just two weeks before the infamous Three Mile Island meltdown in Pennsylvania, The China Syndrome tells the fictional story of a reporter who stumbles on a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. The film stars Jane Fonda as the determined TV journalist and Jack Lemmon as an earnest whistleblower, roles that earned them Oscar nominations for best actress and actor. (1979)
More nukes and news outlets: Based on a true story, Silkwood delves into the circumstances surrounding the suspicious death of Karen Silkwood, a metal worker at a plutonium processing plant who was on her way to meet with a New York Times investigative reporter about negligence at the plant when she died in a one-car accident. Meryl Streep and Cher reaped Oscar nominations for their acting, and Kurt Russell got critical acclaim too. (1983)
A Civil Action
Call it Erin Brockovich, East Coast style: A gripping true-life legal drama about polluted water, corporate malfeasance, and one Boston lawyer’s personal and professional gambles to take down the bad guys, A Civil Action won over audiences and critics alike, and was nominated for two Academy Awards. Plus: John Travolta as a suave legal eagle. What’s not to love? (1998)
Gorillas in the Mist: The Story of Dian Fossey
Shedding the shoulder pads of the same year’s Working Girl, Sigourney Weaver plays naturalist Dian Fossey in this based-on-actual-events film. Fossey studied and passionately defended Rwanda’s mountain gorillas for more than 20 years before she was mysteriously murdered. Weaver won a Golden Globe and was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. (1988)
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The Day After Tomorrow
Audiences around the world clung to the edges of their seats throughout this big-budget summer disaster flick, wondering if Dennis Quaid would be able to trek through a climate-changed, storm-ravaged landscape to find son Jake Gyllenhaal. OK, that’s not true — they mostly chuckled at the overblown drama and bad script. Nevertheless, the film was a rollicking good ride that acted as a catalyst for climate discussions in the mainstream media two years before An Inconvenient Truth. (2004)
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A Roman Polanski film-noir detective flick starring Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, Chinatown was adored by critics, won an Academy Award in 1975 for best original screenplay, and was nominated for 10 other Oscars. In addition to the expected murder, adultery, and deceit, its plot revolves around dams, drought, agriculture, land grabs, and L.A.’s precarious water supply. (1974)
Based on a young adult novel by Carl Hiaasen that earned the prestigious Newberry Honor in 2003, Hoot centers on the lives of three kids who are willing to do whatever it takes to save a local population of endangered burrowing owls, facing down crooked politicians, land developers, and bumbling cops. Jimmy Buffett produced the film, and Luke Wilson stars as a bumbling cop. (2006)
The End of Suburbia: Oil Depletion and the Collapse of the American Dream
In a year dominated by the ultimate fantasy film, Lord of the Rings, this clear-eyed, frighteningly prescient documentary took a real-life look at the impending end of cheap oil. The End of Suburbia explores how dry oil wells will impact the U.S. economy and the much-cherished, resource-intensive American Dream. It’s enough to make you want to move to Middle Earth. (2004)
This acclaimed documentary begins with filmmaker Judith Helfand discovering a severed ear in a field — no, wait. Wrong movie. This one starts with Helfand trying to convince her parents to get rid of the blue vinyl siding on their house, sending Helfand and fellow documentarian Daniel B. Gold on a journey to the U.S. vinyl capital in Louisiana, then to Italy and beyond to talk with experts, doctors, and activists about the ubiquitous and harmful plastic. (2002)
A hit with the kids, this Oscar-winning animated film capitalized on the penguin-mania inspired by the staggeringly successful March of the Penguins. Its heavy-handed message (human activity is messing with the food chain) was made digestible with the help of a whole lotta foot-tappin’ fun. (2006)
Sony Pictures Classics
Who Killed the Electric Car?
Narrated by Martin Sheen, Who Killed the Electric Car? is part murder mystery, part documentary, tracing the rise and premature fall of the electric car in the United States. The must-see for alternative-transport enthusiasts features interviews with Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson, ex-CIA chief James Woolsey, and others. (2006)
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Fire Down Below
A fast-paced action flick starring Steven Seagal and Kris Kristofferson, Fire Down Below features big-time polluters frightening rural townsfolk into shutting up. That is, until undercover federal agent Jack Taggart (Seagal) comes to town to expose the truth and kick some — um, sense into the dirty corporate scofflaws. (1997)
This disjointed political thriller darts between loosely connected stories with a common theme: the disturbing effects of global oil addiction. Syriana stars George Clooney and Matt Damon; Clooney won an Oscar for his performance. (2005)
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Over the Hedge
An animated film that touches lightly on the issue of sprawl and its effects on wildlife, Over the Hedge pokes fun at humans and suburbia via animals voiced by Bruce Willis, Steve Carell, and others. (2006)
A classic film about an environmental dystopia in the now-not-so-far-off year 2022 — complete with rampant overpopulation and massive food shortages — Soylent Green stars Charlton Heston as a detective investigating the murder of a food company exec. In the end, Heston’s character uncovers profoundly disturbing secrets about the industrial food system. Thank goodness it’s just a movie! (1973)
Starring Julianne Moore, Safe is the slowest, quietest horror film you’ll ever see. It follows the story of a woman who develops chemical sensitivities that drive her away from her cushioned suburban life. (1995)
Think this green ode to the silver screen is tarnished? Help polish it up by submitting your own suggestions below in comments.
Todd Hymas Samkara contributed to this list.