Furry Vengeance (2010)
The Message: Brendan Fraser stars as a real-estate developer who winds up doing battle with disgruntled woodland creatures. Hilarity ensues. Unsurprising Spoiler Alert: he learns the error of his ways and how awesome nature is.
The Impact: It was universally panned by critics for being a ham-fisted attempt to promote green issues, but mostly for being ruddy awful.
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986)
The Message: In this classic Star Trek adventure Captain Kirk and the team must reverse the mysterious effects of whale-like creatures that are causing the oceans of earth to disappear. Cue a trip back to the Eighties, before actual whales became extinct. Hijinks ensue.
The Impact: Let’s just say, if you want to impart a serious environmental message to your audience, don’t employ William Shatner as your spokesperson. Enviro-fail.
The Message: A teenage girl gets the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids treatment and finds herself caught in an ancient battle between the forces of good and evil in the forest behind her house.
The Impact: There’s an over-simplification of the environmental themes that even under-10s might find a tad patronising, but the voice work by Chris O’Dowd and Christoph Waltz save it.
On Deadly Ground (1994)
The Message: Steven Segal stars as a former CIA operative turned environmentally conscious shaman who aims to settle a sensitive, complex energy debate in the bleak Alaskan tundra by kicking Michael Cain’s oil baron in the face.
The Impact: It’s as mental as it sounds, not least when Segal delivers a clunky yet heartfelt plea about the importance of saving the environment. No, seriously. Eco-dud.
The Message: Three teenagers try to save an endangered owl habitat from being turned into a pancake house by an unscrupulous and uncaring project developer.
The Impact: In the Venn diagram of people who like both owls and pancakes, there’s gonna be a lot of conflict. Enviro-fail.
After Earth (2013)
The Message: Will and Jaden Smith crash land on a planet so abused by humanity that it has evolved to destroy humans: Earth. Unused to its atmosphere, they must navigate the now deadly planet in an effort to survive.
The Impact: Not unlike WALL-E in that Earth’s inhabitants had to pack up and leave (but completely unlike WALL-E in that it’s not very good) After Earth is as much an environmental movie as it is a thinly veiled Scientology allegory. It’s worth a watch for lush visuals created by Shyamalan, but not a whole lot else.
Fletch Lives (1989)
The Message: Chevy Chase returns as wise-cracking investigative reporter Fletch (last seen in the imaginatively titled Fletch ), this time inheriting land from an elderly relative. Upon arrival he discovers that not only is property pretty run down, but the ground has been poisoned with toxic chemicals! It’s down to Fletch to discover who’s harming the environment.
The Impact: Despite eco-friendly themes driving the plot, the film focuses more on Chevy Chase’s ability to stereotype the Deep South than portraying an affecting or transformative eco-message.
Promised Land (2012)
The Message: Matt Damon and Jon Krasinski co-wrote and starred in Promised Land to highlight controversial fracking methods that extract natural gas from valuable farmland.
The Impact: It’s a well-written and heart-warming film that brings forward an issue that people might not ordinarily pay attention to, but winds up too worthy, folksy and schmaltzy for its own good.
The Lorax (2012)
The Message: A kids’ film born from the mind of Dr. Seuss has a clear pro-environmental message: look after the world around you if you want your kids to enjoy it too. Danny DeVito gives a great turn as the grumpy Lorax who fights to protect the world.
The Impact: Animated or not, commit 90 minutes of screentime to force-feeding an environmental message, and it wouldn’t just be the kiddywinks that snooze off. So it’s no real surprise that The Lorax succeeds more on nailing an array of child-friendly LOLs than a lasting, affecting conservational message.
The Message: The year is 2500, the polar ice caps have melted, and the remaining humans are scattered across the water-logged planet on what little land they can salvage. Kevin Costner becomes the next stage in human evolution (erm, webbed feet) to save the day.
The Impact: It may have scooped its fair share of Razzies, but its green agenda is front and centre, showing us the post-apocalyptic ramifications of a future where we haven’t paid attention to global warming.
Fern Gully (1992)
The Message: In this nineties-tastic, Saturday-morning-cartoon-quality movie, the magical inhabitants of Fern Gully must save their home from the evil pollution-spewing Hexxus. Includes the magically miniaturised human to bridge the misunderstanding gap between the two worlds.
The Impact: The message could not be more obvious, but the character of Zak is a cuddly-wuddly ‘in’ for the audience to understand the issues, and it’s wrapped up in an entertaining kids’ flick with great vocal performances. Don’t pretend like you don’t remember Robin Williams’ Batty rap.
The Message: Settler John Smith arrives in the plentiful land of 1600s North America to mine for gold when he encounters beautiful native, Pocahontas. She’s wary at first, but after some sage words from her Grandmother Willow, she learns to trust him. She teaches him the ways of her people, but most important of all, how everything is nature is connected and needs to be protected. Vaguely familiar…
The Impact: While the film pretty much skewed Pocahontas’ real life fate (death in England; bleak) it’s on message where the green agenda is concerned.
The Message: Marine Jake Sully arrives on the plentiful world of Pandora to mine for Unobtanium when he encounters beautiful native, Neytiri. She’s wary at first, but after some sage words from the Tree Of Souls, she learns to trust him. She teaches him the way of her people, but most important of all, how everything in nature is connected and needs to be protected. Hang on…
The Impact: It didn’t so much highlight the green agenda as it did remind everyone that Pocahontas and Fern Gully exist, and how important it is to rename your placeholders (ahem, unobtanium).
The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Message: Dennis Quaid is Jack Hall, seemingly the world’s only paleoclimatologist to spot a world-ending ecological disaster. When the world’s turned upside down thanks to a new ice age, he must trek across a devastated America to save his son.
The Impact: Another fairly obvious message packed neatly inside a big-budget blockbuster, and delivered effectively thanks to its spectacularly devastating SFX.
The effects of global warming may occur much faster than is actually scientifically possible, and only universally recognisable landmarks remain inexplicably intact, but it certainly gives food for thought. If anything you’ll definitely spend more time evaluating your emergency fire-building skills (quite why the survivors spend more time burning books than the wooden furniture they’re sitting on is beyond us).
The Muppets (2011)
The Message: While there are more than enough toe-tapping songs and fart shoes to entertain, 2011’s re-imagining of The Muppets finds the gang reuniting to stop an evil oil tycoon from closing down their beloved Muppet theatre.
The Impact: While the message is more about the importance of friendship and pulling together, Fox News accused the film of being overly liberal and anti-oil, to which Miss Piggy responded, “If they’re taking what we say seriously, they’ve got bigger problems.”
Happy Feet (2006)
The Message: Delightful, if not a ‘so-so’ animated effort about musical Emperor Penguins who just LOVE to sing and dance; that is until their non-stop musical is threatened by commercial fishing and pollution.
The Impact: More of a showcase for the vocal cast’s musical talents than anything else, Happy Feet falters on the hard-hitting message due to its ‘shiny happy singing/horrific murderous trawling’ tonal wonkiness.
Evan Almighty (2007)
The Message: Douchey news anchor Evan Baxter is tasked with thinking of others for a change by getting his ‘Noah’ on and building an ark to protect all of God’s creatures before an epic flood hits.
The Impact: While it didn’t do quite as well as its predecessor, Bruce Almighty, the promotional efforts of Evan made a big environmental push, from planting acres of trees in partnership with The Conservation Fund, to having a ‘green’ carpet premiere. Even if it didn’t quite pay off at the box office, it made the world a slightly greener place.
Over The Hedge (2006)
The Message: Bruce Willis voices RJ, the CGI raccoon with a mission who rounds up his forest friends to prevent a housing development from destroying their home.
The Impact: A rare feat for an children’s animated feature, but Over The Hedge manages to be an entertaining satire about consumerism whilst boasting genuinely funny gags.
The Message: Inspired by real-life labour union activist Karen Silkwood who died in suspicious circumstances while investigating a conspiracy at the plutonium plant where she worked. Meryl Streep stars as Karen alongside Kurt Russell and Cher.
The Impact: It’s hard to go wrong when you put Meryl out front, but Silkwood scores a missed opportuniting when it comes to conveying the complexities of nuclear power. The majority of the film is well-crafted and captivating, but a rushed finale lessens the impact.
Erin Brokovich (2000)
The Message: Julia Roberts portrayed real life foul-mouthed eco hero Brokovich, who went from being a single mother earning minimum wage, to directly challenging big corporate companies on their unethical dumping practices.
The Impact: The film made way for a slew of environmental conspiracy films in the new millennium, as well as provoking numerous news outlets to focus on new stories on chemical companies cleaning up their ethics and standards. A clear green agenda + people learning more about the environment = effective message movie.
Chicken Run (2000)
The Message: Excellent Aardman Animation prison-escape flick about Rocky the Rooster (voiced by Mel Gibson) who’s determined to escape from a particularly messy, violent fate in a poultry farm.
The Impact: Expect many a daring escape attempt, plenty of laughs and drama, and to give your Sunday lunch a second think. Gives vegetarians a hero to really root for.
Gorillas in the Mist (1988)
The Message: Sigourney Weaver portrays real-life naturalist Dian Fossey in her quest to study rare African mountain gorillas up-close, and oppose brutal poaching practices.
The Impact: While the technical achievements for the time were impressive, critics were upset with the flat characterisation of Dian Fossey, who achieved so much in her time studying the primates in real life. While the film arguably reduces an important environmentalist to a one-dimensional character, it at least succeeded in stimulating the conservational debate.
Jurassic Park (1993)
The Message: Eccentric billionaire decides to bring dinosaurs back to life. What could possibly go wrong? Er, lots. Dinosaurs escape, reproduce a-sexually, and make a big old mess in the kitchen.
The Impact: Super successful, highly re-watchable and quite frankly one of the greatest blockbusters ever made. Sure it has a cogent environmental message in the importance of not playing God, but SHUT UP; DINOSAURS!
The Age of Stupid (2009)
The Message: In 2055, one man looks back through history and asks why we didn’t do something about global warming when we had the chance.
The Impact: The Age Of Stupid is a hugely effective fictionalised documentary which pores through the evidence to confront us directly with the pertinent question: why aren’t we doing something now?
The East (2013)
The Message: While strictly an espionage thriller in tone, Batmanglij’s film – about an anarchist collective targeting corrupt and environmentally harmful corporations - takes big companies to task as his anarchic characters make individuals accountable for their actions.
The Impact: Batmanglij couldn’t have asked for a more timely news cycle (see Edward Snowden). The East succeeds in creating a fiction that prompts a discussion that might not ordinarily take place; it urges you to question your government and big corporations, rather than accepting the status quo.
No Impact Man (2009)
The Message: In this excellent documentary, New York-based writer Colin Beavan and his family make it their mission to generate zero waste for an entire year. Not an easy task, especially considering that they have a baby.
The Impact: For those interested in learning more about the Freegan movement, this is a good place to start. Eco-winner.
Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (2009)
The Message: A hilarious animated flick about an oddball scientist named Flint Lockwood who’s misunderstood by his fellow townspeople. When he invents a machine that turns weather into food, he’s beloved by all, until the invention malfunctions and he find himself at the business end of an over-sized lunch buffet.
The Impact: Cloudy is a much better film than it has any right to be; it pays off every single set up, has genuine gags and an amazing voice cast. Because of the sheer strength of its entertainment value the messages about food consumerism and greed totally carry over without, ahem, ‘force-feeding’ the politics.
Free Willy (1993)
The Message: Orca whale Willy is separated from his pod by a group of whalers and sold to an amusement park, where he’s doomed to an unhappy existence in captivity. That is until little Jason James-Richter comes along and can’t bear to see his Willy trapped (steady…), so he sets him free. All in the title, really.
The Impact: The film is clearly anti-captivity, but it inspired long term activism, with Keiko the Orca (Willy) becoming the focus of a $7million international effort to bring him to health and be released back into the wild. When he did finally pass away, it was from natural causes near the coast of Norway in 2003.
Black Fish (2013)
The Message: Willy’s documentary companion, Black Fish focuses on the rare incidents where killer whales attack humans, all of which have occurred while these creatures have been in captivity.
The Impact: The film highlights the consequences of keeping large and intelligent creatures in captivity, and makes a strong case for the conservation of endangered species in the wild. A fantastic documentary that should be on everyone’s watch list.
Silent Running (1972)
T he Message: In a post-apocalyptic dystopian Earth (because really, what other kind is there in sci-fi?!) the only remaining plant life orbits the earth in protected labs. One scientist oversees their survival, until he receives mysterious orders to destroy them. Spoiler: he decides not to.
The Impact: This Seventies sci-fi classic is bonkers and not remotely subtle. The special effects are enough to keep you entertained, but the weak story and script (and therefore message) mean it doesn’t quite succeed with its green agenda.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
The Message: In a beautiful Japanese animated epic that puts a uniquely Manga twist on the typical anti-industrialist storyline, a super-powered prince finds himself caught between warring forest gods and a mining colony.
The Impact: Usually the deforestation and pollution plot comes from a place of unnecessary greed, but in Princess Mononoke, if the poor people of Irontown don’t mine for materials they will starve to death or risk losing their independence to an evil overlord. Perhaps a more accurate allegory for mankind’s reliance on natural resources.
The Jungle Book (1967)
The Message: Mowgli has grown up in the jungle amongst the animals, but when he comes of age his beloved panther friend Bagheera and bear buddy Baloo decide that he should return to the human world to avoid being killed by the dreaded tiger, Shere Khan.
The Impact: Mowgli bridges the gap between ‘Man’ and ‘The Wild’ by wanting to protect, and be part of, both worlds. It helps young’uns to understand the fragile relationship between nature and humankind and why it must be nurtured. Plus, yay! Monkeys!
The Message: Sometime in the distant future we humans have become so fat and lazy that we’ve made a huge ecological and environmental mess of our planet and have to pack up, leave and live on an orbiting space station. Long after everything else has powered down, one little robot stays behind to clean it all up.
The Impact: WALL-E is very much a love story (WALL-E & EVE 4EVAH), but its environmental message is clear and effective, mainly because it’s able to show us the heart-breaking after-effects of a world devastated by human greed, rather than the usual nature vs man battle that may have ensued beforehand.
Soylent Green (1973)
The Message: In a futuristic version of Earth, our numbers have become too great and there’s barely enough room to inhabit the planet. When a New York police detective gets too close to the truth about a government-issue foodstuff, he puts himself on a deadly path.
The Impact: For the time it was released, the film made a salient point about food consumerism that is still topical today; do we really know what’s in our food? Spoilers: no, but at least it’s not people. Or is it?
The Message: A deftly handled and visually engaging exploration of dirt. Stay with us – it’s more interesting that you’d think.
The top five inches of earth contains a surprising amount of living organisms that are vital to keeping the life cycle going. The documentary takes a look at the post-millennial shift in attitudes towards agriculture and how chemical-based short cuts are doing us all more harm than good.
The Impact: It turns out the mucky stuff beneath our feet could be key to our survival, with medical researchers turning to it for potential solutions to world health issues such as AIDS. Come for Jamie Lee Curtis’ sultry narrative tones, stay for the major knowledge bomb.
The Message: An adorable Disney film about a wide-eyed fawn finding his feet in the forest with his trusty bunny friend, Thumper. It has the potential to put you off game pie.
The Impact: Several animal rights campaigners, including former Beatle Paul McCartney, site Bambi as their gateway drug into activism. Enviro-win.
Michael Clayton (2007)
The Message: George Clooney heads up the cast as an attorney who must deal with a mentally unstable client while uncovering a corrupt chemical company.
The Impact: Clayton has its finger firmly on the dramatic pulse as it navigates through an intricate plot, all the while managing to impart a compelling message about environmental corruption.
The Message: Stephanie Soechtig’s debut documentary explores the damaging impact of the apparent need for bottled water.
The Impact: A real eye-opener into how wasteful the bottled water industry is, which had such an effect on actor Morgan Freeman that he now regularly and vocally pushes the anti-bottled water message.
The China Syndrome (1979)
The Message: An oft-forgotten yet well-crafted conspiracy thriller starring Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon, The China Syndrome focuses on a cover up at a nuclear power plant.
The Impact: The film came out during a time when anti-nuclear protests were gathering steam, and moved a broader audience to ask how safe nuclear power plants actually were. The film concerns itself with capitalist issues as well as environmental ones, and has some cracking performances. Thumbs up.
March Of The Penguins (2005)
The Message: Morgan Freeman narrates this moving documentary that follows Emperor Penguins traversing the Antarctic in their quest to find a mate.
The Impact: Put together like an action packed, drama-filled thriller/rom-com mash-up, Penguins is a brilliant documentary, complete with lush visuals to make you marvel at the wonder of nature. It definitely succeeds in drawing your attention to a part of the lesser-acknowledged part of the world.
Food, Inc. (2009)
The Message: Where is your food coming from and how is it made? This is a hard to watch, yet important film that opens your eyes to what’s really going into your dinner.
The Impact: Food, Inc . doesn’t demand that you change your diet and become vegan, but it does demand that you become more educated and expect more ethics from the food industry. Incredibly insightful and informative.
The Message: A tense geopolitical thriller about the global influence of the oil industry, boasting an all-star cast and an award-winning screenplay.
The Impact: Syriana is not your typical Hollywood movie. Instead of a by-the-numbers blockbuster with a satisfying, heart-warming conclusion, the audience is offered a more thoughtful, intellectually stimulating message, and it’s completely gripping.
Forks Over Knives (2011)
The Message: We’ve come leaps and bounds in medical advancements, so why are we sicker than we’ve ever been before? Heart disease, cancer, diabetes and strokes are on the rise, and this documentary believes that it’s down to our diet of processed food.
The Impact: The boldest claim of the film is that diseases can actually be controlled by intake of certain proteins and vitamins, which makes for a sinister line of thinking. All the crew involved with the documentary have changed their diets to incorporate more organic food. What does that tell you?
Bowling For Columbine (2002)
Th e Message: Considering his filmography ( Sicko, Fahrenheit 9/11 and more), Michael Moore could have dominated half this list, but while all his films contain ethical merit, it was Bowling For Columbine that announced him on the global documentarian stage. In the wake of the tragic Columbine High School Shootings, Moore embarks on a mission to investigate and assess the relevance of America's Second Ammendment - that of bearing arms.
The Impact: Columbine won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, elevating the debate, and sparking debate around the world.
Vanishing Bees (2009)
T he Message: “Most people associate bees with getting stung, but they don’t realised that most of the food on their plate is thanks to bees.” Bees are disappearing and we have no idea why, and that means bad news for our food cycle. Eco-friendly actress Ellen Page narrates this eye-opening documentary.
The Impact: The inexplicable reduction in the bee population is a genuine global concern and makes this documentary required viewing. Message well and truly received.
Thank You For Smoking (2005)
The Message: Aaron Eckhart stars in this black comedy about a super-spin spokesman for Big Tobacco who’s also struggling to give his 12-year-old son a suitable role model to look up to. The best scene has to be his lunch with other members of the unholy corporate trinity; cigarettes, guns and alcohol.
The Impact: Thank You For Smokin g is a biting satire that nails the message to the wall through a well-written script and excellent cast.
The End Of The Line: How Overfishing Is Changing The World And What We Eat (2009)
The Message: If we don't change the way we farm fish, there simply won't be any left. Not only that, but we're on the very edge of the precipice of a mass extinction point. Illegal farming practices and an ambivalent food industry are not helping.
The Impact: If you don't come away from this hard-hitting and sobering investigation wanting to spread the word, then there's very little hope left you'll be chowing down on fish and chips in thirty years' time. As enlightening as it is depressing, it sufficiently sells the need for activism.
Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006)
The Message: Back in the nineties, General Motors designed and built an electric car. Owners were impressed with its performance and it meant huge improvements for the environment and the motor industry as a whole. Despite its popularity, GM ceased production of the car in 1999.
The Impact: This documentary explores how the oil industry is doing its best to discourage cars of the eco-friendly kind. It lays out the facts in a way that’s easy to digest and – crucially – leaves you wanting to switch to electric.
Super Size Me (2004)
The Message: Morgan Spurlock (soon-to-be releasing his One Direction documentary movie) stars as his own guinea pig and eats nothing but McDonald’s food every day for one month. His health is put in genuine danger while he explores the poor nutritional content and hygiene practices behind the golden arches.
The Impact: First came Spurlock, then came Jamie Oliver, then came the multi-million dollar health push by the McDonalds brand. At least partially as a result of the documentary, MaccyD’s overhauled their dietary approach to food – nowadays, McBurgers are actually much healthier than the majority of supermarket meat patties.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
The Message: Al Gore gives the most fascinating slideshow presentation you'll ever see, as he details the realities of the danger of Global Warming - from the existing ecological impacts to the terrifying future dangers, it's clear the Earth is a ticking environmental timebomb.
The Impact: As the first documentary to ever win two Oscars (for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song), it obviously did something right. While it drew criticisms from anti-global warming activists, it succeeded in conveying a very complicated matter in an entirely digestible, and at times very upsetting, way.
Several schools and universities have added it to their curriculum, meaning it could have a very direct impact on a whole new generation of green-fingered conservationists.