Documentaries about nature and wildlife are able to grab our attention like no other film genre around. The best animal documentaries mix fascinating information with stunning imagery, and incredibly interesting insight into the often absurd world of earth’s creatures. Whether you want a closer look at animal behaviour, are keen to get introspective about the impact of humanity, or are simply in the mood to learn more about life on our planet… this list of nature documentaries has got you covered.
Some of the best nature documentaries come in television series form and, let’s face it, most of those come from one very special person: Sir David Attenborough. While we’re here to talk feature-length documentaries, we felt it would be criminal to leave his name unspoken. The 2020 Netflix documentary film David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet explores his career and is well worth a watch, but it just missed out on our list as it’s arguably more of a biopic than a straight-up nature documentary.
This essential list below shows that when you bring together some of Mother Nature’s most captivating stories with talented filmmakers, it’s very often a recipe for success. Whether it’s the inspiring nature of butterflies that speak to you here or the confrontation with harsh truths about our human habits that makes an impact, these documentary films below are bound to affect you in one way or another. They shine a spotlight on the animal kingdom, and they come highly recommended.
Grizzly Man (2005)
When it comes to fascinating otherworldly documentary films, no one does it quite like Werner Herzog. His 2005 documentary film Grizzly Man is a posthumous glimpse into the lives of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard, who made it their lives’ concern to protect and subsequently live, and die, amongst Grizzly Bears in Alaska. Assembled from hundreds of hours of footage recorded by the untrained-but-cinematically-gifted Treadwell himself, the documentary gives an insight into the inherent relationship between human and wild animal. Passion turns to dedication, with the film giving a whole new meaning to the phrase “life’s work”.
Werner Herzog was himself shot with an air rifle during a promotional interview with the BBC for the documentary, which, in true ‘Herzogian’ fashion, he later brushed off simply as a part of life. It’s an incident that underlines the unique personality of Grizzly Man’s director.