The exploration of the remaining areas of wildlife on the planet has both a sense of adventure and tragedy. While the human species still has so much to learn about Earth’s fellow inhabitants, we may just destroy these other worlds before we even know the extent of what we’re losing.
Multiple Netflix documentaries explore this dichotomy by highlighting the breathtaking highs of the planet’s natural beauty while also providing the cautionary context that much of this will be lost. Annihilation doesn’t have to be inevitable, but the way things are going lately, who are we kidding?
Along with a selection of noteworthy nature documentaries, Netflix has debuted quite a few not-so-great projects recently. From a Zac Efron vanity project to the bafflingly annoying “Absurd Planet,” Netflix documentaries may have burned you worse than our burning planet.
But the below list will not let you down like that. It includes an Emmy winner, an Oscar nominee and generally just the best of the best in this craft. Whether you’re looking for some awe-inspiring escapism or to learn about parts of the world you may never get to see yourself, read on for the recommendations.
Premise: David Attenborough narrates stories about animals affected by climate change and in need of conservation efforts. The show relies on extreme close-ups of wildlife in action paired with a sense this all could be lost.
“Our Planet” earned 10 Emmy nominations. It won two for Outstanding Narrator and Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series.
Runtime: 8 episodes of roughly 50 minutes over one season
Premise: A freediver in South Africa befriended an octopus and filmed his interactions with the creature. As he comes to an understanding of safety with the octopus, his beliefs about his role on the planet transform.
Runtime: 1 hour, 25 minutes
Premise: Samira Wiley narrates stories of creatures living life at night. The series relies on new camera technology that helps unmask the creepiness of the dark and shine light at unknown wonders.
Runtime: Six episodes of roughly 50 minutes over one season
Premise: This movie focuses on the life and work of Dr. Sylvia Earle, who has tried to warn the world about a changing ocean. Robert Nixon and Fisher Stevens direct this story about Earle’s attempts to stop the human-caused destruction of the planet.
Runtime: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Premise: This movie follows efforts to save the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The park is under threat from rebel forces as well as large oil interests.
“Virunga” earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Documentary Feature.
Runtime: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Premise: Stephen Fry narrates this short film about the lives of exotic birds. The story focuses on mating rituals that occasionally involve dancing.
Runtime: 51 minutes
Premise: Episodes feature different nature photographers documenting obscure corners of the world. The show balances discussions of the craft of photography craft with a nature documentary. The camera company Canon partnered with National Geographic on the project (Netflix eventually acquired the U.S. distribution rights). That makes this sponsored content. Cover your ears whenever the photographers mention the brand, because this is an otherwise well-worth-watching show.
Runtime: 18 episodes of roughly 25 minutes over three seasons
Premise: This movie focuses on the destruction of coral reefs around the world. Photographers and scientists team up to document the disappearing reefs and try to convince leaders to save what’s left.
Runtime: 1 hour, 29 minutes
If you’re interested in how the photographers filmed “Our Planet,” you can also check out this one hour, three-minute behind-the-scenes film.