Nature documentaries are an insightful and beautiful movie genre. Yet, most people rarely choose to explore this area of cinematography far beyond the blockbusters of the genre, like BBC’s iconic Planet Earth (2006) series, the most expensive nature documentary in film history.
In the past few decades, animal documentaries have profoundly evolved, and we now have a wide variety of films dedicated to not only wildlife but also our pets or specific animal behaviors. Some of these new documentaries explore the connection between humans and animals, while others showcase wildlife from new and unexpected perspectives.
On this list of film recommendations, we feature 10 unique animal documentaries you can easily find and watch on your favorite streaming platform.
Directed by Huw Cordey and narrated by comedian Stephen Fry, “Dancing With the Birds” is a one-hour documentary about the over-the-top courting rituals of birds-of-paradise and other exotic birds.
Expect to see plenty of high-definition close-up footage of beautiful tropical birds, focusing on the ways male birds fluff up their feathers, sing, and showcase complex dances to woo female birds. This upbeat bird documentary is like a breath of fresh air!
Most of the animal footage we’ve seen in our lifetimes comes from observing animals during the day. But what happens in the wild when night falls and it’s time for nocturnal animals to rule the earth? “Night on Earth” uses cutting-edge film equipment - cameras that rely on moonlight or heat-sensitive cameras - to capture the animal kingdom when the sun goes down.
The docu-series consists of six 40-52-minute episodes sounded by Samira Wiley that will take you through various landscapes - from the jungle canopy to your very own neighborhood.
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“My Octopus Teacher” is not your ordinary animal documentary. The film is about an unusual friendship between filmmaker Craig Foster and a wild octopus that lives in a South African kelp forest. We won’t spoil the story for you, but know that the documentary won the “Best Documentary Feature” award at the 2021 Oscars, so it’s definitely a must-see!
The snow leopard is one of the most elusive (and most beautiful) animals in the world. The rare species can only be found in the mountain ranges of Central and South Asia, so capturing a family of snow leopards in their natural habitat is a real feat.
The 2017 documentary “Ghost of the Mountains” follows a group of filmmakers on their quest to film the rare felines as they traverse the freezing cold terrain of the highest plateau on the planet.
Alas, not all nature documentaries are cheerful and upbeat. Along with breathtaking HD footage of colorful and intricate coral reefs across the globe, the documentary “Chasing Coral” directed by Jeff Orlowski touches upon the issue of coral bleaching. With this mysterious and poorly understood environmental issue becoming increasingly more widespread, it’s impossible to ignore it while shooting a documentary about these unique habitats.
The one-and-a-half-hour-long documentary has amassed quite a following over the years, so make sure to give it a look if you’re interested in the subject of coral bleaching.
Let’s switch to a more lighthearted subject - kitty beauty pageants! If you're looking for a unique and funny documentary about cats, “Catwalk: Tales From the Cat Show Circuit” is the perfect fit. This film tells the stories of cats and cat owners participating in Canada's competitive cat show circuit. The rather short documentary is a funny take on the surprisingly competitive world of cat competitions.
Take a trip to the most remote wildlands in China and see animals like giant pandas, red pandas, and red-crowned cranes in this beautiful nature documentary. The stunning Disney documentary is a great learning tool and it’s just under 90 minutes long, so it’s a great fit for a family movie night with the kids.
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“Dogs” is another unique take on the animal documentary. It is a feel-good Netflix docuseries that just released its second season, so you’ll have plenty of dog stories to indulge in. The creative documentary tells the stories of many dogs and their humans from different corners of the Earth, focusing on the friendship between humans and their beloved dogs, of course!
Each following story is more fascinating, unbelievable, and heartwarming than the previous one.
“Animals Are Beautiful People” is the oldest documentary on this list. But don’t be discouraged from watching it, as it’s equally as fascinating and funny as its newer counterparts. Also known simply as “Beautiful People”, the 92-minute long documentary was released in 1974 by the South African writer and director Jamie Uys.
If his name rings a bell, it’s because Uys also directed the hit African comedy “The Gods Must Be Crazy” (1980). Filmed in the Kalahari Desert, the Namib Desert, and the Okavango River Delta, the film is an unforgettable comical tale of South African wildlife. The now-iconic documentary received the 1974 Golden Globe Award for Best Documentary Film.
The last documentary on this list is also a real smash hit. When it was first released in 2005, “March of the Penguins” was an instant box office success. The film collected 77 million dollars at the box office in the United States, more than many critically acclaimed films of its time.
And it’s easy to see why - the life of the emperor penguins was the love story in the animal world we’ve all been waiting for. The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman, and it’s a tale of penguin couples that mate for life and work together to raise and protect their young in one of the harshest of environmental conditions in the world - Antarctica.
Share these movie recommendations with the cinema buffs and animal lovers you know!