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30 best nature documentaries of all time

  • #20. The Cove (2009)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.4
    - Votes: 45,340
    - Runtime: 92 min

    Using high-definition cameras disguised as rocks, director Louie Psihoyos and his crew exposed the covert and cruel practice of dolphin drive-hunting in Taiji, Japan, whereby schools of dolphins are hoarded into coves, trapped, and killed for profit. Winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, “The Cove” sparked outrage among animal activists worldwide as well as a hotly contested backlash against the Japanese fishing community.

  • #19. The Salt of the Earth (2014)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.4
    - Votes: 17,367
    - Runtime: 110 min

    “The Salt of the Earth” follows acclaimed septuagenarian photographer Sebastião Salgado in his quest to document the planet’s most arresting landscapes and their inhabitants. Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (the subject’s son), together with indie icon Wim Wenders, the film was nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

  • #18. Wild China (2008)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Votes: 2,468
    - Runtime: 310 min

    This groundbreaking six-part series transported never-before-seen images of Chinese wildlife into homes around the world. A Sino-British production, the project took more than two years to complete and includes rare footage of some of China’s most remote regions, including the Mongolian steppes and the Yuanyang rice terraces.

  • #17. Samsara (2011)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.5
    - Votes: 29,892
    - Runtime: 102 min

    From “Baraka” filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, this mesmerizing, non-narrative documentary was filmed over a period of five years in over 25 different countries. Shot using visually superior 70mm film, “Samsara” explores human spirituality as it relates to the Earth’s natural rhythms

  • #16. Home (2009)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.6
    - Votes: 20,559
    - Runtime: 120 min

    Earth, home to all human beings, is the star of this stunning documentary by French director Luc Besson. The film showcases awe-inspiring aerial landscapes from 54 different countries while simultaneously citing alarming statistics about climate change and its potentially devastating effects.

  • #15. Wild Pacific (2009)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.8
    - Votes: 2,104
    - Runtime: 353 min

    Released as “South Pacific” in the U.K., this six-part BBC series narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch explores the unique ecosystems of isolated South Pacific islands, including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Palmyra. Shot entirely in high definition, the final installment highlights climate-related dangers such as rising seas, overfishing, and reef damage. 

  • #14. Frozen Planet (2011)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.9
    - Votes: 22,789
    - Runtime: 360 min

    Polar bears and penguins are front and center in this high-definition look at life both above and below the ice. A BBC classic presented by natural historian and television personality Sir David Attenborough, “Frozen Planet” focuses on the Arctic and Antarctic—the two regions on the planet at greatest risk from global warming. 

  • #13. Wonders of the Universe (2011)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.9
    - Votes: 3,525
    - Runtime: 242 min

    University of Manchester physicist Brian Cox contemplates the origins of the universe and the history of man in this cerebral, four-part BBC documentary. A follow up to the 2010 series “Wonders of the Solar System,” Cox turns to science for answers to existential questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of time.

  • #12. The Blue Planet (2001)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.9
    - Votes: 28,564
    - Runtime: 389 min

    Approximately three-quarters of the Earth’s surface is covered by water—the subject of this riveting eight-part BBC series narrated by David Attenborough, which took home four Emmys and a Peabody Award. In 2018, a newly discovered species of ocean plankton was christened Syracosphaera azureaplaneta in honor of the series.

  • #11. Africa (2013)

    - IMDb user rating: 8.9
    - Votes: 11,847
    - Runtime: 360 min

    “Africa” takes viewers on an unprecedented journey across the deserts, savannahs, and jungles of this geographically diverse continent. Presented by David Attenborough, “Africa” is just one of several BBC documentaries funded by Chinese state broadcasting network China Central Television.