Renowned for his soft-spoken and calming narration, Sir David Attenborough has the ability to keep you interested in any nature and wildlife subject. Though the legendary British broadcaster is famous for his visually stunning and informative nature documentary series, not everyone has the luxury of time (and for some, patience) to sit through multiple episodes. Fortunately, the naturalist has made plenty of documentary films that provide effective and educational snapshots of some of the biggest environmental issues at hand, as well as lighter features depicting the rich lives of wildlife animals. Here are some of the best David Attenborough movies to watch and learn from.
David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet (2020)
In what David Attenborough calls his “witness statement” for the environment, A Life on Our Planet guides viewers through his 60-year career, and demonstrates the devastating changes our planet has experienced in his lifetime. Originally released on Netflix in 2020, the 85-minute documentary presents some pretty grim predictions for the future should humanity continue on its current path, including a sixth mass extinction and a 4C global temperature rise that will render large parts of the Earth uninhabitable. Atypical of his usual nature documentaries, Attenborough takes a more critical tone in Our Planet, condemning human’s treatment of the natural world, which makes his message of hope all the more effective as he talks about the solutions in combating the climate crisis at the conclusion of the film.
Extinction: The Facts (2020)
If you have to watch one film about the state of the world’s endangered species and biodiversity loss, make it this one. Extinction: The Facts, originally aired on BBC in September 2020, depicts how the world is accelerating the sixth mass extinction, where human activity such as poaching, illegal wildlife trade and overfishing are pushing one million out of eight million species on the planet to the brink of extinction. Human-caused climate change is heavily discussed here and how rising temperatures are driving animals into habitats and conditions that they will eventually be unable to survive in. Attenborough also tackles issues closer to home such as the need for the UK to provide environmental labels in their food products to reduce people’s carbon footprints. It’s a powerful and highly educational documentary presented in just under an hour, offering some great insights from a range of experts, as well as drawing a connection between biodiversity and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Attenborough’s Life That Glows (2016)
Discover all things that glow and luminescent in this visually stunning documentary dedicated to the biology and ecology of bioluminescent organisms – animals, fungi and bacteria that can create light and essentially glow in the dark. Attenborough explores familiar creatures such as fireflies and the luminous plankton that help create the Milky seas effect, and introduces luminous deep sea animals ranging from the vampire squid to the viperfish. There’s no shortage of glowing animals throughout the movie as the British naturalist and a team made up of leading scientists and deep-sea explorers take audiences to mysterious and rarely unexplored realms. What they end up with is a truly magical light show.
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Deep Blue (2003)
Many hail David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet as one of the best nature documentary series of all time, lauded for its comprehensive coverage of marine life and ecosystems, as well as stunning music and cinematography. Deep Blue is a film adaptation of the eight-part series condensed into 90 minutes, a quarter of which features footage that was not used in the series. The film follows 15 narratives showing the lives of various animals living in and near the oceans that make up two-thirds of the planet’s surface, including the migratory journeys of grey whales and polar bears’ struggles in the Arctic. While Deep Blue is more visually striking than it is informative compared to its original series, it is nevertheless an effective movie showcasing important marine animals and their behaviour within one sitting.
Image by: Wikimedia Commons
The Penguin King (2012)
One of the best David Attenborough movies is in fact one that is targeted towards a younger audience. The Penguin King is a more lighthearted film that follows the journey of a penguin born on the Island of South Georgia located between Antarctica and South America, otherwise known as the Penguin City where over six million king penguins gather, from his hatching to its efforts to establish himself and find a mate. Running around 75 minutes, Attenborough’s commentary in this movie varies between comical and educational, but still manages to create an emotive story against a stunning visual backdrop of the icy environs of South Georgia. It’s a great documentary to put on for young fans of nature and animals, or for those looking for a lighter movie about penguins.
Attenborough and the Giant Egg (2011)
One of the most personal movies David Attenborough ever made, Attenborough and the Giant Egg sees the legendary broadcaster revisit the island where he filmed one of his first ever nature series Zoo Quest 50 years later. In 1960, Attenborough travelled to Madagascar and acquired a giant egg belonging to an extinct bird known as the elephant bird – the largest bird that ever lived. Interweaving with old footage from Zoo Quest, the documentary film follows Attenborough revisit scenes from his past, meet new people at the front line of wildlife protection, and discovers along the way the history behind the elephant bird egg and causes of its extinction.
Though David Attenborough only served as a narrator in this documentary, Wild Karnataka is one of the few comprehensive studies into the Indian state of Karnataka’s rich biodiversity that is worth giving attention to. Despite being home to 68 million people in an area half the size of Germany, Karnataka is home to more tigers and elephants than any other place on Earth. With Attenborough’s signature calming voice narrating throughout, the film explores Karnataka’s incredibly diverse habitats and species, following the monsoon across a year. The technical drone shots of elephants alone are well worth the watch.
Featured image by: Karwai Tang/ UK Government/Flickr