These 10 films explore the very real effects of climate change. Some of them mirror our reality, others help us expand our imagination to spur us into action.
It is the year 2020.
And in 2020, the continued expansion of the internet and the onset of social media has made it so that, 99.9% of the time, information is readily available. This goes double for smartphones too, as they now give us the opportunity to look up things (at our fingertips) that we would’ve most certainly had to stop at a library for some twenty-odd years ago.
With this all being the case, you’d think many of us would have the know-how to verify for ourselves that climate change is a thing. You’d think we’d have the know-how to verify that a handful of billionaires are not going to suddenly wake up and want to save a planet that they benefit from slowly destroying for profit (a la accelerating climate change). And you’d think that if said billionaires were to suddenly “have a change of heart” and so-called donate ten billion to fight climate change, we’d have the sense and know-how to conclude that the idea is no more than a glorified tax write-off.
There’s a lot of ways one could engage the frustrations that arise as a result of the things mentioned above. But rather than get all soapbox-y about it, I have compiled a list of nine films that have some things to say about climate change… and how a billionaire like Jeff Bezos isn’t gonna magically wake up one day and want to save us all from it:
1. Erin Brockovich (2000)
Aside from this film holding the distinction of being the vehicle for one of Julia Roberts’ best performances on screen, Erin Brockovich—based on actual events where PG&E purposefully let the water of its poor Hinkley, CA residents get contaminated with carcinogenic hexavalent chromium—gives us a peek into what happens when resources are scarce (or aggressively commodified) and the powers that be (capitalism) decides that they will provide access to these resources at the expense of the poor.
2. Soylent Green (1973)
Soylent Green is probably the loudest film on this list when it comes to warning us about what is to come if we don’t get climate change under control. The film purposely points to the greenhouse effect and a quickly warming Earth as what did humanity in and then plays out its results—including food rationing and the clear demarcation between rich and poor, with the latter not even being able to afford housing and the former being holed up in snazzy, air-conditioned apartments. And the secret behind such rations, interestingly named Soylent Green, is perhaps the film’s most powerful message about a system of greed and exploitation that will eventually eat itself.
3. Blade Runner (1982)
When people watch Blade Runner, they usually focus their attention on one of the film’s lingering questions: whether or not Deckard is a replicant. But there are other important themes the film touches on, including omnipresent policing and the surveillance state, corporate evil, AND how the members of this world exert what little control they have on the environment. If you pay attention, you will notice that there is no natural animal or plant life in the film and that artificial versions replace what has gone extinct. Add this to the fact that there are frequent mentions of “off-world” colonies and you can begin to understand that Earth—in this world and ours—is headed toward inhabitable conditions. And that we would rather begin the process of colonizing and destroying other worlds rather than just fixing our own.
4. Snowpiercer (2013)
Before Oscar award-winning director Bong Joon-ho would direct the critically-acclaimed Parasite, the auteur directed the equally poignant Snowpiercer. In the film, the world has been thrown into a second Ice Age after climate engineering (that is, the act of trying to reverse the damage of climate change through technology) goes wrong and the only remaining survivors are placed on a circumnavigational train. This quickly snowballs (ha!) into class warfare when the poor are herded to the back of the train like cattle and the rich get to remain in the front with obvious perks. In addition to its commentary on how class will be affected (or rather exacerbated) by climate change, the film also has something to say about the quickly-closing gap of time that we have to stop or at least reduce the damage that climate change has already wrought on planet Earth.
5. The Day After Tomorrow (2004)
The Day After Tomorrow—after Soylent Green—is perhaps one of the most interesting films on the list, because not only does it position itself as a climate change horror/disaster film (as it should be), but a lot of its focus is on how weak and irresponsible government policy (the vice president in the film literally looks so much like former VP Dick Cheney) and government action will surely be one of the main factors in exacerbating climate change. And considering that we cannot even get a conversation on climate change going during one of these major Democratic Debates, I’d say that the film was onto something.
6. Wall-E (2008)
Pixar has carved out an interesting niche for itself in film where it utilizes [CGI] animation (something historically regarded as “childish”) to carry out some pretty serious but accessible messages. For Wall-E, the film takes on (in an alternate version of things) what could be our future relationship between the decline of planet Earth and nostalgia. In addition to this, it offers a hard-to-miss rebuke of mega-corporations and their potential involvement in (and contribution to) climate change. I honestly want to take the whole film @ Amazon on Twitter.
7. Princess Mononoke (1997)
Words cannot express how much I adore Hayao Miyazaki and his work. And while he has produced 3423092283209 films that have things to say about war or coming-of-age, and etc, perhaps my favorite film of his is Princess Mononoke. This is because unlike the other films on this, this particular film offers nature—particularly its animals and a pretty strong, mystical forest—the opportunity to fight back against the humans who seek to consume them and their resources for their own selfish purposes. Of course, the film doesn’t explicitly come out and say that it’s talking about climate change or environmentalism, but it does beg the particular question: what would happen if the Earth decided to, quite literally, fight back? Rather than just becoming “inhabitable”?
8. Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)
This film holds a special place on this list because it’s one of the few films to deal with the haphazard effects that climate change will have on Black and brown people (re: environmental racism), rather than just focusing on class. And it takes elements of climate change (like melting ice caps) and adds fantasy elements (i.e turning climate change into a human-induced monster—which is true) to the mix so that the message is easily consumable and understood. Additionally, the film takes place in a fictionalized version of Louisiana and touches on a lack of government intervention in this community when a major storm hits, giving us a story that is majorly concerned about the historical as well as hypothetical ways in which climate change can and has affected Black people.
9. Happy Feet (2006)
I know you’re probably thinking, “What the hell is this doing on the list?” But hear me out. While Happy Feet dazzles you with the spectacle of singing and dancing penguins who are all voiced by people like Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Brittany Murphy, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving, and E.G. Daily (what a MOTHERFUCKING cast), the film—like Princess Mononoke—focuses on the animals (as in non-humans) at the center of a quickly changing and abused planet. Case in point, food scarcity quickly becomes an issue for this community of penguins and it is soon discovered that humans—in addition to our tendency to dump our waste onto these poor animals—are responsible for their dwindling food source because of the uptick of over-fishing. And honestly, if the suffering of talking, singing, tap-dancing penguins can’t get you to care about the Earth and how it will be affected by climate change… I don’t know what will.
10. Interstellar (2014)
Topping off this list is Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. The film stands out for two good reasons. While most of this list grapples with the idea of a second Ice Age, Nolan proposes the idea of a second Dust Bowl and even focuses on what kinds of crops (i.e corn) would survive such a thing. In addition to this, Nolan correctly predicts the Western world’s rapid shift to being above the truth or “post-truth”—particularly in a world post the 2016 Presidential Election and post-Trump. And I assume this would make it damn near impossible to put together any initiative to save the Earth, much less escape it. Which… is not unlike now.