Six sustainability movies for the environmentally savvy

23 September 2019 - By Alex Voskou

There has been many a movie metaphor for humankind’s impact on the Earth, ranging from little-known niche horrors to big budget environmental apocalypses. So to celebrate Climate Week NYC 2019, we thought we’d put together a list of our favourite environmental and sustainability movies, along with the main lessons they teach us about our daily practices.

The Day After Tomorrow (2004)

Climatic carnage ensues when water from the melting polar ice caps disrupts the North Atlantic Current, the ocean system which circulates warm water from the equatorial tropics and helps give northwestern Europe its temperate climate. The resulting climate shift sees New York engulfed by a giant tidal wave, Los Angeles devastated by a series of tornadoes and, last but not least, the onset of a new ice age.

Though the science is somewhat embellished and the speed and severity of the cataclysms are hugely exaggerated for cinematic effect, recent research has suggested that such a shift in Atlantic water circulation might already be happening. Better get the woollies out.
Sustainability movies - The day after tomorrow (2004)
Sustainability lessons:

  • Cut down your carbon.
  • Listen to the scientist.
  • If the temperature drops to -150 degrees F, don’t go for a walk.

The Tunnel (2011)

This crowdfunded, found-footage Aussie horror is a terrifying cinematic case study on the dangers of careless resources management and non-disclosure. When the government suddenly backtracks on a plan to supplement Sydney’s dwindling water supply with recently-discovered reserves from abandoned underground tunnels, a suspicious film crew suspects a cover-up. Setting off into the tunnels to find out what could possibly have caused the change of heart, the team get their answer when they’re mercilessly stalked by a hidden creature in the darkness. If only those pesky politicians had been a little more open…

Sustainability lessons:

  • Look after your water.
  • Be transparent on material issues.
  • Don’t trespass into disused underground tunnels in the dark.
Sustainability movies - The tunnel (2011)

The Bay (2012)

When researchers discover high levels of toxicity in the bay of a sleepy Maryland town, the mayor, in classically misguided Jaws fashion, refuses to take action for fear of causing a panic. The result, predictably, is complete chaos. A plague sweeps through the town in the form of a deadly waterborne parasite (mutated by waste dumped into the harbour) which drives the host organism to horrendous acts of violence. Not ideal during tourist season.

Sustainability movies - The bay (2012)

Sustainability lessons:

  • Dispose of your waste in an environmentally-friendly way.
  • Listen to the scientists.
  • Corporate transparency is absolutely key, so if you’ve done something you shouldn’t, make sure you disclose on your dumping.

The Host (2006)

Especially poignant because it’s based on real-life reports of the US military dumping embalming fluid down the drain while working in Seoul, this South Korean monster movie sees a bizarre creature (think a cross between a fish, a frog and a lizard) crawl out of the Han River and embark on a bloody rampage. Horrible and hilarious in equal measure, the Host is yet another movie metaphor for the (scientifically dubious, but nonetheless entertaining) dangers of disposing of toxic waste in an unethical way.

Sustainability lessons:

  • Respect other countries as much as your own.
  • Don’t pour your deadly toxins down the laboratory plughole.
  • Avoid walking too close to the river’s edge.
Sustainability movies - The host (2006)

Waterworld (1995)

The Earth is a giant ocean following the melting of the polar ice caps, with the remainder of the human race forced to live aboard makeshift flotillas. Crazed tobacco-addicted bandits scour the seas for a little girl with a tattoo on her back that may be a map to dry land. Kevin Costner’s moody and much-reprised messianic character, known as the Mariner, undertakes to protect the little girl and her mother, hoping the myth will prove to be mankind’s salvation from its seafaring dystopia.

Sustainability movies - Waterworld (1995)

Sustainability lessons:

  • Cut down your emissions.
  • Collaborate with likeminded people to help bring about change.
  • Store maps and other important information digitally.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Humanity’s very existence is thrown into the balance when Godzilla faces off against a horde of ancient, supersized godlike creatures, known as the Titans. While the original 1954 Godzilla was awakened and mutated by US nuclear weapons testing – providing an enduring metaphor for the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II – the latest instalment exchanges the nuclear metaphor for climate change and environmental destruction. The Titans represent the Earth’s natural defense system, bringing balance to a world becoming increasingly damaged by human activity. While causing a whole lot of damage themselves.

Sustainability lessons:

  • Use power in the right way.
  • Adopt environmentally-friendly business practices.
  • Collaborate with others who have the power to make a difference.
  • It’s wiser to befriend gargantuan wildlife than it is to fight it.
Sustainability movies - Godzilla: King of the monsters (2019)


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