Mention eco films and the thing that comes to mind would probably be wildlife documentaries. But eco films are more than just wildlife documentaries of a leopard sneaking up on an unsuspecting deer. They range from family-friendly movies such as Happy Feet and Wall-E to blockbusters like The Day After Tomorrow.

They all have one thing in common — advocate environmental issues and sometimes give us a glimpse of how our future might be.


The Role of Eco Films

In recent years, the popularity of eco films is on the rise. In the face of current environmental issues, many major studios have utilised them as movie themes. This has helped bring environmental issues to light.

Many celebrities like Leonardo Dicaprio have stepped up as ambassadors, using their influence to spread the word of the issues.

Thanks to eco films, the public’s knowledge of environmental issues have grown tremendously. They play such a big part in helping the public become more environmentally aware. There have been many different approaches to eco films such as action-packed thrillers and family-friendly cartoons.

Due to these different approaches, they can reach a wider audience and generate more awareness in the process.

In their own ways, eco films break down environmental issues into bite-size information that the public can relate to. From the young to the old, everyone can feel his or her stake in this environmental crisis. They can understand the importance of the role that each individual play. This makes it even more effective because the general public is not only more aware but are also more motivated to act.

It is as if we have found a bridge to bring everyone together to join the cause, including those that are initially unaware.



Types of Eco Films

On one hand, family-friendly eco films such as The Lorax and Wall-E take on a lighter tone and appeal more to the younger generation. They make use of fictional characters to bring across important messages related to the environment.

Take the movie Wall-E as an example. It depicts a possible future that humankind may have — forced to live in outer space on a spaceship because there is too much waste on Earth. The movie reminds us to live sustainably and reduce the waste we generate. Despite their light note, family-friendly eco films hit us right in the core with their impactful takeaways and their carefully worded quotes.

One of my favourite quotes from The Lorax struck a chord in me because it holds no truer words.  “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is ever going to get better. It’s not.”

On the other hand, blockbusters and thrillers show environmental issues in a more dramatic way. The all-time favourite of many, The Day After Tomorrow, display the effects climate change can have on our lives by showing the wrath and destruction nature can bring.

It reminds us of the importance of protecting our environment, lest the consequences portrayed in the movie materialise. Blockbusters may be dramatic and exaggerating in some cases. Nonetheless, they have proven to be successful in building more environmental awareness.


But Why Are We Still in Trouble?

If eco films are that influential, why are we still in this dire state? Unfortunately, there is a limit as to what they can do. There is always a limit in terms of what can be brought to the screen. Eco films generally try to bring a wide variety to the table. However, some issues might be difficult to portray.

While eco films try their best to depict accurately on melting ice caps and rising sea levels to the screen, it still misses the mark by a hair’s width. Perhaps because we are unable to experience the effects of these problems.

To us, a sea-level rise of about 3 inches in the past 25 years is mere statistics. But perhaps to a Fijian suffering the brunt of rising sea levels, it is a loss of his or her livelihood and home. With eco films, we are able to get a glimpse of the current situation. But unless we can experience it first-hand, we will never get a full grasp of the situation.




After all, eco films are mediums of media. It still faces the problem of censorship. While I am unsure of the extent of censorship, I would take eco films with a pinch of salt. Environmental issues are never stand alone. They are closely related with politics, economics and global relations. Behind the face of eco films presented to the public, is perhaps the intricacies and the trade-offs that are censored.

Take the issue of roadkill as an example. This issue is one of the more difficult ones to bring to the screen. Not only is it often too bloody, but it is also a controversial issue in many scenarios because it tethers between the fine lines of accident and crime.

It is important to understand environmental issues lie in grey areas. Because of this, it is sometimes hard to bring it wholesale to light without dragging others who prefer to remain in the dark along with it.



Most importantly, before they are eco films, they are first and foremost, films. As films, most audiences expect to be entertained by them. No one likes to be nagged to do something to change his or her lifestyles. They seek to be entertained. This is perhaps the main reason why some eco films portray environmental issues a little too light or too unrealistic.

In a sense, the public is misguided and lacked a realistic understanding of the situation and its severity. Knowledge is vital in order to push for action.  If the knowledge is not right, things can backfire.


Envisioning Eco Films of the Future

In many situations, some eco films depict nature as a force to be reckoned with. Step on its tail and you unleash its wrath. These films evoke fear of nature in our hearts. In my opinion, while this is possible and often effective to push for action, it might not be the best way.

Films should not portray nature and humankind as two exclusive dichotomies that cannot survive with each other. Humans and nature go hand in hand and evoking fear of the other might just drive us further apart.

My hope for eco films of the future is to showcase how nature and humankind can coexist harmoniously. After all, we have done so for the past 200,000 years (maybe minus the past 50 years or so when we started on this environmental decline).

Eco films call for action. They raise awareness about environmental issues. They show us how our future can look like if we continue on this path. Indeed, eco films are useful for building environmental literacy in our society. Its benefits are potentially far-reaching. But awareness does not equate action.


Ultimately, eco films are not miracle workers no matter how effective they are. It is still our part to act upon the knowledge and protect the environment. Beyond simply watching eco films, take it a step further and translate your knowledge into action.



Bohlmann, A. (2013, August 27). Can environmental films help save the planet?
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Luxford, J. (2017, August 17). What impact do environmental documentaries really have?
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