Top 10 Breathtaking Nature Documentaries You Must Watch

by | Mar 26, 2024 | Movies

From fiery volcanoes to mythical giant sloths, our planet is filled with jaw-dropping natural wonders just waiting to be explored.

As a documentary addict, I’m always seeking out films that can transport me right into the heart of our world’s wildest natural phenomena.

After many late nights glued to my screen, I’ve compiled my definitive list of the top 10 nature documentaries that will leave you mesmerized by the awesomeness of our Earth.

Planet Earth (2006)

#1: Planet Earth (2006)

Planet Earth documentary series is a genuinely breathtaking look at the natural world. Essentially, BBC film crews embarked on a mission to capture wildlife footage from every corner of the globe – braving extreme environments from towering mountains to the ocean depths.

The result is up-close, high-definition scenes of animal behavior that most viewers have likely never witnessed before. We get to study polar bears hunting seals on the Arctic ice, great white sharks breaching out of the water in pursuit of prey, huge buffalo herds banding together to fend off lions, and so much more.

The cinematic visuals are extraordinarily crisp and striking, commanding your full awe and attention. And having the iconic David Attenborough narrate with his renowned eloquence and wisdom truly makes you feel embedded in these remarkable ecological stories unfolding. It’s a series that simultaneously awes you with the incredible beauty and power of nature on this planet.

Planet Earth II (2016)

#2: Planet Earth II (2016)

A decade after that game-changing first series, the BBC raised the bar yet again with this ambitious follow-up Plant Earth II. Once more guided by Attenborough’s distinguished narration, you’re transported to the world’s most far-flung habitats to bear witness to previously unseen animal behaviors and natural phenomena.

From the haunting reality of starving polar bears in the Arctic to newly-discovered fungal species overtaking an island ecosystem, no stone is left un-turned in showcasing the dramatic realities of survival in the wild.

Specific sequences, like Galapagos racer snakes hunting newborn marine iguana hatchlings, are just straight-up riveting to watch unfold with your own eyes. The filmmakers clearly went to painstaking efforts to capture these one-of-a-kind visuals of our rapidly evolving planet.

While filled with adorable baby animal moments, it’s also an often heart-rending exploration of life’s fragile boundaries and environmental change. An immersive, unvarnished look at Earth’s remaining natural wonders.

Into the Inferno (2016)

#3: Into the Inferno (2016)

Leave it to that eccentric dude Werner Herzog to take us on one wild ride to some seriously intense volcanoes around the world. His signature dreamy narrating accompanies aerial shots of straight-up molten lava bubbling away inside these massive crater cauldrons from places like Vanuatu and Indonesia.

I’m talking visuals that are just hypnotically beautiful to watch, like lava lamps on steroids. But Herzog also gets all deep and philosophical about the spiritual significance of volcanoes, giving you a totally new mind-bending perspective on these fiery forces of nature. It’s a cosmic volcanic voyage, man.

Strange Days on Planet Earth (2005)

#4: Strange Days on Planet Earth (2005)

This four-part PBS series dives into all kinds of bizarre environmental mysteries happening globally and really makes you think about whether human activities could be low-key messing up nature big time.

You’ve got scientists breaking down their research on stuff like invasive species taking over, polar ice melting at alarming rates, frogs mysteriously disappearing, and more. Some of it is pretty scary once you realize how even small changes can trigger huge devastating impacts rippling through entire ecosystems.

The episode about cargo ships accidentally spreading invasive species around especially blew my mind. Eye-opening stuff narated by Edward Nortan.

The Cove (2009)

#5: The Cove (2009)

Get ready to have your heart broken by this chilling Oscar-winning documentary exposing the seriously disturbing reality behind dolphin hunting in Japan. You basically follow this team of badass activists going on these covert night missions to investigate, and what they uncover is just mass slaughter and kidnapping of intelligent dolphins for cold hard cash.

It’s incredibly difficult to watch at times, but that’s also what makes this undercover reporting so powerful – shining a much-needed light on the unethical exploitation of these amazing creatures happening in the shadows.

Chasing Ice (2012)

#6: Chasing Ice (2012)

For anyone worried about climate change, this documentary is a must-watch. This environmental photographer James Balog sets up these time-lapse cameras all across the Arctic region to just document the changing glaciers over long periods of time.

And I’m talking you straight up witness icy landscapes shrinking at terrifyingly rapid speeds, literally melting away before your eyes over the span of months and years. It provides stunningly clear visual proof of how quickly global warming is impacting these frozen environments. After seeing the shocking footage, it’s impossible to keep sticking your head in the sand about this issue.

Fire Chasers (2017)

#7: Fire Chasers (2017)

This one takes you right into the heart of raging infernos across California alongside brave-as-hell firefighters battling to contain the blazes.

The fiery imagery puts you directly on the fire line as crews urgently strategize how to tame the flames rapidly spreading through communities. It’s a gripping look at the dangerous, often overlooked work required to study and fight back against nature’s most destructive force when it rampages out of control. The heat is seriously intense.

The Secret Life of Waves (2011)

#8: The Secret Life of Waves (2011)

Okay, let me wrap up this list by transporting you under the hypnotic motion of crashing ocean waves. Combining gorgeous visuals with solid science, this film peels back the curtain on how different types of waves cooperate and collide to generate that iconic churning, rhythmic pulse of the sea.

You get to see surf crashing onto shorelines in slow-mo up close, lulling you into this deep sense of awe about the everyday magic of the natural world constantly unfolding all around us in plain sight. Soothing and captivating.

The End of the Line (2009)

#9: The End of the Line (2009)

This one is a real eye-opener about how overfishing is basically decimating marine populations and threatening the whole future of our global fisheries. There’s chilling footage of massive fish kills and eerily empty ocean waters devoid of life.

But it balances out the gloom with insights from ecologists about how we can potentially bring these ecosystems back into balance through more sustainable fishing practices and consumer mindfulness. It really made me rethink my sushi habit and overall impact on aquatic resources we often take for granted.

Flow For Love of Water (2008)

#10: Flow: For Love of Water (2008)

This beautifully poetic documentary takes a deep, reflective look at how water fundamentally shapes the human experience around the globe, while contrasting its life-giving natural beauty with the ways we often recklessly engineer it via dams and canals for our own needs.

Interviews with experts emphasize water’s vital ecological significance and how so many of our rivers and lakes are hanging on by a thread today due to overuse and pollution. The dreamy visuals draw you into a sense of reverence for H20, while also making you ponder looming global water scarcity issues in a new light.


From erupting volcanoes spewing molten fury to mesmerizing waves crashing along the shore, these documentaries vividly showcase the spectacle of nature’s raw power while also spotlighting the passionate humans striving to understand our wild, ever-changing planet on a deeper level.

If you’re craving to have your mind blown away by some seriously eye-popping science and beauty, any one of these 10 picks will definitely do the trick.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker chasing waves and flames, an explorer of underground caverns, or just someone tripping on the cosmic wonders of bubbling lava and ice sculptures melting before your eyes – now is the time to just immerse yourself in the most wild, untamed forces Mother Nature has to offer. Let the jaw-dropping visuals spark a new sense of awe about Earth’s remaining natural marvels!