30 Highest-Rated Nature Documentaries To Stream

A pride of lions in nature

Captivated by the mating habits of jellyfish, elephants mourning their ancestors, and proud lionesses cuddling their cubs, audiences love to peer into the private lives of creatures great and small — particularly in spectacular settings around the world.

A study by the BBC and the University of California Berkeley revealed why viewers choose to kick back and tune into programs like “Honey Badgers: Masters of Mayhem” and “The Tigers of Scotland” ⁠— nature documentaries trigger the neurochemicals of happiness, reducing stress and anxiety.

Some of the best proponents of the genre come from the BBC Natural History Unit, which has been cranking out award-winning nature documentaries since 1957, often in conjunction with natural historian and television producer Sir David Attenborough.

Now in his 90s, Attenborough has worked with the BBC for over 60 years. He is the genius behind several acclaimed and iconic series, including “Life” and “Blue Planet,” which millions worldwide continue to watch.

In recent years, a growing number of filmmakers have used their platforms to raise public consciousness about the many threats posed by global warming.

Coral bleaching, rising sea levels, farm animal cruelty, and melting polar ice caps have all been the subject of documentaries, as well as the significant role played by human beings concerning climate change and environmental degradation.

Celebrity activists like Leonardo DiCaprio and Oprah Winfrey have also lent their status to the movement, behind the camera and in front of it.

Our partners at Stacker put together a list of the the top nature documentaries of all time — based on user ratings from IMDb.

Consideration went to documentaries and single-season documentary miniseries focused on plants, animals, or the environment.

To qualify, the documentary or miniseries had to have at least 2,500 votes.

Read on to find out which films exposed barbarous ancient fishing practices, employed revolutionary photography techniques, or were recently outed for faking content...

You might also like: The Best Climate Change Documentaries | The Best Books About Climate Change

Highest-Rated Nature Documentaries of All Time

Ranking Documentary Title IMDb Rating
#30 Free Solo 8.1
#29 Beautiful People 8.2
#28 The Last Lions 8.2
#27 Kiss the Ground 8.2
#26 Racing Extinction 8.2
#25 Virunga 8.2
#24 Before the Flood 8.2
#23 Koyaanisqatsi 8.2
#22 Walking with Prehistoric Beasts 8.3
#21 Wild China 8.4
#20 The Salt of the Earth 8.4
#19 Samsara 8.4
#18 The Cove 8.4
#17 Home 8.5
#16 Wild Pacific 8.7
#15 Wonders of the Universe 8.8
#14 Nature's Great Events 8.9
#13 Life in the Undergrowth 9.0
#12 Dominion 9.0
#11 Africa 9.0
#10 Human Planet 9.0
#9 Frozen Planet 9.0
#8 The Blue Planet 9.0
#7 The Life of Mammals 9.1
#6 Life 9.1
#5 The Hunt 9.2
#4 Blue Planet II 9.3
#3 Our Planet 9.3
#2 Planet Earth 9.4
#1 Planet Earth II 9.5

#30. Free Solo (2018)

— Directors: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
— IMDb user rating: 8.1
— Runtime: 100 minutes

"Free Solo" is the term for the kind of climbing done alone ("solo") and without the usual harnesses, ropes, and carabiners that most rock climbers use as a form of security and safety ("free" of that stuff).

The documentary captures climber Alex Honnold's free solo climbs up virtually vertical slabs of rock, capturing with dizzying clarity the danger of these climbs. The film builds to his ascent of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park — a well-known climbing destination of 5,000-plus feet.

#29. Beautiful People (1974)

— Director: Jamie Uys
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 92 minutes

Directed by Jamie Uys of "The Gods Must Be Crazy" fame, "Beautiful People" (also released as "Animals are Beautiful People") takes a gentle and frequently humorous look at South African wildlife. A scene in which inebriated animals indulge in fermented fruit is one of the highlights of this 1975 Golden Globe winner.

#28. The Last Lions (2011)

— Director: Dereck Joubert
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 88 minutes

The brainchild of conservationists and filmmakers Dereck and Beverly Joubert, "The Last Lions" plays like a feature film as it chronicles the trials and tribulations of Ma di Tau — a remarkable lioness committed to defending her family in Botswana's treacherous Okavango Delta.

Narrated by actor Jeremy Irons, the film draws attention to the plight of the wild lion population, which has dwindled from approximately 450,000 to 20,000 in the last 50 years.

#27. Kiss the Ground (2020)

— Directors: Joshua Tickell, Rebecca Harrell Tickell
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 84 minutes

Narrated by award-winning actor Woody Harrelson, "Kiss the Ground" takes a hopeful approach to showcasing efforts to combat climate change. The Netflix documentary presents regenerating the world's soils as the solution to stabilizing Earth's climate.

Praised by many for featuring the old yet new practice of regenerative farming, the film was also criticized for ignoring the groups of Indigenous people who traditionally cared for the health of the soil before colonization disregarded their practices.

#26. Racing Extinction (2015)

— Director: Louie Psihoyos
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 90 minutes

"Racing Extinction" explores the devastating effects of climate change on the world's oceans. Human activity — notably energy consumption — currently threatens half of the world's aquatic species with mass extinction. Helmed by Academy Award-winning director Louie Psihoyos, this documentary urges viewers to act before it's too late.

#25. Virunga (2014)

— Director: Orlando von Einsiedel
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 100 minutes

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a protected group of gorillas live in Virunga National Park. Director Orlando von Einsiedel and his crew head there to film a documentary about the park rangers and their dangerous work protecting the animals and the land ripe with oil and wanted by powerful oil companies. Instead, he ends up telling a story of the war between capitalism and conservation.

#24. Before the Flood (2016)

— Director: Fisher Stevens
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 96 minutes

In "Before the Flood," United Nations Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio takes viewers on a journey around the world, illustrating the threat posed by global warming. Directed by Academy Award-winner Fisher Stevens, this National Geographic production practices what it preaches, offsetting carbon emissions created during production with a voluntary carbon tax.

#23. Koyaanisqatsi (1982)

— Director: Godfrey Reggio
— IMDb user rating: 8.2
— Runtime: 86 minutes

"Koyaanisqatsi" is a Hopi word that translates to "life out of balance" and is also the subject of director Godfrey Reggio's documentary, which details the inherent conflict between nature and urbanism. An original score by legendary composer Philip Glass complements the stunning cinematography.

#22. Walking with Prehistoric Beasts (2001)

— Stars: Kenneth Branagh, Stockard Channing, Larry Agenbroad, Frank Fish
— IMDb user rating: 8.3
— Runtime: 180 minutes

Also called "Walking with Beasts," this joint BBC/Discovery Channel effort explores life on Earth immediately after the big lizards became extinct. Sir Kenneth Branagh narrates this six-part look at the habits and habitats of wooly mammoths and saber-tooth predators.

#21. Wild China (2008)

— Star: Bernard Hill
— IMDb user rating: 8.4
— Runtime: 300 minutes

This groundbreaking six-part series transported never-before-seen images of Chinese wildlife into homes around the world. A Sino-British production, the project took two years to complete and includes rare footage of some of China's most remote regions, including the Mongolian steppes and the Tibetan plateau.

#20. The Salt of the Earth (2014)

— Directors: Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders
— IMDb user rating: 8.4
— Runtime: 110 minutes

"The Salt of the Earth" follows acclaimed photographer Sebastião Salgado in his quest to document the planet's most arresting landscapes and their inhabitants. Directed by Juliano Ribeiro Salgado (the subject's son) and indie icon Wim Wenders, the film was nominated for the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

A pride of lions on a field
(Leonard von Bibra/Unsplash)

#19. Samsara (2011)

— Director: Ron Fricke
— IMDb user rating: 8.4
— Runtime: 102 minutes

From "Baraka" filmmakers Ron Fricke and Mark Magidson, this mesmerizing, non-narrative documentary was filmed over five years in over 25 countries. Shot using visually superior 70mm film, "Samsara" explores human spirituality as it relates to the Earth's natural rhythms.

#18. The Cove (2009)

— Director: Louie Psihoyos
— IMDb user rating: 8.4
— Runtime: 92 minutes

Using high-definition cameras disguised as rocks, director Louie Psihoyos and his crew exposed the covert and cruel practice of dolphin drive-hunting in Taiji, Japan, whereby schools of dolphins are hoarded into coves, trapped, and killed for profit.

Winner of the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, "The Cove" sparked outrage among animal activists worldwide as well as a hotly contested backlash against the Japanese fishing community.

#17. Home (2009)

—  Director: Yann Arthus-Bertrand
— IMDb user rating: 8.5
— Runtime: 118 minutes

Earth, home to all human beings, is the star of this stunning documentary by Yann Arthus-Bertrand and produced by Luc Besson. The film showcases awe-inspiring aerial landscapes from 54 countries while simultaneously citing alarming statistics about climate change and its potentially devastating effects.

#16. Wild Pacific (2009)

— Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Mike Rowe, Richard Wollocombe, Mark Brownlow
— IMDb user rating: 8.7
— Runtime: 353 minutes

Released as "South Pacific" in the U.K., this six-part BBC series, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch, explores the unique ecosystems of isolated South Pacific islands, including the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palau, and Palmyra. The final installment, shot entirely in high definition, highlights climate-related dangers such as rising seas, overfishing, and reef damage.

#15. Wonders of the Universe (2011)

— Stars: Brian Cox, Steven Mackintosh
— IMDb user rating: 8.8
— Runtime: 240 minutes

University of Manchester physicist Brian Cox contemplates the origins of the universe and the history of man in this cerebral, four-part BBC documentary. In this follow-up to the 2010 series "Wonders of the Solar System," Cox turns to science for answers to existential questions that have plagued humanity since the dawn of consciousness.

#14. Nature's Great Events (2009)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Joe Stevens, Mike Holding, Shane Moore
— IMDb user rating: 8.9
— Runtime: 355 minutes

The BBC docuseries "Nature's Great Events" is a stunning cinematic look at some of nature's most significant events. With six episodes—including "The Great Salmon Run," detailing the annual salmon run and how it affects North America's ecosystem, and "The Great Flood," showing the flooding of the Okavango Delta in Botswana—it's as comprehensive an explainer of natural events as you can get in film.

#13. Life in the Undergrowth (2005)

— Star: David Attenborough
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 250 minutes

Another David Attenborough vehicle, this 2005 BBC documentary exposes the secret lives of insects. Employing the latest technological advances in macrophotography, "Life in the Undergrowth" raised the bar for wildlife documentary filmmaking.

#12. Dominion (2018)

— Director: Chris Delforce
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 120 minutes

Infamous for shocking and disturbing footage of animal cruelty, "Dominion" forces viewers to confront how the sausage gets made. In this case, how the hamburgers, ribs, and chicken breasts people enjoy are the result of the nauseating practices of meat farming.

The creators behind this documentary managed to get footage inside large-scale production farms and plants, using hidden cameras and drones to capture truly upsetting scenes of animal abuse that are a routine part of getting meat onto plates. Joaquin Phoenix, Rooney Mara, Sia, and more narrate.

#11. Africa (2013)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Simon Blakeney, Mark Deeble, Kevin Flay
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 360 minutes

"Africa" takes viewers on an unprecedented journey across this geographically diverse continent's deserts, savannahs, and jungles. Presented by David Attenborough, "Africa" is just one of several BBC documentaries funded by the Chinese state broadcasting network China Central Television.

#10. Human Planet (2011)

— Stars: John Hurt, Roger Munns
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 480 minutes

"Human Planet," another BBC/Discovery project, examines how people survive in some of the most brutal environments on the planet by building relationships with animals. Rocked by a scandal in 2018, Netflix pulled the documentary from its library amidst accusations of faked footage.

#9. Frozen Planet (2011–2012)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Alec Baldwin, Chadden Hunter, Michael Kelem
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 333 minutes

Polar bears and penguins are front and center in this high-definition look at life above and below the ice. A BBC classic presented by natural historian and television personality Sir David Attenborough, "Frozen Planet" focuses on the Arctic and Antarctic — the two regions on the planet at greatest risk from global warming.

#8. The Blue Planet (2001)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Pierce Brosnan, Peter Scoones
— IMDb user rating: 9.0
— Runtime: 389 minutes

Water covers approximately three-quarters of the Earth's surface — the subject of this riveting eight-part BBC series narrated by David Attenborough, which took home two Emmys. In 2018, a newly discovered species of ocean plankton was christened Syracosphaera azureaplaneta, in honor of the series.

#7. The Life of Mammals (2002–2003)

— Star: David Attenborough
— IMDb user rating: 9.1
— Runtime: 500 minutes

A follow-up to BBC's "The Life of Birds," "The Life of Mammals" explores the origins and habits of arguably the planet's most engaging and improvising inhabitants. Highlights include nonagenarian presenter David Attenborough hanging out with a sloth.

#6. Life (2009)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Oprah Winfrey, Doug Allan, Roger Munns
— IMDb user rating: 9.1
— Runtime: 473 minutes

A BBC/Discovery co-production, "Life" focuses on Charles Darwin's "struggle for existence." David Attenborough narrated the original U.K. version of the film, but Oprah Winfrey replaced him for the documentary's U.S. release.

#5. The Hunt (2015)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Jamie McPherson, Huw Cordey, Damien Boisseau
— IMDb user rating: 9.2
— Runtime: 420 minutes

It's "kill or be killed" in this high-stakes BBC series, which casts killer whales and polar bears in a sympathetic light. Narrated by David Attenborough, "The Hunt" employed novel filming techniques to get the perfect shot, including cameras suspended from elephants.

#4. Blue Planet II (2017)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Peter Drost, Roger Munns, Roger Horrocks
— IMDb user rating: 9.3
— Runtime: 364 minutes

This sequel to the 2001 BBC series "Blue Planet" takes a second look at the high seas with new technology built especially for the follow-up series. Presenter David Attenborough guides viewers through the mating practices of ocean dwellers and warns against the dangers of global warming.

#3. Our Planet (2019)

— Star: David Attenborough
— IMDb user rating: 9.3
— Runtime: 403 minutes

The Netflix film "Our Planet" isn't a BBC production, but it sure looks like one. Produced by the same team responsible for "Planet Earth" and featuring the venerable David Attenborough, the film goes where many earlier nature documentaries fear to tread, compelling audiences to accept their own role in the destruction of the environment.

#2. Planet Earth (2006)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Sigourney Weaver, Nikolay Drozdov, Thomas Anguti Johnston
— IMDb user rating: 9.4
— Runtime: 538 minutes

This expensive BBC project is a remarkable 11-part series that transported audiences to a panoply of natural habitats spread over 64 countries. Actor Sigourney Weaver narrates the U.S. release, stepping in for the icon of British natural history, David Attenborough.

#1. Planet Earth II (2016)

— Stars: David Attenborough, Gordon Buchanan, Chadden Hunter, Fredi Devas
— IMDb user rating: 9.5
— Runtime: 298 minutes

"Planet Earth II" treads the same terrain as its predecessor, the 2006 mega-documentary "Planet Earth." All manner of creatures eat, hunt, and mate, but a decade later, they do so in Ultra-HD, which makes for even more riveting viewing.

This story was originally published by Stacker and republished pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

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