Whilst documentaries can inform us of the impending dangers of climate change, and document the tireless work of activists who are dedicating their efforts to reverse its damaging effects, there's something very surreal about seeing the potential devastation that climate change could cause with the incredible technology of film and tv production.
Films have the power to realistically recreate these potential futures, and turn threats of disaster into something that become tangible to see and feel. The eco-disaster genre has become a more common phenomenon during the last two decades as filmmakers fictionalise true stories, or imagined possibilities, of the impact that global warming and pollution is having, and will have, on our world.
Image credits © Sky News
Unlike zombie apocalypses or supernatural hauntings, which may offer a fright-tastic halloween experience, eco-disaster movies are terrifying because of their sense of reality; just like the haunting prescience of ‘Contagion’ (2011) for the 2020 pandemic, we may find that some of the horrors of these movies start to come true within our lifetimes.
Since Halloween falls on a Sunday this year, we thought we’d share with you some of the best and most iconic eco-disaster movies to date, in case you’re looking for a more realistic scare this hallow’s eve! #SustainableSundays
1. 'The Day After Tomorrow' (2004)
Image credits © 20th Century Fox
Set in Manhattan, this eco-apocalypse film sees a climate scientist fail in his attempts to warn the government about the impending impact of climate change. What unfolds is a catastrophic spectacle of natural destruction, which is as visually stunning as it is horrifying. Whilst criticised for being scientifically inaccurate, this classic eco-disaster movie is bound to have you on the edge of your seat!
2. ‘Dark Waters’ (2019)
Image credits © Focus Features
Based on a shocking true story, ‘Dark Waters’ sees a legal attorney, played by Mark Ruffalo, risk his reputation to bring to justice a huge corporation which has been contaminating the local water with dangerous chemicals. DuPont, a chemical manufacturing company, are accused of dumping toxic waste into the environment, killing local cattle and causing life-threatening diseases within people in the community. This tragic tale warns against the damaging waste of large corporations, and champions the heroes who are willing to stand up to them to prevent these calamities.
3. 'Soylent Green' (1974)
Image credits © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
This early eco-disaster movie presents a dystopian future where the world is scorching hot, ultra-polluted, over-populated, and struggling to find the resources to support all of its inhabitants. The only thing keeping humanity alive is a manufactured type of food protein called Soylent Green, which is running out, fast. The conversation around climate change was only beginning in the 1970s, but this prescient movie from Richard Fleischer realistically creates a world that is not so far away from our own. Strangely enough, the movie is set in the year 2022...
4. 'Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015)
Image credits © Warner Bros. Pictures
George Miller’s fourth instalment in the Mad Max franchise is set in a world where a nuclear holocaust has ruined the natural world making everything - from water, to natural food, to gasoline - scarce, and centrally controlled by a single tyrant in a lawless society. Shot in national parks across Namibia and South Africa, this epically charged movie, starring Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron, seems to emanate the heat from the lifeless deserts through the screen towards you. Climate scientists predict that certain parts of the world may indeed begin to run out of natural running water as the planet heats up, making this movie not so far from the truth.
5. ‘Snowpiercer’ (2013)
Image credits © Paramount Pictures
From extremely hot futures to extremely cold, Bong Joon-ho's electric ‘Snowpiercer’ imagines a post-apocalyptic world where scientists have failed to enact a climate engineering programme to reverse the effects of global warming. The experiment triggers a new ice age, and the few remaining citizens of humanity now live on a constantly moving, self-sustaining train, called the Snowpiercer. This climate fiction movie, starring Chris Evans and Tilda Swinton, powerfully reduces the world down to the size of a moving train, and reveals the desperation and tyranny that potentially lies on the other side of climate disaster.
6. ‘Deepwater Horizon’ (2016)
Image credits © Lionsgate
Mark Wahlberg and Gina Rodriquez star in this fictionalisation of the environmental accident which took place in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, when a catastrophic explosion happened on a drilling oil rig. Not only did the explosion kill 11 people, and injure 17 more, but it caused huge amounts of toxic oil to spill out and contaminate the ocean, causing damage and disruption both to the ecosystem of the open water, and the coast where the oil ended up after being washed ashore. The movie serves to immortalise this horrific event which is shocking and terrifying in equal measure.
7. 'WALL-e' (2008)
Image credits © Walt Disney Studios
Although nothing too haunting takes place in this heartfelt animated Disney film, it does present a future vision of what the Earth could look like after centuries of human-waste and pollution. In the distant future, our planet has become a waste-land of garbage, making it uninhabitable for any living thing, except the waste-disposal robot, Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-Class, otherwise known as WALL-E. Through the touching relationship between WALL-E and the discovery probe Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE), the film presents the dangers of extraneous human waste in a way that can be understood by children while, at the same time, offering hope through its’ narrative that it’s never too late to undo the damage caused by years of pollution.
As we’ve been covering in our series, filmmaking can often have a negative environmental impact. Even if these films raise awareness for the realities of the climate disasters that may occur in our lifetimes, they still produce huge carbon footprints as a result of shooting. Take a look back at our recent blog series to see how you can introduce sustainable practices on your next film project!