Hollywood Grapples With Right Approach to Climate Change in Movies, TV Shows

Elaine Low

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The climate crisis is a frequent visitor to the plot of Hollywood movies, sometimes as a catalyst in disaster pics such as “The Day After Tomorrow,” sometimes as part of an allegory about Mother Earth, as Jennifer Lawrence and Darren Aronofsky have said is the case in “Mother!” The bombastic depictions of global warming and the havoc it portends have typically been more limited to fiction than documentary, save for the theatrical impact of “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006.

“I think it’ll be interesting to watch those films in the future with some hindsight; we can read them as a reflection of our anxiety rather than a tackling of an issue,” says “The Hottest August” filmmaker Brett Story, whose doc asks people how they feel about the future. “How can we exist on a planet and oversee its destruction — a destruction that threatens our very existence — and seem to be so passive in the face of it? So it’s really a question about people.”

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Her film, which screened at SXSW, is one of a handful of projects in 2019 that consider the issue. “I feel a responsibility to try and offer something genuinely illuminating about the state of things, but without creating something that’s self-righteous,” she says.  

On the small screen, the issue generally gets a more sobering look. There’s “Years and Years,” the simmering political drama on HBO that first aired on BBC One in the U.K. Of note is Apple’s forthcoming “Losing Earth,” based on the New York Times feature about the decade that the climate crisis was nearly solved. 

On the news side, CBSN has a recurring segment, “Climate Watch,” and CNN hosted a Climate Crisis Town Hall on Sept. 4 in which the Democratic presidential candidates discussed the crisis.

“Science is at the heart of this topic,” says CBS News Digital general manager Christy Tanner, adding, “Climate change is a factor of so many of the stories we cover right now. Everything from migration to extreme weather to food and water supply and quality, and obviously many other topics. So we are committed to covering the impact of climate change on a variety of topics that we cover day in and day out.”

Here’s a glimpse at how TV and film have touched on global warming and the climate crisis, directly or indirectly, in recent years. 

FILM

Dramatic

Dark Waters (Nov. 22, 2019)

“Aquaman” (2018) 

“Avengers: Infinity War” (2018)

“The Predator” (2018) 

“Venom” (2018)

“Downsizing” (2017)

“First Reformed” (2017)

“Geostorm” (2017)

“Mother!” (2017)

“Interstellar” (2014)

“Snowpiercer” (2013)

“Beasts of the Southern Wild” (2012) 

“Wall-E” (2008) 

“The Day After Tomorrow” (2004)

Documentaries (theatrical)

“The Hottest August” (2019) 

“Living in Future’s Past” (2018) 

“Chasing Coral” (2017) 

“In This Climate”(2017)

“An Inconvenient Sequel” (2017)

“Before the Flood” (2016)

“Chasing Ice” (2012)

“The 11th Hour” (2007) 

“An Inconvenient Truth” (2006)

TELEVISION

Photo Ark NatGeo, 2020; A two-hour event special spotlighting wildlife impacted by climate change, habitat loss and other threats

Wildlife Warriors Discovery Channel, 2020; Series about conservation and mitigating animal extinction 

Climate Watch CBSN, 2017-Present; Recurring news segment that tracks climate change

Climate Change: The Facts BBC, 2019; David Attenborough explores climate science and possible solutions to the crisis

A Climate Reckoning in the Heartland CBSN Originals, 2019 ; A documentary on the impact of climate change on farming in Nebraska

Ice on Fire HBO, 2019; The Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary examines “never-before-seen solutions” to the climate crisis

Our Planet Netflix, 2019; The Attenborough-narrated documentary tracks climate change’s impact on animals the world over

Years and Years HBO/BBC, 2019; The sci-fi miniseries follows a British family amid global warming and political chaos

One Strange Rock NatGeo, 2018; Series on Earth hosted by Will Smith and produced by Darren Aronofsky; Season 2 in the works

True North Go90, 2018l The docuseries produced by The Young Turks Network aired on Verizon’s mobile streaming service

Years of Living Dangerously Showtime, 2014; NatGeo, 2016; Star-studded global warming-focused docuseries 

Losing Earth Apple TV, TBA; In development; based on New York Times climate package

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