There’s much more to Netflix and Disney+ than Tiger King and classic animations – and now is the perfect opportunity to explore the several stunning documentaries available on demand.
Streaming platforms offer some truly awe-inspiring documentaries – so from Planet Earth to Disneynature to the entire backlog of National Geographic documentaries, here are the best nature documentaries on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+ to explore the world’s flora and fauna from the comfort of your living room.
Best Nature Documentaries on Netflix
Netflix collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund for this nature documentary that focuses just as much on climate change and conservation as it does on Earth’s natural beauty. Combining the production team behind BBC’s Planet Earth, David Attenborough’s legendary narration and high-quality 4K cameras, Our Planet is one of the most stunning to watch.
The docuseries easily made our list of best shows on Netflix – and might be the very best…
Speaking of Planet Earth, Netflix also has the production team’s classic 2006 docuseries for you to enjoy. The most expensive documentary the BBC had ever commissioned at the time – and the first filmed in HD – this all-encompassing wildlife series is not only one of the best nature documentaries ever made, but some of the best television produced in any genre. It was successful enough to warrant an equally-stunning sequel – see below…
Planet Earth II
Ten years later the BBC upped the game yet again with Planet Earth II, their very first series filmed in ultra-high definition showcasing life in all shapes and sizes from all around the globe. Featuring the award-winning production team behind the first Planet Earth, the return of national treasure Sir David Attenborough as narrator and a theme tune from Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer, Planet Earth II is more of a blockbuster movie than a TV series. Users on film database IMDb have even rated Planet Earth II as the best TV series ever made – beating the likes of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones.
Night on Earth: Shot in the Dark
As if wildlife tv crews didn’t have it hard enough already, this underrated Netflix Original is shot entirely at night in an interesting twist on the nature documentary. Using state-of-the-art, low light camera technology so we can actually see what’s going on, this nature series reveals in detail for the first time just what animals get up to at night – and they do a lot more than sleep. Exploring the nocturnal activities of animal’s everywhere from the oceans to the arctic, this is a wildlife documentary like you’ve never seen before. Watch Night on Earth on Netflix
Blue Planet II
Yet another entrant in the long-running “Planet” series, Blue Planet unsurprisingly takes to the seas to study the ecosystem we still know very little about. A sequel to the groundbreaking first series, this 2017 update sees the return of Sir David Attenborough, as well as musical maestro Hans Zimmer for an extensive dive into marine life, from the warm tropical seas to the harsh Arctic coast.
As coral reefs around the world deteriorate daily, this documentary follows a team of divers, scientists and photographers as they investigate why the important habitat is disappearing and how that could impact marine life. Winner of the Audience Award at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, this Netflix original documentary is an alarming wake-up call that global warming has underwater effects too – and that a complex ecosystem might soon be gone forever.
Best nature documentaries on Amazon Prime
This documentary follows late filmmaker Rob Stewart as he exposes the billion-dollar illegal shark fin industry – and the politicians protecting it at the cost of the world’s shark population. It is a sequel to Stewart’s 2006 film Skarkwater – one of nature documentary’s great success stories as it resulted in shark finning being banned worldwide. Stewart’s last film is a highly personal one, and a contender for one of the best movies on Amazon Prime.
James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge
The blockbuster director has long been a fan of diving, having spent hours exploring the wreckage of the Titanic as research for his record-breaking film. This documentary sees him breaking yet another record, becoming the first person to solo dive to the Earth’s lowest point – the bottom of the Mariana Trench, a staggering seven miles below sea level. Helping design his submersible himself, this documentary makes riveting viewing as Cameron risks his wealth – and his health – to achieve his childhood dream.
How the Wild West Was Won with Ray Mears
If there’s two people who are key to a good nature documentary, it’s clearly David Attenborough and Ray Mears. This series sees the bushcraft expert examine the Wild West, adding a bit of history to his wildlife documentary as he explores how human expansion altered the land in the times of cowboys and Indians. With stunning scenery of mountain ranges, open plains and deserts, there are far worse ways to be educated in American history. For other Prime television suggestions you can see our best shows on Amazon Prime.
From Parrots to Elephants: Worldwide Animal Rescues
This feel-good series does exactly what it says on the tin, showcasing caretakers looking after endangered animals all over the world. Featuring everything from American farm animals to Asian elephants, this series proves all creatures great and small can make a good nature documentary. There’s also a great look at how locals in all corners of the globe are doing their bit for conservation.
For something a little different, this documentary features many scenic shots of the world-famous Niagara Falls – as well as a pro kayaker who dreams of paddling over it. Filmed over the course of a year, this sees Rafa Ortiz attempt the impossible with a little help from his friends – and an awful lot of practice.
Best nature documentaries on Disney+
Narrated by Meghan Markle – yes, the Duchess of Sussex herself – this Disney+ original follows a herd of African elephants as they migrate across the Kalahari desert. In particular, the film follows matriarch Gaia, her sister Shani and Shani’s adorable son Jomo, as the elephant family face searing heat, dwindling food supplies and ever-present predators as they head to the Zambezi river. They may be tears at some point, but this is a beautiful new documentary for all ages which might just have a happy ending.
Elephant is exclusive to Disney+ – you can sign up for £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year.
Another new release for April 2020, with another big celebrity name – this time it is Natalie Portman bringing some star power to the small screen. From acclaimed British filmmaker Keith Scholey, Dolphin Reef follows adorable three-year-old bottlenose dolphin Echo who spends far too much time playing in his coral reef home in the Pacific Ocean. However with some of the ocean’s greatest predators nearby, hopefully mother Kumu can teach him how to grow up and survive in the unforgiving ocean…
For anyone who wondered what a live-action Finding Nemo would look like, this may well be the documentary for you.
America’s National Parks
Travel may be limited, but that’s no reason why you can’t explore America’s National Parks from the comfort of your own living room. This National Geographic documentary celebrates 100 years of the U.S. National Park system, with each episode featuring beautiful virtual tours of some of the country’s most iconic parks – including Yellowstone, Yosemite and the Grand Canyon.
The National Park theme continues, this time looking in-depth at the animals of Yellowstone. Filmed in both summer and winter, this Nat Geo series shows how the seasons – and indeed Yellowstone itself – challenge the many animals that live in the jaw-dropping location. The series is just one of the 350 shows available on Disney+ – we’ve selected some of the best Disney+ shows here.
This documentary film looks at the famous Okavango Delta, which also features in Elephant as the home of Shani and Jomo. A natural miracle, every year the area transforms from a dry desert to a water wonderland – offering both a lifeline and a challenge for the animals of Africa. Not to be outdone by the newer Disney+ offerings, this Nat Geo documentary also has a celebrity narrator – this time it’s legendary actress Angela Bassett.
No, not a documentary about Jane from Disney’s Tarzan – though the real-life Jane Goodall was pretty similar. This intimate documentary draws from over 100 hours of archival footage going back 50 years to tell the story of the renowned primatology scientist, whose chimpanzee research revolutionised our understanding of the natural world. From veteran documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen with original music from Hollywood composer Philip Glass, this documentary highlights the role of conservationists as well as the animals themselves. It’s powerful viewing, and definitely a contender for one of the best movies on Disney+.
Before the Flood
Featuring actor, environmentalist and U.N. Messenger of Peace Leonardo DiCaprio himself, this alarming documentary follows the Oscar winner as he travels the globe to see the impact of climate change first hand, as well to see what society can do to save the planet. Directed by Oscar-winner Fisher Stevens and executive produced by Martin Scorsese, this may well be the starriest nature documentary there is – not to mention the interviews with Pope Francis, Elon Musk and Barack Obama. Film fans will also get to go behind-the-scenes on the production of DiCaprio’s 2015 film The Revenant, which had to relocate due to warm weather.
For more National Geographic documentaries and new releases such as The Mandalorian, you can sign up to Disney Plus for £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year.