The Best Nature Films of 2016

With 2016 winding down (and Award Season fast-approaching), film critics around the nation are gearing up to spotlight their non-definitive lists of the Best Movies of 2016— a roster that typically informs everything from who will win big at the Oscars to next year’s Sundance Film Festival nominees.

2016 was a tumultuous year for the environment– between longstanding environmental conflicts like the #NoDAPL protests over the Dakota Access Pipeline and newer, more complicated political challenges like our President-elect’s troubling perspective on Climate Change, Film– and Art more generally– has taken on a definitive role in demonstrating how we as a culture view the environment– and how very much we have to lose.

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Below, we spotlight five great nature-focused films that made a huge impression on culture in 2016. Some of them, like The Eagle Huntress, are still in theaters.


Hunt For The Wilderpeople

Directer Taika Waititi made a name for himself with 2007’s indie-circuit darling Eagle vs. Shark, and in 2016 he returned to the Big Screen with the equally funny (and wonderfully endearing) Hunt For The Wilderpeople— a film about a national manhunt that takes place after a rebellious kid and his foster uncle go missing in the wild New Zealand bush.

Equal parts buddy comedy and coming-of-age tale, Hunt For The Wilderpeople is a reflection on family and the way our relationships– much like Nature itself– help shape the people we become. HFTW has already taken home 11 awards at international film festivals, including Edinburgh International Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards, among others. 

Captain Fantastic

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father (Viggo Mortensen) struggles to integrate his children into the modern world after giving them a rigorous upbringing in the wilderness. Captain Fantastic is the story of a man who dedicated his life to transforming his children into extraordinary adults (both physically fit and mentally acute) in an environment removed from society. When tragedy strikes, Mortensen is forced to reconsider his values, shedding a new light on humanity in the process.

Director Matt Ross won a directing prize for Captain Fantastic at Cannes International Film Festival, shortly before Captain Fantastic was named one of the year’s Top Ten Independent Films by the National Board of Review.


As the official selection of Cannes Film Festival in 2015, Rams made it to theaters in 2016, where it promptly gained recognition for its beautiful cinematography and artful, humane depiction of life in a remote Icelandic farming community.

The plot unfolds as two brothers who haven’t spoken to each other in 40 years come together to save their family’s sheep. With its open landscapes and wind-swept vistas, Rams engenders a sense of dignity and pride in agrarian trades that are fast becoming all-too-rare in our modern, technology-driven society.

The film won 11 awards– including Best Film, Director of the Year, Actor of the Year, Supporting Actor of the Year, and Best Cinematography at the Edda Awards (Iceland’s top film award series, which has historically debuted some of the world’s most exquisite cinematography).

The Other Side

Equal parts a meditation on rural living, marginalization, and class in the American South, The Other Side is the tale of the hidden pockets of America where people in communities forgotten by institutions struggle to make a living and find meaning in their lives.

Veterans, drug addicts, forgotten elderly, surly adolescents, young women and future mothers alike struggle to make peace with the circumstances and environment in which they live. The Other Side was nominated for two awards at Cannes and won Best Documentary among the Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalists (to mitigate national bias, Italian director Roberto Minervini approaches this topic with an outsider’s eye). 

The Eagle Huntress

In such a discouraging year, The Eagle Huntress is exactly the kind of triumphant, barrier-breaking story we need. Staff Writer Nora Mueller’s pick for the year, The Eagle Huntress is a documentary that tells the story of Aishol-pan, a 13-year old Kazakh girl training to become an eagle hunter: the first woman to so in her family’s twelve generations.

The elders of her community are against her, believing it is not a woman’s place to pursue such a storied, ancient, and notably male tradition. But Aishol-pan, with the support of her father, is made of sterner stuff; the story is at once about family and one girl’s inspiring capacity to overcome. Narrated by Daisy Ridley (another on-screen badass) and with its sweeping views of Mongolia, The Eagle Huntress has a truly heroic quality that’s perfect for the holiday season.

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