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‘Don’t Look Up’ is a climate change allegory. These docs reveal the reality.

Adam McKay’s satire lacerates a society that delays action and denies scientific facts. Watch these seven documentaries if you want to learn more about the climate crisis.
Image: Don't Look Up
Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Timothée Chalamet in "Don't Look Up."Niko Tavernise / Netflix

The director Adam McKay skewers hefty targets: financial chicanery (“The Big Short”), executive branch ambition (“Vice”), white male buffoonery (“Talladega Nights”) and media industry gluttony, as one of the executive producers of HBO’s “Succession.”

McKay’s latest sendup is “Don’t Look Up,” the allegorical tale of two low-level astronomers (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) scrambling to warn the world that a meteor will soon smash into Earth. Surprise, surprise: Nobody really cares.

“Don’t Look Up” is McKay’s climate change comedy, a gonzo but earnest takedown of anyone who would deny the realities of global warming or shrug at the existential perils of environmental destruction. (The film is slated to debut on Netflix on Dec. 24.)

But if you’re craving a more literal or by-the-books approach to the climate crisis, there are other movies to stream over the holiday break. Here’s a look at seven documentaries that tackle the weighty topic from various angles — and underline the urgency of the threat that faces us all. 

The films are listed in alphabetical order.

"An Inconvenient Truth" (2006)

Al Gore’s slideshow presentation about the risks of global warming may not be the most visually flashy or aesthetically daring climate change documentary, but it is a certifiable classic of the genre — one that cleared the way for others. The former vice president explains the “planetary emergency” with facts, figures, a handful of stark photos and a steady hand. The film, directed by Davis Guggenheim and co-produced by Laurie David, won an Oscar in 2007.

Where to stream: Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, Paramount+

"Before the Flood" (2016)

DiCaprio is both an international movie star and one of the most notable environmental activists in Hollywood. (The actor’s nonprofit foundation promotes environmental awareness.) In this roughly 90-minute documentary directed by Fisher Stevens, DiCaprio travels across five continents and the Arctic to illustrate the dire costs of climate change (melting ice fields, rising seas) and interviews scientists, political leaders, local residents and fellow advocates for action.

Where to stream: Disney+

"Chasing Ice" (2012) and "Chasing Coral" (2017) 

Jeff Orlowski has made two of the most quietly heartbreaking documentaries about the state of our environment. “Chasing Ice” chronicles nature photographer James Balog’s work to sound the alarm about climate change and features devastating time-lapse photography showing the melting of glaciers. “Chasing Coral” focuses on the decay and disappearance of coral reefs as trapped greenhouse gases warm oceans to fatal temperatures.

Where to stream: “Chasing Coral” is on Netflix; “Chasing Ice” is available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and other video-on-demand platforms.

"I Am Greta" (2020)

Nathan Grossman’s documentary “I Am Greta” may not add much to our collective understanding of the climate crisis, but it is an informative portrait of one of the key personalities driving global awareness: the young activist Greta Thunberg. Grossman filmed Thunberg for more than two years, and he tells the story of the teenager’s rise to prominence — and her truth-to-power fury — largely from her point of view.

Where to stream: Hulu

"Ice on Fire" (2019)

When the documentary “Ice on Fire” premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019, the audience gave it a standing ovation. DiCaprio was on hand for this project, too, serving as co-producer and narrator for documentarian Leila Connors’ follow-up to “The 11th Hour” (2007). “Ice on Fire” delves into the possibility of an extinction-level event caused by arctic methane release — and offers solutions that could help stem the tide.

Where to stream: HBO Max

"Merchants of Doubt" (2014)

Why doesn’t the U.S. federal government take more aggressive steps to reverse the effects of climate change? No single reason exists, of course, but Robert Kenner’s muckraking documentary “Merchants of Doubt” (based on Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s book of the same name) offers one culprit: corporate-backed public relations campaigns that obscure (or outright deny) scientific reality. The film is a provocative attempt to cut through the spin.

Where to stream: It’s available to rent on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and other VOD platforms.