Top 10 Animal Documentaries

Animal lovers and wildlife fans will probably be familiar with at least some of these excellent documentary films and TV series.

This pup’s ready for his close-up. By: Sarai

Documentaries have given us some of the most amazing insight into the workings of the animal kingdom and how life has evolved in the wild. The best ones even provide a stark look at the way humans have evolved, and how we interact in our social scheme.

You’ve probably seen at least a couple of the following animal documentaries — maybe in school or as a child. They are exceptionally educational and interesting!

1. Life on Earth: A Natural History by David Attenborough (TV Series), 1979

life-on-earth-animal-documentaryThis was one of the first documentaries to shine a light on not only the animals captured on film, but also the methods that filmmakers use to capture these creatures in their natural habitats. Combine that with an avant-garde soundtrack and a memorable gorilla encounter, and you have thrilling entertainment for animal lovers.

Brought to the world by a collaboration of the BBC and Warner Bros., this 13-episode series from the late ’70s is a bit dated, but it’s still a classic masterpiece.

Available as a 4-disc DVD or Blu-ray set.

2. Earth, 2007

With Earth, Disney brings to life the majesty of the animal kingdom in stunning high definition. At the time it was the most expensive documentary ever, and this film doesn’t just look at the animal life on our beautiful planet, but also gives us a brilliant take on the way the whole planet functions — with an eye toward the effects of environmental change.

Earth is still shown across the United States, in schools and theaters, and continues to capture the hearts of youths.

Available on DVD, Blu-ray or digitally.

3. Life (TV Series), 2009


Breaking each animal group into where it dwells and feeds, this TV series shows the harsh reality of life in the world. From predator to prey, each episode takes a close look at common habitats, stretching far inland and to the depths of the ocean.

In America, Life was narrated by Oprah Winfrey and aired on the Discovery channel.

Available as a 4-disc DVD or Blu-ray set.

4. Frozen Planet (TV Series), 2011

A close look at the coldest places on earth would have most people shivering, but Frozen Planet does more to warm the hearts of viewers than most educational programming.

A modern look at many of the same aspects covered in Life on Earth, this 7-episode BBC series lets us see some of the methodology behind filming in a cold region — and much of the life that survives in the coldest reaches of our planet.

In America, Frozen Planet was narrated by Alec Baldwin and aired on the Discovery channel.

Available as a DVD or Blu-ray box set with original UK narration by David Attenborough.

5. Microcosmos, 1996

While most documentaries focus on the larger, fluffier animals in our world, Microcosmos gives us our first close look at the insects and microorganisms that populate most of the animal kingdom.

While the technology used to film it (microscopic cameras) wasn’t quite what’s available today, this French documentary shows us what it is like to live mere inches from the ground. After watching this wonderful epic, you will think twice about squashing bugs!

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

6. Eternal Enemies: Lions and Hyenas, 1992

Viewer beware: For this movie, you’ll need a strong stomach. Taking a close look at the bloody interactions between lions and hyenas in Botswana, this no-holds-barred wildlife documentary from National Geographic can only be described as gruesome.

Eternal Enemies puts a spotlight on the harsh laws that nature lays down for some of its creatures, and explores how they have adapted to handle these conditions.

Available on DVD.

7. Grizzly Man, 2005


Another film not made for the faint of heart, Grizzly Man (directed by Werner Herzog) tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, a soft-spoken amateur bear researcher in the Alaskan wild. It is a cautionary tale for those who get too close to danger — the bears that Treadwell loved so dearly were his eventual death.

However, he recorded more than 100 hours of footage before his death, giving us one of the closest looks at bear life in history.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

8. Sharkwater, 2006

Hoping to dispel some of media hype over shark attacks, Sharkwater takes a closer look at the dangers a shark faces in everyday life. From abject massacres to the fin trade, this documentary will change the way you look at these creatures forever.

If you’re a big fan of “Shark Week,” this is the perfect extension of shark-o-mania.

Available on DVD and Blu-ray.

9. Jane’s Journey, 2010

Jane Goodall was one of the foremost pioneers in ape biology and psychology. Her discoveries (such as: chimpanzees make their own tools!) were groundbreaking, and she has been remembered throughout the world for her achievements.

This inspiring documentary examines her life, from childhood to present, as well as the changes she has set in motion in the scientific community.

Available on DVD.

10. Saving Rhino Phila, 2012

This documentary follows a band of counter-poachers as they try to save an African rhino named Phila. It is unsettling at times, but the story is both important and heartwarming.

Ultimately, Phila is a symbol of hope — and that’s a great way to end this list, right?

Jet Perreault

View posts by Jet Perreault
Jet Perreault, a professional dog groomer of 18 years, graduated from Michigan State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. She has spent time on the dog show circuit, working groomer trade shows, and managing grooming salons and pet shops.

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