Posted by: Jeremy Fox | October 12, 2011

Ecological and evolutionary movies

What are your favorite movies with ecological or evolutionary themes? Fiction, not documentaries.

There are a lot of films with conservation or environmentalist themes (think Wall-E or FernGully: The Last Rainforest), and lots of sci-fi that’s loosely about “evolution”, hybridization, or genetic engineering gone horribly wrong (think Rise of the Planet of the Apes or Jurassic Park). I’m not thinking primarily of such films, but if folks have their favorites from these genres, by all means say so in the comments.

There’s the recent Darwin biopic, Creation, of course, which I consider fiction because of the many liberties the film takes with Darwin’s life (no, Darwin didn’t give Emma the chance to burn the manuscript of the Origin; no, he didn’t almost lose his mind while writing the book,…). It was ok, not great.

A far better and more interesting evolution movie, which is excellent but unfortunately tough to find, is Angels and Insects. It’s based on (and sticks very close to) the A. S. Byatt novella “Morpho Eugenia” (included in the two-novella collection Angels and Insects). It’s about a young entomologist in Victorian England, who marries the daughter of the wealthy patron of his research. Throughout, there are parallels drawn between the family life, and the lives of the insects the entomologist studies. The insect analogy also grounds the shocking twist. This is my favorite evolutionary movie.

I haven’t seen Contagion yet, but I hear that it has some mathematical epidemiology in it. And Kate Winslett plays the epidemiologist, which is awesome because Kate Winslett is awesome.

Finally, this isn’t a real movie–but I wish it was!


  1. JURASSIC PARK definitely stands out for me as one of the great ecological-themed movies, but perhaps some paleontologists would disagree.

    For ‘man-vs-animal’ movies, I have to again give a nod to Spielberg for JAWS.

    12 MONKEYS mixes epidemiology with time travel and a crazy Brad Pitt, which is fun.

    PIRANHA (2010), because it’s probably the most violent ecology-related movie ever made.

    And finally, FREE WILLY, for it’s accurate portrayal of how high and how far a whale can jump.

    • Wasn’t 12 Monkeys a Bruce Willis movie?

      Yes, man vs. animal or man vs. nature is a genre I’d forgotten. Although stretching to include monster movies as “ecology-related”, especially ridiculous ones like Piranha, seems like just that, a bit of a stretch. 😉 But not as much of a stretch as a film criticism book I found online by googling “ecological movies”, which was about ecology on film and included a whole chapter on…wait for it…The Fast and the Furious!

      • Willis is the lead but Pitt steals the movie as his nuthouse ‘buddy’.

        THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS as an ecology movie? Ha! Although the characters do engage in a lot of dispersal….

  2. The Lion King. Definitely The Lion King.

  3. Has to be either The Jungle Book (either live action or Disney animated versions), or the Muppet Movie (ahem. It does open in a swamp, as well as highlighting the ecological dangers of fast-food).

  4. Animal House, hands down.

    • Umm, okay… 😉

      • You can learn a lot about community assembly from that movie. Or dis-assembly as the case may be. Well OK, community disintegration, but let’s not pick nits…

  5. Best ecology related fiction movie is Avatar!

  6. I was recently reminded of a personal favorite, which has some campy fun with monster movie conventions: Tremors

  7. And while I’ve never seen Gattaca (in which a genetically inferior man assumes the identity of a genetically superior one), I hear it’s good.

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