These films aren’t all cuddly puppies and waddling penguins with a David Attenborough voice over: they’re tough, gutsy and oftentimes devastating.
Jenna Martin

11 Mar 2016 - 1:47 PM  UPDATED 11 Mar 2016 - 2:28 PM

If the cruelty in Blackfish destroyed you (and continues to do so, now that Tilikum, the poor killer whale in SeaWorld, is dying) here are 12 other films about the wonder of the animal kingdom and the myriad of ways humans keep trying to save it and/or screw it up.


1. The Cove

Called “A cross between Flipper and The Bourne Identity”, Oscar winning The Cove is documentary film-making at its most terrifying. Filmed largely in secret using underwater cameras and state of the art equipment, it follows a group of dolphin trainers and animal activists as they try to infiltrate a secret “wildlife refuge” in Japan, exposing not only insane levels of animal abuse but also a serious threat to public health. Prepare to be left fuming in disbelief.

Watch The Cove on SBS On Demand.

2. Music for Elephants

No, not the sequel to that terrible film which tried to convince us that Reese Witherspoon & Robert Pattinson had chemistry. Music for Elephants is the touching tale of Paul Barton, a British concert pianist who spends his days playing classical music to injured and orphaned elephants. At an animal sanctuary on the shores of the River Kwai in Thailand, Paul discovers how much these gentle giants love - and are healed by - music. If you don’t well up at the sight of Soy the Elephant, flapping her ears with happiness and getting in on the piano playing (by plonking away on the keys with her trunk) then basically you are dead inside.

Watch Music for Elephants on SBS On Demand.

3. My Life as a Turkey

One of the more unusual wildlife documentaries out there, My Life As A Turkey follows biologist Joe Hutto as he attempts to raise thirteen endangered wild turkeys from eggs to full-grown birds, spending a whole year with them deep in the Florida Everglades. Joe’s love for these birds will definitely make you question your choice of protein when it comes to preparing Christmas dinner this year. 

Watch My Life as a Turkey on SBS On Demand.

4. Off the Chain

This truly disturbing documentary gives you an unprecedented look into the underground and completely disgusting world of dog fighting. Director Bobby J. Brown spent three years getting to know the complete and utter rat bastards who engage in this brutal “sport”. More importantly, he meets the total legends who are trying to stop it and trying to save the dogs and give them a life after dog-fighting.

5. Buck

The heartwarming story of Buck, real life horse whisperer, who turned an abusive childhood around and learnt that compassion and understanding is the way to a heart, be it human or animal. He may not have the rugged handsomeness of Robert Redford, but the story of this SNAC (Sensitive New Age Cowboy) is bound to make you reach for the tissues.

Watch Buck on SBS On Demand.

6. The End of the Line

The filmmakers spent two years charting the decline of the blue- fin tuna population (it’s currently at the point of near- extinction) among other dwindling species, exploring the devastating effects over-fishing is having on our lives and the planet. (Hint: an increase in the price of sushi isn’t going to be as bad as it gets: we may actually starve. Good times!)

Watch The End of the Line on SBS On Demand.

7. What’s Killing Our Bees?

We might not like their sting but the reality is, we need bees, not just to make delicious honey, but for the human race to continue. This probing documentary explores why exactly the bee population has dropped 50% in the last 30 years. Is it the weather? Parasites? Or… us?

Watch What's Killing Our Bees on SBS On Demand.

8. The Elephant in the Living Room

A completely fascinating film about a strange subculture of Americans who keep exotic and often dangerous animals captive as beloved family pets. On the one hand, they really care about these creatures. On the other hand, anyone who puts a dog collar on a cheetah and lets it chill on the couch watching Netflix is batshit crazy.

9. CowSpiracy

The world’s most famous climate change activist by day/grateful Oscar winner by night Leonardo DiCaprio is the executive producer of this film, which takes on the meat industry, calling it “the most destructive force on the planet today”.

10. Maximum Tolerated Dose

Diving into the disgusting world of animal testing, this film introduces us to humans and animals who have been on both sides of the cruel practice. We meet scientists who changed professions because they couldn’t ethically participate in animal cruelty and we also meet animals who have been experimented on and come out the other side - for better and worse. Definitely one that will make you read the back of your cosmetics packs a little more closely…

11. Earthlings

Warning: This award-winning film is considered one of the most disturbing documentaries of all time. Better known as “The movie that will turn you Vegan”, Earthlings uses almost exclusively hidden-camera footage to reveal the shocking animal rights abuses that pass for day-to-day practice in some of the world’s biggest industries and most powerful corporations. From gruesome animal testing to putrid living conditions and torture, this expose of what animals go through before they become food, clothing and even pets is life changing.

12. Born to be Wild

Anything narrated by Morgan Freeman has to be good, right? This film isn’t just good, it’s completely wonderful. Following the early lives of orphaned elephants and orang-utans and the A+ folks who devote themselves to their care, it’s guaranteed to restore your faith in humanity after watching something like Earthlings has stripped it away completely.