Climate Change Movies (“Cli-Fi”) Are Heating Up the Box Office

There’s a new genre of film in Hollywood that is both raising awareness and big box office dollars. It’s called “cli-fi” which is a science fiction film / climate change movie that has either an overt or hidden message about the reality and ills of climate change or global warming. The topic of climate change is not only a hot-button political issue, but it has now become a deep concern for many celebrities as well as average, everyday citizens. For instance, during the 2016 Academy Awards, when Leonardo DiCaprio (a devoted environmentalist) won the “Best Actor” Oscar for his electrifying role in The Revenant, he gave a beautiful and moving acceptance speech that focused on this issue.

“Climate change is real. It is happening right now. It’s the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating…Let us not take this planet for granted. I do not take tonight for granted.” -Leonard DiCaprio

Whether you agree with DiCaprio or find yourself on the side of those who purport that global warming is a hoax, this blog isn’t about science, it’s about movies that both entertain and educate and it looks like “cli-fi” definitely fits into that category. It’s in good company because there are other genres of climate change movies that have opened the floodgates, including: documentary, drama, thriller, and even comedy films. In each instance, climate change movies and environmentally friendly films in these categories make the case for a healthier planet.

MoreMentum spotlights a few of these noteworthy climate change movies:

Bringing the Heat: Waterworld, a 1995 aquatic action film starring Kevin Costner, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Dennis Hopper and Jack Black

Box Office Temp: $264,218,220 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: Costner made a splash in this post-apocalyptic film that featured a world covered by water as a result of the polar ice caps melting. Some people survived by having pirate-like survivor skills, while others actually mutated into growing fins and gills to adapt to their perpetual wave pool planet. This film gave the blueprint to the modern era films that also tackled the subject of global warming.

Bringing the Heat: Ice Age, a 2002 animated blockbuster starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Chris Wedge, and Dennis Leary

Box Office Temp: $383,257,136 worldwide total gross.
Hard Cold Facts: This heartwarming animated climate change movie is the first of several in a line of successful franchise films that follow the antics of “sub-zero heroes” Manny (Romano) the wooly mammoth, Sid (Leguizamo) the sloth, a hybrid squirrel-rat named Scrat (Wedge), and Diego (Leary) a saber toothed tiger. This delightful family film centers on this prehistoric posse, at the beginning of earth’s Ice Age, coming to the aid of a lost human infant in an attempt to return him to his family. The smash hit had kids around the world visiting museums, reading extra chapters in their science books, and researching the causes of earth’s real Ice Age.

Bringing the Heat: The Day After Tomorrow, a 2004 icebreaker starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Emmy Rossum and Dennis Quaid

Box Office Temp: $544,272,402 worldwide total gross.
Hard Cold Facts: The film opens with a suspenseful bang as a huge ice shelf breaks off while paleoclimatolgist Jack Hall (Quaid) and his colleagues drill for ice-core samples. This leads to Hall warning the world of the impending doom of “global cooling” and how if something isn’t done to protect the environment, the world could face a new ice age. American leaders don’t believe him and before you know it, half of the planet ends up stuck in the snow, including Hall’s son played by Gyllenhaal. This film may be a fantastical view of extreme (and somewhat distorted) weather events, but its icy subject matter certainly heated things up at the global box office.

Bringing the Heat: An Inconvenient Truth, a 2006 documentary directed by Davis Guggenheim and produced by Laurie David & Lawrence Bender

Box Office Temp: $49,756,507 worldwide total gross; making it the 10th highest grossing doc in the U.S.
Hard Cold Facts: The film centers on the environmental teachings and activism of former United States Vice President Al Gore who regularly held town hall meetings to encourage and educate citizens on the looming threat of global warming. This film featured stark visuals and a frank approach to the subject, which resonated with audiences; and now, many science classes around the world have also included the film as part of their curriculum. The film won 2 Academy Awards for “Best Documentary Feature” and “Best Original Song”.

Bringing the Heat: The 11th Hour, a 2007 documentary film created, co-written, produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio

Box Office Temp: $985,207 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: In this climate change movie documentary, DiCaprio interviewed over 50 environmental leaders, scientists, and politicians. National figures such as physicist Stephen Hawking and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai gave their opinions, along with scientific data, on various climate issues, including: global warming, deforestation, mass species extinction, and depletion of the oceans’ habitats. But, the film doesn’t just address the problems; it also offers possible solutions through the use of technology, social accountability, and conservation. Since 1998, the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has partnered with environmentalists and experts in order to combat climate change and protect endangered species. In 2014, DiCaprio was named a “U.N. Messenger of Peace” and in this capacity, he travels the globe sharing information on how we should all respect and protect our environment.

Bringing the Heat: 2012, a 2009 disaster drama starring John Cusack, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Amanda Peet, Thandie Newton, Danny Glover and Woody Harrelson

Box Office Temp: $769,679,473 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: This super “cli-fi” blockbuster centers on the discovery of a solar flare that is causing the earth’s core to rapidly heat to alarming temperatures. The President (Glover) and other world leaders create a plan to build enormous arks that will hold and hopefully save 100,000 people from each of the G8 nations. They sell tickets for the arc and pandemonium ensues. This movie offers a stellar cast and multiple, nail-biting storylines that converge into a climactic ending that pushes the theory of what happens when earth and humanity are threatened by a geological and meteorological “Mayanesque” mega-disaster. The film became one of the highest grossing films of 2009.

Bringing the Heat: Frozen, a 2013 animated film voiced by Kristen Bell, Idina Mendel, Jonathan Groff, and Josh Gad

Box Office Temp: $1,276,480,335 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: This billion-dollar, 3D Disney musical fantasy comedy was a runaway hit among young and old. It tells the delightful story of Anna (Bell), a fearless and delightful princess who sets out on a journey to find her estranged sister Elsa (Mendel), who is also the queen of their small village. As she begins her journey, Anna solicits the help of huggable snowman (Gad) and a handsome iceman (Groff) and his trusty reindeer, to help track down Elsa—who has lost faith in humanity and used her superpowers to cover their village in a blanket of ice; trapping the kingdom in eternal winter. In the end, Anna’s love melts Elsa’s icy heart and both sisters learn to put the past behind them and “let it go”. The movie was inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairytale The Snow Queen. The film won numerous awards, including an Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature” and “Best Original Song” for the perpetually sung hit song, “Let It Go”. The film also won two Grammy Awards for “Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media” and “Best Song Written for Visual Media” for “Let It Go”.

Bringing the Heat: Kingsman: The Secret Service, a 2014 action spy comedy starring Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Firth, Mark Strong and Michael Caine

Box Office Temp: $414,351,546 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: This unconventional climate change movie is based on a popular comic book of the same name and directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick Ass, X-Men: First Class). It has just as many laughs as hair-raising action scenes and framing the story is a young secret service recruit being trained by suave agent Harry Hart portrayed by the always dapper Colin Firth. Of course, there’s also an evil supervillain and his name is Richmond Valentine, played to delectable devilishness by Samuel L. Jackson—who, by the way, devises an insane plan to solve the problem of climate change by instituting a global killing spree. The film has a lot of fun and funny “Bond-like” plot twists that made for a successful and blockbuster smash. A sequel is scheduled for a 2017 release.

Bringing the Heat: Interstellar, a 2014 “cli-fi” space thriller starring Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, and Ellen Burstyn

Box Office Temp: $675,120,017 worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: In this thrilling and thought-provoking climate change film, earth’s agriculture is being threatened by a second Dust Bowl and a microorganism called the Blight that is rapidly killing crops, leaving only corn to barely thrive. The air is barely breathable and soon the world as we know it will be uninhabitable. But, there’s a sliver of hope when Professor Brand (Caine), a NASA physicist devises a plan to save mankind by transporting all of earth’s population through a wormhole that will hopefully lead to a planet with a sustainable climate. Former NASA pilot Cooper (McConaughey) along with his team take on the dangerous and awe-inspiring task of making a time/space trek across the galaxy in an attempt to determine which of three planets will be humankind’s new home. McConaughey’s brilliant performance along with Christopher Nolan’s awe-inspiring directing and writing helped this film soar to critical and box office heights. At the 87th Academy Awards, the film was also awarded the Oscar for “Best Visual Effects” and was nominated in several other categories, including: Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing, Best Sound Editing and Best Production Design.

Bringing the Heat: Embrace of the Serpent (El abrazo de la serpiente), a 2015 Columbian adventure drama starring Nilbio Torres, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Jan Bijvoet

Box Office Temp: $2.3 million worldwide total gross
Hard Cold Facts: This beautifully shot drama set in the Amazon and directed by Ciro Guerra makes a powerful statement about and correlation between the greed of the Columbian rubber barons of the 19th and 20th centuries and its direct impact on the depletion of natural resources of the Amazon jungle—as well as the ultimate extinction of many indigenous civilizations. Inspired by the travel journals of German ethnologist and explorer, Theodor Koch-Grünberg / Theo (Jan Bijvoet), and American biologist and father of modern ethnobotany, Richard Evans Schultes / Evan (Brionne Davis), the film tells the parallel stories of their exploration (30 years apart) through the Amazon jungle in search of the yakruna, a sacred healing plant and hallucinogen that is also sought out by colonialists because of its usefulness in making rubber. The heart of the story centers on the scientists’ indigenous guide and a shaman whose tribe is on the verge of extinction. The film is shot almost entirely in black and white with splashes of color near the film’s climax, symbolizing the hopefulness and importance of the Rain Forest’s ecosystem; not just to the Amazon, but also to the world. Embrace of the Serpent won the “Art Cinema Award” at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival; and in 2016, was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Foreign Language Film”.

**Box office movie totals courtesy of “Box Office Mojo”

These climate change movies subject matter caused a “climate shift” of their own in Hollywood that culminated behind-the-scenes and that subsequently, encouraged viewers (and citizens in general) to consider the possibility of living in a world where its inhabitants cared less about depleting natural resources in the name of greed; and focused more on ways to combat pollution, maintain ecological balance, and ultimately, allow our planet to continue to thrive.

What are your thoughts on climate change or global warming? And if your film wasn’t included in our list, please comment below and let us know what your favorite “cli-fi” film is and how it’s affected the way you treat the planet.