(Updated May 4, 2020) | It’s safe to say that plant-based food has never been more popular, and vegan documentaries are playing a major role. A study from DuPont Nutrition & Health found that on a global scale, 65 percent of people are consuming more plant-based foods and beverages. More people are ditching animal products altogether in favor of a vegan diet; the Veganuary campaign had a record-breaking run this year with more than 250,000 people partaking. Six out of 10 people who participated said they would stay vegan after the initiative was over.
A 2013 survey—published on the blog The Vegan Truth—asked roughly 8,000 vegans what motivated them to adopt the lifestyle. Forty-two percent said watching an educational video, movie, or film was the leading reason.
It’s not an unheard-of concept. When “Dominion” emerged in 2018, people were vowing to ditch animal products after watching just 15 minutes of the film. The 15-minute mark was also when the general manager of High Note Cafe in Idaho decided to go vegan and turn her whole business plant-based, too.
More recently, the star-studded “Game Changers” film has motivated many to give plant-based living a try. But there are countless other documentaries and films out there changing the mind of the masses, with vegan creatives both in front of and behind the camera.
Last year, an international vegan film festival launched in Canada. The Ottawa International Vegan Film Festival aims to showcase the work of vegan creatives and films that focus on “healthier, compassionate, environmentally friendly” lifestyles. The festival is said to be the first of its kind.
Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn are two vegan filmmakers who have been celebrated by the masses. They are the directors behind “Cowspiracy” and “What The Health,” two of the most pivotal films for the vegan movement. Many celebrities, including Ne-Yo and Lewis Hamilton, credit the latter for motivating them to try a plant-based diet.
Chris Delforce — founder of non-profit Aussie Farms, which aims to expose the animal cruelty found in the farming industries — is the writer, director, and editor of “Dominion,” as well as its predecessor “Lucent.”
Lee Fulkerson is the director of “Forks Over Knives,” a documentary that promotes a whole-food, plant-based diet as a way to avoid or even reverse disease.
In 2017, British comedian Simon Amstell release a BBC film called “Carnage.” The satirical film is set in the year 2067 when all of the British public is vegan.
James Cameron — perhaps best known for his films “The Terminator,” “Titanic,” and “Avatar” — is an advocate of vegan living. Cameron recently stated that people need to “wake the [expletive] up” about the climate crisis. Cameron encourages people to adopt a plant-based diet to lower their environmental impact. He named diet one of the “biggest, most important ways that we could effect change.”
Cameron is one of the executive directors of “The Game Changers,” along with vegan actor and activist Pamela Anderson. The film was directed by Louie Psihoyos. The vegan, Oscar-winning filmmaker also directed the 2009 film “The Cove,” which explores the “gruesome secret” of fishermen in Taiji, Japan, who capture and kill dolphins.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith adopted a plant-based diet after suffering from a major heart attack in early 2018. His daughter, actor Harley Quinn Smith, told Page Six News that her father was the “healthiest he’s ever been” following the change. Smith now embraces the ethical side of veganism, too. Last November, he appeared in an ad for Farm Sanctuary—the first farm animal shelter in the U.S.—to encourage people to not eat turkey for Thanksgiving. “You’re always told by older people it’s OK to eat animals, we’re supposed to eat animals. And, you know, for a long time, that’s what my generation believed. Now we know a lot better,” Smith said while petting a turkey.
Vegans in Film
Vegan creators aren’t just behind the camera. A growing number of actors are turning to plant-based, cruelty-free living, too. Benedict Cumberbatch has been vegan since at least 2017. The “Imitation Game” and “Doctor Strange” star has since flaunted vegan fashion in the red carpet and visited Extinction Rebellion protestors in London. He’s also dined with fellow vegan actor Woody Harrelson, who has been plant-based for around 30 years.
Joaquin Phoenix, star of the recent “Joker” film, went vegan when he was just three-years-old. “Me and my siblings witnessed fish being killed in a really violent and aggressive way,” he has said. “It was just absolutely obvious that it was something that we didn’t want to participate in and we didn’t want to support … I don’t want to cause pain to another living empathetic creature.”
Jessica Chastain (star of “Dark Phoenix” and “It: Chapter 2”) took to social media to praise Phoenix for his performance in “The Joker.” Chastain herself has been vegan for more than 15 years.
Ruby Rose, Ellen Page, Forest Whitaker, Alicia Silverstone, Liam Hemsworth, Alan Cumming, Natalie Portman, and Nathalie Emmanuel are just some of the vegan actors making waves in the film industry.
The 45 Vegan Documentaries You Have to Watch
Now that it’s well into the 21st century, mainstream society has accepted that taking care of the planet is a good idea. There has never been a better time to draw attention to the link between animal agriculture and ecological crises such as climate change, ocean dead zones, and water shortages.
“Cowspiracy” manages to do exactly that while simultaneously calling out several environmental organizations for ignoring—or even obscuring—the truth about animal agriculture’s impact on the planet.
You can watch “Cowspiracy” on Netflix.
2. ‘What the Health’
Following the success of “Cowspiracy,” filmmakers Anderson and Kuhn decided to show that veganism is good for our bodies as well as the planet. “What the Health” explores the health benefits of a plant-based diet and exposes the reluctance of health and nutrition organizations to point out the negative effects of consuming animal products.
You can watch it on Netflix.
“Earthlings” is packed with graphic footage of violence against animals, so it can be difficult to watch. At the same time, most will still consider it to be essential viewing for anyone who might use or consume animal products.
For curious meat-eaters who seek the truth about the industries they support, or vegans who wish to understand the full extent of humanity’s brutality toward non-human animals, “Earthlings” is required viewing.
You can watch “Earthlings” online.
4. ‘Forks Over Knives’
Before “What the Health” began veganizing the world, “Forks Over Knives” was promoting the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet. Among various experts in vegan nutrition, “Forks Over Knives” features T. Colin Campbell, author of “The China Study,” the comprehensive scientific resource on the health benefits of the vegan diet.
You can watch this film on Netflix. You could also check out the “Forks Over Knives” cookbook, which contains more than 300 plant-based recipes.
5. ‘Maximum Tolerated Dose’
Do you ever wonder what kind of suffering laboratory animals endure – and why? Directed by Karol Orzechowski, “Maximum Tolerated Dose” includes “hauntingly honest” testimonies from scientists and lab technicians as well as footage from undercover investigations. The film aims to spark thought and discussion about animal testing, with “simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking stories of animals who have seen both sides of the cage.”
You can watch this documentary online.
6. ‘Live and Let Live’
Most vegan documentaries examine one or more different reasons to adopt a plant-based, cruelty-free lifestyle. “Live and Let Live” takes a slightly different approach, instead examining the people who are going vegan, including former butchers and meat factory workers. If you are looking for vegan documentaries with a markedly human story, this is the film for you. “Live and Let Live” features prominent figures in veganism and animal rights including Melanie Joy and Peter Singer.
7. ‘Called to Rescue’
“Every animal we’ve met during our travel has a name and a story,” says the “Called to Rescue” website. Anyone looking for happy vegan documentaries should become familiar with this film that explores the tireless work of sanctuary volunteers and staff, the dedication needed for rescue and rehabilitation, and the stories of the animals themselves, living out peaceful lives in sanctuaries.
You can watch this film for free online.
8. ‘The Ghosts in Our Machine’
In “The Ghosts in Our Machine,” award-winning filmmaker Liz Marshall tells the inspiring story of photojournalist Jo-Anne McArthur, who dedicates her life to documenting the lives of exploited animals. The film begs the question, “Are non-human animals property to be owned and used, or are they sentient beings deserving of rights?”
You can buy or rent this film on iTunes.
9. ‘Eating Animals’
Vegan actor Natalie Portman produced and narrated this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s book of the same name. “Eating Animals” explores the evolution of animal agriculture into the industrial process it has become today, looking at the environmental, economic, and public health issues tied to factory farming.
10. ‘The Game Changers’
It could be said that “The Game Changers” has generated more hype than any other vegan documentary out there. Featuring names like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Scott Jurek, Dotsie Bausch, Derrick Morgan, and Morgan Mitchell, “The Game Changers” aims to inspire by showing the athletic power of a plant-based diet and challenge “the world’s most dangerous myth: that meat is necessary for protein.”
You can watch “The Game Changers” on Netflix.
With hidden cameras and aerial drones, “Dominion” takes the animal cruelty found in the food system under the spotlight for all to see. A host of celebrity names like Joaquin Phoenix, Kat Von D, Sadie Sink, and Sia feature in the film. “Dominion” sold out across the country at its various premiers and has motivated many to leave animals off their plate for good.
You can watch “Dominion” for free on its website.
Before working on “Dominion,” Delforce released “Lucent,” which exposes the horrors of standard practice in Australian pig farms. Again with hand-held and hidden camera footage, “Lucent” aims to bring what’s done in the dark into the light.
You can watch this film for free online.
13. ‘The Cove’
This Academy Award-winning film made quite the splash when it took on the Japanese dolphin hunting industry, a story told through Ric O’Barry, a dolphin trainer-turned-activist. “The Cove” aims to expose the brutal practice of capturing and killing dolphins, a well-kept secret by many local fishermen in Taiji, Japan.
You can watch the documentary online.
14. ‘Vegan: Everyday Stories’
The feature-length documentary “Vegan: Everyday Stories” follows the lives of “four remarkably different people who share a common thread – they’re all vegan.” Ultra runner Yassine Diboun, animal sanctuary owner Renee King-Sonnen, food truck owner Jerri Hastey, and eight-year-old activist Genesis Butler are all featured, explaining how they each made the move to a plant-based, cruelty-free lifestyle.
You can watch this film on its website or on Amazon.
This 2011 film explores the challenges associated with ditching animal products in favor of plant-based foods. It follows the lives of three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to try a vegan diet for six weeks. Describing itself as “part sociological experiment and part adventure comedy,” “Vegucated” shows the evolution of three people learning that they can “change the world one bite at a time.”
You can rent or buy this documentary online.
16. ‘Before The Flood’
In this documentary, actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio is seen meeting with activists, scientists, and world leaders to discuss what climate change is doing to our planet and the various ways we could remedy this. Whilst not an inherently vegan documentary, “Before The Flood” does acknowledge the hard-to-ignore link between animal agriculture and environmental devastation, causing one to think twice about what’s on their dinner plate.
You can watch this film on Amazon.
17. ‘A Prayer for Compassion’
This feature-length documentary looks at the spirituality involved in living a plant-based, cruelty-free lifestyle. Featuring people from dozens of faiths, “A Prayer for Compassion” aims to “awaken the inner vegan” in those who are religious or spiritual, inviting them to welcome non-human animals into their “circle of respect and caring and love.”
For more information about this film, see here.
18. ’73 Cows’
Short documentary film “73 Cows” tells the story of Jay Wilde, the “first farmer in the UK to trade beef farming for sustainable organic vegan farming.” The documentary follows Wilde and his wife Katja as they transition away from meat farming after Wilde becomes “friends” with the animals he was raising for slaughter.
You can watch “73 Cows” online.
19. ‘H.O.P.E. What You Eat Matters’
This inspiring documentary looks at the impacts of a typical Western diet on human health, the planet, and animals. It features environmentalist and primatologist Jane Goodall, as well as social psychologist Melanie Joy, biochemist T. Colin Campbell, scholar Vandana Shiva, and author Caldwell B. Esselstyn.
The film’s message is clear: what you eat matters.
You can watch this documentary for free online.
20. ‘Eating You Alive’
“Eating You Alive” explores the link between American dietary habits — like eating meat, dairy, and eggs — and the rise of chronic disease. The vegan health documentary stars actor Samuel L. Jackson, PCRM founder Dr. Neal Barnard, and James and Suzy Amis Cameron, among others. It has earned a lot of praise in the U.S, including from “The Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik, who explained that the film doesn’t use “scare tactics or weird anecdotes.” She added, “It focuses on the medical impact of the way Americans are told it’s healthy to eat… If you watch one documentary about health, this should be it.”
You can buy this film on Amazon.
The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” tells the gripping story of SeaWorld’s captive whales and the trainers who participated in their suffering. The film has had a lasting impact on the marine park, leading to a steady decline in ticket sales and boycotts. It was even responsible for the ending of “Finding Dory,” which switched its final plot to be more positive for marine animals, allowing the animated characters to escape their lives of captivity.
You can watch “Blackfish” on iTunes.
22. ‘Running for Good’
“Running for Good” tells the story of vegan ultramarathon runner Fiona Oakes. At the age of six, Oakes decided on her own volition to go vegan. She is the founder of an animal sanctuary which currently cares for 500 rescued animals. She has four world records in extreme marathon running and an elite road running career, which she has managed with a disability that health professionals said would cause her to never walk again. The only reason she runs is to raise awareness for the animals.
You can watch “Running for Good” on Amazon Prime Video.
This documentary is the result of asking someone who knows nothing about humankind’s harmful treatment of animals to make a film about the very topic. It includes no graphic footage, instead highlighting the benefits of veganism in an uplifting way.
You can watch “Empathy” online.
24. ‘The Invisible Vegan’
This 90-minute independent film, co-directed by activists Jasmine and Kenny Leyva, studies the history of unhealthy eating habits within the African-American community and the community’s growing vegan movement. NBA champion John Salley, Cedric the Entertainer, and 11-year-old activist Genesis Butler make appearances in “The Invisible Vegan.”
You can watch this film on Amazon Prime Video.
25. ‘The End of Meat’
“The End of Meat” imagines a world where nobody eats animals. “Instead of focusing on the negative consequences of consuming meat, I wanted to show the hugely beneficial possibilities of a post-meat world and what that might look like for humans, animals, and the planet,” said filmmaker Marc Pierschel in a statement.
You can watch this film on Amazon Prime Video.
26. ‘Free Solo’
In 2018, plant-based rock climber and environmentalist Alex Honnold became the first person to scale the nearly 3,000-foot granite wall El Capitan in Yosemite National Park without using ropes or safety gear. National Geographic named it “the greatest feat of pure rock climbing in the history of the sport.”
“Free Solo” documents the climb. This year, the film won an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature.
You can buy this film from Amazon.
27. ‘The Last Pig’
Following the life of a pig farmer contemplating the ethics of sending his pigs to slaughter, this multiple-award-winning documentary highlights topics of equality, compassion, and the sanctity of life. Vegan musician Moby said the film was “startling, honest, and deeply beautiful.”
28. ‘Diet Fiction’
This film sees the award-winning director of “Food Choices,” Michal Siewierski exposing the truth behind diet culture. Siewierski picks apart the manipulation of the multi-billion dollar diet industry as well as the “devastating” effects that obesity has on people’s lives, according to the film’s website. “Diet Fiction” offers “new disruptive ideas” about how plant-based foods can address the obesity epidemic that’s dominating the world.
You can watch this film on Amazon Prime.
29. ‘The Big Fat Lie’
Vegan documentary “The Big Fat Lie” aims to help people realize the connection between food and disease. Combining humor with hard-hitting facts, the film calls on the New Zealand government to update its health policies to better educate the public about heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, and teach people how to prevent disease with healthy, plant-based eating.
You can watch this film on iTunes.
30. ‘Slice of Life’
“Slice of Life” explores the growing momentum of the vegan movement. It includes interviews with chefs, physicians, researchers, restaurateurs, the founders of Beyond Meat, JUST, and Impossible Foods, as well as Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute, and spokespeople from animal welfare organizations. It premiered last year.
31. ‘Racing Extinction’
Oscar-winner Louie Psihoyos (“The Cove,” “The Game Changers”) along with a team of activists and artists created the documentary film “Racing Extinction,” which delves into issues of biodiversity loss and species extinction. With never-before-seen images, the film showcases what scientists are calling the sixth major extinction in Earth’s history, that is being driven by humanity itself.
You can buy or rent this film from Amazon.
32. ‘Food, Inc.’
“Food, Inc.” unravels the way major corporations control every aspect of the food chain in the United States, including the farms where food is grown to the supermarket it’s purchased in. These companies prioritize profit over public health, the livelihood of farmers, the safety of workers, and the state of the planet. “Food, Inc.” will have you thinking twice about the food on your plate.
You can buy or rent this film on Amazon.
33. ‘The Animals Film’
Packed with never-before-seen footage, this 1981 film illuminates the cruelty inflicted on animals in laboratories, on farms, in the military, in the pet food industry, in the fur trade, and in the hunting trade.
You can purchase “The Animals Film” on its website.
34. ‘Meet Your Meat’
This short film (it’s less than 12 minutes long), narrated by actor and activist Alec Baldwin, unveils the truth behind “humanity’s cruelest invention – the factory farm.” It includes difficult but important-to-watch footage, and its bonus features videos with vegan actors and activists Pamela Anderson and Joaquin Phoenix.
You can watch “Meet Your Meat” for free online.
35. ‘A Fall From Freedom’
“A Fall From Freedom” looks into the history of keeping whales and dolphins captive for human entertainment. It questions the morality of doing so, looking at premature animal deaths, trainer injuries, educational misrepresentation, illegal and secret practices, and government incompetence.
You can watch this film on Amazon.
36. ‘Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead’
The 2010 documentary “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” follows the story of Australian Joe Cross as he embarks on a journey to regain his health. Under the care of vegan doctor and author of the 2013 book “Eat to Live,” Joel Fuhrman, Cross goes on a juice fast and adopts a plant-based diet. He reportedly lost 100 pounds and was able to safely stop taking his medication. A sequel, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead 2,” was released in 2014.
You can watch it for free online.
37. ‘Meathooked and End of Water’
This 2016 episode of the HBO series “VICE” dives into the various ways the meat industry is damaging people, the planet, and animals. The short episode touches upon processed meat’s carcinogenic nature, the rapid slaughter of animals in factory farming, and how the industry is depleting natural resources like forests and freshwater supplies.
You can watch for free it online.
38. ‘The Farm In My Backyard’
McArthur — star of “The Ghosts in Our Machine” — is one of the creators of “The Farm In My Backyard,” a short film that exposes the mink fur trade in Nova Scotia, Canada. As well as looking into the animal welfare violations of the industry, the film explores the environmental implications of farming fur.
You can watch it for free here.
39. ‘Hungry for Justice’
“Hungry for Justice” dives into food injustice, including food deserts and nutritional racism. It aims to address statistics like why Black Americans are 60 percent more likely to die from stroke and twice as more likely to die from diabetes than white Americans. The feature-length documentary follows John Lewis on his travels throughout the U.S. as he interviews medical professionals, athletes, and musicians, including Ne-Yo.
“Hungry for Justice” doesn’t have a release date yet, but you can stay in the loop online.
40. ‘For the Birds’
This film tells the story of Kathy, a woman who loves ducks, chickens, geese, and turkeys so much so that she hoards 200 of them. “For the Birds” looks at the “moral grey areas of the way we treat animals,” said vegan filmmaker Richard Miron. It features rescuers from the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary and footage of the rescued birds swimming in water for the first time.
You can watch “For the Birds” on Netflix.
41. ‘Deadly Dairy’
“Deadly Dairy” uncovers the “hidden cost” of dairy. To produce the film, Animal Equality India investigated 107 dairy farms as well as with cattle markets, tanneries, slaughterhouses, and semen collection centers. The film’s message is that the dairy, meat, and leather industries are so interconnected, you cannot buy products from one without supporting the others.
You can watch it for free online.
Directed by American filmmaker Lesley Chilcott (“An Inconvenient Truth” (2006) and “Waiting for ‘Superman'” (2010)), the 2019 documentary “Watson” is centered on Sea Shepherd founder Captain Paul Watson. The film blends new interviews with Watson along with archival footage, painting a portrait of Watson’s dedication to protecting the oceans and the planet.
“Watson” is available on Fubo TV.
43. ‘Test Subjects’
After snagging a BAFTA for “73 Cows,” filmmaker Alex Lockwood released the short documentary “Test Subjects” in late 2019. The film follows three scientists who faced ethical dilemmas with their fields’ reliance on animal testing. Slowly, they began to question its validity and sought to share their stories.
You can watch “Test Subjects” on Vimeo.
44. ‘Planet of the Humans’
“Planet of the Humans” is an ecological documentary produced by filmmaker Michael Moore. The film exposes the heavy environmental impacts of renewable energy. It also explains the problems with other forms of power like solar energy, wind energy, and biogas.
You can watch “Planet of the Humans” on YouTube.
45. ‘Akashinga: The Brave Ones’
A new film was just released about the world’s only all-female anti-poaching unit. The documentary, entitled “Akashinga: The Brave Ones,” is produced by three-time Academy Award-winning director James Cameron and directed by Maria Wilhelm.
The short film—which is a National Geographic Documentary Films production—explores conservation methods of Akashinga. Akashinga is a radical team of vegan women that are working to protect Africa’s key species, including the country’s vulnerable elephants.
The documentary premiered at the EarthxFilm Festival, which was screened virtually between April 17-26.
You can watch the trailer for “Akashinga: The Brave Ones” here.