From Consumerism to Climate Change: 41 Outstanding Documentaries You Have to See
From Consumerism to Climate Change: 41 Outstanding Documentaries You Have to See
By Tim Hjersted /

Over the last 7 years, Films For Action has been cataloging an online library of the best social change films that can be watched free online. Opting for quality over quantity, the site has grown slowly to include 500 documentaries and 900 short films, trailers and presentations indexed into 41 subjects to make it easy to discover content about specific slices of the social change pie.

Despite whittling down the millions of videos online into a collection of 1400, that's still way too many for any one person to digest, so we've been looking to filter things down even further. 

The following 41 films have all been chosen to represent one of the subjects on the site. With the exception of The Economics of Happiness, which was too good not to mention, we've deferred to films that can be watched online over films that only have the trailer available.

For some subjects, it was truly hard to pick a single film rather than several, but consider them all a taste of what lies deeper below the surface. A taste, a taste! 

Enjoy the knowledge swim. :)



In these turbulent times, Howard Zinn is inspiring a new generation. This acclaimed film looks at the amazing life of the renowned historian, activist and author. Following his early days as a shipyard labor organizer and bombardier in World War II, Zinn became an academic rebel and leader of civil disobedience in a time of institutionalized racism and war. His influential writings shine light on and bring voice to factory workers, immigrant laborers, African Americans, Native American
77 min

Animal Rights

EARTHLINGS is a feature length documentary about humanity's absolute dependence on animals (for pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research) but also illustrates our complete disrespect for these so-called "non-human providers." The film is narrated by Academy Award nominee Joaquin Phoenix (GLADIATOR) and features music by the critically acclaimed platinum artist Moby. Heads up: contains some graphic imagery of the day-today reality for many animals. Just watch the first 20
95 min

Big Ideas

An examination of the effects of power and hierarchy on individuals, society, and the world at large. Produced by Jonathan Shockley.
92 min

Big Media

If a key indicator of the health of a democracy is the state of its journalism, the United States is in deep trouble. In Rich Media, Poor Democracy , Robert McChesney lays the blame for this state of affairs squarely at the doors of the corporate boardrooms of big media, which far from delivering on their promises of more choice and more diversity, have organized a system characterized by a lack of competition, homogenization of opinion and formulaic programming. Through
35 min


Sprawling From Grace is a documentary feature film about the unintended consequences of suburban sprawl. It illustrates the importance of altering the course of how we develop our nation’s cities. It communicates the dangers of continuing to invest in the inefficient horizontal growth patterns of suburban communities, and details how they threaten to bankrupt the remaining wealth of our nation. It explores how the depletion of fossil fuels will impact thi
81 min

Climate Change

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite plays an old man living in the devastated world of 2055 in this documentary-drama-animation hybrid from Director Franny Armstrong and Oscar-winning Producer John Battsek. Runaway climate change has ravaged the planet by 2055. Pete plays the founder of The Global Archive, a storage facility located in the (now melted) Arctic, preserving all of humanity’s achievements in the hope that the planet might one day be habitable again. Pulling together clips o
88 min


When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, Cuba's economy went into a tailspin. With imports of oil cut by more than half – and food by 80 percent – people were desperate. This film tells of the hardships and struggles as well as the community and creativity of the Cuban people during this difficult time. Cubans share how they transitioned from a highly mechanized, industrial agricultural system to one using organic methods of farming and local, urban gardens. It is an unusual look
52 min


Consuming Kids throws desperately needed light on the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car. Drawing on the insights of health care professionals, children's advocates, and industry insiders, the film focuses on the explosive growth of child marketing in the wake of deregulation, showing how youth marketers have used the latest ad
67 min


The Corporation is today's dominant institution, creating great wealth but also great harm. This 26 award-winning documentary examines the nature, evolution, impacts and future of the modern business corporation and the increasing role it plays in society and our everyday lives.
145 min


Please share this movie with others. \"The Superior human?\" is the first documentary to systematically challenge the common human belief that humans are superior to other life forms. The documentary reveals the absurdity of this belief while exploding human bias. Featuring Dr Bernard Rollin, Gary Yourofsky Dr Richard Ryder, Dr Steven Best.
74 min

Drug Prohibition

Cops and former cops who have put in decades fighting the war on drugs speak out against prohibition.
54 min


THE WAR ON KIDS is a 95 minute documentary that shows how American public schools continue to become more dangerously authoritarian. In addition to failing in their mission to educate effectively, they erode the country's democratic foundation and often resemble prisons. School children are interviewed as are high school teachers and administrators, as well as prison security guards, plus renowned educators and authors including: Henry Giroux: Author of Stealing Innocence Corpora
95 min

Elections & Democracy

From Venezuela's Communal Councils, to Brazil's Participatory Budgeting; from Constitutional Assemblies to grassroots movements, recuperated factories to cooperatives across the hemisphere- This documentary is a journey, which takes us across the Americas, to attempt to answer one of the most important questions of our time: What is Democracy? Directed by Sílvia Leindecker & Michael Fox. Estreito Meios Productions, 2008. Distributed by PM Press.
95 min


"A gripping, deeply informative account of the plunder, hypocrisy, and mass violence of plutocracy and empire; insightful, historically grounded and highly relevant to the events of today." - Michael Parenti, Historian, Author The Face of Imperialism Part I - Empire An Introduction to the Empire; Iran – Oil and Geopolitics; Guatemala – the “merger of state and corporate power”; The Congo – Neocolonialism; Grenada – &ldq
95 min


The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one
102 min


Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this captivating documentary explores the perilous state of our planet, and the means by which we can change our course. Contributing to this crucial film are noted politicians, scientists and other ambassadors for the importance of a universal ecological consciousness. The 11th Hour is directed by Nadia Connors and Leila Conners Peterson and features narration from Academy Award® Nominee Leonardo DiCaprio (The Departed, Blood Diamond). The environmentally
94 min


For most Americans, the ideal meal is fast, cheap, and tasty. Food, Inc. examines the costs of putting value and convenience over nutrition and environmental impact. Director Robert Kenner explores the subject from all angles, talking to authors, advocates, farmers, and CEOs, like co-producer Eric Schlosser (Fast Food Nation), Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma), Gary Hirschberg (Stonyfield Farms), and Barbara Kowalcyk, who’s been lobbying for more rigorous s
93 min


In order to examine the true effects of globalization, renowned journalist John Pilger turns the spotlight on Indonesia, a country described by the World Bank as a model pupil until its globalized economy collapsed in 1998. The film examines the use of sweatshop factories by famous brand names, and asks some penetrating questions. Who are the real beneficiaries of the globalized economy? Who really rules the world now? Is it governments or a handful of huge companies? The Ford Motor Company
52 min


The definitive documentary explaining the influence of money on politics by Jonathan Shockley. If you like it, consider buying the high quality DVD or donating a few $ at This film is based on Thomas Ferguson's book Golden Rule: The Investment Theory of Party Competit
87 min


Big Bucks, Big Pharma: Marketing Disease and Pushing Drugs (2006) 

Big Bucks, Big Pharma pulls back the curtain on the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to expose the insidious ways that illness is used, manipulated, and in some instances created, for capital gain. 



Human Rights

Wolf's impassioned arguments prove totally compelling, and the filmmakers' accompanying illustrations transport her comparisons from the abstract to the historic- VARIETY Expertly crafted by award-winning filmmakers Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern (The Devil Came on Horseback and The Trials of Darryl Hunt) comes this provocative film, THE END OF AMERICA based on The New York Times best seller by the same name. In a stunning indictment of sweeping policy changes during the Bush year
72 min

Indigenous Issues

From multi-award winning directors Robin Davey and Yellow Thunder Woman, comes this 'Illuminating Documentary' (Time Out). Delving deeply into the often misunderstood and frequently over looked historic realities of the American Indian, The Canary Effect follows the terrifying and horrific abuses instilled upon the Indigenous people of North America, and details the genocidal practices of the US government and its continuing affects on present day Indian country. Featuring
63 min

Indy Media

Part scathing critique, part call to action, this film is composed of a speech given by Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now! illustrated by clips of mainstream media juxtaposed with rare footage from independent reporters in Iraq. "Independent media has a crucial responsibility to go to where the silence is," says Amy Goodman, "to represent the diverse voices of people engaged in dissent." She makes a compelling argument that the commercial news media have failed to represent the "true face o
30 min

Media Literacy

Intercutting thousands of contemporary and classic television commercials with insights by Stuart Ewen, Jean Kilbourne, Sut JhalIy and others, this film scrutinizes late 20th century American society and its prime inhabitant, Consumer Man. You will never look at an ad the same way again after viewing what critics are calling "the first comprehensive documentary on the cultural impact of advertising in America." The opening quote reads: "A democratic civilizati
57 min

Money & Economics

Thirteen years ago, in a documentary called "The Money Masters", we asked the question why is America going broke. It wasn't clear then that we were, but it is today. Now the question is how can we get out of this mess. Foreclosures are everywhere, unemployment is skyrocketing - and this is only the beginning. America's economy is on a long, slippery slope from here on. The bubble ride of debt has come to an end. What can government do? The sad answer is - under the current moneta
110 min

Net Neutrality

In January 2012, two controversial pieces of legislation were making their way through the US Congress. SOPA, the Stop Online Piracy Act, and PIPA, the Protect Intellectual Property Act, were meant to crack down on the illegal sharing of digital media. The bills were drafted on request of the content industry, Hollywood studios and major record labels. The online community rose up against the US government to speak out against SOPA, and the anti-online piracy bill was effectively
24 min

Peak Oil

Produced and directed by award-winning European journalists and filmmakers Basil Gelpke and Ray McCormack, A Crude Awakening tells the story of how our civilization’s addiction to oil puts it on a collision course with geology. Compelling, intelligent, and highly entertaining, the film visits with the world’s top experts and comes to a startling, but logical conclusion – our industrial society, built on cheap and readily available oil, must be completely re-imagined and o
82 min


As corporate media fails to provide accurate news of the world's dire environmental predicament, the Earth sends a clear message in the form of record-breaking natural disasters, famine and epidemics. People are mobilizing for what lies ahead. In May 2007, the 8th International Permaculture Convergence (IPC8) was held in Brazil, bringing together visionary activists from 43 countries in the common goal of preparing for, and mitigating, our looming global crisis. Their strategy: Self-reliance
26 min


Fueled by the belief that "another world is possible," Fierce Light is a compelling, global journey into the world of spirit in action, an exploration of what Martin Luther King called "Love in Action," and Gandhi called "Soul Force"; what Ripper is calling "Fierce Light." Acclaimed filmmaker Velcrow Ripper takes an insightful look at ch
138 min

Police State

Martial Law was declared in downtown Miami in November of 2003 to provide security for the FTAA Economic Summit. Blatant and unashamed police brutality is caught on film. The US Federal government granted the State of Florida $8.5 million dollars from the $87 billion allotted to Congress to fight the "War on Terror," in order to provide "security" for the FTAA summit. Tazers and "non-lethal" weaponry was pilot tested at this event with little to no instruction
91 min


This film explores the historical role of the Democratic Party as the "graveyard of social movements", the massive influence of corporate finance in elections, the absurd disparities of wealth in the United States, the continuity and escalation of neocon policies under Obama, the insufficiency of mere voting as a path to reform, and differing conceptions of democracy itself. Original interview footage derives from Noam Chomsky, Michael Parenti, Michael Albert, John Stauber (PR Wa
114 min


Economic globalization has led to a massive expansion in the scale and power of big business and banking. It has also worsened nearly every problem we face: fundamentalism and ethnic conflict; climate chaos and species extinction; financial instability and unemployment. There are personal costs too. For the majority of people on the planet life is becoming increasingly stressful. We have less time for friends and family and we face mounting pressures at work. The Economics o
3 min

Social Issues

Jackson Katz argues that widespread violence in American society, including the tragic school shootings in Littleton, Colorado, Jonesboro, Arkansas, and elsewhere, needs to be understood as part of an ongoing crisis in masculinity. Tough Guise is the first educational video geared toward college and high school students to systematically examine the relationship between pop-cultural imagery and the social construction of masculine identities in the U.S. at the dawn of the 21st century.
53 min


"2012: Time for Change" presents an optimistic alternative to apocalyptic doom and gloom. Directed by Emmy Award nominee João Amorim, the film follows journalist Daniel Pinchbeck, author of the bestselling 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, on a quest for a ne
85 min


Wake up to your own role in creating a new future. This new perspective of the current state of our planet features top scientific, indigenous and activist minds from around the world. Now available for the first-time ever on video, The Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream Symposium empowers participants to respond to the urgency and the opportunity of our times with action and informed, grounded optimism. This documentar
90 min

Technology & Design

Man is the only creature that produces landfills. Natural resources are being depleted on a rapid scale while production and consumption are rising in na­tions like China and India. The waste production world wide is enormous and if we do not do anything we will soon have turned all our resources into giant landfills of waste. But there is hope. The German chemist, Michael Braungart, and the American designer-architect William McDonough are fundamentally changing the way we produce and b
49 min


" BREAKING THE SILENCE is a film with enormous emotional power, bringing us the human consequences of our military attacks on Middle East countries. It also provides us with important insights into the reasons for these cruelties, exposing the emptiness and hypocrisy of the claims made by the Bush administration that it is fighting terrorism and promoting freedom . I wish this film could be shown in eve
51 min

The Big Picture

A middle class white guy comes to grips with Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, Population Overshoot and the demise of the American Lifestyle. Featuring interviews with Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Jerry Mander, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Heinberg, Thomas Berry, William Catton, Ran Prieur and Richard Manning. Produced by Sally Erickson. Written, Directed, and Edited by Tim Bennett. More about the film…
123 min


Crossroads: Labor Pains of a New Worldview is a documentary exploring the depths of the current human condition and the emergence of a worldview that is recreating our world from the inside out. Weaving together insights and findings from biology, psychology, network science, systems science, business, culture and media, the film reveals the inner workings of the human experience in the 21st century, urging viewers to step out of the box and challenge their own
65 min

War & Peace

War Made Easy reaches into the Orwellian memory hole to expose a 50-year pattern of government deception and media spin that has dragged the United States into one war after another from Vietnam to Iraq. Narrated by actor and activist Sean Penn, the film exhumes remarkable archival footage of official distortion and exaggeration from LBJ to George W. Bush, revealing in stunning detail how the American news media have uncritically promoted the pro-war messages of successive presidential admin
70 min


Best introduction to the controversy surrounding 9/11, dealing mainly with the 9/11 Commission cover-up as exposed by the victims family members in their fight to find out what happened to their loved ones that day.
85 min

If you'd like a visual look at our library, check out our world-famous "WALL OF FILMS!" ;)

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From Consumerism to Climate Change: 41 Outstanding Documentaries You Have to See