Powerful documentaries have a way of inspiring us and moving us while also teaching us something. The past few decades have seen an explosion of high quality, educational documentaries on a variety of themes. Plant based eating, and the many motivations for choosing a vegan diet, has been a focal point of documentaries over the past twenty years. Many vegans credit a documentary for giving them the nudge to decide to adopt a vegan diet. Whether you are a vegan looking for some inspiration or just curious as to why someone would adopt a vegan diet, you will find these vegan documentaries informative, inspiring, and thought provoking.
What the Health focuses on one of the most popular whys of being vegan: the health benefits. This film will also have you questioning a lot of mainstream ideas about healthcare, nonprofit organizations, and information suppression. A key question of the film is: If plant based eating can play a key role in treating (and reversing) so many medical conditions, why don’t the medical and nonprofit communities promote this diet?
While exploring this question, the film highlights some inspiring stories of individuals who were able to reverse medical conditions, get off prescription medications, and add years to their lives by adopting a plant based diet. Some aspects of animal agriculture are highlighted in a few short, disturbing scenes. However, the main themes here are health and the way that money drives both the medical and agricultural industries.
Best for: Anyone struggling with a significant medical condition, conspiracy theorists, and people interested in the many research-based medical benefits from a vegan diet.
How to watch: Netflix (DVD or Streaming), Amazon Prime, YouTube (rental charge), Google Play (rental charge), iTunes (rental charge)
The Gamechangers is an inspiring look at how plant based athletes in a variety of sports are thriving. With a star-studded set of producers, directors, and interviewees the film debunks a lot of myths about the vegan diet. This includes plenty of information on the perennial question of protein. The blood work, recovery, and physical performance of various athletes are highlighted in a compelling case for using plants to increase blood flow and promote overall health and performance.
During the film, sports fans will recognize some familiar faces, including Arnold Schwarzenegger, the defensive line of the Tennessee Titans, and endurance athlete Scott Jurek. While What the Health was about using a vegan diet to reverse adverse health conditions, The Gamechangers looks at the opposite end of the spectrum: it shows how athletes can get bigger, stronger, and faster by giving up meat and dairy.
Best for: Athletes, sports fans, men interested in veganism, anyone concerned about protein intake
How to watch: Netflix (streaming or DVD), Amazon Prime (rental charge), iTunes (rental charge), YouTube (rental charge), Google Play (rental charge)
While What the Health and The Gamechangers introduce you to the health benefits of being vegan, Blackfish focuses on a totally different aspect of veganism: animal abuse and exploitation. The film tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale held captive at Sea World. Tilikum was involved in the death of three humans during his time at Sea World.
Exploring these cases provide a jumping off point for a discussion about the abuses suffered by animals in captivity. This film is a deep dive into the abusive practices of Sea World, specifically related to keeping orca whales in captivity and breeding them for profit. The effects of these practices impact not just the animals themselves but also the human trainers. Part of being vegan is making a conscious choice to avoid exploiting animals in any way, making this a must watch.
Best for: Animal lovers, fans of corporate exposes,
How to watch: Netflix (streaming or DVD), Hulu Premium, Amazon Prime Premium, YouTube (rental charge), Google Play (rental charge)
Cowspiracy is an in depth look into the environmental impacts of eating meat. The film makes a compelling argument for becoming vegan to save the planet. Cowspiracy examines the effects of animal agriculture, including greenhouse gasses, waste and other byproducts, overfishing, and deforestation. The film is filled with sobering facts, such as eating one ¼ pound hamburger uses the same amount of water as showering for two months.
Throughout the film, the director, Kip Andersen, interviews a variety of environmental agencies and nonprofits with widely varying results. While some are willing to identify the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, many are resistant, which relates to the title of Cowspiracy. The brief segments on the dairy industry and raising ducks for food can be particularly hard to watch if you are sensitive to animal suffering, but most of the film is watchable and the end is inspiring.
Best for: Environmentalists, conspiracy theorists
How to Watch: Netflix (streaming), Amazon Prime (free with Prime), YouTube (rental charge), Google Play (rental charge)
We just updated this list to include an essential new documentary: Seaspiracy. While investigation the issue of ocean plastics, film maker Ali Tabrizi uncovers far more disturbing and harmful issues. These issues range from over fishing, to capturing marine mammals for entertainment, to human slavery in the crustacean industry.
Done in the same style as What the Health and Cowspiracy, Seaspiracy is an investigative piece. It will make you question the “dolphin free” labeling on tuna, the safety of farmed fish, and the consequences of fishing on human beings in developing countries. Prominent ocean defenders such as Captain Paul Watson of Sea Shepard are featured. The end of the film is a call to action to stop eating fish, and features many big names in the vegan community such as Dr. Michael Greger.
Best for: Environmentalists, conspiracy theorists, water lovers
How to Watch: Netflix (streaming)
While these vegan documentaries didn’t make the official list, they are worth mentioning. Each has a unique perspective on being vegan.
Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead(2010). While not specifically vegan, this lesser-known documentary looks at using a one month juice fast to kick start health and heal disease. While following the journeys of several individuals, the film also discusses issues with the standard American diet. You can watch this film for free on You Tube or free with Prime Video.
Earthlings (2005). Perhaps no documentary has turned more people vegan (or significantly change their behavior) than Joaquin Phoenix’s Earthlings. The film, which can be very difficult to watch, examines the ways humans use (and abuse) animals. Several industries are profiled from puppy mills to the entertainment industry. You can rent or buy the original version on Vimeo, or watch the 10th Anniversary Edition for free at Nation Earth .
Forks Over Knives (2011). Forks Over Knives paved the way for films like What the Health. It focuses on the health benefits of the vegan diet, but also brings in the animal cruelty element. It interviews a lot of the big names in vegan medical research and references key vegan books about health. You can watch it for free HERE or as a Netflix DVD. Most other video platforms charge a rental fee.
Final Thoughts and Further Reading
What did we miss? Do you have any favorite vegan documentaries that didn’t make our list? Let us know in the comments!