Stories for an Ailing Planet: An Analysis of Modern Climate Film

Christian Green


In surveying film releases throughout American theaters, one comes to realize that popular film tends to ignore or severely mistreat the issue of climate change. The goal of this thesis is to examine the ways in which a few of the most prominent climate-related films address the issue and diagnose the shortcomings of their approaches. The main case studies are the films Interstellar, The Day After Tomorrow, and Wall-E.

These films were most often held back by adherence to standard genre conventions, which caused them to relegate climate themes to the role of mere set dressing for the stories the writers want to build, which were often incompatible with their environmental messages.  The shortcomings of each film serve as a reference point for proposing a new direction for the cinematic treatment of climate change that involves abandoning stale and unsuitable genre conventions of typical blockbusters while looking to certain contemporary films such as Parasite for inspiration on how to most effectively impart environmental themes to audiences.

The most elegant way forward for climate change in popular film is to create an entirely new sub-genre, which uses the most effective cinematic techniques to address climate change in a detailed, thought-provoking, and shocking way to produce the best reaction to the subject matter and inspire genuine action from audience members.