By now, you know that seeing images of nature can boost your sense of well-being and lower stress. But what happens when all you want to do is watch teen movies instead of nature documentaries?
Obviously, there’s a roundup for that. (Hint: This one.)
Scroll down for 10 of the best TV movies that use nature—not prom dates or college acceptance letters—as their ultimate happy ending.
BLUE CRUSH (2002)
This year marks the 20th anniversary of this surfer girl classic, which helped launch Kate Bosworth into the stratosphere and showed Hollywood (and teen girls everywhere) that personal strength, group support, and a healthy ocean were the true prizes worth fighting for.
Based on a short story by Susan Orlean, Blue Crush inspired millions of young women to connect with the ocean through surfing. It also made typical romance a side dish, and instead turned the awesomeness of Hawaii’s tropical ecosystem into its main character. And even if we’ll never catch serious waves like Anne Marie, Eden, Lena, and Penny, we’ll always ride high on Blue Crush’s dual themes: The power of the ocean and the power of female friendship.
WATCH BLUE CRUSH ON AMAZON PRIME
BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA (2007)
Is nature the ultimate magical world? This classic movie about friendship and escape—based on the equally devastating young adult novel—says “yes, obviously.” Starring Wild Advocate AnnaSophia Robb and Josh Hutcherson pre-Hunger Games, the film follows soul siblings Jess and Leslie as they use their local forest to create an imaginary realm of acceptance and joy that’s lightyears away from their local junior high.
Bridge to Terabithia was shot in the forests and fields of Auckland, New Zealand, but when you see two young teens climbing trees and racing down hiking paths, you realize it could be any place where friends strengthen their inner selves through exploring the outside world.
WATCH BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA ON DISNEY+
CHALET GIRL (2011)
Before Felicity Jones was an Oscar contender, she was Kim Matthews, a former skateboarding champion too traumatized by a family tragedy to continue her winning streak. Instead, Kim gets a job as a “chalet girl” in Austria where she cooks and cleans for a rich family—including Succession’s Nicholas Braun as a hapless college romantic—and naturally becomes a stealth snowboarding star in her downtime.
Is Chalet Girl goofy? Yes. Is Chalet Girl an amazing display of mountains, snowscapes, and the healing power of the outdoors? Also yes.
WATCH CHALET GIRL ON PLEX
HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN (2003)
A controversial pick, but we’re standing by it. This installment of the Harry Potter series is an environmentalist’s dream. It’s got wide shots of the Scottish highlands (aka Hogwarts), animal conservation (saving Buckbeak), respect for plantlife (the stunning shot of the Whomping Willow in action), and natural goodness triumphing over life-sucking evil… at least until the next Harry Potter, when the whole thing starts all over again. Ah, the circle of life.
WATCH HARRY POTTER AND THE PRISONER OF AZKABAN ON HBO MAX
THE HALF OF IT (2020)
In this quiet revolution of a teen movie, Wild Advocate Leah Lewis plays Ellie Chu, a brilliant but reserved high school senior who's roped into ghost-writing love letters for a guy—and falling for his popular-girl crush in the process.
The film's entire story happens in a remote Washington state village, where the insular world of forest canopies and cold creeks becomes a metaphor for Ellie's own complicated but complete inner life. And when someone is finally let into her world, it happens—where else?—at an abandoned hot springs spa, where the mineral water still bubbles up from the earth.
WATCH THE HALF OF IT ON NETFLIX
Kena and Ziki just wanna have fun, but their dads are famous Kenyan politicians, and their country outlaws same-sex couples from existing in public. Nevertheless, these teens do more than exist—they thrive—and as they wind their way through current-day Nairobi, they give us an accidental (but totally welcome) tour of the rivers, forests, and fields that serve as natural safe houses for their clandestine love.
When Rafiki was first released to Kenyan audiences, it was banned from cinemas—but in the one week where it was allowed to air, the movie grossed more ticket sales than any other film shown in the country—including the original Black Panther. It is the first-ever Kenyan film to premiere at the Cannes Film Festival.
WATCH RAFIKI ON SHOWTIME
A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT (2002)
One year before The O.C. turned her into teen royalty, Mischa Barton starred in this Disney Channel original movie based on Madeleine L’Engle’s book of the same name. The plot follows Vicky Austin, a teen visiting her sick grandfather in Washington State. When Vicky encounters a dolphin named Basil, she realizes she can communicate with animals, and uses her newfound powers to help save a dolphin pod from an illegal fishing and poaching ring in town.
The film is classic Disney teen fare—So much family melodrama! So many teen crushes!—but its focus on environmental heroism makes the movie stand out. And though telepathic dolphins are more Lisa Frank than National Geographic, the movie does include real science about ocean conservation, echolocation, and dolphin pod behavior.
WATCH A RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT ON DISNEY+
SOUL SURFER (2011)
In 2003, Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a tiger shark while surfing; she lost her left arm in the encounter. But the surf community understands ocean health is vital for human health, which is why many professional surfers—including shark attack survivors like Mike Casey—fight to protect sharks from harm. It’s also why Hamilton’s biopic Soul Surfer is less about a horrific moment, and more about one young woman’s inspiring return to what she loves.
As played by AnnaSophia Robb, Hamilton is a focused and determined teen who renews her bond with the ocean, and with herself, while training to re-enter the competitive surf world. She swims, she falls, she tries again. In the process, she becomes stronger than ever, and gives the audience a glimpse into the underwater realm that fuels her passion and her purpose as a role model for women everywhere.
WATCH SOUL SURFER ON NETFLIX
TROOP BEVERLY HILLS (1989)
They may glamp at the Beverly Hilton instead of kicking back outdoors, but eventually, the scouting troop led by Shelley Long and future indie rock star Jenny Lewis get their acts together. After learning the basics of camping, plant medicine, and teamwork, Troop Beverly Hills takes top honors at their state’s outdoor jamboree, proving that caviar and couture can totally coexist with tents and water conservation. Merit badges for everyone!
WATCH TROOP BEVERLY HILLS ON PLUTO
Before it becomes a heart-shredding vampire love story, Twilight is about a remote Oregon town where the only cool things are the woods, the mountains, and the rainstorms that blanket the whole place in fog. Thanks to director Catherine Hardwicke, the movie maintains its respect for the Pacific Northwest’s mystery and power, which remains a key element of the film, even in the midst of Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson’s considerable star power.
With famous scenes at designated nature preserves like the Multnomah Falls rapids, Silver Falls State Park, and Cannon Beach, Twilight has become a love letter to Oregon’s natural wonders, and has even prompted book and movie fans to hike through locations seen in the blockbuster hit.
WATCH TWILIGHT ON AMAZON PRIME
WALK, RIDE, RODEO (2019)
After a paralyzing car accident, doctors told Amberley Snyder she would never walk again. But the Utah resident had been riding horses since childhood, and her bond with the animals far outmatched her medical diagnosis. Just four months after Snyder left the hospital, she was (literally) back in the saddle at her family farm.
Walk, Ride, Rodeo is a fictional look at Snyder’s journey, and its long shots of the Utah wilderness are as stunning as they are foreboding. But after yelling, “Wait, she’s gonna climb that mountain on that horse?!” (and realizing that yes, Amberley Snyder is absolutely going to climb that mountain on that horse), you’ll witness the way ponies and people can be natural healers, and desert meditations are sometimes the best medicine for an “impossible” challenge that’s anything but.
WATCH WALK, RIDE, RODEO ON NETFLIX
WHALE RIDER (2002)
Join the Maori people of New Zealand and they resurrect an ancient ritual of “whale riding”—literally initiating a new tribal leader by riding a Southern Wright Whale—but this time with a teen girl named Paikea paying tribute to the ocean and her community's traditional protection of its waters.
The movie was a smash hit in Australia and America, and gained an Oscar nomination for its teen star, Keisha Castle Hughes, who continues to act in jaw-dropping fare like Game of Thrones and the Star Wars franchises. Still, this independent film is a special moment, both for the actress and the whales she helped spotlight.
WATCH WHALE RIDER ON AMAZON PRIME
A WRINKLE IN TIME (2018)
Can a sci-fi movie be a nature movie? This one is. The film follows a brainy teen named Meg as she hopscotches across the universe in search of her missing scientist father. Along the way, she meets intergalactic protectors Oprah, Reese Witherspoon, and Mindy Kaling, and sees very real mountains, oceans, and forests worth protecting—both on her own planet and in worlds that are lightyears away.
Is the classic book better than the film? Of course. But the emergence of Storm Reid as both an action star and a teen heroine make the movie totally worth it—as do the panoramic coastal views of California and New Zealand where director Ava DuVernay made the movie into an advertisement for the beauty of nature.... even if it's nature on Mars.
WATCH A WRINKLE IN TIME ON DISNEY+