Sunday Top Ten: Spectacular Nature Documentaries For Watching While Wrapped Up In A Blanket

Welcome to the seventh edition of Sunday Top Ten, a list of completely random and undoubtedly self-indulgent things that may or may not be published on a Sunday or number “ten.” This feature is a continuation of the Sunday Top Tens I used to write for my earth-shattering personal blog Autowin, where I talked about myself pretty much constantly from 2006-2008. 

Hello, world, and welcome to the Sunday Top Ten. Yesterday was Saturday Staycation Spectacular Day and I promised my girlfriend Abby I wouldn’t work all the live-long day long, but prospects were dimming on Friday as the big day approached and my to-do list continued to attack me with its monster claws. That’s when Abby — who was home sick but goes insane if she’s not being as productive as possible at any given moment (just like me! match made in heaven!) — asked if there was anything she could do to help ensure I’d actually have a day off this week and I was like, Yeah you could write the Sunday Top Ten for me. SO HERE WE ARE.abby

If you followed my work back when I was a tiny thing with a little blog, you will recognize the grand tradition of outsourced Sunday Top Tens, which in the past have included my pal Crystal, my little brother Lewis, my then-girlfriend TB and my best friend Natalie.

If you’ve only followed my work here on this website, you’re also likely aware that I don’t do animals, science or nature. I had to take one science class in college and I took a class about monkeys because monkeys are cute. I took it pass/fail. I PASSED. That’s the best science-related thing I’ve ever done. According to reader surveys, my disinterest in these topics is very sad for you! HERE’S YOUR BIG CHANCE TO TALK ABOUT NATURE AND SCIENCE MOVIES, YA WEIRDOS. Speaking of weirdos, if you ever wondered “will Riese ever find a life companion who can out-weirdo her” — good news.


by Abby

1. At the Edge of Space (Nova / PBS)

amazon // netflix

At the Edge of Space221

This was one I immediately clicked on just because of the title. It talks to real-life scientists about real-life PHENOMENA w/r/t space and time and all the mysteries in between. Also, we all know that NOVA can do no wrong.

2. The Blue Planet (BBC)

amazon // netflix // hulu


First off, this might become a list of documentaries about life in the ocean because that’s my fave subject. This was the first documentary about life in the ocean that I watched after the way-too-perfect Planet Earth series. Second off, David Attenborough narrates. Third off, sardines. Fourth — sharks and whales, sharks and whales, SHARKS AND WHALES!!!

3. Crocpocalypse (Nat Geo)



Don’t always judge a book by it’s cover, sure — but do often judge a documentary by it’s clever title. After you watch this, I would love to hear your opinion on crocodiles as a possible household pet.

4. Leave it to Beavers (Nature / PBS)

amazon // netflix


This was amazing. I saw this sometime last year when I was tripped out on cough syrup and thought I was watching The Angry Beavers — but instead stumbled upon an eye-opening piece on the true genius of beavers. They call them hydro-engineers! Which is also what I think Riese’s brother’s job title is. Maybe they should rename this documentary Leave It To Lewis.

5. Wild China (BBC)

amazon // netflix // hulu


I’m actually watching this as we speak. It’s amazing. China is home to a diverse array of climates and terrains. Wild China goes from cave fishes to swallows in rice paddies — all while explaining the history and culture of these diverse regions. Also how cute are the monkeys?! Like come on.

6. David Attenborough Wildlife Specials (BBC)



I could get a tattoo that says “I LOVE DAVID ATTENBOROUGH” and never regret it. I could take Autostraddle’s “Misandrist” tee and scribble just underneath the finely-laid gold print “except David Attenborough.” I’d buy David Attenborough a sandwich at Whole Foods and not even wince when the cashier asks me for twelve dollars. If I like him so much, why don’t I marry him, right? Cause I’m just a little too gay. A little too gay. So instead, I’ll just watch “Humpback Whale: Giant Of The Oceans” over and over. Although this could be a list of “Top 10 Nature Documentaries David Attenborough Is Involved In,” I’m going for a little more rounded approach. But don’t that stop you from a D.A. marathon. Go forth!

7. The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (PBS)

netflix // amazon  // hulu


The National Parks are possibly the best thing about this country. Even if it’ll take me a lifetime to get to all of them, Ken Burns and his camera crew will do in the meantime. Them panoramic shots, am I right?!

8. Africa (BBC)



I used to wonder why celebrities would put movie theatres in their houses when they are in the 1% that can afford a movie ticket — and then I watched this. This makes me want to build a house of movie screens and watch this everywhere. P.S. Guess who narrates?!

9. Vanishing Pearls



Though this is definitely more on the political side of nature documentaries, I still think it’s very important to include. It’s so good. It’s so so good. Sometimes I’ll even tear up while talking about and/or hearing about it because it’s so good. Watch it. So good!

10. Search for the Great Sharks (Discovery)

hulu // netflix // amazon


I don’t give a damn about their bad reputation — I love sharks. I’ve always loved sharks. I’m pretty sure this was one of my first nature documentaries – my grandma took me to see it in the IMAX theatre in downtown Indianapolis (big day out!) and it was love at first bite (haw haw). Intelligent, athletic, and the victim of some pretty gnarly marketing (re: Jaws) these creatures have endured and hopefully will continue to. Also — be the coolest kid during Shark Week and know ALL the shark facts!

What are your favorite nature documentaries, readers?

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riding' bikes, reading books, bobblehead to the beat.

Abby has written 3 articles for us.


  1. I didn’t know I needed this list until I read your article here Abby; thank you! Netflix has so many great docs and also so many lemons on it; can be tricky to navigate. Esp stoked about the docs featuring China and Africa and the national parks one.

    Also great E.T. reference photoshop ahahhh. :)

    • fun fact: that is not even a photoshopped photo – that is a WAX REPLICA of ET/and the bicycle/and i think a prop red hoodie.

      BUT ALSO! I feel the same way! ive watched so many documentaries on netflix just out of sheer determination and “well, i’ve already started it…” and they turn out to be so pseudo-sciency and weird. that being said i am a 100% fan of the ancient alien series so i am kinda glad about the allowance of such nonsense.

  2. When Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ “Islands In the Stream” shuffled onto my iPod this morning, I thought the day had peaked on awesomeness, but nope! This tops it! I’m adding all of these to my queue immediately!

    Also, any person who loves nature and animals this much and is also this adorable should definitely have a dog. JUST SAYIN’.

  3. Oh my god the beavers one is seriously so good you guys! My twin brother and I can never agree on movies and we have seen it together three times, it got us through the holidays this year.

  4. There’s one on Netflix right now called Hidden Kingdoms that’s kind of unintentionally hilarious, because they use staged scenes and melodramatic music to present the lives of teeny tiny creatures. There’s Stephen Fry, a mouse attacking a scorpion, and giant falling elephant poop. It’s pretty great.

    • LEGIT okay so i was considering putting Hidden Kingdoms but also if i’m being honest with myself creatures smaller than my foot kind of creep me out and the whole time i think i kind of looked like an anxious emoji watching it. BUT IT IS SO GOOD AND YOURE RIGHT and yes to stephen fry.

  5. Abby! Just when I think I can’t love you more, you go and write about all the nerdy things in my heart.

    Also, everyone should watch Chasing Ice, which is stunning and excellent and perfect, and Frozen Planet, which is part of the Planet Earth/Blue Planet family.

    Somewhere on the internet there is also a documentary about the black mamba snake, which I once watched drunkenly with my roommate, and we felt very good about it at the time.

  6. I’m so excited about this because I haven’t watched ANY of these yet!!!! I can’t wait to watch documentaries in bed!!!

  7. This is so apropos… I’m dry heaving and staying home from work, so now I have a thing to do!

  8. There’s a brilliant BBC doc about Yellowstone which I have on bluray and its worth it. We also have Bue planet and I second the reccomendation. There’s a brilliant documentary about the Mekong River presented by Sue Perkins which everyone should try and see somehow. Stunning and she’s so honest and funny and willing to openly discuss and process how she fees about the journey.

    • i will watch sue perkins do ANYTHING. dress up and eat weird historical foods, check! make bad puns and comfort reality baking show contestants, check! narrate a doco about anne lister, check! the mekong river, now on the list.

    • i am thirding this and also going to watch this so soon and then we can all talk about sue perkins cause she is the realest and i am STOKED about this

  9. So you know when you’re bored and you open up the never ending world of “What should I watch on Netflix today/tonight/at 2am in the morning?” You’ve created a list to help me with that and I tip my invisible hat off to you! Seriously though, I can’t tell you how many times I scroll through Netflix unsure of what to watch in the documentary section and an hour later I still haven’t made a decision. Anything wildlife, space, nature, food, geekdom etc. I am down for and Netflix has a lot of that. I just find it hard to narrow down my selections so I love personal recommendations!

    • Honestly every time I’m looking for something new to watch I come to Autostraddle for recommendations. It’s the best!

      • I’m finding that out! I’m relatively new to autostraddle so I’m just getting into all the wonderful benefits that have to offer :)

  10. Blue Planet is the absolute BEST. If you only get to watch one episode make it The Deep which is the one where they go deeper than any ocean documentary ever has before and you will see creatures that will BLOW YOUR MIND. Things weirder than any alien you could dream up. Creatures that live in the darkest coldest place where no sunlight can ever shine, and make strange noises and live weird alien lives. You won’t believe these creatures are on your planet, this planet, the one we live on.

    Seriously, I can’t recommend this enough, my favourite documentary ever bar none.

    Plus I have a lifelong crush on David Attenborough, sorrynotsorry.

  11. I am now going to spend the rest of my Sunday lounging disgustingly/unproductively on the couch watching nature documentaries. I feel really good about this actually. Thank you.

  12. I would also like to reccomend the “Wildest [place]” series. I’m midway through Wildest India, it’s very good.

    • !!!! so you just said this and i just watched Wildest Indochina which blew my mind and i was like IF ONLY i had seen this like three days ago! but regardless yes! i can’t wait to watch the India one too!

  13. fairly certain that i would be too scared by 1, 2, 3 and 10, but Leave it to Beavers is the ABSOLUTE BEST.

  14. Human Planet! I’ve never heard anyone mention it before, but I was blown away when I watched it.

    • YOOOOOO0O0O0O0O!!!! yes. 100 percent yes. also i think i have to make a separate list about space documentaries because there are just so SO so many good ones out there but real talk i was at the flea market a couple years ago and found a LP of the original COSMOS soundtrack and it’s SO. GOOD.

      cosmos appreciation club1!!!

  15. Ooh, these all look so good! If I could watch nothing but documentaries and read nothing but nonfiction, I would actually be content. Also, I completely agree that National Parks are possibly the best thing about this country.

    Personally, I love the Nova documentary “The Elegant Universe” based on a book by Brian Greene about string theory and our amazing, mind-boggling universe. (I also enjoyed reading this book, as well as his book “the Hidden Reality” which I just finished).

  16. This list is fantastic – Wild China especially was a breathtaking series! I am also a die-hard DA fangirl – have held onto my VCR all these years so I can watch Life On Earth.
    My other fave documentary series are Walking with Dinosaurs and Snow Monkeys which is narrated by Liam Neeson (if you are not in complete hysterics when the baby monkey is missing then you have no soul).
    DA also did an amazing doc on Pterodactyls called Flying Monsters (yes, I love dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are cool)
    Oh and Stephen Hawking has a couple of cool series (SH’s Grand Design and SH’s Universe) narrated both by him and Benedict Cumberbatch all about space and stuff.
    I love documentaries, and this list, thank-you!

    • space and dinosaurs!!!!! i know i think i had to separate space and dinosaurs out because those are both things i love so much that they had to be in their own category? and i am with you SO MUCH

  17. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this! I’m not much of a narative fiction gal, but nature and space docs are my JAM!!!!!!! I’ve seen a few of these but just the fact that you covered this type of media…RIESE, you’ve made a whole lot happier. Thanks!!!

  18. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for this! I’m not much of a narrative fiction gal, but nature and space docs are my JAM!!!!!!! I’ve seen a few of these but just the fact that you covered this type of media…RIESE, you’ve made a whole lot happier. Thanks!!!

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