It is highly likely that you will need to jump between the two services to find a select few titles that you presume to subscribe to, which is true, with the warning: Fair. Many of the same docuseries are readily accessible on both services. However, Discovery+ was the sole home for a vast array of TV reality shows as well as documentary-based series, which often bore the standard for the brightest and most colorful cutting-edge filmmaking tools, as well as the expanded scope of Max HBO (formerly HBO Max) under the overlordship of David Zaslav, causing head-scratching decisions. Only a couple of years ago, Discovery+ was the streaming home for a variety of high-definition, crisp nature documentaries as well as reality TV shows.
Throughout the past two decades, the BBC’s Natural History Unit has produced some of the most hypnotic documentaries that must be seen. These documentaries offer a strangely soothing yet professorial tone in the calm matter-of-fact voice of Sir David Attenborough, which sets the tone for the tensest animal attacks and even counterbalances the depiction of survival of the fittest. Whether it’s Discovery+ or Max on stream, these accessible documentaries highlight the best nature has to offer.
The one significant contrast between The Blue Planet and all the other titles on this list is that it was filmed in standard definition, which limits the magnificence of the depicted details. The Blue Planet takes us underwater to showcase the inhabitants of the deep, featuring a wide range of creatures such as dolphins, sardines, and blue whales, all under the narration of the iconic Attenborough, who provides a calm and steady voiceover. Although the BBC Natural History Unit had an extensive filmography before the 21st century, it was with The Blue Planet that they reached a new level of exploration in the natural world.
Planet Earth, which remains a benchmark for future docuseries even after nearly two decades, presents breathtaking clarity to showcase the most exquisite creatures and landscapes on our planet. In a world grappling with the devastating effects of climate change, Planet Earth serves not only as a travelogue but also as a testament to the diverse ways in which countless species inhabit forests, jungles, and the Arctic. Although the scope of this endeavor was vast, the team behind the groundbreaking 2001 series The Blue Planet, including Attenborough and producer Alastair Fothergill, came together once again for Planet Earth. While The Blue Planet was filmed in standard definition, Planet Earth embraced the realm of high definition, offering viewers an unparalleled viewing experience across its remarkable 11 episodes. Many viewers recognized the immense value that HDTV brought to this extraordinary docuseries.
Nature’s Spectacular Events (2009)
The BBC’s Unit’s History Natural is known for its unique approach of documenting the natural world, always relying on the same formula. However, what sets out Great Events in Nature apart is its focus on specific animal kingdom events that occur each year. The title of the series implies that instead of following a straight line, the episodes zig and zag, highlighting events such as the migration of animals in the Serengeti or the annual run of salmon on the western coast of North America. While there are many nature documentaries currently offered by the BBC, this series falls into a recognizable subcategory of nature docuseries.
Life (2009 film)
The concept of survival of the fittest is cleverly explored in the BBC’s Unit History Natural, which offers some of the highest-definition wildlife and animal photography ever recorded. What do animals have to do to survive another day? The incredible footage captures the amazing survival tactics of these animals.
Arctic World (2011)
The series tackles the future of this icy landscape with a direct and straightforward approach, even though neither Max nor Discovery+ have released the final episode – appropriately titled “On Thin Ice” – which features Attenborough on screen. The undeniable impact of climate change cannot be overlooked, making Frozen Planet particularly impressive. While the show presents stunning nature imagery as expected, the underlying theme of these episodes is the devastating consequences of climate change, a problem that is especially severe in the coldest environments. Twelve years later, Frozen Planet remains just as urgent as it shifts its focus to the Arctic and Antarctica, much like how The Blue Planet concentrated on the world beneath the waves.
Particularly during challenging moments, it is especially important for filmmakers to observe without interfering, as these scenes represent heartbreaking moments, such as the depiction of an elephant calf’s death due to starvation. In certain instances, the series delves into painful situations in Africa, where wildlife manages to survive in places like the Sahara Desert and the Congo. This series drops us onto the continent to explore its unique locations and how wildlife survives there. Many episodes of the BBC docuseries allow us to witness the entire world in just a matter of hours.
Life Narrative (2014)
Rarely have you seen such unforgettable and hypnotic imagery anywhere else. One highlighted episode showcases the courtship ritual of the puffer fish, which creates crop circles in the sand. The most beautiful footage is found in the quiet moments, as predators stalk their prey. However, there is still plenty of action that typifies the series, where these fish become parents and follow the same cycle of life. The six-episode series, Life, follows animals from the time they are born until they become parents themselves. The theme of the circle of life is emphasized, as the series documents the various struggles animals face to survive in their natural habitats.
The Hunt (2015)
The final episode here is dedicated to scientists trying to save an endangered predator, providing a necessary glimpse into the desperate situations faced by many animals. This episode, like the series Frozen Planet, showcases the distinct environments of the jungle and the frozen tundra, highlighting how animals play out their hunting scenes. The Hunt is a seven-episode series that focuses on the attempts of animals to avoid being hunted or, conversely, the depiction of animals hunting. One of the most visceral scenes in any nature documentary is the portrayal of animals being hunted.
Earth II (2016)
Yes, even if you don’t have an ultrahigh-definition television, you’ll still be able to spot the difference in clarity of the awe-inspiring images in the climactic episode that documents how the natural habitats of endangered animals are being threatened by urban sprawl, highlighting the focus on conservation in a high-tech world. II Earth Planet, the six-part series produced by the BBC in 4K HD, is a groundbreaking TV series that feels just as stunning as its predecessor, Earth Planet. After the international success of the BBC’s Natural History Unit and David Attenborough’s return with II Earth Planet, even after ten years, the documentaries are still not immune to sequels.
The Blue Planet II (2017)
Let this serve as a reminder to conserve and recycle. The second installment of Planet Blue, titled II Planet Blue, shows us the devastating effects of littering and pollution on marine life in an unsparing and grim manner. The series is even more forceful and effective in highlighting how our modern lifestyle damages marine environments. Unlike its predecessor, which was produced in SD, the seven-episode 2017 series is in HD 4K. And compared to the original 2001 docuseries, II Planet Blue offers a much more pronounced shift forward, leading us to another sequel.
*Royal Families (2018)
Dynasties, on its own, is both impressive and relentless, but it has not yet arrived on either Discovery+ or Max, the recent sequel spawned by Dynasties. The world is depicted with blood, and capturing internal battles leaves literal scars, showcasing the harsh realities of the circle of life. Pets are given names in the same way we name them, even though they do not actually have names. Some of the animals are even identified by name, but Attenborough refrains from fully depicting the brutal realities of the circle of life. To ensure the continuity of the circle of life, a new generation is raised and animals strive to survive. Each episode focuses on a specific group of animals. Disney’s approach shares some similarities with the framing of the BBC documentary Dynasties. As one would expect, these animals are just as cute and playful as the ones featured in Disney’s recent nature documentaries, which were worked on by producers like Fothergill. The Walt Disney Company is one of the platforms where the popularity of Planet Earth has extended beyond the BBC Natural History Unit.
*Seven Continents, One Planet (2019)
The BBC’s nature docuseries, “Planet Earth,” has been produced by the Natural History Unit of the BBC for over 15 years. The series aims to capture the entirety of the world, exploring the different ways in which wildlife survives on each of the Earth’s continents. With Sir David Attenborough as the narrator, the show provides detailed and comprehensive vignettes about all sorts of animals, from real-life roadrunners in the southwestern United States to penguins in Antarctica. In the style of the BBC, the show hones in on the nature genre, giving us a full and immersive experience. The title, “Planet Earth,” implies the vast scope of the planet, and each episode drops us into a different continent to explore its unique wildlife and ecosystems. In essence, “Planet Earth” is both a detailed and comprehensive series that showcases the wonders of our world.
The original streamers, II Serengeti, are still the best. Lupita Nyong’o, co-starring with Star Wars’ Boyega, takes the microphone behind the camera, inspired by a recent sequel, capturing jaw-dropping clarity of African creatures such as elephants and lions, as well as other close and impossibly clear shots of the Serengeti. While aiming to present the same type of effective imagery as other titles on this list, Serengeti also aims for a bit more dramatic license with its presentation, crediting the “narrator” as a “storyteller.” Notably, actor John Boyega takes the spotlight as the “charismatic most” in this “dramatized” story, emphasizing the truth versus a dramatized version. The opening seconds of the episode make it evident that Serengeti is doing something a little different from the usual fare of the BBC’s Natural History Unit.
*The Dating Game (2021)
The recent five-episode docuseries titled “The Game Mating” serves as a playful and slightly playful exploration of how animals in different ecosystems, from rainforests to oceans, capture the world of new life. Attenborough, once again behind the microphone, suggests that this series poses its own set of challenges. It explores the idea of these creatures being able to mate in order to thrive and survive, while also highlighting the negative impact that various dangers, such as climate change, can have on their ability to thrive and survive. Ultimately, this docuseries serves as a bracing warning from Attenborough about the dangers of climate change, particularly in recent times. While it guarantees to feature prominently on this list of recent docuseries, it is not just any feature – it’s a guarantee.
An Ideal Planet (2021)
Planet Perfect A is a reminder of the beauty of Earth’s documentation, and if we enjoy nature, it keeps us up. While the BBC series remains clear-eyed about the impact of our own nature, it focuses on the natural environment as much as it does on its own denizens. Although narrated from the confines of his home, David Attenborough’s narration does not affect the quality of the series. This five-episode docuseries was the first major series made by the unit at the initial height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, Planet Perfect A has survived the transition from its original home streaming to now live on Discovery+. Although it is not everything from the BBC’s Natural History Unit, it is one of the highlighted series in the latest lineup. Discovery+ went live at the start of 2021.