8 Great Movies Set in a Rainforest
Like the rainforest? Of course you do. So do the movies. There’s something deeply inviting about Earth’s lungs, a sometimes dark and mysterious world we only seem to know so little about. As a setting for a movie, they offer a playground for all kinds of stories, from kid’s to horror. Here are 8 films set in a rainforest you need to watch. Unless you live there. Then just go outside.
Medicine Man (1992)
DIRECTOR: John McTiernan STARS: Sean Connery, Lorraine Bracco
When a researcher named Campbell (Connery), working in the Amazonian rain forest, is abandoned by his wife and research assistant, the pharmaceutical company funding him sends a biochemist named Dr. Rae Crane (Bracco) to investigate. She learns that Campbell has incidentally discovered a cure for cancer but cannot synthesize the compound. He stumbles upon a flower that might hold the key, though a logging company is fast-approaching that are determined to level the area for a road. The work exposes the locals to disease and bacteria that can be deadly, yet a tribal medicine man may have the formula that can not only help the indigenous people but solve the search for more of the rare flower. The film was met with poor reviews, and while there are issues with pacing and a few lapses in the script, McTiernan’s direction is strong and Connery is convincing. However, while much of the movie was filmed with Mexico standing in for Brazil, there are some lush images of the real rain forest and the setting feels authentic. Not a great film, it’s a unique story and a movie worth seeing if you’re a fan of the forest.
The Emerald Forest (1985)
DIRECTOR: John Boorman STARS: Powers Booth, Charley Boorman
Bill Markham (Booth), an engineer, moves his family to Brazil to begin work on a massive dam that will bring jobs and development to the area. It will also level a great swath of rainforest and flood even more. But the cost is considered worth it. One morning, as the Markhams sit on a ridge overlooking the construction, their seven-year-old son Tommy (Boorman) wanders into the jungle and is eventually kidnapped by one of the “Invisible People”, an indigenous tribe who live deep in the forest. They see the blonde-haired, green-eyed Tommy as something special and believe the strange people he is with will destroy him. Over the next ten years, the boy adopts the life of his captors while his parents, and especially his father, never give up the search. The Emerald Forest is a well-directed, dramatic, sometimes brutal (it’s directed by the guy who made Deliverance) film with some strong performances and an intriguing story. Set in the jungles of Brazil, it’s a beautiful journey into the mysterious Amazonian depths.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992)
Director: Bill Kroyer Stars: (Voices of) Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Robin Williams
An animated children’s film, FernGully: The Last Rainforest is set in an Australian rain forest populated by fairies who once lived in harmony with humans but now think they have gone extinct. Then Crysta (Mathis), along with her new friend Batty (Williams) discover lumberjacks and meet Zak (Jonathan Ward), whom Crysta shrinks to her size but doesn’t know how to send him back. He and Crytsa soon begin to fall in love, but an evil spirit named Hexxus (Tim Curry) is inadvertently freed by the loggers and now Zak, Crytsa, and Batty have to work together to save the forest and stop Hexxus for good. Considered by many to be an animated classic, FernGully is a charming, often funny film with a mostly good lesson on conservation. A sweet-natured movie with some beautiful visuals of a fictitious rain forest.
DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog STARS: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale
Brian Sweeney “Fitzcarraldo” Fitzgerald (Kinski), living in the Amazon Basin in Peru, dreams of building an opera house there in the jungle, a place booming from the rubber barons and the fast-growing markets. To become wealthy, Fizcarraldo figures he too must enter the rubber trade and secures a parcel of land far inland that is nearly inaccessible due to dangerous river rapids and hostile tribes. He purchases an old steam ship with help from his mistress (Cardinale), and plans to sail it to the thinnest point between two bends in the river and thus by-bass the rapids. He will then portage the 320-ton vessel up and over a 40-degree inclined hill and reach the other, rubber-tree-rich lands. This becomes a monumental exercise in hubris. The production of this film, which actually moved the ship by hand with no special effects, is a story unto itself and makes watching this stunning cinematic achievement all the more worthwhile. If you see one film on this list, watch Fitzcarraldo.
DIRECTOR: Luis Llosa STARS: Jennifer Lopez. Ice Cube
A documentary crew travels to the Amazon rainforest in search of a lost tribe and along the way meet a Paraguayan snake hunter (Jon Voight) who is stranded on the river. Believing his knowledge of the area to be deep, they think he will lead them to the tribe, but he has other plans. In an obsessive quest to hunt down a record-breaking giant anaconda, he takes command of the boat and forces the crew in a different direction, taking them straight to the the snake’s lair. An commonly good mix of cheese and horror, this monster movie is surprisingly fun with some solid performances and while it takes big liberties with natural facts, there is plenty to enjoy. Filmed on location in Brazil, the rainforest is given lots of great screen time, with some lush cinematography that nearly steals the show. Plus, giants snakes. That’s should have sold it from the start.
The Green Inferno (2015)
DIRECTOR: Eli Roth STARS: Lorenza Izzo, Ariel Levy
College student Justine (Izzo) becomes interested in activism on campus and at the behest of some friends, joins a group who plan to protest a logging company in the Amazon rainforest. Believing it a peaceful mission, she quickly learns she is a pawn in a deadly game played by the protestors and the logging company militia. Despondent when she is nearly killed in the protest, she eventually makes it out and with the others boards a plane owned by a drug dealer. Then things get bad. The plane crashes in the forest and they are rounded up by the very tribe they had come to protect, though to their surprise, they are not a welcoming lot. They’re cannibals. A horror film at its heart, there is a lot more in the subtext and Roth’s direction and message are both well-played. Not for everyone, this is undoubtedly a horrifically gruesome story, but one nonetheless well worth watching if you’ve the stomach for it. Read our review here.
The Mosquito Coast (1986)
DIRECTOR: Peter Weir STARS: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren
Allie Fox (Ford) is a prolific inventor but has grown disillusioned by the American government and public apathy. He dreams of bringing his ice-making machine to the jungles of the rainforest where he thinks ice would be seen as a luxury by some and magical to those deep within the forests. He packs up his family and leaves the United States forever and heads to Belize where they establish a compound on a rainforest riverbed, well into the jungle. But building Eden is not an easy task and the challenges of living in the dense forest take their toll. The arrival of rebel mercenaries doesn’t help much. A brilliant performance by Ford and River Phoenix, playing his son, this tragic story of cynicism and hope is a beautifully filmed and directed movie that captures the the wondrous and dangerous world of the rainforest. Plus, Indiana Jones young and old, side-by-side.
Embrace of the Serpent (2016)
DIRECTOR: Ciro Guerra STARS: Jan Bijvoet, Nilbo Torres
An Amazonian shaman is the last of his people, living alone in the deep jungle, he encounters two different white men 40 years apart, each in search of a mysterious, sacred plant with healing powers, one because he may die without it and the other, decades later, to research it. Told in multiple languages, this searing, black and white film is a magnificent journey of a natural, spiritually-driven man’s life, defined by these two critical events, providing a challenging and heart-felt examination at a world so few truly know. Sometimes haunting, always inspiring, this is a stunning cinematic achievement, unlike any film on this list and should be one any fan of film should experience. Our review here.