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7 Best Documentaries About Monkeys and Apes

These documentaries about monkeys take you on a captivating journey into the wild world of our primate cousins, from the lush jungles of South Asia to the sprawling forests of Africa, these films offer intimate glimpses into the lives of these fascinating creatures.

Delve deep into their complex social structures, remarkable intelligence, and astonishing adaptability as they navigate the challenges of their natural habitats.

Documentaries About Monkeys

I have always had an interest in wildlife and especially after visiting the Gombe Stream National Park in Tanzania to see chimpanzees in the wild, I have had a growing like for apes and monkeys. As such, these are some of the best documentaries I recommend to learn more about these fascinating creatures.

On another note, I have spent 2 years in the past living in Lopburi in Thailand which is known as the “monkey city” of the country. If you have an interest in monkeys, which I’m sure you do as you’re reading this article, and plan to visit the country at any point, then be sure to pay a visit there.

Monkey Kingdom (2015)

“Monkey Kingdom” is a remarkable documentary film set in the lush jungles of South Asia and follows the journey of a young female monkey named Maya and her family as they struggle to survive in their dynamic and competitive environment.

Narrated by Tina Fey, “Monkey Kingdom” offers an intimate and engaging portrayal of the intricate social dynamics and daily challenges faced by Maya and her troop. From navigating rivalries with neighbouring groups to forging alliances within their own community, the film provides a compelling glimpse into the complex lives of these primates.

Against the backdrop of ancient ruins, Maya and her family embark on a quest for food, shelter, and safety, showcasing their remarkable adaptability and resilience in the face of adversity. With stunning cinematography and heartfelt storytelling, “Monkey Kingdom” captures the beauty, humour, and drama of life in the jungle, leaving you hopefully both entertained and enlightened.

As Maya navigates the ups and downs of monkey society, she teaches us valuable lessons about perseverance, compassion, and the importance of community.

Jane (2017)

“Jane” offers an intimate and immersive portrait of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall and her groundbreaking research on chimpanzees in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park, which I mentioned earlier.

Narrated by Jane Goodall herself and featuring a score by Philip Glass, “Jane” draws upon over 100 hours of previously unseen footage from National Geographic archives, capturing the early years of Goodall’s career and her transformative discoveries in the field of primatology.

The documentary takes you on a journey back in time to the 1960s when Goodall first arrived in Gombe as a young and ambitious researcher with no formal scientific training. Through stunning cinematography and candid interviews, the film chronicles Goodall’s pioneering observations of chimpanzee behaviour, including their use of tools, complex social interactions, and emotional connections within their communities.

As Goodall’s research unfolds, “Jane” also delves into her personal life and the challenges she faced as a woman in a male-dominated field. From her close bond with her mother, Vanne, to her romance with National Geographic photographer Hugo van Lawick (who captured much of the archival footage), the film offers a multi-dimensional portrait of Goodall as both a scientist and a woman navigating the complexities of life in the African wilderness.

Chimpanzee (2012)

“Chimpanzee” follows the incredible story of a young chimpanzee named Oscar and his journey to survival in the African rainforest. Narrated by Tim Allen the film offers a breathtaking glimpse into the lives of these intelligent primates, showcasing their social structures, remarkable behaviours, and extraordinary intelligence.

Set in the forests of the Ivory Coast in Africa, the film transports you into Oscar’s world, where he learns essential survival skills from his mother, Isha, and navigates the challenges of growing up in the wild.

However, Oscar’s peaceful life is soon disrupted when his community encounters a rival group of chimpanzees led by an alpha male named Scar. As tensions rise and resources become scarce, Oscar finds himself orphaned and alone, facing the daunting task of survival in a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Despite the adversity he faces, Oscar’s resilience and determination shine through as he forms an unlikely bond with an older male chimpanzee named Freddy. Together, they embark on a remarkable journey of friendship and solidarity, demonstrating the power of compassion and cooperation in the face of adversity.

This is seriously a great documentary about chimpanzees to watch.

Project Nim (2011)

“Project Nim” is a thought-provoking documentary that delves into the ambitious experiment conducted in the 1970s to study the language and cognitive abilities of a chimpanzee named Nim Chimpsky.

The documentary chronicles Nim’s life from infancy to adulthood as he is taken from his mother and raised in a human environment by a team of researchers led by Herbert Terrace. Nim is taught American Sign Language (ASL) and becomes the subject of intensive study, living with various caretakers as part of the project.

Through archival footage, interviews, and reenactments, “Project Nim” explores the complexities and ethical dilemmas surrounding Nim’s upbringing and the treatment of non-human animals in scientific research. The film highlights the emotional bonds formed between Nim and his human caretakers, as well as the challenges of integrating him into both human and chimpanzee societies.

As Nim matures, the project faces numerous setbacks and controversies, ultimately leading to its abrupt termination. Nim is returned to a research facility, where he spends the rest of his life in captivity, sparking debates about the ethics of using animals in research and the implications of treating them as human surrogates.

Clever Monkeys (2008)

“Clever Monkeys” is an engaging and informative documentary produced by BBC Earth, and explores the remarkable intelligence and problem-solving abilities of various monkey species, offering insights into their behaviour, cognition, and social dynamics.

Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, “Clever Monkeys” takes you on a global journey to observe different monkey species in their natural habitats, from the rainforests of South America to the savannas of Africa and the mountains of Asia. Through stunning cinematography and expert commentary, the documentary showcases the diverse range of skills and adaptations that monkeys employ to thrive in their environments.

One of the key themes of the documentary is the cognitive abilities of monkeys, including their capacity for tool use, social learning, and complex problem-solving. You are treated to fascinating examples of monkeys fashioning tools to extract food, teaching their young essential survival skills, and navigating intricate social hierarchies within their troops.

“Clever Monkeys” also explores the parallels between human and monkey behaviour, highlighting the evolutionary connections between primates and shedding light on the origins of human traits such as cooperation, empathy, and cultural transmission. By studying monkeys in their natural habitats, scientists gain valuable insights into the cognitive and emotional capacities shared by humans and our closest evolutionary relatives.

In addition to showcasing the intelligence of monkeys, the documentary also addresses the conservation challenges facing these animals in the modern world, including habitat destruction, poaching, and the illegal pet trade. Through its compelling storytelling and stunning visuals, “Clever Monkeys” underscores the importance of protecting the natural habitats of monkeys and preserving their place in the global ecosystem.

This is one of my personal favourites out of these documentaries about monkeys and apes.

Virunga (2014)

“Virunga” is a powerful documentary that takes you on a gripping journey into Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, home to the last remaining mountain gorillas in the world, and explores the complex interplay between conservation, politics, and corporate interests.

At the heart of the documentary is the story of the park rangers who risk their lives to protect Virunga’s wildlife from poachers, armed militias, and encroaching development. The film follows the rangers as they confront these threats head-on, highlighting their bravery, dedication, and sacrifices in the face of immense danger.

“Virunga” also examines the role of multinational corporations in the region, particularly the British oil company SOCO International, which seeks to exploit Virunga’s oil reserves despite the environmental and social consequences. Through undercover footage and interviews with key stakeholders, the film exposes the corruption and collusion that threaten the park’s delicate ecosystem and the communities that depend on it for their livelihoods.

In addition to its investigative journalism, “Virunga” also showcases the beauty and biodiversity of Virunga National Park, from its lush rainforests and towering volcanoes to its diverse wildlife, including endangered species such as mountain gorillas and okapis.

Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

Ok, this one isn’t a documentary but a movie that I highly recommend watching if you have any interest in gorillas. It is a biographical film starring Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fossey, a real-life American zoologist, who undertakes an extensive study of gorillas in the mountain forests of Rwanda. The film is based on Fossey’s autobiographical book of the same name, published in 1983.

The story follows Fossey’s journey as she ventures into the heart of Africa to study and protect the endangered mountain gorillas. It explores her deep connection with the gorillas and her efforts to combat poaching and preserve their habitat despite facing numerous challenges and threats.

The film serves as a poignant tribute to Dian Fossey’s remarkable work and legacy, highlighting her tireless dedication to the conservation of gorillas and the importance of protecting endangered species and their habitats.


Whether you’re intrigued by the playful antics of baboons, the intricate communication of chimpanzees, or the resourceful problem-solving skills of various monkey species, these documentaries about monkeys and apes promise to both educate and entertain, shedding light on the rich diversity and captivating behaviours of our closest evolutionary relatives.

For more wildlife have a look at the 10 best documentaries about lions.

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