We have put together a list of what we believe to be some best documentaries on electric cars. Some of these feature backing from major industry players and celebrities.
In recent years there has been considerable media attention surrounding the controversies of the electric car industry. This has created an interesting subsection of the media landscape showcasing the varying viewpoints surrounding the electric vehicle debate.
Many of the best documentaries on electric cars explore the latest innovations from the industry and how they are influencing the motoring world. Documentaries on Tesla and other established manufacturers such as Jaguar prove that the industry is far more advanced than others may realise.
On top of that, celebrities such as Martin Sheen, Mel Gibson and Tim Robbins all lend their hand to films as narrators and interested parties to give added gravitas to the most compelling stories. With all that in mind, it’s time to examine just what are the best electric vehicle documentaries around?
Who Killed The Electric Car? (2006)
Released in 2006, Who Killed The Electric Car? is a documentary by Chris Paine and explores the history and subsequent downfall of early attempts to re-start the EV industry. It was narrated by West Wing star Martin Sheen and was one of the first mainstream documentaries to bring the spotlight on the electric vehicle industry. It received strong praise from many critics and drew a strong response from industry magnates such as General Motors, really bringing the topic into a new light.
The focus of the documentary revolves around the struggles involving pushing electric vehicles into mass circulation. Much of it investigates the story of the GM EV1 and its eventual demise. Director Chris Paine delves into how many different parties reacted to the EV1’s creation and how rival brands, oil companies and even politicians looked to discredit the vehicle’s potential. It also talks about other challenges such as the feasibility of a hydrogen cell battery and how fledgling companies like Tesla could still be successful ventures.
Generally, Who Killed The Electric Car? was a hit with critics earning an 89% fresh rating with Rotten Tomatoes and won several awards from film boards including the 2006 Best Documentary Award from the Writers Guild of America.
Like many documentaries challenging the industry giants, it was met with a mixed reaction from the automotive world. GM was quick to challenge some of the points surrounding the plight of the EV1 with then Head of Communications Dave Barthmuss writing that “ there may be some information that the movie did not tell the viewers”.
In many ways, Who Killed the Electric Car? is a must watch EV documentary as it showcases the struggles many people faced trying to get the industry to take off. With a lot of heavyweight involvement from actors such as Tom Hanks, Mel Gibson and Martin Sheen; it is certainly one of the most well-known documentaries on the EV industry. Having drawn a very strong response from GM about the EV1’s plight, this is one of the top documentaries on electric cars ever made.
Revenge of the Electric Car (2011)
The sequel to our previous entry, Revenge of the Electric Car tells the story of how the automotive industry has now warmed to the concept of EV vehicles. Director Chris Paine brings in more Hollywood heavyweights with Tim Robbins acting as the narrator. However, this documentary features a lot of the efforts by automotive manufacturers to successfully build EVs with top figures such as Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn at the forefront.
This documentary mostly focuses on the efforts of Tesla and Elon Musk to bring EV cars to mass production. Viewers are given unparalleled access to the Tesla factory and tells their story in much detail, It goes on to explain about how technology has developed and the change in mindset of many manufactures with the likes of Renault, Nissan and even GM starting to change their tone ending with showcasing some of the new EV ready to be launched by major companies.
This effort wasn’t as successful for Paine with the critics only receiving a 69% approval rating from the media but it was still able to win a range of awards such as the 2011 Environmental Media Awards for the Best Documentary.
With more focus on showcasing the rise of new EV models, it actually received much more support from vehicle manufacturers. The appearance of CEO figures such as Carlos Ghosn and Elon Musk in the movie showed the world that the motoring industry was finally seeing the light.
On its own, Revenge of the Electric Car works as a great way to show how far the industry has come in the years leading up to it. With the involvement of several heavy hitters in both the acting and motoring world, the documentary stands out as one of the best EV docs today even when it is paired with its predecessor.
Tesla Motors – National Geographic (2012)
If there was ever a premonition about what Tesla could achieve, it was outlined in this National Geographic feature 8 years ago. Focused around the goals of Elon Musk and what his firm hopes to achieve, the Nat Geo piece goes on to elaborate about how the company looks to shake up the motoring world.
The story in this episode focuses on every aspect of Tesla and its leading lights. Along with featuring interviews with Elon Musk and his aims for the firm, the episode goes for an in-depth look explaining all the technology that makes the Tesla Series 3 a car to watch out for. With no outside comments from celebrities, it puts the emphasis solely on the staff and the tech that put the company firmly in the spotlight.
Once again, the documentary has garnered a lot of interest on social streaming platforms with 4.2 million views on YouTube so far (July 2020). It has garnered 25,000 likes too, with many viewers having commented on their success in hindsight of the documentary which originally aired 8 years ago and the success that Musk has enjoyed since it first aired.
Both Tesla and Musk fascinate motoring enthusiasts across the planet and this insight into their earlier days’ echoes that sentiment. With Tesla having backed up their claims from this video in real life, it is an ode to the company about how far they have come. If you take all those details and add the usual slick style that you would expect from a National Geographic documentary, this ranks highly as one of the best Tesla documentaries around to watch.
Jaguar – Going Electric (2018)
Many automakers have tried a host of different tactics to promote their solely electric vehicles to the world. For Jaguar, they produced a full-length feature called Going Electric showcasing the development of the new I-PACE from start to finish. With narration from Shazam! actor Mark Strong and directed by Ben Lawrie, it marks a unique way of selling a brand new EV to the general public and a way to upstage their rivals.
The plot of this documentary is simple as it gets – it is the story around Jaguar’s development of the I-PACE. It covers everything about the car that someone may want to know. Ranging from the original designs and concepts, it goes on to explain the actual mass production stage and release to the general public. It also features interviews with key personnel involved with the development of the car and what it might mean for the brand as a whole.
As it was not a general release in the cinemas, there are no critical reviews by media firms but the public has warmed to the documentary. It has a 4.5/5 star rating on Amazon with users impressed about the amount of detail given by the experts and gives owners a better understanding of their vehicle.
It is always difficult to rate documentaries when they are backed by the subject they are covering. However, Lawrie leaves no stone left unturned and gives viewers a surprising amount of access to how the I-PACE came about. For that reason, it is easy to recommend this as one of the best EV documentaries for motoring enthusiasts to discover.
Electrified – The Current State of Electric Cars (2019)
Chelsea Sexton is perhaps one of the biggest names when it comes to the EV industry and she is the cornerstone of this 40-minute feature. Directed by Ryan Hunter, the film is a simple discussion involving Sexton and her business partners about the state of EV’s today and how the industry might be able to develop further into the future.
Although it is short and sharp, there is not much that isn’t covered during the 3-way discussion between Sexton and her friends. They discuss how far the industry has come and looks at some of the top models that have led the electric revolution today. They also draw comparisons to other technologies, their feasibility and what it means for the entire motoring industry heading into the near and long-term future.
The reviews from the public have been positive with strong ratings on both Amazon & YouTube. It has garnered over 20,000 views on YouTube with over 270 likes whilst it has a 5-star rating on Amazon. The praise from users has been unilaterally strong on both platforms with many praising the details of the discussion from the experts as well as the issues raised in the feature.
Whilst it may not have much in the way of star power, this is a film for passionate fans about a topic they love. Sexton stars as the main figurehead and once again shows just why she has been at the forefront of the industry for over a decade. With that in mind, it is safe to say this is one of the most fascinating electric vehicle documentaries available for free anywhere on the web.
Tesla & Elon Musk – DW Documentary (2019)
Taking a different angle on the Tesla story, this documentary from German network Deutsche Welte looks at the state of the company today. It features interviews with a host of different experts from both Tesla and other leading figures from the European automotive industry. Coming in at just under an hour, it looks to shine a light on some forgotten aspects of the EV industry.
DW’s documentary very much looks at a range of issues surrounding Tesla and their long path to success. It takes on a more investigative tone than other documentaries focusing on the struggles that Tesla has endured and examines what other automotive manufacturers are doing to close the gap on their American rival.
Unlike some other documentaries in this list, there has been a mixed reaction to the DW production. With 237,000 views on YouTube, it has an equal amount of likes and dislikes with both achieving 2,700 of each. Some reviewers have praised it for asking the questions many don’t ask about Tesla’s struggles with others debating that it has been made deliberately to support the struggling German car market.
Whilst many may be divided about DW’s Tesla documentary, it is an interesting watch to see just how much the American firm has struggled at times and show how competitive the EV industry has become. As it focuses on answering these hard-hitting questions and generating such a divisive reaction, this makes it one of the more interesting documentaries on Tesla to view online.
And We Go Green (2019)
Formula E has become one of the biggest success stories in recent motorsports history and their road to success has now been documented in the 2019 film And We Go Green. Directed by Oscar-winner Fisher Stevens and Malcolm Venville, the documentary covers of the entire story of the 2017/18 Formula E season and features involvements of all the major teams, drivers and series officials. It also has cameos from many famous actors including co-producer Leonardo Di Caprio and Orlando Bloom appearing at events throughout the season. The documentary itself has gained good reviews from both film critics and motorsport experts.
The story of “And we go green” focuses on Formula E’s fourth season – the 2017/18 campaign which was the final year of the Gen1 era. Directors Stevens and Venville put a lot of emphasis on the title battle between Sam Bird, Lucas Di Grassi and eventual champion Jean-Eric Vergne. It explores the rivalries between the drivers and showcasing the physical and mental limits they endure competing for the title. Alongside the title battle, we are treated to an insiders’ look at the inner working of the championship following series CEO Alejandro Agag during a Grand Prix weekend and his efforts preparing for the upcoming Gen2 series.
With involvement from some of Hollywood’s best and brightest, its unsurprising that many major film critics have reviewed the documentary – mostly to a positive tone. It currently holds a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes whilst also enjoying a 6.9 rating on IMDB. Many top film sites such as Variety & Hollywood Reporter generally praised the action shown and the characters of the drivers. However, many critics also felt that the documentary felt that it had a slight bias towards the series itself and its comparison to other series such as Formula 1.
Much like the general media, the motorsport industry reacted well to the documentary and the spotlight it showed on Formula E. In their review of the documentary, British magazine Autosport described it as a “fine film” and particularly praised the focus on the drivers and the highs and lows they face during a season. The main downfall cited by them is that the release of the film came 18 months after the end of that season – a gap which saw the introduction of an all-new chassis base as well as missing some major new entries. This made the action, in their eyes, seem dated compared to where the series has developed since filming finished.
There is nothing better than a thrilling sports story which And We Go Green showcases throughout its 98-minute duration. The main focus on the action keeps the viewer engaged at all times as well as occasional flourishes showcasing the tech behind the action. Missing out on the Gen2 car and the emergence of major new teams such as Porsche and Mercedes is a little disappointing but that doesn’t stop this documentary being a must-watch for any motor racing or EV enthusiast.
Tesla: Hell of a Ride (2020)
Developed as a feature by renowned US financial network CNBC, Tesla: Hell of a Ride is a 48-minute profile looking at Tesla’s story over the past decade. Featuring interviews with industry experts and former employees, the documentary charts and analyses of the various issues that the company has been involved with and where the company stands moving into a new decade. The piece has been divisive with many viewers not sure how to interpret the messages sent out by the network featurette.
Looking at Tesla’s story since its foundation, the piece is narrated by CNBC reporter Lora Kolodny who interviews different figures about the Tesla story. It contains an interview with original co-founders Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard who both give some fascinating insights into the inner working of the early days of the company as well as the different hurdles that the company has had to overcome. It also comes with various snippets from CNBC reports from throughout the 2010s and speaks to industry insiders as to how Tesla has impacted the motoring industry as a whole.
CNBC’s featurette has divided a lot of viewers on the whole thanks to the network’s history of reporting with a negative bias towards the company and generally being speculative on their possible success. A wide consensus of views on YouTube reflects this almost suggesting that the piece was out to undermine the company like the previous reporting has suggested although the end of the piece does end in a more hopeful tone.
There has been a lot of criticism geared towards the fact that Tesla themselves declined to participate in the piece despite multiple requests. The lack of involvement from any current employees of the company does leave many people sceptical about CNBC’s possible motives and relationship with the EV manufacturer.
CNBC’s piece has got people talking whether it is in a positive aspect or not about what Tesla has achieved so far in its lifespan. The interview with two original co-founders gives unique insights that have previously not been explored but the lack of involvement from Tesla themselves leaves a significant cloud lurking over the final product.
After scouring the landscape to find the best EV documentaries around, it’s clear to see that the industry has enjoyed a lot of media coverage. With famous celebrity contributions, leading industry figures questioned and new experts rising to the fore, there is something for everyone to enjoy and learn from in this selection.
What are your thoughts on this list, have we missed any docos that are worthy of a mention? If so, feel free to drop a comment below and let us know.