The Serengeti Rules

Academy Award-winning Passion Pictures and HHMI Tangled Bank Studios present one of the most important, but untold science stories of our time—a tale with profound implications for the fate of life on our planet.

Beginning in the 1960s, a small band of young scientists headed out into the wilderness, driven by an insatiable curiosity about how nature works. Immersed in some of the most remote and spectacular places on Earth—from the majestic Serengeti to the Amazon jungle; from the Arctic Ocean to Pacific tide pools—they discovered a single set of rules that govern all life. Now in the twilight of their eminent careers, these five unsung heroes of modern ecology—Bob Paine, Jim Estes, Mary Power, Tony Sinclair, and John Terborgh—share the stories of their adventures, and how their pioneering work flipped our view of nature on its head. Across the globe, they discovered that among the millions of species on our planet, some are far more important than others. They called these species “keystones,” because they hold the natural world together.

The role of keystones is both revelatory and surprising: sea otters help kelp forests flourish, supporting everything from salmon to eagles; wolves enable rivers to run clear and help forests thrive; and the humble wildebeest controls the numbers of trees, butterflies, elephants, and even giraffes on the savanna.

Unfortunately, these deep connections also work in reverse. When keystones are removed, ecosystems unravel and collapse: a phenomenon no on had imagined — or understood — until their revolutionary discoveries. But with new knowledge also comes new hope, and these same visionaries reveal the remarkable resilience of nature—and how the rules they discovered can be used to upgrade and restore the natural world. They give us the chance to reimagine the world as it could and should be. 

Based on the book by Sean B. Carroll, THE SERENGETI RULES will forever change the way we see nature. The film will be accompanied by a media and impact campaign to shine a light on restoration projects across the world. 


“A celebration of scientific excellence and an account of a discovery which has ramifications for natural environments the world over, ‘The Serengeti Rules’ makes for compelling viewing…. It’s a film which sounds an alarm, but, unlike most similarly–themed pictures, one which permits a chink of light into the traditionally bleak narrative of man’s impact on the land.”

Wendy Ide, Screen Daily

“‘The Serengeti Rules’ has a production value which evinces a mastery of craft: gorgeous vistas shot by drone, deep dives into emerald waters, and general lushness to nature which can only be found by scouting team. These techniques, which emulate the astounding production of the ‘Planet Earth’ series, are not just evocations of nature but arguments about it–they imply that such splendor still proliferates on our globe.”

Nolan Kelly, The Pavlovic Today

“‘Serengeti’ is one of the most beautiful, visually stunning documentaries I’ve ever seen.”

Maui Film Festival director, Barry Rivers


A Film Directed by
Nicolas Brown
Produced by
David Allen
Executive Producer
David Guy Elisco
Executive Producers
Dennis WC Liu and John Battsek
Based on the book by
Sean B. Carroll
Film Editor
Andy R. Worboys
Director of Photography
Tim Cragg
Managing Director
Anne Tarrant
Line Producer
Heather Forbes
Director of Communications
Anna Irwin
Director of Public Outreach and Impact
Jared Lipworth
Executive Coordinator
Wilma Davis
Senior Manager of Public Outreach
Laura Helft
Director of Operations
Lori Beane
Production Manager
Lorri Garcia-Cottrell
Post Production Supervisors
Arjun Rao, Daniel Shiere and Indy Mitra
Development Researcher
Kevin McLean
Additional Research
Aline Waguespack Claytor