2020 has been an unprecedented and difficult year for cinema (as it has everything else), but there were still some great films released, and here are the best movies of 2020, as voted for by Screen Rant's editorial team. The coronavirus pandemic had a mammoth impact on the entertainment industry, leading to productions shutting down, cinemas being forced to close or, at best, open with limited capacity, and a whole swathe of movies delayed, altering the release calendar for the next few years and irrevocably changing how the industry operates.
It's tempting to think of what the best movies of 2020 could've been if all had released, with major blockbusters such as Dune, No Time To Die, and Black Widow all pushed back alongside new releases from beloved directors such as Edgar Wright and Wes Anderson. But while 2020 was a different year, that doesn't necessarily mean it was a completely bad one for movies. Cinematic releases have been few and far between, but there were still some memorable ones both before and after the world turned upside down. The rise of streaming services and VoD further helped ease the pain of fewer new releases in theaters, albeit with some large implications for the future, not all of which will be positive.
As is the case every year, Screen Rant's editorial and writing staff voted on what they thought were the best movies of 2020, with the numbers tallied and, despite some demands for a recount, finalized. It's a slightly strange list that chooses from a smaller, weirder pool of films, but that's befitting of the year itself. Here are the best movies of 2020.
With different people having different levels of access to theaters and certain streaming services, then it does mean a fairly wide range of movies received votes. Having whittled it down to a top 10, it meant that there were some films that received multiple votes, but didn't quite make the cut, but nonetheless deserve an honorable mention for being films that were watched and enjoyed during 2020 (and especially lockdown), including:
There may be no movie as of its time than Host, the 2020 horror movie that was conceived, shot, edited, and released during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Host, a group of friends meet up for a weekly Zoom call, for which one of them has hired a medium. The seance inevitably goes wrong, and what follows plunges the Zoomers - and audiences - into a horror that, in under an hour, is exciting, terrifying, and so perfectly captures feelings of being in lockdown. Host's use of Zoom is as inventive as it is zeitgeist-y, but it's also genuinely scary in ways that go far beyond its premise, and never lets that concept become simply a gimmick. Instead, Host mixes its new devices with tried and tested horror movie techniques, expertly utilizing elements such as darkness, isolation, and jump scares alongside characters and a story that draw you in. And, as further testament to the genre awareness that crafted it, Host encourages multiple rewatches for the impressive number of hidden horror movie references smuggled in there. Host is a great horror movie for 2020, but it's also just a great horror movie.
A black-and-white movie about the making of Citizen Kane, focusing on screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz, wasn't the most obvious choice for David Fincher's first movie since 2014, but looking below Mank's period trappings it's easy to see why the director has spent so long trying to get the movie made (it was initially supposed to happen in the 1990s, with the late Jack Fincher, David's father, writing the script). While the production does lovingly recreate the Golden Age of Hollywood, right down to the cigarette burns on the film reel, Mank is as cynical as you'd expect from the maker of Fight Club. The director uses Mank to voice frustrations with everything from politics to the studio system squashing auteurial vision; much like Citizen Kane itself, it rings true now as much as it does the time it's set in. It may not be a masterpiece on that level (but then, few films are), but carried by another transformative performance from Gary Oldman in the title role, and a career-best turn from Amanda Seyfried as Mario Davies, Mank is dark, funny, and more than a little tragic.
8. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm
The sequel to 2006's cult comedy that nobody knew they needed or, until just a few weeks before release, was even happening, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm somehow managed to be as surprising, hilarious, and challenging as the first movie, if not quite as groundbreaking. Borat 2 has several big moments designed to court controversy and shock viewers, including an infiltration of Mike Pence's CPAC speech and the infamous sequence of Rudy Giuliani "tucking in his shirt." In doing these things and many more, Borat 2 provides an insightful and open look at America under Donald Trump and America during COVID-19, and how those two things collided. Perhaps most surprising of all, though, is not that Sacha Baron Cohen managed to pull this off again, or the coronavirus twist at the end, but that Borat 2 has a sweet, loving theme of the bond and love between a father and daughter running through it, lending some emotion to the absurd comedy. Is nice.
7. Da 5 Bloods
In any year, Da 5 Bloods would have been a strong movie: Spike Lee's tackling of the Vietnam War, mixing action sequences with themes of memory, how America treats its veterans, specifically people of color, and even more broadly still racism in the United States back then and now, is a strong message, especially in the hands of one of cinema's most vital voices, which Da 5 Bloods proves Lee absolutely remains. In 2020, releasing amid the Black Lives Matter protests, then Da 5 Bloods took on even greater relevancy and urgency; this wasn't just a historical drama, but a powerful statement on the current tumultuous period in American history. The film is crammed full of ideas, ambition, and emotion, with its energy and anger bursting out of the screen, and builds to an incredibly affecting conclusion, with a stunning monologue from Delroy Lindo's Paul that should put him - along with the rest of the movie - right in awards contention.
Christopher Nolan's palindromic movie didn't quite wow audiences or save cinema as the director might have hoped, but it did deliver on being one of the most intelligent, challenging, and unique blockbuster movies of recent years. Even by Nolan's standards, Tenet's use of and meddling with time is confusing, but at its core is a thrilling spy story with high stakes and bombastic action; the director hasn't made a James Bond movie, but this is his own spin on 007, taking those tropes and packaging them into something new and exciting - mixing Quantum of Solace with quantum physics; less No Time To Die, and more just No Time. It's a movie that begs to be explained, but there's also something to be said for going along in the ride, which aside from Nolan's typically great action set-pieces features a great cast (with Robert Pattinson and Elizabeth Debicki both shining in particular), and gorgeous cinematography. Issues with Tenet's sound mixing are present, if a little exaggerated, and it's a film that demands re-watching because of how difficult it can be to follow. But there's also something to be said for a $200 million movie that does that, and those re-watches are ultimately incredibly rewarding, but even without them this is a dazzling, slick event movie that's better on the big screen, but still very good at home.
Anya Taylor-Joy had a ridiculously good 2020, and while it's her role in The Queen's Gambit that has garnered her the most acclaim, Emma shows that she has mastered the big screen as much as the small one. Taylor-Joy stars as the eponymous heroine in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, and her casting as the romantic meddler proves to be a match made in period piece heaven. Autumn de Wilde's movie achieves the same fine balancing act with the character that the book does, making the audience aware of her more negative traits, but irrepressibly likable at the same time. The actress is accompanied by a great supporting cast, including Johnny Flynn entering the pantheon of great leading men in Austen movies, with his and Taylor-Joy's chemistry lighting up the movie. All of this surrounded by a lavish, beautiful, and indulgent setting that perfectly captures the grandiosity of its time, but also has a modern spin that feels fresh, wholly relevant, and true to the modern day, while capturing the great sense of humor and feminist messaging of Austen's works as well.
4. The Invisible Man
2020 may have been a horror show of a year, but it also delivered some brilliant horror movies, and the best of them was The Invisible Man. Writer/director Leigh Whannel's contemporary riff on the classic Universal Monster shows that these characters don't need shared universes to work, but do require great stories, stellar performances, a genius sense of imagination, and genuine scares. The Invisible Man has them all and then some. This modern telling brilliantly pitches its title character as a gaslighting boyfriend, and smartly focuses on his victim, Elisabeth Moss' Cecilia. It's a study of trauma and abuse, and while in this case the partner would be a very literal invisible man, it speaks to so many tales that this is grounded in in a powerful, poignant fashion. Moss is astonishingly good in the lead role - she has long been one of the best actors around at using nothing but her face to convey a range of emotions, and that reaches its zenith here, as she switches from scared and vulnerable to strong and in control. With a couple of scenes that rank among the year's best - and certainly its most shocking - The Invisible Man is one of the most inventive and terrifying movies you'll see in 2020.
3. Birds of Prey
Yes, Birds of Prey came out in 2020, a fact as surprising as the movie itself. Loosely continuing on Harley Quinn's story from Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey (And the Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) delivers the kind of showing for the ever-popular DC character that many hoped 2016's movie would. Birds of Prey bombed at the box office even before the pandemic, but it is an injection of pure adrenaline and fun that deserved so much more. Delightfully violent, darkly comic, self-aware, and brimming with enjoyable characters - from the titular Birds, each of whom gets a moment to shine, to the villain Black Mask, with Ewan McGregor having the best time anyone's ever had in a DCEU movie- and kinetic, creative action, Birds of Prey is a non-stop blast. At the center of it all is Robbie's Quinn, who brings more layers to the performance and gives a great comic book movie showing, confirming the casting really was perfect. Movie delays meant that 2020 was short on comic book movies but, with Cathy Yan's exciting, vibrant direction and Christina Hodson's sharp script, few would've matched Birds of Prey anyway in terms of pure superhero movie entertainment.
2. Palm Springs
Hulu's time-loop romantic comedy, Palm Springs, excels by not only nailing its two individual aspects - the Groundhog Day-esque concept and the rom-con - but by how ingeniously it fuses the two together. Following two strangers who, at a wedding in Palm Springs, meet and become embroiled in a time-loop, Palm Springs puts its own twist on the concept by making it about two people instead of one, and using the time meddling to explore their lives and bring them closer to one another. It's wickedly smart and uproariously funny, but also sweet, romantic, and charming. That's in part thanks to Andy Siara's clever writing and Max Barbakow confident direction, but Palm Springs would ultimately fail with lesser leads. Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti have proved their comedy credentials in the likes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine and How I Met Your Mother, and they make for one of the best rom-com pairings in years here. They expertly complement one another, making audiences root for them (and laugh and cry along the way), and most importantly, are perfectly believable and authentic, giving Palm Springs a necessary grounding amidst its time-travel shenanigans that holds the movie in place.
Is it a movie? A musical? A movie musical, or a musical movie? Whatever label you put on it, the version of Hamilton on Disney+ blew us all away in 2020, leaving Screen Rant editors helpless in choosing anything else for the best movie of the year. Filmed over three nights back in 2016, the recording might not fully capture the scale of the show you'd get seeing it live, but it makes up for the fact by really showcasing the emotion of the production, with close-ups allowing viewers to see just how much acting there is among the singing and dancing. Released on streaming, featuring a diverse cast, and telling the story of two Americas (then and now), in an election year, no less, then Hamilton feels like the defining pop-culture moment of 2020 in many ways, but it's also just an incredibly good one.
The choreography is stunning, the music and lyrics the work of genius, the story is simultaneously epic and intimate, and the performances are astonishingly great. There are many reasons Hamilton has proved to be so popular, and putting it on Disney+ makes the musical phenomenon far more accessible, which can only be a good thing. From seeing Jonathan Groff's King George spitting all over himself up close and in HD to Philippa Soo's gasp bringing the show to a stunning climax, and everything between from the likes of Leslie Odom Jr., Renée Elise Goldsberry, and, of course, Lin-Manuel Miranda, watching Hamilton is watching history, and will leave you more than satisfied.
Next: Best Netflix Original Movies Of 2020