×
Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

These are the best movies of 2020

2020 looked like it was going to be a pretty great year for movies; big studios like Marvel had a full slate of upcoming projects, a new James Bond film was on the horizon, and numerous untold blockbusters waited to delight audiences. However, when COVID-19 — a particularly contagious and insidious form of coronavirus — swept the globe in early 2020, the world came to a standstill as citizens took to their homes and stayed inside in an attempt to slow its spread. This was bad news for movie theaters and moviegoers alike; with large gatherings discouraged in order to stem the spread of the virus, consumers turned their attention to the top shows and best video games of 2020, and going to movies suddenly started looking like a thing of the past.

With many movies delayed until later in the year or shelved indefinitely, the future of the entertainment industry remains in flux, but Hollywood will almost certainly find a way to get new releases out to the public, whether that means theaters finding a way to reopen when the crisis passes or more films going directly to streaming. With that said, by the time movie theaters shuttered due to coronavirus, plenty of great films had already hit theaters. Here are the best movies of 2020 so far — and we'll keep updating the list as more are released.

The Assistant

In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the trial of Harvey Weinstein, movies are trying to represent the fraught and difficult experiences of victims of sexual assault and harassment, and Kitty Green's The Assistant really digs into the heart of this complex matter. Breakout Ozark star Julia Garner leads as Jane, the titular assistant, and the film follows one day in her life as she navigates the ins and outs of working with a powerful boss. However, as she goes through her day, Jane — and the audience — realizes just how complicated and dark things can really get while you're covering for a powerful man involved in serious indiscretions.

Critics soundly applauded Green's first narrative effort (she'd previously worked in documentaries), as well as Garner's central performance and the film's unflinchingly dark look at what really goes on in Hollywood. If you're looking for a searing take on the #MeToo movement and the perpetrators who still manage to evade justice, The Assistant is a tough but necessary watch.

The Way Back

After his stint as Batman and a string of personal issues, including a public divorce, a stint in rehab, and struggles with addiction, Ben Affleck made his return to the big screen in 2020 with The Way Back, which reunites the star with Gavin O'Connor, his director on The Accountant. Affleck stars as Jack Cunningham, an alcoholic separated from his wife Angela (The League's Janina Gavankar) who gets the chance to coach his old high school's basketball team. However, when he gets closer with Dan (Al Madrigal), a teacher at this school, his addiction threatens to derail this new opportunity, and Jack must work even harder to defeat his demons and help his team achieve victory.

Affleck was extraordinarily open in advance of the film's release about how therapeutic the experience was for him, and in terms of his performance, it certainly paid off for him to confront his darkest impulses through art. Critics overwhelmingly praised his performance, saying the role was clearly a personal effort; if he can bring that level of emotion to subsequent projects, his acting comeback appears to be well under way.

Birds of Prey

Suicide Squad wasn't exactly an auspicious first outing for Margot Robbie's portrayal of Harley Quinn, the Joker's violent, psychotic girlfriend, but 2020 gave Robbie and Harley a second chance — and they ran with it in Birds of Prey. Subtitled ...and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn, Birds of Prey shines the spotlight on Harley and her fierce, all-female team of vigilantes, which includes the Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell). As Harley evades detectives from the Gotham City police department, including Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), she also works to bring down Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor), who goes by the moniker "Black Mask."

Birds of Prey scored pretty positive reviews from critics, who loved the female-led action sequences and a tighter focus on Robbie's more fully-developed Harley. With a potential sequel in the works, this hopefully isn't the last we've seen of Harley Quinn's solo exploits.

Portrait of a Lady on Fire

In the wake of Parasite's popularity, mainstream American audiences might be more willing to watch subtitled films, and anyone looking to explore more international cinematic efforts should definitely check out the historical drama Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Directed by French filmmaker Céline Sciamma, the film stars Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel as Marianne, a young painter, and Héloïse, who is about to be married to a nobleman in Milan and needs a portrait painted. Typically, Héloïse refuses to sit for any painter, but after forming a bond with Marianne, she agrees to sit for the portrait, and when Héloïse's mother leaves the remote house, the two begin a passionate relationship.

Thanks to Sciamma's precise and careful direction and Merlant and Haenel's incredibly moving performances — all three were nominated for Cesar Awards, along with the film itself — Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which earned nearly universal acclaim, is an emotional, gripping journey. If you want to transport yourself to France and a different time without even leaving your home, cue up Portrait and settle in for a truly moving and beautifully told love story.

The Invisible Man

If you're looking for a horror movie with a strong social message, The Invisible Man is definitely for you. Based on a short story by H.G. Wells and starring Handmaid's Tale lead Elisabeth Moss, this Leigh Whannell-directed take on the classic tale focuses on Cecilia Kass (Moss), a woman trapped in a controlling and abusive relationship. When her boyfriend apparently commits suicide, Cecilia thinks she's finally free of Adrian (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), but when she starts seeing frightening visions of him, it seems that their story may not be quite over just yet.

Critics praised the film's social message and depiction of abuse as well as Moss' central performance, noting how well Whannell succeeded at blending horror and real-life trauma to tell a scarily engrossing story. The Invisible Man isn't the easiest watch, but if you're up for it, it'll be worth it in the end.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

Directed and written by Eliza Hittman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always tells the story of Autumn Callahan (Sidney Flanagan), a 17-year-old struggling with an unwanted pregnancy. After visiting a crisis pregnancy center, she's given literature on adoption rather than termination, but because she still knows how she wants to handle the situation, she gets help from her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) and the two run away to New York City. Trying to terminate her pregnancy leads Autumn through a series of obstacles, from money to secondary clinics and invasive questions about her sexual past, illustrating how difficult it can be for women to get the reproductive health procedures they want and need.

Never Rarely Sometimes Always earned overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, who praised its grace and compassion and Wittman's careful approach to such sensitive material. Reproductive health is still a battle, even in 2020, which this film beautifully illustrates in a careful and sympathetic way.

Emma.

Jane Austen's work has been adapted for the screen repeatedly, from direct adaptations like Sense and Sensibility or Pride and Prejudice to modern takes like Clueless, and 2020 brought the newest spin on Austen's classic work: Emma., directed by Autumn de Wilde. With Split star Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role, Emma. — which uses a period in its title to specify that the film is a "period piece" — uses whimsy and a lighthearted spirit to tell the familiar story of Emma Woodhouse, who seeks to find happiness for everyone she loves while neglecting her own romantic needs. However, when Emma meets the enigmatic and handsome George Knightley, her prospects suddenly start to turn around.

With familiar British actors like Bill Nighy and Miranda Hart making up the supporting cast and de Wilde's steady hand behind the scenes, Emma. proved quite popular with critics. Whether you're a fan of Austen or new to the classics, everyone will find something to love within Emma.

Onward

Pixar has been making excellent, emotionally stirring, and visually stunning films for decades, so it's no surprise that Onward is one of the best films of the year. With a voice cast that includes heavy hitters like Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tom Holland, and Octavia Spencer, Onward tells the story of two young elf brothers, Ian and Barley Lightfoot (Holland and Pratt, respectively) living in a fantasy world who set out on a mission to find a magical artifact that they think could possibly bring back their father, who tragically passed away. Together, they try to regain their magical skills, and perhaps potentially revive their dad.

A tearjerker with plenty of heart, Onward was unsurprisingly yet another critical hit for the Disney-owned studio. If you're a fan of Pixar's previous films, Onward might not be at the top of the pack along with movies like Toy Story or Up, but it definitely won't disappoint.

Bad Boys for Life

Nearly 20 years after Bad Boys II hit theaters in 2003 — and over two decades after the first film was released in 1995 — the third movie in the Bad Boys saga, Bad Boys for Life, arrived in 2020. With Martin Lawrence and Will Smith reprising their roles as Detective Lieutenant Marcus Miles Burnett and Detective Lieutenant Michael Eugene "Mike" Lowrey, the film finds Mike sustaining a life-threatening injury at the beginning of the film, falling into a coma for months after cartel kingpin Armando Aretas (Jacob Scipio) attacks Mike, who helped put Armando's father in prison. When Mike recovers, he and Marcus set out to get revenge and get to Armando before he attacks anyone else.

Though Bad Boys II received underwhelming reviews, Bad Boys for Life was a return to form for the series. It earned solid reviews across the board, and clearly, if Smith and Lawrence want to revisit the franchise again, audiences and critics alike will welcome them back with open arms.

The Half of It

Netflix has been crushing it lately with teenage romantic comedies like The Kissing Booth and To All the Boys I've Loved Before, and in 2020, The Half of It joined the canon, albeit with a progressive and encouraging twist. Written and directed by Alice Wu, The Half of It serves as a modern spin on the legend of Cyrano de Bergerac — who writes love letters to the object of his affection on behalf of a handsome but dull romantic rival — and stars young up-and-comer Leah Lewis as Ellie Chu, a smart but lonely high schooler on the verge of going to college. However, when popular jock Paul (Daniel Diemer) asks Ellie to help him woo the local deacon's daughter, the equally popular Aster (Alexxis Lemire), Ellie finds herself with two new friends and a whole new set of problems, particularly when she develops feelings for Aster herself.

Critics adored Wu's sweet, sensitive take on teenage love and sexual identity, calling the film an "uncommonly smart, tender, and funny coming-of-age story" and concluding that "The Half of It has everything." If you're looking for a feel-good movie with plenty of heart, The Half of It will be a perfect fit.

The Vast of Night

Directed by Andrew Patterson (and written by him under pseudonyms James Montague and Craig W. Sanger), Amazon's daring science fiction epic The Vast of Night wowed fans back at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, and in May of 2020, it finally arrived on the platform's Prime streaming service. Set in New Mexico in the 1950s, the film focuses on teenage DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) and his best friend, young switch operator Fay (Sierra McCormick), who accidentally discover potential signs of extraterrestrial life. As they seek to uncover more truth about whether or not aliens are real, Everett and Fay find themselves wrapped up in a national conspiracy theory.

The Vast of Night ultimately garnered praise across the board, with reviewers exalting Patterson's undeniable filmmaking prowess and calling the movie itself an "engrossing sci-fi thriller that transcends its period trappings." Alien movies might be a dime a dozen, but The Vast of Night stands out from the pack nonetheless.

The Old Guard

Charlize Theron's career has spanned genres and decades, but her reinvention as a headlining action hero may be her most exciting move yet, a tradition she continues in the Netflix original film The Old Guard, based on a comic book by the same name. In the film, Theron plays Andromache of Scythia, an Ancient Greek fighter who goes by Andy and leads an intrepid group of immortal soldiers on secret missions across the world, quietly intervening in dangerous situations. 

The squad realizes in the course of their latest mission that they've been tricked by one of their regular CIA contacts (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who has filmed their deaths and rebirths. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Nile Freeman (outstanding newcomer KiKi Layne) is killed in battle, only to realize she can come back from the dead. Once Nile finds the group, they must work together to stop a pharmaceutical executive, Steven Merrick (Harry Potter alum Harry Melling), from performing tests on them to try and discover the secret of immortality.

Directed by Love & Basketball and Beyond the Lights auteur Gina Prince-Bythewood, The Old Guard was received well by fans and critics alike, who praised Theron's central performance as well as the excellent action sequences. Theron is one of the best action stars working today, so if you're a fan of her kick-ass roles, The Old Guard is a perfect pick for your next movie night.

Da 5 Bloods

It's always exciting when acclaimed director Spike Lee announces a new project, and on the heels of his first Oscar win for 2018's BlacKkKlansman, audiences geared up for the next "Spike Lee joint," which hit Netflix in the summer of 2020. Imbued with Lee's signature bombastic energy and passion, Da 5 Bloods tells the story of five Vietnam veterans who return to the country decades after the bloody war, seeking both buried treasure and the buried remains of their tough yet beloved squad leader, "Stormin'" Norman Earl Holloway (played by the late Chadwick Boseman in one of his final roles). Constantly shifting between the Vietnam War and the present, Da 5 Bloods is ambitious, loud, and bold, which is exactly what viewers have come to expect from Lee throughout the years.

Unsurprisingly, Lee had another hit on his hands when Da 5 Bloods was released, and critics and fans alike praised his effort, saying, "[f]ierce energy and ambition course through Da 5 Bloods, coming together to fuel one of Spike Lee's most urgent and impactful films." Between Lee's engrossing story and direction and one of the final performances by Boseman, a star lost too soon, Da 5 Bloods is a must-watch.

Palm Springs

You're probably familiar with classic time loop movies like Groundhog Day or television shows like Russian Doll, but Hulu's romantic comedy Palm Springs serves as an entirely new and original take on this twisting, turning genre. The film stars Andy Samberg as Nyles and Cristin Milioti as Sarah, who end up reliving Sarah's sister's wedding every single day in the California resort town of Palm Springs. Having set an immature yet hilarious record during its bidding war at Sundance in January of 2020, Palm Springs is helmed by director Max Barbakow and written by Andy Sciara, all while proudly showing off Samberg's irreverent, goofy influence. Meanwhile, Milioti shines as a troubled, messy thirty-something trying to figure out her life, which is further complicated when she accidentally joins Nyles' endless time loop.

Bolstered by terrific supporting performances from J.K. Simmons, June Squibb, Meredith Haggerty, Camila Mendes, and more, Palm Springs is as delightful as it is carefully plotted. Reliving the same day forever definitely isn't fun, but you'll certainly want to relive your time with Sarah and Nyles when the film ends.

First Cow

A new movie from Kelly Reichardt, the ambitious yet minimalist filmmaker responsible for indies like 2008's Wendy and Lucy and 2013's Night Moves, is cause for celebration in certain film circles. With 2020's First Cow, Reichardt stands to gain even more ardent fans. Based on the novel The Half Life by Jonathan Raymond (who also worked on the screenplay), First Cow stars John Magaro (The Big Short), Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger and Winter Soldier), and Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development). The film tells the stories of various people making their way through the Oregon Territory in the early 1800s. Along the way, chef Otis "Cookie" Figowitz (Magaro) and Chinese immigrant King-Lu (newcomer Orion Lee) start stealing milk from a wealthy man's cow, but when the cow and Cookie form a bond, it complicates their secret situation.

Critics loved Reichardt's latest project, saying that First Cow "[revisits] territory and themes that will be familiar to fans of her previous work — with typically rewarding results." Whether you're a longtime fan of Reichardt's work or First Cow will be your first go-'round with this director, you'll want to catch this clever, perfectly crafted film.

Hamilton

When Lin-Manuel Miranda appeared at a 2009 White House poetry event and announced that he was working on a hip-hop musical about the life of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, he was met with chuckles, but when the Broadway show arrived in New York in 2015, Miranda ultimately got the last laugh. Hamilton ultimately became one of the biggest shows in the Great White Way's history, raking in crazy profits, winning Grammy and Tony Awards, and drawing every huge celebrity into its audience... but unfortunately, that made tickets all the more difficult to get, especially if you wanted to see the original Broadway cast.

Luckily, Miranda (who also played Hamilton in the show's initial run) had the foresight to film the original cast, and in June of 2016, the entire original production was filmed across several shows. Though the filmed version of Hamilton was originally slated for a theatrical release, the powers that be at Disney+ decided their subscribers needed a little cheering up, and the film arrived on the streaming service just in time for Independence Day. In the end, the Hamilton movie captures the best moments of the now-legendary musical perfectly — with plenty of close-ups to boot, showing off moments that would have been tough to see from a faraway seat — and critics and fans alike praised it soundly, proving the fervor around Hamilton may never die down.

Bill & Ted Face the Music

It's been decades since Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure and Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey hit theaters in 1989 and 1991, respectively, but during the COVID-19 crisis, audiences were treated to a new Bill & Ted adventure, with Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves returning as the title duo. By now, Bill and Ted have wives and daughters, but they also have a bigger problem to deal with: it was predicted that the two rockers would write a song that would save humanity, but they haven't come through yet, and the time-space continuum is in danger of collapsing. Though the two try and time travel to steal the song from themselves in the future, they end up messing with their own timeline too much, and their daughters Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine) and Thea (Samara Weaving) must help them save the world by co-writing the song along with them.

2020 was the perfect year for a feel-good flick like Bill & Ted Face the Music, and critics soundly praised the film, saying that the movie is "...as wholesomely goofy as its heroes" and that "Bill and Ted Face the Music is a rare long-belated sequel that largely recaptures the franchise's original charm." If you need a pick-me-up, you'll definitely want to check out Bill and Ted's latest adventure.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things

Known for projects like Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and his recent novel Antland, writer and filmmaker Charlie Kaufman is all about pushing boundaries. That's certainly evident in his latest cinematic effort, I'm Thinking of Ending Things. This Netflix film, which stars Jessie Buckley, Jesse Plemons, Toni Collette, and David Thewlis, among other talented actors, tells the story of a young woman (Buckley) who takes a weekend trip with her boyfriend, Jake (Plemons), to meet his parents (Thewlis and Collette). However, as the movie progresses, viewers start to wonder what's real and what's not, thanks to the film's dreamlike quality, surreal sequences, and constantly shifting plot. Adapted from a novel by Iain Reid, I'm Thinking of Ending Things is a bizarre yet fascinating trip that will keep you engaged and guessing for the entire run time, and critics agree.

I'm Thinking of Ending Things turned out to be yet another hit for Netflix, with critics and fans praising Kaufman's mind-bending narrative, Buckley's star-making performance, and the movie's overall statement on the human condition. If you're ready to scramble your brain in the most enjoyable way, check out I'm Thinking of Ending Things.

Looper Newsletter
Endless Entertainment In Your Inbox
By submitting my email, I agree to the privacy policy