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The Best Sci-Fi Movies Of 2020

The 2020s have been a popular setting among science fiction filmmakers going back decades. In 1973, Richard Fleischer's Soylent Green imagined 2020s New York as an overpopulated and highly polluted place where the disenfranchised masses survive on rations of artificially produced wafers that are (spoiler alert) made from human corpses. Alfonso Cuarón's Children of Men, in which humans have inexplicably stopped being able to reproduce, takes place in the 2020s, and James Cameron's sci-fi classic The Terminator foresaw war and nuclear holocaust for the decade. Thankfully, none of these scenarios have played out in real life (well, not yet), and we humans are free to continue dreaming up new horrors for the future of our species, a freedom that filmmakers took full advantage of in 2020.

The decade is still young, but we've already been treated to some pretty memorable science fiction movies in the first year of it alone. The top sci-fi picks of 2020 range from gleeful throwbacks to the golden age of the genre to dark, dystopian thrillers that paint a bleak picture of our near future. We've seen Nicolas Cage going absolutely gonzo, we've seen Elisabeth Moss remind everyone that she's one of the best actors working today, and we've seen Brandon Cronenberg (son of David Cronenberg) come into his own as a director. It's a great time to a be sci-fi fan, but which films should you be watching? Without further ado, here are the best sci-fi movies of 2020.

The Vast of Night is destined to be an indie sci-fi classic

Extraterrestrial period piece The Vast of Night was made for a fraction of the budget allocated to some of 2020's best science fiction movies, but you wouldn't necessarily know it by watching it. The film follows switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz), two young adults who set out to investigate the source of a strange frequency they're both picking up. Debuting writer-director Andrew Patterson pulled out every trick in the indie book to bring his 1950s-set sci-fi to life, creating some beautiful and highly buzzed about tracking shots with nothing more than a digital camera gimbal and a go-kart. The whole film was shot in the small New Mexico town of Whitney, where the locals were more than willing to help. In fact, Patterson borrowed the aforementioned go-kart from a local teen.

The Vast of Night made its festival debut in 2019 and was quickly snapped up by Amazon, who released it on Prime in May 2020. "This is something I'm very proud of," Patterson said of his first film during an interview with The Moveable Fest. "I think it landed at the best place where it's going to live for a while at Amazon. ... Now I really hope it can become the kind of thing that people watch for several decades." The film, which presents itself as being part of a fictional anthology series called Paradox Theater, has a Certified Fresh rating of 92 percent on Rotten Tomatoes at the time of this writing, so this indie sci-fi flick is definitely worth your time.

Possessor is a nightmarish movie that blends sci-fi and horror

Canadian auteur filmmaker David Cronenberg has masterfully merged horror and sci-fi themes on numerous occasions throughout his career, and his son managed the same feat with 2020's Possessor. Brandon Cronenberg's first feature film (2012's Antiviral) premiered at Cannes, but he chose the Sundance Film Festival as the stage for his eagerly awaited follow up. The writer-director said the premiere was a "nerve-wracking" experience during an interview with Slash Film, but he needn't have worried — Possessor was met with rave reviews, earning widespread praise from the critics.

Possessor is the story of Tasya Vos (Mandy's Andrea Riseborough), an agent of a corporation that uses brain-implant tech to take control of people. Victims are turned into unwilling hitmen, carrying out assassinations ordered by the company's rich and powerful clients. Vos is a natural at the job, but she gets more than she bargained for when she inhabits the body of a man named Colin Tate (Christopher Abbott), whose thirst for violence eclipses even her own. The experienced agent loses control of her host's mind and finds herself in danger of never being able to escape it, leading to a thrilling (and highly abstract) showdown between Riseborough and Abbott.

Both lead actors came up regularly during reviews for Possessor (Daily Dead called them "two of the most compelling acting talents working today"), and Cronenberg was quick to acknowledge their role in the film's success. "I got very lucky to get two actors I have incredible respect for in Chris and Andrea," he said.

Time to Hunt is a relentless 2020 thriller that never lets up

Parasite star Choi Woo-shik plays one of four desperate young men that pull off a daring heist in South Korean sci-fi Time to Hunt, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival (becoming the first Korean picture to be shown in the festival's special gala section) in February 2020 and was released on Netflix a few months later. Set in a future version of South Korea crippled by a financial crash, director Yoon Sung-hyun's dystopian thriller follows the four protagonists as they try to disappear after sticking up the patrons of an illegal gambling den. Things rapidly descend into violence when merciless assassin Han (Park Hae-soo) comes after the boys, hell-bent on retrieving the cash and CCTV hard drives they stole.

Speaking to The Korea Times, Yoon revealed that the film's grim setting was actually inspired by a trip to the Americas. "I remember being shocked by the hyperinflation in South America when buying a soft drink at a store," he said. "I also got a glimpse of slums in the U.S., which allowed me to portray streets full of graffiti in the film." Despite all those real-life influences, the final product was distinctly South Korean, however. Time to Hunt is sleek and well shot from start to finish, and the stylized action never lets up, something the Hollywood trades appreciated. "Once [the protagonist's] plan goes into action, it hardly ever decelerates," Variety said in its review of the film, while The Hollywood Reporter called Time to Hunt a "tour-de-force exercise in non-stop tension."

Vivarium is a sci-fi horror flick all about isolation

Irish director Lorcan Finnegan's sophomore feature film Vivarium plays on what research suggests is a very real fear for millennial couples — settling down and having kids. When Tom and his girlfriend, Gemma (Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, both of whom were roundly praised in numerous critics' reviews), decide to buy their first home, they visit a real estate agent who tells them about Yonder, a new suburban development. The couple decides that living among rows of identical houses isn't for them long before the creepy agent (Jonathan Aris) vanishes, but when they try to leave, they discover that every road leads back to the house he showed them. Things go from weird to weirder when an alien baby turns up on their doorstep along with a note that says the couple won't be "released" from the bizarre home until after they've raised the child.

Vivarium debuted at Cannes and was released in March 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Vast swathes of people were isolating in their homes at the time, and Finnegan admitted that there were definitely some "weird parallels" with his movie. "Sometimes I think films are a bit like ... they pop up as if there's a network between all of humanity, like there's a subconscious thread that's connecting everything and films are just the manifestation of these sort of anxieties that everybody has," he told VultureThe critics couldn't help but take the timing of the release into account in their reviews, with Vague Visages (via Rotten Tomatoes) calling Vivarium "the ideal isolation horror."

Sea Fever is 2020's version of Alien

A 2020 sci-fi film that took on new meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic (A.V. Club called it "an accidental zeitgeist movie"), Neasa Hardiman's critically acclaimed feature-length debut Sea Fever follows a marine biology student who buys her way onto a fishing trawler so she can conduct research into faunal behavioral patterns. Siobhán (Star Wars: The Last Jedi's Hermione Corfield) doesn't fit in with the vessel's hardy crew (led by Dougray Scott's Captain Gerard), but they turn to the knowledgeable redhead when mysterious holes appear in the boat's hull. As she's the only one with diving gear, Siobhán goes below to check the cause and discovers a gigantic organism with tendril-like appendages, though it's the parasites the squid-like creature releases into the water supply that pose the real threat.

Sea Fever is, essentially, Alien on the open water. Hardiman pays homage to that film's director, Ridley Scott, with some squirm-inducing body horror (if you've got a thing about eyeballs, maybe swerve this one), and she creates the same kind of claustrophobic tension that made Alien so enthralling. The director told Quiet Earth that their boat was positioned "days away from shore" during the shoot, creating a genuine sense of isolation among the cast. "It's really disturbing being on the boat because it leads to a kind of collective agoraphobia," she said, adding, "There you are on the top of one of the least understood biospheres on planet Earth. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the deep ocean."

The Platform tackles a serious topic in a terrifying setting

Spanish sci-fi thriller The Platform takes place inside a so-called Vertical Self-Management Center, a tower-like structure that houses hundreds of inmates. Every day, a platform filled with enough food and drink for everyone descends from the top level, though many routinely go hungry. See, the residents are allowed to consume as much as they like, meaning those near the bottom get scraps if they're lucky. "It's an allegory about the distribution of wealth, which is a universal debate and a debate that's been going on for as long as people have been around," debuting director Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia told The Guardian, later adding, "The point of The Platform is that it isn't about a war between those above and those below — we all have someone above us and someone below us."

The film follows Goreng (Iván Massagué), who's duped into volunteering for a six-month stint in the tower in exchange for a diploma. After seeing the conditions on the lower levels with his own eyes (inmates are periodically moved from level to level), he decides to take matters into his own hands. When Goreng is assigned to level six, he convinces his cellmate Baharat (Emilio Buale Coka) to ride the platform down with him, distributing rationed portions of food as they go. The Platform's ambiguous ending didn't turn off the critics, who overwhelmingly enjoyed it. "A gnarly mash-up of midnight movie and social commentary [with] genre jolts and broad messaging in equal measure," The New York Times raved.

The Invisible Man is one of the scariest sci-fi films of 2020

Back in 2017, The Mummy was supposed to be the first film in a new cinematic universe based on the Universal Classic Monsters films of the mid-'20s through 1950s, but the so-called Dark Universe was called off when the Tom Cruise-led blockbuster flopped at the box office. The original plan was to have Johnny Depp star in the second Dark Universe film, though he was dropped from The Invisible Man when the studio decided to take a new approach. Leigh Whannell (who wrote and starred in Saw) was brought in to direct, and he was given the freedom to make a film that didn't have to include any links to future franchise installments. The result was a thrilling standalone sci-fi horror flick that blew the critics away.

Whannell's remake stars Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia Kass, a woman who believes she's being stalked by her controlling and violet ex, despite the fact that he committed suicide after she escaped from him. Cecilia's paranoia leads her back to the huge house that she shared with loaded optics engineer Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), where her mounting suspicions are confirmed — she discovers one of Adrian's invisibility suits. Before Cecilia can prove her story, however, her invisible tormentor gets incredibly violent, forcing Cecilia to fight for her life. Moss delivers a typically committed performance, and she helped out off-camera, too. "Elisabeth Moss was my greatest asset and greatest ally," Whannell told Gizmodo, adding, "The amount of collaboration that we had, she really became a co-writer in a sense."

Sonic the Hedgehog was a surprising hit

Sonic the Hedgehog looked set to join the long list of terrible video game adaptations when the first trailer dropped and fans reacted to the titular character's design with a mixture of disappointment and horror. Sonic looked far too realistic, making him appear more creepy than cheeky. Twitter took aim at the VFX team's bizarre choices (Sonic's human-like teeth being the biggest offender), but in an unexpected move that ultimately paid off, Paramount agreed to a complete redesign of the eponymous blue hedgehog. The end result was a charming and entertaining family film that imagines Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) as an alien who comes to Earth to hide from those seeking to exploit his super speed. It didn't do much for the average critic, but it was a real hit among Sonic fans.

Director Jeff Fowler's movie wound up with a lukewarm 64 percent rating on the Tomatometer, however 93 percent of audience reviewers enjoyed watching Sonic and James Marsden's sheriff Tom Wachowski take on Jim Carrey, in his element as the iconic Dr. Robotnik. One critic who did show some love for the film was The Guardian's Keith Stuart, who argued that video game movies aren't necessarily interested in critical acclaim. "[They] don't really function in the same way as other big commercial tie-ins," he said in his glowing review of the Easter egg-packed film. "They are multilayered in a semiotic rather than emotional or thematic sense; they are fan service, but in a good way."

Color Out of Space is pure Lovecraftian madness

Nicolas Cage got back to his gonzo best in Color Out of Space, a superbly executed, pulp-heavy sci-fi based on H.P. Lovecraft short story "The Colour Out of Space." It was the author's personal favorite, and it also means a lot to director Richard Stanley, whose mother was a huge Lovecraft fan. "She read me his stuff when I was a child," the South African filmmaker told Bloody Disgusting. "Then my mom died of cancer very slowly over a period of ten years, during which time I read most of Lovecraft's material back to her." So when the chance to direct a big screen adaptation of "The Colour Out of Spacecame, Stanley decided to get back in the game (he moved to France and turned his back on Hollywood after being fired from 1996's The Island of Dr. Moreau), and his return was a critical success.

Color Out of Space follows farmer Nathan Gardner (Cage) and his family, who are thrown into a purple-tinged nightmare after a meteorite that's harboring an extraterrestrial organism lands on their property. A strange alien color spreads across their farmland, causing the animals to mutate and turning the plants sentient. It's a mind-bending experience that only Stanley could've pulled off, according to Cage. "Of all the filmmakers I could imagine doing this and getting close to creating an alien color, it would be Richard," the actor said at the Toronto International Film Festival (via Slash Film), where Color Out of Space premiered.

Tenet pulled people back into theaters

If any one movie was going to coax people back into theaters in 2020, it was Tenet. 

Christopher Nolan's eleventh feature was the first blockbuster to play in theaters during the coronavirus pandemic, and it certainly helped people take their minds off COVID-19 for a while. After all, this is a film that demands your full attention, and even then, you aren't guaranteed to fully understand it. John David Washington stars as a former CIA agent who's been recruited by a secret organization, Tenet, which needs all the help it can get as it attempts to prevent World War III. He learns that weapons with "inverted entropy" manufactured in the future are somehow making their way to present day, and things get a whole lot weirder from there.

With help from Robert Pattinson's Neil, Washington's unnamed protagonist learns that Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) has been in contact with the future. Our descendants have grown tired of the ravaged world left to them ("Their oceans rose, and their rivers ran dry," Sator explains), and they intend to invert the flow of time. It's a Hail Mary on their part, but for Sator, their proxy in the past, it's a kamikaze mission — he plays along because he has terminal cancer, and if he's on his way out, the world's coming with him. It may not be Christopher Nolan's finest film, but the slick action sequences and impeccable performances make Tenet one of 2020's must-see sci-fi films.

Sputnik is Russia's answer to Alien

If an homage to Ridley Scott's Alien set during the height of the Cold War sounds like something you'd be interested in, you need to check out Sputnik. This slick Russian creature feature was forced to forgo a theatrical release because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it found lots of love on VOD in its native country. Genre film distributor IFC Midnight secured the release rights for North America, where critics have been raving about Egor Abramenko's stylish debut. At the time of this writing, Sputnik has a Certified Fresh rating of 88 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But what's so special about it, exactly? On paper, Abramenko's story is nothing groundbreaking, but he executes his vision superbly, and his first film stands as a reminder that there's always room for a scary new alien in sci-fi.

Sputnik follows a cosmonaut (Pyotr Fyodorov) who gets quarantined after his vessel malfunctions reentering the Earth's atmosphere. What he doesn't know is that there's an extraterrestrial parasite living inside him, and when he sleeps, it comes out to feed. The Russian military have managed to keep this a secret, hoping to separate the creature (inspired in part by Komodo dragons, Abramenko told IndieWire) from its host and use it as a weapon of war. The cosmonaut's only hope is neurophysiologist Tatyana (The Bourne Supremacy's Oksana Akinshina), who begins masterminding his escape. With suspense to spare, Sputnik is a white-knuckle thrill ride that you can't afford to miss. 

Save Yourselves! is a small sci-fi with big laughs

Sci-fi comedy Save Yourselves! is the story of a young Brooklyn couple who decide to disconnect from the modern world for a while. Inspired by hipster pal Raph (Ben Sinclair), a former investment banker who left the rat race to concentrate on making eco-friendly algae surfboards down in Nicaragua, they head out into rural New York without their phones or devices. While they're away, aliens invade Earth, and our heroes have absolutely no idea.

As cities across America are reduced to rubble, Su (Sunita Mani) and Jack (John Paul Reynolds) busy themselves with un-busying themselves. The city dwellers take advantage of the nearby lake and surrounding nature, blissfully unaware that humankind is under attack from fluffy (but extremely vicious) extraterrestrials. Gradually, they come to the realization that something isn't quite right, and their Millennial morals are tested when they discover a gun in the cabin's basement. When push comes to shove, they would rather bear arms than be killed by a ball of space fluff. "We're gun people now," Jack tells Su (per Vulture).

Writer/directors Alex Huston Fischer and Eleanor Wilson didn't have a huge budget, so the majority of the action (including the leveling of Yankee Stadium) happens off-screen. This isn't a big, VFX-heavy sci-fi film, but it really doesn't need to be. Mani and Reynolds are both funny and convincing as Su and Jack, and their vacation-turned-survival mission is engaging enough that we don't need to see all the destruction.

Bill & Ted Face the Music is a bodacious sequel

The belated, unlikely sequel that we never knew we needed, Bill & Ted Face the Music was a tonic for trying times in 2020. Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) returned to the big screen for a third adventure in late summer, though the coronavirus pandemic meant it had an unusual theatrical release. Box office was predictably dire as a result (a month into its run it had only made $3.3 million), but Bill & Ted Face the Music was also released on PVOD, and Deadline sources suggest it made around ten times that amount via streaming in the same period. The simultaneous release meant critics nationwide got to see the movie, and the majority of them deemed it most excellent.

Reviews were largely effusive for Dean Parisot's time travel comedy, in which the titular besties are now middle-aged fathers. As Bill and Ted go forward in time in search of their future selves, their daughters (Brigitte Lundy-Paine and Samara Weaving) go in the opposite direction, recruiting iconic musicians for the band that will help their dads finally perform their universe-saving song. Reeves and Winter slip back into their roles with ease here, and their onscreen daughters are just as watchable together. Variety called the film "a blissed-out air balloon of nostalgia" in a glowing review, while The Hollywood Reporter proclaimed it "almost exactly as good as its two big-screen predecessors."

Archive contains one of the best movie twists of 2020

Archive may not win any awards for originality, but as The Hollywood Reporter put it, the directorial debut of concept artist Gavin Rothery is a "sleek and satisfying riff on familiar sci-fi themes." Rothery was best known for his behind-the-scenes work on the critically acclaimed Sam Rockwell vehicle Moon prior to making his first feature film, which plays as a mash-up of Ex-Machina and Black Mirror. Divergent star Theo James signed on in 2017, and Stacy Martin (Vox Lux) boarded the project the following year, taking on the role of the former's dead wife. The film takes place in 2038, when widowed roboticist George Almore (James) is on the verge of a groundbreaking advancement in technology.

Almore works for a megacorporation that specializes in artificial intelligence. When we meet him, his human-equivalent prototype is just about ready, but this isn't just a replication of any old human — the savvy scientist has recreated his deceased wife in AI form behind the backs of his bosses. The trouble is, his creation ends up being a little too real. Before long, Almore's shiny new wife turns into a green-eyed monster. "I set out to write a story about love," the writer-director told Inverse. "What I actually created is about replacement. Jealousy just fit really well within the narrative." We're not going to spoil it here, but trust us when we say that Archive contains one of the best movie twists of 2020, sci-fi or otherwise.

Love and Monsters was worth the wait

Sci-fi adventure Love and Monsters proved popular when it was released on PVOD in October 2020, and the critics loved it too. This dystopian teen film takes place some seven years after mankind turned its nukes on a planet-killing asteroid that was on a collision course with Earth. They destroyed their intended target, but nobody was quite prepared for the brutal aftermath: the fallout caused all cold-blooded animals to mutate into huge, terrifying creatures. Former Maze Runner star Dylan O'Brien leads the line as one of a number of survivors living in an underground bunker.

The film's journey to the big screen was a long one. It was announced under the name Monster Problems in 2012, but O'Brien didn't enter talks until 2018. In the end, it was well worth the wait — he delivers a performance that's equal parts charismatic and charming as Joel Dawson, whose parents were killed during the Monsterpocalypse. When he gets separated from his girlfriend, he vows to cross miles of monster-ridden terrain to find her. The film was lauded as an "imaginative post-apocalyptic coming-of-age film" by the New York Timeswhile Variety called it a "daffily lightweight throwback to the teen action-adventures of the '80s and '90s." Marvel fans will recognize some familiar faces here — Joel's girlfriend Aimee is played by Iron Fist star Jessica Henwick, while Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Ariana Greenblatt (Avengers: Infinity War) also co-star.

Teenagers literally can't stop exploding in Spontaneous

A teen sci-fi comedy from the guy that wrote the aforementioned Love and Monsters, Spontaneous was one of the most popular movies of 2020, scoring a near-perfect 98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Brian Duffield's directorial debut stars Charlie Plummer, who impressed as kidnap victim John Paul Getty III in Ridley Scott's All the Money in the World, and Katherine Langford, best known for playing Hannah Baker in 13 Reasons Why. Spontaneous shares some similar vibes with Langford's hit Netflix show, though it's way, way bloodier. In Duffield's critically acclaimed film, students at Covington High School have started to inexplicably explode at random intervals, sowing a sense of dread and anxiety among them.

The film's quarantine scenes drew inevitable comparisons to the coronavirus pandemic, but Spontaneous was done and dusted before COVID-19 was a thing. According to Duffield, his goal was to make a movie that captured what it meant to be a kid at that moment in time. "I'm very liberal, and for me, the movie feels like a very real thing that kids are dealing with right now," he told Looper in an exclusive interview. "When we shot the movie, there were these things happening in the world where it really felt like kids were being like, 'We need someone to help us.' And it was really falling on deaf ears." The writer-director revealed that '80s classic Heathers and the films of John Hughes were among his many inspirations.

Synchronic is a psychedelic trip you won't forget in a hurry

Fifty Shades of Gray star Jamie Dornan and Avengers actor Anthony Mackie play a pair of paramedics in Synchronic, a New Orleans-set sci-fi that made a big impression when it premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival. Directed by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (who co-helmed and co-starred in critically acclaimed sci-fi horror The Endless), Synchronic follows Dennis (Dornan) and Steve (Mackie) as they're called to a series of strange and gruesome incidents. The pair comes to the conclusion that a new designer drug called synchronic is to blame for it all, but when Dennis' daughter mysteriously goes missing, it's up to Steve to investigate further. He soon discovers that synchronic is more than meets the eye — these mysterious pills allow the user to travel through time.

One of the many criticisms leveled at the Fifty Shades franchise was that the co-stars had zero chemistry, but that certainly isn't a problem here. Dornan and Mackie sell their relationship well, delivering believable performances as two best friends going through personal ruts. Synchronic gets pretty trippy (we go as far back in time as the Ice Age at one stage), but the two leads keep us invested in their modern day problems. "Through the psychedelic journeys and the blood-spattered crime scenes and the brooding atmosphere, Synchronic is at heart a good old-fashioned buddy movie about two friends who will risk all for each other," noted the Chicago Sun-Times.