It’s safe to say 2020 has been a strange year for films. What was once a blockbuster year filled with superheroics and sci-fi/fantasy action is no more. Black Widow, Eternals, Morbius, Venom 2, Ghostbusters: Afterlife and more have all pushed back to 2021 as coronavirus plays havoc with the yearly movie release schedule.
Still, some films escaped the coronavirus curse, releasing on streaming services, in theatres and on-demand earlier in the year. Some even barrelled right through the pandemic, with Tenet being one of the few films “brave” enough to ignore all health and safety warnings and screen in cinemas at the height of COVID-19.
It’s been a year of ups and downs, but through it all we’ve had some fantastic films. These are Gizmodo Australia’s picks for the best sci-fi and fantasy flicks of 2020 so far.
This article has been updated since its original publication.
Bloodshot is an adaptation of the Valiant comic of the same name and stars Vin Diesel as Ray Garrison, a U.S. marine given a second chance at life. If you’re doing a double take at that description, it’s because we’ve all heard and seen that exact plot before. The reason why Bloodshot makes the ‘best of’ list regardless is because it subverts many of the tropes you’ve seen in films like it.
Everything starts off pretty typically in the film but it isn’t long before the by-the-numbers story begins to reverse and the real, far more intriguing plot starts poking through. From there, it’s a straight shot to glorious, over-the-top sci-fi action and classic Vin Diesel brawling. It’s great fun throughout, even when its plot gets a little bit dumb.
7. The Old Guard
We could watch Charlize Theron kick arse all day. In this comic adaptation, a group of immortal warriors band together to save people around the world. At its core, it’s a grounded superhero film and features all the hallmarks of the fantasy action-adventure genre. Theron in particular is ace in this film, but it also excels at hard-hitting action sequences, intriguing narrative lore and incredible setpieces.
Beyond the rich action, there’s a government conspiracy, an epic romance and a commentary on the fallacies of modern living. What more could you want from a great action flick?
6. Bill & Ted Face the Music
Bill & Ted Face the Music could have been an easy cash grab exploiting the passions of the franchise’s fanbase. Instead, it’s a thoughtful, well-told and wholesome film that’s filled with charm and it does total justice to the originals. It’s silly and often ridiculous, but that’s a staple of the Bill & Ted series. This sequel focuses on what fans love about the originals and brings back their heart and soul for a lovingly-told story.
Bill & Ted Face the Music is all about heart, rock’n’roll and growing old together. It’s an awesome film and should satisfy fans of the franchise or new viewers. Long live Bill & Ted.
5. Sonic the Hedgehog
After multiple leaks and a truly terrible first trailer, that Sonic the Hedgehog was released at all was a massively impressive feat. What’s even more impressive is that it’s actually a good movie. This is likely to be the most contentious film on the list but there’s one thing hard to debate: Sonic the Hedgehog is loads of fun, whether you think it’s a good film or not.
It’s frenetic, kooky and a little bit weird but at its core, it has a massive heart and it’s very entertaining. It’s also got a surprisingly sharp sense of humour.
The self-awareness in Sonic the Hedgehog is key here. The narrative knows what the film’s about and so do the actors. Jim Carrey seems like he’s acting in a totally different movie but even his performance is a total blast.
Importantly, Sonic the Hedgehog is a film for kids. It’s supposed to be wild and zany. That doesn’t mean adults can’t enjoy it, too. Sometimes you need a bit of a silly escape and Sonic delivered this in spades.
Tenet is a mind-twisting sci-fi thriller from Christopher Nolan, the director most known for his mind-twisting sci-fi thrillers (and Batman!) so you know what to expect from a film like Tenet. It’s centred on a new form of weaponry travelling on an opposite time plane to ours. It’s very high concept and some of it may go over your head, but it’s a wild ride all the same.
Tenet is visually spectacular even when it’s narratively confusing and there’s twists and turns to hook you at every turn.
While it’s heavily inspired by classic time travel concepts, Tenet features an original and constantly engaging story that’ll keep you on your toes. The ending is particularly intriguing and features one of Nolan’s more impressive setpieces. It’s proven to be a fairly divisive film, but it’s still one worth watching.
3. The Invisible Man
The Invisible Man did what no Universal Monsters reboot has managed so far: it made its monster absolutely terrifying. This reimagining of the classic Invisible Man story features Elisabeth Moss as Cecilia, a woman tormented and gaslit by her abusive partner Adrian. It’s a modern story about manipulation and abuse which twists classic sci-fi horror tropes for its own terrifying purposes.
Moss’ Cecilia is a tortured woman and she pulls off a brilliant, gripping performance that totally elevates the source material and makes this a chilling film to watch. It’s not one for the easily scared but it certainly deserves a place as one of 2020’s best (and creepiest) films.
2. Birds of Prey
Birds of Prey was a breath of fresh air in the superhero genre and the perfect breakout for Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn. The film is gloriously over-the-top, totally ridiculous and a big bunch of fun. Leads Robbie, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ella Jay Basco and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are phenomenal in their roles and play off Ewan McGregor’s exuberant Black Mask in delightful fashion.
The film is filled with gorgeous action setpieces (the police station and funhouse scenes are particular standouts) and it tells a wonderful, self-contained story that’s easy to get lost in. It’s totally ridiculous fun, and it’s one of 2020’s best films.
1. Palm Springs
Palm Springs is a Groundhog Day romcom starring the always-pleasant Andy Samberg as a man caught in a time loop with his love interest Sarah, played by Cristin Milioti. While time loops have been done to death at this point, Palm Springs remains fresh and original throughout with charming performances from its entire main cast and an intriguing spin on the genre. It’s heartwarming, heart-breaking and everything in between.
You’ll fall in love with the characters and the simple charm of the film’s premise.
While Australians currently don’t have an official release date for Palm Springs, it is available on U.S. streaming service Hulu, which can be accessed locally through the use of a VPN. As one of 2020’s best films, it’s well worth the hoops you’ll have to jump through.
While there are a few months left to go in 2020, the movie calendar for the rest of the year is slim pickings. The majority of blockbusters have been moved back to 2021 and there’s only a handful of plucky contenders still releasing in theatres, on streaming and on VOD for the rest of the year.