Superhero Hype’s Best Superhero, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy Films of 2020

Superhero Hype’s Best Superhero, Sci-Fi, and Fantasy Films of 2010

Comic book movies supposedly dominate the marketplace, yet in 2020, that wasn’t the case. Thanks to a global pandemic, Marvel Studios took a leave of absence, DC gave us one entry on a budget and another intended to be huge, while Fox unloaded their last X-movie and the Valiant-verse attempted to kickstart. But the results were mostly second-tier at best.

Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn yet again found herself in a movie where nothing else felt the equal of her performance. (James Gunn, you’re up!) The New Mutants got crazy at the end with a Demon Bear. But it felt more like a TV pilot up until then, even though it was still mildly better than the constant delays might have suggested. And Bloodshot, while a passable Vin Diesel action flick, bore little resemblance to the Valiant comics it aspired to emulate. Only one of the most-anticipated superhero films of 2020 fully delivered, and even saying that has become controversial.

Science fiction and fantasy usually need big budgets and big audiences, and many promising entries got delayed until next year, in hopes that theaters will reopen. And in a year this weird, the rules have changed. Some of our picks debuted on streaming platforms, but we avoided movies that were always intended to be DTV. Like the DC animated movies.

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Honorable runner-up mentions include George Clooney’s mortality parable The Midnight Sky, Brandon Cronenberg’s body-switching hitman horror Possessor, and Aardman animation’s ingenious, non-verbal alien invasion parody Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon. Ranking became a tough call, and a matter of minor degrees. Most of the entries on the following list could reshuffle their numbers without much objection here.

10. Wonder Woman 1984

Take a look at any social media right now, and undoubtedly many reasons to hate this movie will appear. It’s sexist! Too feminist! Social justice-y! Too conservative! Or maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t take any of that stuff too seriously. A throwback to ’80s superhero movies — and one major ’70s TV show — Wonder Woman 1984 is a fantasy. What if you had a sincere wish to make life better, but it conflicted with everyone else’s? And what if even the greatest paragon of virtue were tempted by a shortcut to her own heart’s desire?

Just like the ’80s, the movie trades in the desire for more, more, more, while recognizing the consequences. And in the end, recognizing we already have so many wonders at our fingertips already. The biggest superhero movie of the year earned its place, and a sequel (or two). We’re anxious to see what’s next.

9. Tenet

It helps to view Tenet the way kids view James Bond movies. Maybe the geopolitics of it all aren’t yet clear, and maybe the bad guy’s super-weapon makes up a bunch of science. Christopher Nolan admits as much on the Blu-ray. But the good guy is obvious, the bad guy is the angry actor with the Russian accent, and all those time-running backward effects look spectacular. The director may be full of himself, but he can still pull off a spectacle like few other peers. Best to just sit back and enjoy.

8. Wolfwalkers

This Irish animated fantasy draws heavily from both mythology and monster movies, depicting an ancient race of humans who enter wolf bodies at night when they sleep. Pit them against a human settlement that keeps encroaching on the wolves’ woods, and disaster feels likely to strike. But rather than fall ever more into formula, Wolfwalkers keeps adding interesting wrinkles to the story. Viewers may think they know where it’s going, but like the unpredictable creatures of the title, the story’s not bound to convention. Starring Sean Bean, who knows a thing or two about wolves, dire and otherwise.

7. Palm Springs

Take Groundhog Day, add in a lot more quantum physics and a few dinosaurs for some reason, and you get this. Unlike Bill Murray, Andy Samberg does not become a better person when trapped in an eternal time loop of the same day over and over. He gets ever lazier, occasionally pulling other people into the time vortex with him despite his best efforts. Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons are the unfortunates sucked into his purgatorial orbit, who may yet push him into finding a way out. But karma won’t solve anyone’s issues here. It’s science of the highest sort — and the ability to educate oneself in any subject given eternal time — that shows the way.

6. The Invisible Man

Turned out the best way to reboot the Universal Monsters universe was…not to reboot it as a Universal Monsters Universe. Sorry, Van Helsing, Dracula Untold, Tom Cruise’s Mummy — that way lay madness, many times over. Leigh Whannell just set out to make the scariest movie about a psychotic invisible man that he could. And by making him a gaslighting, abusive stalker, he took a very real fear and amped the tension to near-unbearable levels. When Elisabeth Moss initially thinks she’s losing her mind, the audience starts to fear every sight and sound she does. But once the threat is revealed, and war unleashed, the catharsis pays off in a big way. No sequel hook needed — it’s nice to have a complete-in-itself horror movie that takes the viewer on a thrill ride and delights at the climax.

5. Sonic the Hedgehog

There’s no way this movie should have been as fun as it became. The very idea seemed terrible. The first CG model for Sonic looked terrifying. And yet, with Ben Schwartz’ hyperactive energy as the blue guy, James Marsden working his naive regular schmoe shtick, and Jim Carrey finally back to doing the rubber-face thing, it worked. It didn’t hurt that the movie, despite relocating Sonic to Earth to save the budget, remained reasonably true to what fans thought Sonic should be. It may not be high art, but it was a perfect blockbuster action-comedy.

4. Bill and Ted Face the Music

Nostalgia sequels are tricky things. For every Mad Max: Fury Road, multiple direct-to-video Lost Boys movies exist. And Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey did pretty definitively end the storyline, with Bill and Ted finally using their music to bring about world peace. In following that up, director Dean Parisot didn’t go for the Blade Runner 2049 approach of pretending actual modern history didn’t happen. Instead, the movie simply asks what would happen next? After the big hit, now what? Used to cheating with the aid of a time machine, the sweetly stupid duo try to revive their careers with the next big hit they’ve yet to write by stealing it from the future. Like Wonder Woman, they learn you can’t do shortcuts.

The role that once threatened to typecast Keanu Reeves forever has become one more complex, and Alex Winter makes a welcome return as his perfect foil. Meanwhile, Anthony Carrigan’s Terminator parody, an insecure robot named Dennis Caleb McCoy, damn near steals the show.

3. I’m Thinking of Ending Things

On a trip to meet her boyfriend’s parents, a young woman considers ending her relationship with him. But her intentions are complicated by the fact that over dinner, the house appears to be shifting backwards and forwards in time. Details of her past suddenly become part of someone else’s. And what exactly is her name, anyway? Who keeps making mysterious phone calls to her? And why does the story keep cutting away to a high school janitor watching a cheesy romantic comedy? Charlie Kaufman, writer of Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, raises more questions than he answers. But once again, his obsessions with memory, mortality, time travel, and the eternal insecurity of being a writer take us down a rabbit hole of strange that’s never less than compelling.

2. Color out of Space

More than two decades after being fired from the Marlon Brando Island of Dr. Moreau, Hardware director Richard Stanley emerged from director jail to bring back that sci-fi horror he does so well. In this H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that hit theaters before COVID, a mysteriously colored meteorite slowly makes everyone ill as it reverse-terraforms the surrounding countryside. Not even Nicolas Cage is up to the task of beating back the otherworldly evil. But of course he tries, at maximum volume, in the way that he does. Initially a simple family under siege horror, Color out of Space‘s mind-tripping, 2001-stargate level finale puts it over the top and into our best list.

1. The Old Guard

It’s not just that it was the best comic-book adaptation of the year. It’s that it wasn’t even close. With Greg Rucka adapting his own material for the screen, nobody could say he screwed it up. And Gina Prince-Bythewood proved to be a perfect example of why hiring directors known for character-based stories goes a long way in superhero movies with, well, a lot of characters. Part Highlander, part Justice League, part Jerry Bruckheimer action movie — but all on a much smaller scale — this direct-to-Netflix tale of immortal do-gooder warriors didn’t have to be the largest spectacle in the world. It just concerned itself with being a good movie.

In a year where DC and Marvel superheroines ought to have dominated, Charlize Theron’s “Andy” of Scythia, from an Image comic, no less, was the smartest and toughest of the bunch.

Recommended Purchase: The Old Guard Book One: Opening Fire

What are your picks for the top 10 genre films of 2020? Let us know in the comment section below!

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