The Top 20 Films of 2020, Ranked
The face of movies, the way we consume them, has changed. The communal theatrical experience was taken from us for much of the year, and along with it, some highly-anticipated hit titles.
But that doesn’t mean that the movies have disappeared. And despite a dearth of “event” films hitting big screens, there is some quality content that has graced our eyeballs. Whether anything will return to something resembling “normal” in 2021 or not, let’s take a moment and appreciate some of the films that have managed to bring us some escape from a year that many people would just as soon forget.
As usual, these are not OUR picks for the best movies of the year, but rather the current result of the aggregate rankings of the users of Flickchart. As such, it’s also only up-to-date until its publication, as future user rankings continue to shape the charts. Without further adieu, here are the current Top 20 Films of 2020.
#20. The Hunt
Directed by Craig Zobel
Global Rank: #11,084
The Hunt is a wild ride, taking the pervasive sense of the political divide in the United States to its most ridiculous extremes: What if both sides were exactly what the other claimed them to be? Political satire can be a tricky beast to ride, and the jury is still out even among many fans of the movie as to just how successfully The Hunt pulls it off, but even if it doesn’t land every messaging punch, it succeeds as a comedy thriller. Its deaths, twists, and celebrity cameos are all delivered with impeccable timing, perfectly set up for peak shocked laughs. Once we finally settle in with a central character, the one we get is a fascinating and enigmatic one who more than holds her own among the chaotic and nonsensical rhetoric flung at her by the supporting characters. It’s an over-the-top absurdist piece that hits the right delightfully startling moments, particularly as a genre parody. – Hannah Keefer
#19. The Old Guard
Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood
Global Rank: #10,927
Charlize Theron has managed to craft her career in such a way that she is now a bonafide headlining 40+ female Hollywood action star – something that, 40 years ago, only Sigourney Weaver was beginning to ceiling-break when Ridley Scott made her the star and hero of Alien. Netflix, conversely, has gone from DVD-by-mail service to streaming original content juggernaut in even shorter time – less than 20 years. Now a film studio in their own right, they’ve put their algorithms and dollars to work to find out what it is we really want to watch. One such computational greenlight resulted in adapting the lesser-known comic book The Old Guard – a sort of sideways-supernatural action yarn about a group of warriors who’ve found each other in battle and life over centuries and discovered they all have one thing in common – they can’t be killed. Plop those folks in the modern day, add a megalomaniacal evil corporation who wants to figure out why and profit, and a dash of martial arts and gun-fu, a young, brash American female military soldier to be the audience’s point of view, and you have yourselves a direct-to-streaming popcorn flick.
Interestingly, the film takes its time with certain aspects of conveying how brutal immortality really can be. Much like the laments of vampires everywhere, it’s hard when the ones you come to know and love grow old around you. It might cause you to have a chip on your shoulder, which Charlize wears well and earns her weariness with humanity. Much like John Wick has done just prior, The Old Guard elegantly sets up its world, its rules, and its main cast and lets you know there’s a whole lot more to them and their history by showing and not telling. You’d be hard pressed to find another combination of perfectly-suited star and distribution system than Theron and Netflix to deliver a good time at the movies while in the comfort of your home. – Nathan Chase
#18. Bad Boys for Life
Directed by Adil El Arbi & Bilall Fallah
Global Rank: #10,320
Bad boys, bad boys! Whatcha gonna do? Make another sequel, I guess.
Admittedly, when I learned they were making a Bad Boys 3, I wrinkled my brow and asked, why? The first Bad Boys is a decent buddy cop flick buoyed by the dynamic chemistry of its two leads, Will Smith and Martin Lawrence… wait, make that Martin Lawrence and Will Smith. I forgot, Lawrence was getting top billing in 1995, before Will Smith became the biggest movie star on the planet. Those were simpler times. Before April of 1995, not only had Michael Bay not yet made a Transformers movie (oh, for those days!), but he had not yet released any movie.
Then in 2003 (July, of course, since they were now playing in Will Smith’s ballpark), they made another one, and… man, it was bad. Real bad. But then Edgar Wright gave it some cool cred in Hot Fuzz, and I thought, you know, I should watch Bad Boys II again. Maybe I missed something. Maybe I was in the wrong mood. So I did, and, nope, it still sucks, like, really bad.
But January 2020 came around, and I went and saw the new Bad Boys for Life anyway, helmed this time by relatively unknown Belgian-Morrocan duo Adil El-Arbi and Bilall Fallah, and was surprised to find it full of the heart and stakes and controlled direction that Bad Boys II was sorely lacking. Sure, it commits the common long-in-the-tooth franchise mistake of over-mythologizing characters that really work better in their 90s-era simplicity (seriously, L.A. Det. Lt. Mike Lowrey does not need this much insane back-story); but it was a good time at the movies, and features a surprisingly affecting third supporting turn from Joe Pantoliano as the police captain. So props to these young directors and getting-up-in-years actors (Smith and Lawrence are both in their 50’s now) for putting together this solid an action sequel 16 ½ years after the fact. (Hold up… 8 years 3 months between the first and second, 16 years 6 months between the second and third… I guess we can expect to see Bad Boys: Geriatric Squad in January 2053.) – Tom Kapr
Directed by Judd Apatow
Global Rank: #10,223
When Judd Apatow released an extended cut of his directorial debut, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, that was 17 minutes longer than the already 116-minute theatrical version, it established a template for a director who just could not tell a comedy in under two hours. That meandering quality has mostly served him poorly – that is, until The King of Staten Island. At a very Apatowian 136 minutes, this film feels generous rather than overstuffed as it takes in the life of an aimless 24-year-old resident of the titular New York borough, played by SNL cast member Pete Davidson, featuring plot details that mirror his own life. Like Davidson, Scott Carlin lost his firefighter father in the line of duty, and it’s hard to say what kind of pall that cast over his ensuing choices.
We do know that he wants to be a tattoo artist, but he’s really bad at it; kind friends agree to be his guinea pigs, even after he’s desecrated their bodies on many prior occasions. He’s also got a sort-of girlfriend (Bel Powley) who wants to be more than a hookup buddy, a sister (Maude Apatow) who is lapping him in terms of achievements, a mother (Marisa Tomei) who wants him out of the house, and his mother’s new boyfriend (Bill Burr), also a firefighter, who could be his best friend or his worst enemy. It all makes for an extraordinarily humanistic tapestry of life and growing up for Scott, punctuated by an equal number of hilarious and poignant moments. If Apatow’s template paved the way for him to finally make a movie like The King of Staten Island, it was well worth all that previous overstuffing. – Derek Armstrong
#16. Enola Holmes
Directed by Harry Bradbeer
Global Rank: #9,853
Netflix has gotten this far by knowing when it has a good thing on its hands. In this case, that good thing is Millie Bobby Brown, the breakout star of one the streaming service’s flagship shows, Stranger Things. Brown’s character, Eleven, didn’t smile until season 3, but once she did, the boundlessness of her charisma was revealed. Netflix puts that charisma to excellent use in Enola Holmes, the first in what appears to be an intended series of films, featuring Sherlock Holmes’ significantly younger sister. Buoyed by Brown’s screen presence and her disarming direct address to the camera, the movie charts the burgeoning detective career of the youngest Holmes sibling as she tries to find her disappeared mother (who has left her cryptic clues), and to protect a handsome young viscount who is also totally hapless, always an eyelash away from being assassinated.
It’s got glorious period production design, a lively presentation using period artwork, and enough adult themes to really connect to an aspirational early teen audience. And though it goes on for longer than it probably should, losing focus from time to time, Brown’s winning persona is there to keep everything firmly pointed in the right direction. Add the erstwhile Superman, Henry Cavill, as Holmes himself – who pops in but never steals the spotlight from Enola, either as the movie’s star or as its more accomplished detective – and you’ve got the start of something Netflix is sure to ride as long as it continues to charm us. – Derek Armstrong
Directed by Sam Hargrave
Global Rank: #8,673
Shakespeare wrote a bunch of plays. The Russo brothers made a bunch of sitcoms. Somehow this all led to Extraction. Need more connective tissue? Fair. See, back in 2011, Community was one of the best shows on TV, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe was still finding its footing. BOOM, Extraction!
OK, there was a guy named Kenneth Branagh who loved to turn Shakespeare into unexpectedly awesome movies, and then this other guy, Kevin Feige, tapped him to direct a movie he was producing about the Norse God of Thunder, who would, if all went right, eventually team up with a raccoon and travel through time in order to stop a purple alien from snapping his fingers. (Really imagine describing that plot to someone in 2011.) Then these two guys got together with this superhero named Sarah Halley Finn and cast this slab of Aussie beef named Chris Hemsworth to head up an unexpectedly enjoyable and critically and commercially successful—and Shakespearean—take on Thor.
Elsewhere in the universe, brothers Joe and Anthony were producing and directing some of the greatest and most literate and pop-culture-savvy comedy ever to air on television. Somehow these brothers Russo spun that success into a movie deal with that same Kevin Feige and ended up directing a stand-out entry into that same movie franchise that Thor‘s success helped build. The Russos were so successful that they went on to make three more MCU films, eventually directing Chris Hemsworth as he made friends with that raccoon. Contributing to the Russos’ success was a talented stunt coordinator named Sam Hargrave, and they liked him so much they decided to back him up in his own feature directorial debut, starring (and co-produced by) none other than the God of Thunder himself, who had proven to be more than a one-trick pony with a pretty face.
And Hargrave, with his fine-tuned eye for character-driven stunt work, turned out a pretty kick-ass thriller full of non-stop, and very well-composed, action. The car chase through the city of Dhaka, composited to appear as one continuous shot, is one of the stand-out movie scenes of the year and easily earns a spot on the list of all-time great car chases. Hemsworth deftly toes the line between hardened killer and vulnerable protector as he tries to protect a boy against warring drug cartels, and is backed up by a great international cast that includes Golshifteh Farahani, Randeep Hooda, and David Harbour. – Tom Kapr
Directed by Dean Parisot
Global Rank: #7,841
31 years after our initial Excellent Adventure (1989), and 29 after coming face to face with death and going on a Bogus Journey (1991), the totally tubular duo of Bill S. Preston Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) graced our screens with laughter and positivity right when everything in our world was feeling so wrong. Three decades after finding out their music would save the universe, our Wyld Stallyns still hadn’t written the song of all songs. Midlife crisis scenarios abound and our heroes are off once again, traveling through time and space, this time with the help of their daughters, Thea (Samara Weaving) and Billie (Brigette Lundy-Paine), an old friend, Death (William Sadler), and frenemy Dennis Caleb McCoy (portrayed by the hilariously scene-stealing Anthony Carrigan).
Throughout their journey they meet up with different versions of their future selves, search all of history for the most far out musicians, and stop traffic for the most excellent concert of all time, then rediscover the true meaning of their friendship and share in the harmonious glow created by their children. While not a masterpiece of a film, Bill & Ted Face the Music knew what it needed to be and gave us 100% of what we loved about the first two films of this now-trilogy. They were the 2020 heroes we needed and deserved to remind us what we might have forgotten: Be excellent to each other. Party on, dudes! – Becky Hicks
Directed by Autumn de Wilde
Global Rank: #7,579
After bursting onto the scene with consecutive stellar horror performances in The Witch (2015) and Split (2016), Anya Taylor-Joy has quickly thrust herself atop the conversation of talented actresses with bright futures. And if you’d seen Taylor-Joy’s face around but hadn’t quite remembered her name, 2020 undoubtedly put an end to that following what many regard as the television series of the year in The Queen’s Gambit, and her leading role in the latest Jane Austen adaptation, Emma. The Regency Era period piece centers around Emma, a wealthy young woman who fancies herself a matchmaker, yet can’t help but bungle her relationships in the process.
Whether through vanity or lack of experience, much of the movie focuses on her misguided adventures, poking fun at old-fashioned rich people problems in a tongue-in-cheek manner. There’s plenty of cheeky humor throughout, like the recurring physical comedy from the hesitant support staff, as well as gorgeous sets and costumes to feast your eyes upon. A well-rounded cast pushes the simpler story along smoothly, highlighted by performances from Johnny Flynn, Miranda Hart, and Bill Nighy. But even with all of the beautiful imagery and varied characters, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from Taylor-Joy’s sublime acting – conveying more emotion with subtle facial cues in a single scene than some are capable of over the course of a full movie – leaving one to wonder just how long we’ll be waiting for that first Oscar. – Kyle Larkin
Directed by David Fincher
Global Rank: #6,403
The last time David Fincher made a feature film was back in 2014 when he did Gone Girl. He has spent the last six years involved in a variety of Netflix streaming TV series, including House of Cards, Love, Death + Robots, and Mindhunter. His boon to Netflix’s streaming power with three popular original series gave him leeway to do what he wanted, including producing his father’s script centered around Herman J. Mankiewicz writing Citizen Kane. Mank is a likely Oscar candidate, and it is a delight to see Fincher making cinema again.
While his cool digital aesthetic likely holds Mank back from being authentic as it can be, the effort to capture the sound and look of an old Hollywood film is admirable and largely works. Especially as Mank is more an opus on the Hollywood system itself than a “making-of” of Citizen Kane. With a bevy of fantastic performances, the highlights being Gary Oldman as the titular role, and Amanda Seyfried, Mank is an entertaining drama enriched by a dark humorous tongue. While far from Fincher’s best work, Mank shows there is plenty left in the tank for one of the best directors working today. – Connor Adamson
#11. Borat Subsequent Moviefilm: Delivery of Prodigious Bribe to American Regime for Make Benefit Once Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
Directed by Jason Woliner
Global Rank: #6,168
It’s hard to know if 2006 really needed a Borat movie. If the goal were to get George W. Bush out of office, that was scheduled to happen only two years later anyway. We don’t know what role Sacha Baron Cohen may have played in Donald Trump’s ouster, but 2020 really felt like a year that needed a good skewering from a faux Kazakh journalist and his eager-to-please/eager-to-be-treated-like-a-boy daughter. Despite everything Cohen continues to do terrifically – mostly in costume this time to hide his famous face – the real revelation of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm was Maria Bakalova, the 24-year-old Bulgarian actress who plays Borat’s 15-year-old daughter, and is Cohen’s equal in improvisational brilliance at the very least.
Cohen and company felt it was necessary to script more this time around in their reveal of the toxic prejudices of Americans, but some scenes that seemed like they were scripted actually were not, which lets you know that Cohen has still got it, 14 years after first storming the cineplexes with his latter-day Andy Kaufman character. The fact that we’re still laughing at his jokes – the grosser, the better – returns that same verdict. – Derek Armstrong
#10. Da 5 Bloods
Directed by Spike Lee
Global Rank: #4,951
Even if Spike Lee hadn’t made a single film this year, 2020 would still be the year of Lee. Films like Do the Right Thing and Malcolm X had a renewed resonance this year, and his entire filmography always deserves revisiting. But Lee did make two of the year’s best films, with David Byrne’s American Utopia and Da 5 Bloods. In what might be Lee’s most sprawling, ambitious, and yet restrained film, Da 5 Bloods follows a group of Vietnam vets who return to the country years later to find a hidden treasure, and bury their old friend. While Da 5 Bloods is the closest thing Lee has made to an action film, he still packs this with topics like the fight for civil rights, the difficult legacy of Vietnam, and the current political divide within our country.
Lee can often throw so many ideas into his films that it seems as though he’s biting off more than he can chew, but not here. Lee is able to handle all the points he wants to hit with grace and care, all within a nerve-wracking and exciting story, featuring a tremendous ensemble cast, which includes one of the final performances from Chadwick Boseman, and a career-best role for Delroy Lindo. With Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee proved that this was his year, but also that as a director, he’s only getting better with age. – Ross Bonaime
Directed by Charlie Kaufman
Global Rank: #4,947
Writer-director Charlie Kaufman has never been shy about his difficulties with adaptation, even making that the central focus on his script aptly titled Adaptation. But with his third film as director, I’m Thinking of Ending Things – adapted from the Iain Reid book of the same name – Kaufman has found a story as absurd and idiosyncratic as his own original work, but made it his own. In I’m Thinking of Ending Things, an unnamed woman (Jessie Buckley) goes with her boyfriend (Jesse Plemons) to meet his parents, despite that she’s considering breaking off the relationship. But, of course, the story becomes about far more than that, digging into the psyche of these characters, as this story distorts and time seemingly unravels in front of our eyes.
Kaufman takes what looks to be a simple story and crafts it into a discussion of the choices we regret not taking in life, the pieces of our lives that become integral to our being, and the fragility of life. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a confounding film, but intentionally so, full of ideas and no easy answers. Like all of Kaufman’s films, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is unlike anything you’ve ever seen, mind-boggling and still a fascinating dissection of our own lives and desires. – Ross Bonaime
Directed by Cathy Yan
Global Rank: #4,940
The casting of Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn is pretty much the one thing David Ayer’s Suicide Squad got right in 2016, so it makes sense that she’d be the one member of the team to get her own spinoff, while we wait for the reboot (already!) from Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn.
While Birds of Prey is ostensibly a team-up film, Robbie steals the spotlight so much that the film might as well have just been called Harley Quinn. This isn’t a problem. While, granted, this is little more than DC trying to crank out a female-driven Deadpool, Robbie is a perfect focal point. The titular Birds – Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett – get their moments to shine, and Ewan McGregor chews the scenery with gusto as the villainous Roman Sionis, but it’s Robbie’s film to win or lose, and she’s more than up to the task.
Beyond the colorful main characters, though, this comic book film is truly notable in its direction from Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs), particularly in its action sequences: It’s refreshing to see the camera linger on the fight scenes, rather than buzz around in jerky, shakycam hyper-cuts. The physical endurance of the stars and stunt performers is on full display, to the movie’s full advantage. Harley’s one-woman assault on the Gotham police station is especially a knockout. – Nigel Druitt
Directed by Aaron Sorkin
Global Rank: #3,645
Here’s a movie that, given the talent attached to it, is basically genetically engineered to be at least pretty good. It succeeds there, and then some. There’s nothing like an Aaron Sorkin script for some snappy dialogue, particularly in a courtroom drama such as this, and one of modern cinema’s most well-known screenwriters does a pretty great job behind the camera as well, in only his second feature film as a director (after Molly’s Game in 2017). Sorkin’s decision to intercut the violent moments in his film with actual footage of the riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago of 1968 is a surprisingly effective one.
But his real achievement here is in the casting. And what a cast, from charismatic leading men like Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne, to strong character actors like John Carroll Lynch and John Doman. Sacha Baron Cohen impresses as activist leader Abbie Hoffman, particularly when this member of the titular 7 takes the stand towards the end of the film. Mark Rylance and Frank Langella are practically perfect, as the beleaguered defense attorney and the wildly ineffectual judge, respectively.
Yet, in the racially-charged climate of 2020, it’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II who steals the show, with his powerful performance as Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale. In the scene where Seale, proud and defiant, is dragged, bound and gagged, into an American courtroom, we can’t look away. Nor should we. – Nigel Druitt
Directed by Dan Scanlon
Global Rank: #3,253
In the midst of a tough year that saw adverse effects on the movie industry, one of the brighter moments of 2020 was its double dose of Pixar. And while it’s safe to say that Onward fits squarely in the middle of the acclaimed studio’s impressive output, even middle-tier Pixar is top-tier animation. Dan Scanlon returns to the helm seven years after directing Monsters University (2013), plucking two actors from the MCU section of Disney’s shadowy umbrella in Tom Holland and Chris Pratt for an exuberant kids’ romp in a classic fantasy setting. Ian and Barley Lightfoot are two elven brothers who live seemingly normal lives amongst creatures ranging from pixies, to centaurs, to a manticore (voiced hilariously by Octavia Spencer), in a beautifully-rendered magical world that’s forgotten magic.
Their quest begins when the brothers become determined to fully resurrect their father to say a proper goodbye, calling for a journey across New Mushroomton where they narrowly escape danger while discovering magical clues. Starting a little slower, the movie picks up momentum with each act, leading to an impressive finale where Pixar delivers its own signature magic in the form of an emotionally impactful climax. The fantasy setting and all that’s possible within it was begging for a foray from the adventurous studio, and after a charmingly realized world full of color and wonder, it’s hard not to picture a sequel now that the magic is back. – Kyle Larkin
Directed by Pete Docter
Global Rank: #2,894
No matter what the topic, whether its toys, fish, or trash-compacting robots, Pixar knows how to attack the tear ducts like no other animation studio. But while so many of Pixar’s films can come off like cool concepts pulled off impeccably, the films of Pete Docter ask bigger questions and tackle larger topics. He showed the fragility of life in Up, and presented how core memories in our lives can define who we are in Inside Out. Docter continues this trend of making Pixar films into existential dramas with Soul, about jazz musician Joe Gardner (voiced by Jamie Foxx) finally getting his big break, before falling into a manhole and dying. Determined to make his life mean something, Gardner fights to get back to his body on Earth with the help of 22 (Tina Fey), a soul who needs guidance and to find a purpose.
Not only does Soul craft an intriguing look at what happens to us before we are born and after we die, but also presents the idea that our passions and motivations can be just the things that are holding us back. Soul isn’t saying people shouldn’t have ambitions, but rather, instead of believing that we’ll only be happy after achieving some lofty goal, we should embrace each day for the gift it is. Soul shows the beauty in the mundane, how something as simple as a cheap slice of pizza or a busking musician can impact the way we view the world. With Soul, Pete Docter continues to make some of the most exciting and thought-provoking films not just for Pixar, but in animation history. – Ross Bonaime
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Global Rank: #2,776
In any other year, Tenet would have been a huge box office hit. Any time a new Christopher Nolan film hits the theaters, people stop and pay attention. As one of the most intelligent blockbuster filmmakers working, Nolan has found a way to blend cerebral sci-fi concepts with audience-appealing jaw-dropping action sequences to create films that are the peak of what blockbuster films should strive to be. Tenet features Nolan taking on time-inversion, centered around the highly charismatic John David Washington as an unnamed agent, the Protagonist, who must save the world from reality-shifting threats. It’s a testament to Nolan’s talents that even one of his lesser works is still so enticing. Despite accusations of Nolan being a cold filmmaker, his films have all been centered in human emotions and arcs to give them their power. This is perhaps the weakest point of Tenet, that the characters and arcs are not as emotionally powerful as his other films.
While this does leave Tenet feeling like an empty puzzle-box, what a magnificent box it is to behold. The action sequences are immaculately done, the cinematography and visual panache of the film are gorgeous, and the time inversion concepts keep you captivated. This is a film that demands a theatrical experience, despite its flaws, and one we hope people can still experience in a theater someday in a post-COVID world. With a great supporting cast in the form of Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debecki, and Kenneth Branagh, Tenet is a highly engrossing film and shows Christopher Nolan is still one of the most interesting mainstream directors working today and proves blockbusters are just as good as any arthouse film. – Connor Adamson
Directed by Thomas Kail
Global Rank: #2,755
It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal Hamilton was for musical theater. It took Broadway by storm back in 2016 with its hip-hop-centric retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s story with a non-white cast. It made both history and musical theater accessible to a wider audience and drew in a whole new audience of young theatergoers. If any musical could make a profitable proshot, it was this one, and Disney+ finally released this one starring the original cast, including Lin-Manuel Miranda as Hamilton and Leslie Odom, Jr. as Aaron Burr.
Miranda’s performing chops fall a little behind the rest of his castmates, but his musical genius is on full display here, with alternately clever and informative and heartbreaking lyrics and extremely thoughtful musical motifs. And the rest of the cast shines, from Odom Jr.’s patient, pleasant facade as Burr, to Daveed Diggs’ obnoxiously smug Thomas Jefferson, to Phillipa Soo’s conflicted, complex Eliza Schuyler. Subtitles allow viewers to catch all the nuances of the intricate wordplay – something harder to do when the lines are flying at you from the stage! Flickcharters will always debate whether filmed stage plays “count” as movies, but I for one am thrilled that more people have the opportunity to fall in love with this incredibly well-crafted juggernaut of a musical, especially during this year when live theater has been a pandemic casualty. It’s an intelligent, powerful, emotionally moving piece of art, both on the stage and on the screen. – Hannah Keefer
Directed by Leigh Whannell
Global Rank: #2,691
The Invisible Man proved that not all horror remakes have to go unseen. Leigh Whannell has slowly carved himself a niche as a director of horror and tension at Blumhouse, propelled from the success of being a co-creator of the Saw franchise. He got to tackle and make a modern update to one of the classic Universal horror films, one of the only successful ones in all of the flubbed attempts at creating a Dark Universe. Anchored on the strong performance of its lead, Elisabeth Moss, the film took the classic concept and gave it an appropriate modern update focused on violence against woman, channeling MeToo rage. The film is a visceral ride and centers you in the shoes of Moss well, due to her performance and Whannell’s direction. The film was one of the last box office hits of the year before theaters closed helping contribute to its high position on films of the year. Don’t discount this though as a highly effective horror and shows that horror still has plenty to offer in this day and age. – Connor Adamson
#1. Palm Springs
Directed by Max Barbakow
Global Rank: #2,141
Whether writing about it in an essay or talking about it with friends, one of the more tantalizing existential concepts to ponder is the Groundhog Day Effect. If you were stuck living the same day over and over ad infinitum, what would you do and how would you cope? These themes are famously explored by Bill Murray, who arguably brings the perfect balance of humor and despondency to his role of Phil in the 1993 classic, Groundhog Day. Palm Springs is the latest in a sequence of films like Edge of Tomorrow (2014) and Happy Death Day (2017) that delve into the theory with different characters and a unique setting, and does far more than simply justify its existence.
At a tight 90 minutes, director Max Barbakow manages to pack in a delightfully fresh take that tackles all the right questions and more. We meet Nyles (Andy Samberg), who is already jaded from what appears to be years spent in the loop, which offers an amusing balance opposite Sarah (Cristin Milioti) when she enters the loop for the first time. Their terrific performances and chemistry combine for a heartfelt, character-centric approach that doesn’t get bogged down in the how and why. Instead we get a great mix of comedy, drama, fantasy, and thrills with plenty of twists and turns. The backdrop of the wedding adds entertaining elements throughout, which helps to humanize Nyles and Sarah when they’re not testing the limits of the phenomenon by ramming into a transport truck at full speed, or desperately fleeing another attack from Roy (J.K. Simmons). With great cinematography, pacing, and a couple of fun montages, the passage of time is done well, as no single day feels the same, and you’ll find yourself wishing there were more. – Kyle Larkin
Honorable Mention: Color Out of Space
Directed by Richard Stanley
Global Rank: #11,528
Though Color Out of Space was widely released in January of 2020, it premiered in the Midnight Madness portion of the Toronto International Film Festival in September of 2019, and therefore it has a 2019 date assigned to it on Flickchart. As such, it missed out on the year-end rankings for both years. A gloriously slow burn of a comeback from director Richard Stanley, Color brings to us in 2020 what horror aficionados loved so much about the 1980s: H.P. Lovecraft stories mixed with practical body horror and creature design effects. Hearkening back to the tales such as The Thing (1982) and From Beyond (1986), Color finds a family living in a secluded wooded area who are visited by a meteorite-type thing from outer space, glowing a beautifully bright pink and purple. What begins as a stunning discovery slowly turns our family and the land they live on into a neon, goo-riddled, DNA-mixed mess that both horrifies and hits that exact adrenaline-boosting spot horror lovers crave.
The family patriarch – Nicolas Cage going full-Cage without pushing his boundaries too far – wanting nothing more than to give his family a space to be free and loved, finds himself witnessing his family (and his beloved alpacas) slowly being devoured by this entity in different ways – some seeing beautiful imagery, some smelling horrid scents, and others being immediately taken mentally. This all leads to the ultimate horror that cannot be explained without giving any of the shock and fun away. We, as viewers, not only experience the visual trauma along the way, but are plunged into our own journey thanks to the perfectly blended dissonant score by Colin Stetson (who also gifted us with the score for 2018’s best horror flick, Hereditary) that grows minute by minute until we are just as enveloped by this thing as our cast is. Lovecraft felt that if humans ever actually got to experience any sort of outer space being that we would not have the mental capacity to fully grasp what we were seeing/hearing/etc., as most space films depict. With Color, we are not supposed to understand, but just let go and be taken for one hell of a wild, bright pink ride. – Becky Hicks