Entertainment

The 22 Best Sci-Fi Movies of 2020

From invisible men to time-inverting assassins.

tenet
Warner Bros.

When you think about it, 2020 felt like a year out of a science fiction movie, what with a global pandemic sparked by a mysterious virus and an election season that challenged all thresholds of common sense. It only made the actual sci-fi offerings of the year more comforting in their escapism, even if that escapism involved villains from the future trying to use Russian Kenneth Branagh to blow up the past, or a bunch of trigger-happy mercenaries hell-bent on destroying a tiny jungle town, or a creature from the depths of the ocean laying eggs in people's eyes. Given that most of the year's big-budget superhero outings and space opera blockbusters were shifted ahead in the calendar, it may seem like we were bereft of the usual amount of laser-blasting spaceships and sonic boom fistfights, but those empty slots allowed plenty leaner, meaner flicks to shine. In a year like 2020, being abducted by aliens suddenly didn't seem too bad. 

Check out our favorite sci-fi movies from 2019 and the best movies of 2020.

underwater kristen stewart
20th Century Fox

Underwater

Release date: January 10
Cast: Kristen Stewart, Vincent Cassel, Jessica Henwick
Director: William Eubank
Why it's worth seeing: One of the few action blockbusters to be lucky enough to actually come out in theaters this year, Underwater is a lean, mean, monster flick with shades of Alien, The Abyss, and Pacific Rim all rolled into one. When their deep-sea drilling complex spontaneously ruptures, killing most of the miners and engineers onboard, a small band of survivors crawl through the wreckage and don pressurized diving suits to survive in the deepest part of the ocean long enough to reach the surface. They soon find out, however, that they're not alone down in the dark, as bloodthirsty creatures pursue them through the murk. It's great fun, with some really sickening deaths, terrifying beasts, and outfits like something out of a mecha anime. 
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Max

weathering with you
Toho

Weathering With You

Release date: January 17
Cast: Kotaro Daigo, Nana Mori, Chieko BaishĂ´ 
Director: Makoto Shinkai
Why it's worth seeing: Shinkai's follow-up to his devastating body-switching, time-bending romance Your Name. is no less gorgeous to look at, with a beautiful story about love and sacrifice underneath its magical realist wrappings. Young runaway Hodaka (Kotaro Daigo), trying to find steady work in Tokyo, befriends a mysterious "sunshine girl," Hina (Nana Mori), who can change the weather just by praying. But the forces that give Hina her abilities are bound by an ancient power, and she learns she must make a decision if she wants to save the world and everyone she loves who lives in it. Full of glittering cityscapes and lovingly animated raindrops, Weathering With You is a beautiful, mesmerizing fantasy of young love.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.

RLJE Films

Color Out of Space

Release date: January 24
Cast: Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Tommy Chong
Director: Richard Stanley
Why it's worth seeing: Any movie directed by madman Richard Stanley (Hardware) and starring madmen Nicolas Cage and Tommy Chong, and based on a short story by madman H.P. Lovecraft has got to be at least a teeny bit unhinged, and Color Out of Space does not disappoint. When a glowing meteorite crashes to the ground in the backyard of the Gardners' family home, the indescribably colored light causes things around them to become a little… strange. One of the children hears voices coming from the well, another can't get rid of a constant high-pitched whistle. The odd color infects everything, souring the land and toxifying the water, and the Gardners must either leave or succumb to it. Cage, naturally, leaves it all on the screen, wielding a rifle and screaming his head off, many times, often about the family herd of alpacas.
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

the invisible man elisabeth moss
Universal Pictures

The Invisible Man

Release date: February 28
Cast: Elisabeth Moss, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen
Director: Leigh Whannell
Why it's worth seeing: Released from the clutches of the dead-on-arrival Dark Universe, H.G. Wells' classic villain spends Leigh Whannell's thriller menacing Elisabeth Moss. When Cecelia Kass's abusive, controlling ex Adrian Griffin commits suicide, leaving her an enormous sum of money in a trust, she immediately suspects something is up. After a series of dangerous, unexplainable incidents, Cecelia begins to believe that she's being stalked by Griffin back from the dead and somehow invisible to the naked eye—he is a "world leader in the field of optics," after all. But that's not an easy accusation to just show up at the police station with, and Cecelia knows it's up to her to save herself and the friends who have given her shelter from the unseeable threat, a cat-and-mouse game that culminates in a terrifying and cathartic final act. 
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Max

bacurau
Kino-Lorber

Bacurau

Release date: March 6
Cast: Sonia Braga, Udo Kier, Bárbara Colen
Directors: Kleber Mendonça Filho, Juliano Dornelles
Why it's worth seeing: Here's what you need to know about Bacurau: It takes place in the near future, in a small settlement in the middle of nowhere in eastern Brazil, whose residents, after having a funeral for their dearly departed matriarch, start to notice strange things happening. It appears that something or someone is attempting to erase their tiny town from existence on maps and telephone lines, isolating them from the rest of the world, their water supply, and any chance of help. And that's all we're going to tell you, because the true plot of the movie, which is as audacious as it is exciting to watch, is even better than anything you could glean from any promotional material and much more fun to experience in the moment, an action-satire in the vein of Southland Tales that's as bloody as it is hilarious. 
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon, iTunes, etc.

bloodshot vin diesel
Sony Pictures Releasing

Bloodshot

Release date: March 13
Cast: Vin Diesel, Eiza González, Toby Kebbell, Guy Pearce
Director: David S. F. Wilson
Why it's worth seeing: After witnessing his wife murdered by an evil mercenary, U.S. Marine Ray Garrison wakes up in a tech facility with near-total amnesia, and learns that his blood has been replaced with life-saving microscopic nanites that basically give him superpowers. It's not all fun and games, though, as he soon figures out that he's at the mercy of the mastermind behind the operation, Dr. Harting, who has the ability to control Ray through his robot-fueled blood. There's an even more sinister twist that I won't spoil, and plenty of fun Vin Diesel action and Guy Pearce relishing his creepy villainous role. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Starz

the platform netflix
Netflix

The Platform

Release date: March 20
Cast: Iván Massagué, Antonia San Juan, Zorion Eguileor, Emilio Buale Coka
Director: Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia
Why it's worth seeing: In the future, residents of a "Vertical Self-Management Center," dubbed "The Pit," are randomly assigned to one of hundreds of cell-like levels each month, with no control over whether they'll and up at the top or the bottom. They're fed every day by a platform that descends downward from the first level, which ostensibly has enough nutrition for everyone inside, but the residents on the top floors gorge themselves while the bottom floors starve. The Platform is particularly gruesome social commentary, with a terrifying premise and characters that have been driven mad by their circumstances. Don't watch this on an empty stomach. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

vivarium movie
Vertigo Releasing

Vivarium

Release date: March 27
Cast: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris
Director: Lorcan Finnegan
Why it's worth seeing: A young couple finds themselves drawn into and trapped inside a 21st century suburban nightmare: a neighborhood populated by an endless sprawl of homes of the exact same size and shape, isolated from the world and crushed by the brutal sameness of their surroundings. Unlike your typical 21st century suburban nightmare, the couple also finds themselves enslaved to a race of interdimensional humanoids, forced to nurture one of their kind as it grows, with unnatural swiftness, from infant to adult. It's easy to imagine Vivarium as a kind of modern inversion of the Unseelie changeling myth, the fairies appearing as sinister real estate agents trapping their human victims inside endlessly fractaling neighborhoods instead of the hollowed-out hillocks of legend.
Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

sea fever movie
Fantastic Films

Sea Fever

Release date: April 10
Cast: Hermione Corfield, Dougray Scott, Connie Nielsen
Director: Neasa Hardiman
Why it's worth seeing: When a biology student studying animal behavioral patterns reluctantly boards a fishing trawler to get some hands-on experience in the field, she and the crew of the Niamh Cinn Ă“ir find themselves at the mercy of a mysterious deep-sea parasite, which latches onto their boat and infects their water supply with its spawn. Everyone onboard must reckon with the threat of infection and the cause of sacrificing themselves for the greater good. Come for the creepily timely plot and creature-feature scares, stay for the infectious blue goop and enviably cozy fisherman's sweaters. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

time to hunt
Sidus Pictures

Time to Hunt

Release date: April 23
Cast: Choi Woo-shik, Lee Je-hoon, Ahn Jae-hong
Director: Yoon Sung-hyun
Why it's worth seeing: In a gray, dystopian vision of South Korea, where the wealthy live behind walls while the rest are left to fight, suffer, and starve in the slums, a group of friends plots an audacious casino heist to steal enough money to secure comfortable futures for themselves and their families. The heist goes off pretty much without a hitch, but shortly after they run off with the money, they're relentlessly pursued by a deadly assassin hired to bring the funds back to the casino boss. What follows is an adrenaline-pumped chase through the dim-lit streets of a ruined future and one of the best and most intense shootout scenes put to film in recent memory. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

the vast of night
Amazon Prime

The Vast of Night

Release date: May 29
Cast: Sierra McCormick, Jake Horowitz
Director: Andrew Patterson
Why it's worth seeing: Equal parts would-be Twilight Zone episode and old-fashioned sci-fi radio drama, Andrew Patterson's debut feature The Vast of Night takes us back in time to Cayuga, New Mexico in the late 1950s, when technology promised us a future Space Age and the rascally Soviets could be hiding around every corner. Two high school youngsters, switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and late-night radio host Everett (Jake Horowitz), stumble upon a strange interference one night that doesn't seem to be coming from any known source. When Everett asks his listeners to call in if they recognize the sound, the two uncover a global conspiracy involving the military, disappearances, and what some might call alien abduction. The film is such fun to watch, the two leads constantly bickering back and forth in a choppy, mid-'50s cadence, and the mystery at the center of it all is a thrilling, playful return to a cozy, antique way of storytelling when the nighttime was full of endless possibilities.
Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

palm springs andy samberg cristin milioti
Hulu

Palm Springs

Release date: July 10
Cast: Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti, Peter Gallagher, J.K. Simmons
Director: Max Barbakow
Why it's worth seeing: So, it's a little bit of a spoiler for me to put this movie, which looks on its surface like a traditional romantic comedy, in a science fiction list, and for that I AM SORRY, and if you don't want to know the big reveal that kicks off this movie's plot, I cordially invite you to skip ahead. Okay, now that they're gone… When Nyles and Sarah bond one night after Nyles makes a fool of himself at his friend's wedding ceremony, everything seems to be going fine until Nyles is shot in the shoulder with an arrow and crawls into a cave. Sarah follows him, and discovers that Nyles, and now she, are caught in a 24-hour time loop that begins on the morning of the wedding ceremony and begins again as soon as they fall asleep that night and wake back up. The two play out dozens, hundreds of iterations of the day, skipping the wedding, taking over the wedding, floating aimlessly in the hotel pool, growing closer and falling for each other even though, technically, they've only known each other for a day. But when they finally realize that it's time for them to figure out a way to escape, their newfound relationship, and their very notions of time-space, are tested to their limits. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

HBO Max

An American Pickle

Release date: August 6
Cast: Seth Rogen, Seth Rogen, Sarah Snook, Jorma Taccone
Director: Brandon Trost
Why it's worth seeing: Sometimes you're just a regular pickle factory worker simply trying to make a life for yourself and your beautiful wife when you fall in the vat of brine and get preserved for 100 years. That's exactly what happens to Herschel Greenbaum (Seth Rogen), an Eastern European Jewish immigrant who sails to New York City and promptly pickles himself for a century, waking up in modern Manhattan with only his descendant Ben Greenbaum (also Seth Rogen) to show him how to live in this strange new world. The film is both hilarious and genuinely heartwarming, Herschel and Ben constantly clashing over faith, family history, their careers, and the importance of honoring your dead. And, yes, preserving a human being in brine for a hundred years does count as science fiction.
Where to watch it: Stream on HBO Max

sputnik movie
Sony Pictures

Sputnik

Release date: August 14
Cast: Oksana Akinshina, Pyotr Fyodorov, Fyodor Bondarchuk
Director: Egor Abramenko
Why it's worth seeing: At the twilight of the USSR, a space capsule returns to Earth with mysterious cargo: two dead cosmonauts, and one live one, who is immediately spirited away to a secret research facility. Psychiatrist Tatyana Klimova, under review for her controversial practices, is brought in to observe the survivor and finds out that he has a dangerous extraterrestrial symbiotic organism living inside him, impossible to be separated. This Russian sci-fi-horror is tense, gross, and exciting, with a dramatic score and two engaging performances from the two leads, along with an alien as terrifying as anything in Ridley Scott's wildest nightmares.
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

bill & ted face the music
United Artists

Bill & Ted Face the Music

Release date: August 28
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter, Brigette Lundy-Paine, Samara Weaving
Director: Dean Parisot
Why it's worth seeing: The conclusion to the film series that began in 1989 with Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure finally takes the pair of Cali-bro doofuses to task, as the future demands once again that they finally write the song that will bring the world together in harmony. Now washed-up failed musicians, Bill Preston and Ted Logan still haven't composed that world-changing song, and are threatened with death if they don't perform it within a day's time. This time, though, they are granted an unlikely assist from their two daughters, delightful carbon copies of their fathers with an equally strong love for time-traveling, rocking out, and living their most excellent lives. 
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.

tenet john david washington
Warner Bros.

Tenet

Release date: September 3
Cast: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Kenneth Branagh, Elizabeth Debicki
Director: Christopher Nolan
Why it's worth seeing: If you haven't already seen Tenet, or read all the way through its convoluted Wikipedia page, and are wondering whether or not to give it a shot, I am here to tell you: Yes. Yes, you absolutely should, especially if you're prepared to watch Christopher Nolan bend time and space to fit in all his little eccentricities and interests into one feature-length movie. An unnamed CIA agent, referred to only as the Protagonist, is recruited into a secret agency that studies mysterious objects that have been "inverted"—that is, they seem to only move backwards through time. As the Protagonist gets deeper, he discovers a terrifying conspiracy concocted by agents of some dystopian far future, who plan to destroy the world of the past (our present) in order to save themselves. The rest of the plot makes about 75% sense, but it's much more fun to just let it wash over you, bathing your consciousness in Ludwig Göransson's growling, pumping score, and Robert Pattinson attempting to explain how time travel works. 
Where to watch it: Buy on Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.

possessor
Neon

Possessor

Release date: October 2
Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Christopher Abbott, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tuppence Middleton
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Why it's worth seeing: In a brutalist, algorithm-driven version of our near future, assassins carry out their dirty work by possessing the bodies of other people, leaving no trace of a murder plot and no way for the authorities to catch them. Tasya Vos is one such "possessor," an elite agent who suspects she may have lost her touch, unable to control the bodies of her pawns as well as she used to. For her next job, her consciousness is implanted into the body of Colin Tate, the boyfriend of the daughter of the owner of a massive data-mining corporation, whose employees spend their days hooked up to the cameras of regular citizens' Amazon Alexas and describing their curtains, their wall paint, the contents of their carpet fibers. Vos's job is to possess Colin and murder the corporation owner as well as his daughter, but Colin's mind turns out to be stronger than Vos anticipated. Possessor is not for the squeamish, as Brandon Cronenberg lives up to his family name, delivering a gory, gooey psychic battle of wills that is viscerally unforgettable. 
Where to watch it: Rent on Amazon Prime, YouTube, etc.

save yourselves
Bleecker Street

Save Yourselves!

Release date: October 2
Cast: Sunita Mani, John Reynolds, John Early, Jo Firestone
Directors: Alex Huston Fischer, Eleanor Wilson
Why it's worth seeing: Do you ever just want to unplug? Take a week off from your phone, your laptop, the sharp ears of your Amazon Alexa, and go off into the woods for a week and feel like Henry David Thoreau? Sounds great—unless the planet chooses that week to go completely belly-up without you noticing. When young couple Jack and Su decide to take a week off and go live in a cabin to better connect with each other, they have no idea that the world around them is being invaded by aliens. Save Yourselves! is a hilarious send-up of B-movie sci-fi thrillers, pitting an alien force against a couple of millennials who have to use all their self control not to Google something for seven days. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Hulu

black box movie
Amazon Prime

Black Box

Release date: October 6
Cast: Mamoudou Athie, Phylicia Rashad, Amanda Christine
Director: Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour Jr. 
Why it's worth seeing: Amazon's Welcome to the Blumhouse series was a bit of a mixed bag, but a couple of the better ones stood out from the rest, including Black Box, a psychological thriller that plays as if it's straight from a Black Mirror brainstorm. Widower Nolan Wright, recovering from a brain injury sustained in the car crash that killed his wife, is struggling at being a single father unable to hold down a job due to his severe amnesia. He agrees to take part in an experimental brain treatment, allowing a doctor to hypnotize the memories out of his deep subconscious, but the memories that bubble up seem more and more unfamiliar. The result is a tense, twisty drama about the cost of saving a life and the things that hide in the dark recesses of our brains. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Amazon Prime

Vimeo

World of Tomorrow Episode 3: The Absent Destinations of David Prime

Release date: October 9
Cast: Julia Pott
Director: Don Hertzfeld
Why it's worth seeing: If you're not already a member of the Don Hertzfeldt cult, you're about to be. The genius director-animator, whose Oscar-nominated work has brought us the likes of Rejected, a series of increasingly nihilistic "rejected" product commercials, and It's Such a Beautiful Day, simply the most depressing film about an animated stick figure with a degenerative disease you will ever watch, has been slowly doling out a series of short films, which began with 2015's World of Tomorrow, about a version of the future in which humanity, in its endless quest to prolong our lives and memories, has created a dystopia of clones, depressed poet robots, and illegal time traveling assassins. Episode 3 chronicles a journey undertaken by a nonverbal clone of "David Prime," who is instructed by "Emily" to find a way to preserve his and her own deteriorating memories. 
Where to watch it: Rent on Vimeo

synchronic jamie dornan anthony mackie
Well Go USA

Synchronic

Release date: October 23
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Jamie Dornan
Directors: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Why it's worth seeing: Four features in, directing duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have a very distinct style: weird stuff in the sky, complicated brotherly relationships between men, new and fascinating conceptions of the nature of time. Synchronic is another dive into the depths of what the fabric of the universe is woven from, spinning a wild tale of death, drugs, and time travel amidst the dim, sinister backdrop of nighttime New Orleans. Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie play a pair of EMTs cruising the NOLA nights responding to emergency distress calls. On a few of these calls, they come across a number of people who have either mysteriously disappeared or somehow wound up dead, each incident having to do with a new drug called "Synchronic." When Dornan's daughter goes missing, his friend must figure out how to use the killer drug to find her.
Where to watch it: Rent on VOD

Netflix

Over the Moon

Release date: October 23
Cast: Cathy Ang, Phillipa Soo, Ken Jeong, John Cho, Sandra Oh
Director: Glen Keane
Why it's worth seeing: Four years after her mother's death, young Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) is still enamored with a legend her mother told her of the moon goddess Chang'e, who is said to live on the dark side of the moon waiting thousands of years for her lost lover. When she clashes with her family during their Moon Festival celebration, worried that her father's new relationship with another woman will replace their memories of her mother, Fei Fei vows to use her smarts to build a spaceship to the Moon and find Chang'e to bring back proof that her mother's story was true after all. But when she gets there, the moon goddess is not what she's expecting, and Fei Fei must complete a daring quest in order to get home to her family once more. With stunning animation and catchy musical sequences, this is a Netflix gem you won't want to miss. 
Where to watch it: Stream on Netflix

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.
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