2020 was a year with a lot of promise when it came to science fiction movies this year. Unfortunately, due to global pandemic that we had only previously seen in movies, the year largely didn't turn out that way. Some of the biggest sci-fi movies that we were looking forward to seeing this year, like the new adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune, will have to wait until 2021. However, while 2020 might not have been quite the year we were looking for, there were still some great sci-fi stories produced for the screen.
While the line between what "counts" as science fiction can certainly get fuzzy, for the most part, we've tried to limit this list to films that deal with classic sci-fi elements, including advanced technology, aliens and space travel. This is why some popular movies, like Wonder Woman 1984, aren't on the list. While that's certainly a great film, it's fantastic elements are more magic than science, so it doesn't quite count. With that in mind, let's go over the best sci-fi movies 2020 had to offer.
5. The Phineas and Ferb Movie: Candace Against The Universe
Being a science fiction movie does not mean that a movie can't also be silly or animated, or both. While Phineas and Ferb: Candace Against the Universe, doesn't deal with serious questions about the human condition or our place in the universe, as much of the genre generally does, it does have aliens and spaceships. Really, isn't that all we need from our sci-fi? When Phineas and Ferb's sister is abducted by aliens, they race off to rescue her, and the normal shenanigans and songs ensue. Candance Against the Universe is a true" family movie," in that it has elements that will appeal to any member of a family. The jokes come so fast that if one doesn't land, it hardly matters because the next one will be along in short order. It's by far the most fun movie on this list. If you haven't seen it, I know what you're going to do today.
4. Bill and Ted Face the Music
While movies that play with time are, by and large, science fiction, Bill and Ted Face the Music's specific method is based in (completely unexplained) future technology. So while there's little science in this science fiction, it still counts. Bill and Ted Face the Music was a film decades in the making. For fans, it was one final visit with some old friends, and somehow the film was largely able to live up to those expectations. It concludes the story of Bill and Ted in a way that is most excellent, humorous and heartfelt. It's a love letter to the fans that made these two slackers heroes in the first place. It's not the best movie in the trilogy and it may not even be the second best, but it was everything it needed to be. Like its predecessors, it used its time travel mechanics in ways that were as creative as the more serious time travel movies.
Speaking of messing with time in movies. Christopher Nolan's Tenet is, without question, the "biggest" movie on this year's list simply by virtue of it being one of the biggest movies that came out in 2020. Fans had been excited for the newest entry in the "Christopher Nolan drop kicks you in the brain" franchise, and while the movie may not have received the box office results it had once hoped for, it certainly succeeded in everything else. Tenet received mixed reviews upon release. Many see it as more Christopher Nolan brilliance, while others saw it as something of a mess. What's clear is that the time-bending plot will likely require multiple views to completely unravel. Whether that's a bug or a feature is another question entirely, but by the end, you'll see that Tenet is an accomplishment of filmmaking.
2. The Invisible Man
While the movie shares its name with one of the classic movie monsters of all-time, The Invisible Man is, without question, a science fiction movie. And it's not only one of the best science fiction movies of the year, but likely one of 2020's best horror movies as well. Here, the science fiction is little more than the catalyst for the rest of the story, but the rest of that story, and Elisabeth Moss' performance as a woman losing her grip on reality, is so compelling, that whatever you call it, the movie deserves all the credit in the world. This would have been one of the best major releases of the year even if most of the theatrical slate hadn't collapsed.
1. The Vast Of Night
A movie set in 1950s New Mexico that might be dealing with an alien invasion, with a dose of Cold War paranoia thrown in for good measure? If there was a textbook for making science fiction movies, this would be in chapter one. The Vast of Night isn't an exception to the rule, but it is part of the reason the rule was made. A radio signal of unknown origin leads a couple of teens to discover what it means. Just when you think you have things figured out, the story will throw a curveball to make you question what you know. Whether The Vast of Night is actually a science fiction story at all isn't even entirely clear until the end. The Vast of Night is the best of science fiction not only because of its classic elements, but because of the way it uses the genre to say something about the world being reflected in its story.
From the sillier side of science fiction to the most serious corners, there were still some great stories of aliens, technology and time travel to keep fans entertained in 2020. 2021 will leave us largely in the same place we were a year ago, looking forward to some of the great sci-fi stories that we thought we would have seen by now. One certainly hopes that they'll be as good as we have hoped, and that many of them will earn a place on a list like this one next December.