The 10 Best Sci-fi Films of 2020

6. Tenet

Christopher Nolan’s latest lacks the cohesion of his greater works, but it provides enough visual spectacle to entertain throughout its two-and-a-half hour runtime. Just don’t expect to understand everything after watching it one time. It’s a mess of a puzzle, but it’s a puzzle that plenty of viewers will love putting together.

Let’s start with the basics. Tenet is an action thriller focused on the time travel theory made popular in movies like Primer and 12 Monkeys. Like Primer and 12 Monkeys, this particular scientific theory makes first-time viewing laborious. Everything is intricately placed at a specific moment in time, and while all of this is likely very intentional, some viewers may just find it pretentious. Calling the timeline a jagged line would be oversimplifying things; it’s more of a massive flowchart.

Because of this, Tenet might be Nolan’s least accessible film to date. The director has always had grandiose visions, and they often result in some confusion among viewers, but the science behind Tenet is especially unkind to those who choose to watch Tenet passively.

If this comes off as negative, it’s not necessarily supposed to. Through all the chaos and winding timelines, Tenet remains one hell of an enjoyable blockbuster. In between complex expository dialogue, viewers will be treated to blisteringly fast car chases and thrilling action sequences. You don’t have to understand every single part to enjoy it, but at the same time, subsequent viewings easily expand on moments that might have seemed mind-boggling the first time around. Sure, Tenet is not Nolan’s magnum opus, but it’s a blockbuster worth checking out.


7. Synchronic

Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have slowly been gaining clout following years of underground success in the world of science fiction and horror. Resolution, Spring, and The Endless aren’t mainstream success stories by any means, but they’re all critical darlings in one way or another. Synchronic doesn’t stray terribly far from the formula that has worked so well for this directing pair. The budget may be substantially larger than any of their previous releases, but this is still a sci-fi movie with horror undertones.

Well, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Benson and Moorhead know what works for them, and their commitment to doubling down is admirable. It would have been nice to see the pair break free of their collective comfort zone, but the craftsmanship here is undeniable. Once again, viewers have the chance to sit through a mind-bending journey that strives to surprise.


8. The Platform

It’s really refreshing to see an international sci-fi film perform so well on a streaming service. It seems like a lot of movies are just dumped onto streaming services and immediately forgotten about, but The Platform managed to actually find an audience pretty shortly after its release. It would be easy to attribute this to Grade-A marketing, but that would also be naive. How did a low-budget Spanish movie from a first-time director break through to the mainstream with so many other, more accessible options?

Aside from the top-notch marketing mentioned before, The Platform is just a very good movie. Although the premise is Snowpiercer-esque, it’s certainly not the same story. Like Bong Joon-Ho’s movie, The Platform focuses on inequality and the concept of survival of the fittest. Unlike Snowpiercer, however, class doesn’t necessarily play as big of a role.

In the film, residents live in a “Vertical Self-Management Center,” which is essentially a giant elevator. This giant elevator delivers one massive serving of food to every floor, but it doesn’t limit how much people can eat. As a result, the top few floors can eat every ounce of food, leaving the bottom floors at a life-threatening disadvantage.

The premise is fascinating, but it could never be a guaranteed success. Luckily, there’s an equal balance between style and substance. This allows for a motion picture that is consistently surprising and admirably put together. This sort of quality makes Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia a director worth watching. If this is any indication, he has a bright future ahead.


9. Spontaneous

Imagine you’re an angst-ridden teenager walking into your first period class. Your hormones are already going into overdrive thanks to the average adolescent stressors like, and then your classmate’s head explodes with no explanation. Now imagine that this event keeps happening. That’s the premise behind Spontaneous. It’s not exactly sunshine and rainbows, but this pitch-black comedy somehow manages to keep you smiling through the pain.

Spontaneous is a modern teen comedy that deserves to be remembered years down the road. Like Heathers and Welcome to the Dollhouse, the jokes serve to elevate the dark subject matter. Without its unique sense of humor, Spontaneous would be mid-tier disaster porn. Thankfully, there is plenty of humor to spare. It’s not always easy to strike a balance between several genres, but this film does so effortlessly.


10. Color Out of Space

It turns out that Mandy wasn’t the last neon-soaked horror flick starring Nicolas Cage. Richard Stanley’s first film in over twenty-five years might look familiar to fans of the aforementioned grindhouse masterpiece from 2018, but it’s hardly the same movie. On the contrary, Color Out of Space is its own beast. Though it shares base-level similarities as a result of its vibrant color palette, the actual execution is far different.

While Mandy is a horror-tinged grindhouse acid trip, this is more of a cosmic horror outing. It’s still unabashedly weird, but it’s a different kind of weird. You won’t find the infamous Cheddar Goblin here. Instead, you’ll get to experience mutated alpacas and the usual assortment of Lovecraftian tentacles. It’s a singular entity that comes from the mind of a very unique filmmaker.

Color Out of Space doesn’t just stand out next to other colorful Nicolas Cage vehicles; it stands out next to basically everything. Some of this could be attributed to the quirky screenplay, but there isn’t just one thing that helps the film differentiate itself. This is an unparalleled vision that could only come from the most gifted of minds. That’s why it has earned a spot on this list.