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Back in the storied days of February, there was a whole system to how movies hit streaming that, for a website focused on streaming media, made things a little complicated. Is that movie that was released in theaters in 2018, but only hit Netflix in 2020, a streaming movie? Is it a 2020 movie? What is the deal?
The one silver lining of this year? Everything is a streaming movie now. Fingers crossed movie theaters will reopen once things are safe, because I desperately would like to go see a movie in a crowded theater again, but the upside is that the at-home audience had more choices than ever before.
That’s reflected in Decider’s picks for the best streaming movies of 2020, which range from comedies that headed straight to streaming, a musical released earlier than anyone expected, and a superhero movie that dared to experiment with form (and egg sandwiches). There are also plenty of traditional streaming releases, including concert films, a new Spike Lee Joint, and even a few documentaries.
A word on how we arrived at this list: the Decider staff all sent in their top 10 movies of the year. Those were weighted, sifted together, and from there we came up with the list you see below. Looking for more? Here are our best movies from the first half of 2020, so you can check and see how many made it on the list until the end of the year. For the 18 best streaming movies of 2020? Read on.
Elisabeth Moss is the best she’s ever been in this not-quite biopic of horror author Shirley Jackson. Directed by Josephine Decker with her signature unsettling style, and written by I Love Dick co-creator Sarah Gubbins, Shirley finds the author and her husband—played by a darkly charismatic Michael Stuhlbarg—manipulating a young couple as Jackson works on her second novel. But the question of who is manipulating who grows murky, and allegiances shift between husbands and wives. Shirley has much to say on the insanity of womanhood, and, though it blends fact and fiction, it leaves you with a fascinating and sad portrait of one of our greatest writers. — Anna Menta
Where to watch Shirley
If you liked Normal People and you haven’t watched Endings, Beginnings yet, get on it! This romance drama from director Drake Doremus features an A-list cast including Shailene Woodley, Sebastian Stan, and Jamie Dornan that is at once thrilling, sexy, and heartbreakingly authentic. It arrived on VOD in the spring and is now available on HBO Max and delivers some of the most genuine and vulnerable performances from these actors you’ve ever seen — even if it will make you question the level of fun included in a love triangle with these two hunks. And yet, as an added bonus, it’s the messages of personal growth and discovery that will stick with you long after you’ve watched this one (…multiple times). — Lea Palmieri
Where to watch Endings, Beginnings
When was the last time a movie really razzed your berries? The Vast Of Night, the spectacular debut film of writer/director Andrew Patterson, is all but guaranteed to knock your bobby sox off. The story revolves around two teens in 1950s era New Mexico — one a radio disk jockey (Jake Horowitz), the other a telephone switchboard operator (Sierra McCormick) — who notice a strange frequency seems to be taking over the airwaves on an otherwise normal Friday night. This dazzling movie establishes its unique mood by allowing the camera to spend long, uninterrupted stretches of time (sometimes as long as 10 minutes between cuts) with its characters as they spout off rapid, era-specific, jargon-heavy splashes of dialogue. Put away your phone, pull up the covers on your coach, and allow this movie’s mysterious and wholly unique vibe — part X-Files, part Twilight Zone, part Twin Peaks: The Return — to envelop you. — Mark Graham
Where to watch The Vast of Night
Any other travel film would’ve been crazy to drop in the middle of stay-at-home orders, but The Trip to Greece was the perfect escape at that time. Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan released their fourth (and what they claim to be the final) film in their series that is part dining, part bickering, and part impressions, and overall, all entertaining. This one took a bittersweet approach to the ending as well, confirming yet again that these two can balance charm and fun with perhaps their most authentic and grounded material yet, which felt all too appropriate for these times. — Lea Palmieri
Where to watch The Trip to Greece
Spike Lee’s latest magnum opus, Da 5 Bloods, looks at the generational trauma of war with alarming honesty. Following a group of Vietnam vets returning to the nation as old men to right wrongs and retrieve lost gold, the film shows how the brutality of war doesn’t just take away lives, but futures. Each of the surviving Bloods have been bent, warped, and broken by their experiences, but none more so than Delroy Lindo’s Paul. Unable to forgive himself, he has transformed into a selfish, cruel, and spiteful shadow of the man he could have been. Da 5 Bloods only emphasizes these lost paths by casting the older actors as their younger selves…shadows of the innocence lost in battle. — Meghan O’Keefe
Stream Da 5 Bloods on Netflix
Ryan Murphy’s Netflix deal really brought gay history to life in 2020, with original shows like Hollywood and Ratched showing what the queer struggle was like in the 1940s and 1950s (albeit through Murphy’s characteristically campy POV). The Boys in the Band, however, was an example of Murphy handing his mic over to other gay storytellers—ones who actually lived the life and documented the fight in real time. The Boys in the Band was a feature film adaptation of the 2018 Broadway revival featuring a who’s who of gay talent (Zachary Quinto, Jim Parsons, Andrew Rannells), but it brought to life the words of original playwright Mart Crowley. That’s why The Boys in the Band hits so hard in 2020: the film is a time capsule of the queer experience, warts and all, told from the point of view of someone who was there as he was living it. It’s unlike anything else we have in pop culture, which makes it a must watch—as uncomfortable as it may be. — Brett White
Stream The Boys in the Band on Netflix
Charlize Theron delivered us the summer blockbuster we desperately missed this year with The Old Guard, her Netflix superhero film from director Gina Pryce-Bythewood. As Andy, Theron leads an army of immortal soldiers with the ability to heal themselves, but their lives and their futures are endangered when their secret is revealed. It’s two hours of action, excitement, and some truly badass fight scenes courtesy of Theron. — Greta Bjornson
Stream The Old Guard on Netflix
Elizabeth Moss takes feminist horror to the next level in The Invisible Man, Leigh Whannell’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ 1897 novel. With Cecilia (Moss) on the run and living in fear of her abusive ex (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) after he faked his own death, the movie is a nonstop stress-ride, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, it only makes you connect with Cecilia more as she surveys her surroundings for the threat she knows is there, but she can’t see — and you can’t either. The Invisible Man is an effective horror movie, but it’s also a film with a pressing message about the lasting trauma of domestic abuse and the importance of believing survivors. — Greta Bjornson
Where to watch The Invisible Man
Miss Americana was released in January, and was our first clue that Taylor Swift was always going to keep us on our toes this year. It was our first real look at the artist sharing her strong and passionate political views and letting us in even deeper to her creative process. It was vulnerable (while still showing us what she chose to) and ultimately very on-brand for Taylor. That she would create and surprise drop her next album “Folklore” six months later, in the middle of a global pandemic, to some of the strongest critical and fan approval of her career, well, that’s just Taylor being Taylor, and we can all be thankful for that. She may claim to have “not a lot going on at the moment,” the new code phrase for cooking up a surprise, and this documentary was confirmation of that, as well as a must-watch for any modern music fan. — Lea Palmieri
Stream Miss Americana on Netflix
Long before she was getting us all hyped for chess in The Queen’s Gambit, Anya Taylor-Joy was wooing us with her haughty interpretation of Jane Austen’s Emma Woodhouse. EMMA., the latest cinematic adaptation of Austen’s Emma, emphasized the story’s dreamy setting and sharp class commentary like never before. More importantly, Taylor-Joy’s take on Emma was the most cutting yet. Her Emma’s biggest blindspot isn’t merely her class privilege or her feelings for Knightly. No, Anya Taylor-Joy’s Emma is a woman learning to understand — and love — herself. — Meghan O’Keefe
Where to watch Emma
The New Mutants, Fox’s perpetually delayed X-Men swan song, would not have been on a list of the best movies of 2018 or 2019, not by a longshot (when’s he getting a movie, Disney?). In the year 2020, though? A year wherein all the usual blockbuster franchises—James Bond, Fast & Furious, Marvel, Morbius (lol)—fled to 2021? A year where we were all hungry for new content to distract us from our shared waking nightmare? A year where movie screens were replaced with laptops? That’s a year where New Mutants could thrive. And shock and surprise—New Mutants turned out to be the perfect, almost comic-accurate late night watch during the darkest season of the darkest year. It’s low budget horror with solid performances, especially from 2020 starlet Anya Taylor-Joy as the snarky hell child Illyana. Y’know, some movies hit theaters when they were meant to hit theaters. — Brett White
Where to watch The New Mutants
Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company brought you last year’s Oscar-winning documentary, American Factory. Now, Higher Ground is at it again with Crip Camp, a documentary about a little hippie camp in upstate New York that played a crucial role in bringing together a community of disabled teens—the very same who grew up to be the very same activists instrumental to the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. Co-directed by Camp Jened alum Jim LeBrecth and Nicole Newnham, the incredible archival footage from the camp will transport you back to the 1970s while also teaching you a vital history lesson. — Anna Menta
Stream Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution on Netflix
Bad Education is Jackman sans beard, sans digitally-enhanced abs, and sans mutant metal claws, and it’s also his greatest performance to date. It’s hard to feel sorry for the real Frank Tassone—a superintendent who was convicted for stealing over $2 million from the Roslyn public school district—but director Cory Finley, writer Mike Makowsky, and Jackson himself earn your sympathy with a tender hand and capable film making. Bad Education argues that educators—some of the most underpaid, undervalued professionals in our country—ought to be treated with the same respect as Wall Street guys. Is that so wrong? — Anna Menta
Stream Bad Education on HBO Max
HBO Max’s immensely enjoyable documentary Class Action Park takes us back to the halcyon days of fun-filled summertime trips to borderline reckless amusement parks. The film explores the fascinating history of New Jersey’s infamous Action Park, a vacation destination often referred to as “the world’s most dangerous amusement park.” In your face, Hersheypark! Directed by Seth Porges and Chris Charles Scott III, the fascinating film is 90-minutes of pure, unadulterated entertainment. — Josh Sorokach
Stream Class Action Park on HBO Max
If you don’t cry your way through A Secret Love, there’s probably something wrong with you. The Netflix documentary tells the story of two women, Terry Donahue and Pat Henschel, who dated for almost 70 years before coming out to their families in 2013. It’s impossible not to tear up as Terry and Pat recount their epic love story — which begins with a nod to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League depicted in A League of Their Own — and by the time they finally tie the knot in an emotional, family-oriented ceremony, viewers will be full-on blubbering. — Claire Spellberg
Stream A Secret Love on Netflix
The pandemic completely wrecked our relationship with movies this year by shuttering the majority of theaters across the entire country. We only had two months of business as usual before the world changed, potentially forever, and that’s one major reason why we’re talking about Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) right here, right now. It’s not the only reason, for sure. Birds of Prey was a gut punch to the male-dominated superhero genre, a middle finger to all expectations of how female comic book characters should act and dress and behave. This movie is loud, angry, irreverent—it’s as enjoyable as a bacon, egg, and cheese after an all-night bender. But this movie represents something larger to the small crew here at Decider: it’s the last movie that we all saw in a theater together. We all saw Margot Robbie kick the shit out of bad guys with roller skates strapped to her soles on an IMAX screen. This is important to note because it speaks to the power of the theatrical experience, something we’ve all missed this year. And still, almost a year later, we look back to this specific adrenaline rush of a movie with fondness. Birds of Prey was absolutely a romp best savored on the big screen—we just didn’t know it would be the last one for a while. — Brett White
Where to watch Birds of Prey
Hamilton was undoubtedly the theatrical event of the past decade. Combining history with hip hop and reimagining the Founding Fathers as revolutionary immigrants, the musical captured the heart of a nation seemingly overnight. The film version, which dropped on Disney+ just in time for Independence Day, also showed the world how damn brilliant everyone involved in the production was. While Lin-Manuel Miranda duly gets most of the praise for writing the damn thing, Hamilton’s ensemble dazzles in the film…showing that anything great — whether it be a work of art or a revolution — is about the team of people pushing for it. — Meghan O’Keefe
Stream Hamilton on Disney+
Can you blame us for turning to comedy in a year like 2020? This romantic comedy from director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara was exactly the kind of weird, irreverent make-over that Groundhog Day needed. Watching Andy Samberg and Cristin Miliotti indulge in oddly romantic time loop shenanigans—drinking beer, shooting guns, crashing planes, performing a choreographed dance at the local bar—is pure joy. Milioti, in particular, nails the line between funny and sweet. Somehow, she makes “Happy Millionth Birthday, Dipshit,” look like a love declaration. Palm Springs is laugh-out-loud funny, whip-smart, and heart-wrenchingly romantic, so it’s no wonder that it’s Decider’s #1 film of the year. — Anna Menta
Stream Palm Springs on Hulu
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The 18 Best Streaming Movies of 2020 – Decider
Stream It Or Skip It: ‘Catherine Called Birdy’ on Amazon Prime Video, A Medieval Coming-of-Age Story Built for Today’s Teens