Best Netflix Movies of 2020

2020 has been a unique year for movies. With the traditional theatrical release basically cancelled, a greater emphasis was put on what new offerings the streaming services would bring us. Netflix is, obviously, the juggernaut here and already had a number of new original films planned for release this year, but also picked up a few acquisitions to increase their quantity of 2020 Netflix movies.

As we (mercifully) reach the finish line of this super strange year, we wanted to look back and highlight the best of the best that Netflix’s original film division had to offer. So the Collider staff put our heads together and came up with a list of the best Netflix movies of 2020. This includes romantic comedies, prestige plays, queasy horrors, Christmas musicals, and action films—which is a testament to the diversity of content Netflix offers. So below, check out our list of the best Netflix movies of 2020 (and click here for our list of all the best movies on Netflix right now).

American Murder: The Family Next Door

Image via Netflix

This chilling Netflix documentary from director Jenny Popplewell is one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. It follows the 2018 murders of Shanann Watts and her two young daughters, as well as her unborn child, and what’s remarkable about this heartbreaking film is the jaw-dropping footage that Popplewell got her hands on, as the investigation was documented almost immediately by Watts’ friends. The other eerie aspect of American Murder is that it is seemingly narrated from beyond the grave thanks to the sheer amount of communication from Shanann that was available, from deceptive Facebook videos to intimate text messages with her friends concerning elements of her marriage. I don’t want to say too much more because this is the kind of film that is best enjoyed knowing as little as possible, but American Murder truly is one of the best true crime entries I’ve seen in a while. Not only does it shine a light on the kind of tragedy that has become all too common, but it also offers a surprisingly emotional journey as it examines the true meaning of sociopathy. And like HBO’s The Jinx, this is one confession that you’ll never forget. – Jeff Sneider


Image via Netflix

Charting Michelle Obama, as she embarks on a star-studded, stadium-filling book tour, Becoming could have easily been a self-congratulatory victory lap, but instead offers something deeper and more uplifting – at a time when we need it the most. Nadia Hallgren’s beautifully shot documentary doesn’t go as deep as you might expect, but Obama is open and honest about her life and the life that she shared with Barack, including the frustration but ultimate fulfillment with putting her career aside to raise their children and eventually become the first lady. It also is a wonderful historical document, of the ways that the press ruthlessly tore her down (remember the fist bump interpreted as a “terrorist fist jab?” Even the New Yorker had an awful cover) and the ways that she stayed true to who she was and worked hard to better herself and her community. You will cry, for sure, during some of her heartfelt stories but also because of how deeply you miss the Obamas in the White House. In a particularly fraught time, when racial divides seem deeper than ever (also on fire and smoldering from tear gas), it felt like we had made true strides nominating a President that was so different from all the ones that came before him, with a First Lady that was unlike any we’d ever seen. Michelle’s strength, determination, and good humor feel like a guiding light in these dark times. But what this documentary makes abundantly clear is that she will never stop. And neither should we. – Drew Taylor

The Boys in the Band

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The Boys in the Band is the best kind of film adaptation of a play (originally written by famed playwright Mart Crowley). As you’d want from a theatrical adaptation, the film (directed by theater stalwart Joe Mantello) locks into a relentlessly gripping groove once our exceptional ensemble cast (with special shoutouts to Robin de Jesús and Tuc Watkins) simply starts talking in the same room together. The inciting incident, ostensibly, is an old college “friend” of Jim Parsons‘, played with mysterious layers by Brian Hutchison, here to crash Parsons’ party with some kind of secret he can no longer hold on to. But the real pleasures of the film come simply from observing old friends find new ways to engage with each other, pick at each other’s scars, and simply love each other. And it ain’t all a talky-fest either; Mantello and DP Bill Pope find lovely, brilliantly-lit visual pieces of storytelling to tie it all together, and Ned Martel‘s adaptation of Crowley’s work expands certain elements out organically and welcomely. – Gregory Lawrence

Circus of Books

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Like so many folks before you, there’s just no way you’re gonna know what you’re in for when you meet The Masons are a sweet and unassuming older couple. Married for decades, parents to three kids, they’re amiable and easy-going folks at the heart of Netflix’s stellar documentary Circus of Books. That title also happens to be the name of their Los Angeles business; a hardcore gay porn shop. Directed by Rachel Mason (their daughter), the film explores how Circus of Books came to be an essential safe zone for the gay community over the decades, how the store ran up against first amendment rights along the way, and the journey towards acceptance, in themselves and their family, as business boomed, children came of age, the years went on. Captured with all the love, admiration, frustration, and fury of a family, Circus of Books is a fascinating look into LGBTQ+ history and a tender piece of filmmaking from Mason that’s an essential watch for any documentary fan. — Haleigh Foutch

Crip Camp

Image via Netflix

Netflix has some great documentaries (as evidenced by their Oscar win earlier this year for American Factory), and 2020’s Crip Camp joins those ranks. The film is a story about the slow process of activism, which makes it more than a little relevant right now. It opens with archival footage from 1971 of a camp for disabled teens called Camp Jened before following various campers over the years as they fight for the disability rights movement and accessibility legislation. It’s a fascinating and heartbreaking chronicle of how hard it is to enact significant change—especially heartbreaking because in this case that change is making the world accessible to those with disabilities. But it’s ultimately rousing and insightful. – Adam Chitwood

Da 5 Bloods

Photo by David Lee/Netflix © 2020

Leave it to Spike Lee to bring us the perfect antidote to an empty summer blockbuster season. The Oscar-winning filmmaker’s ambitious Vietnam War drama Da 5 Bloods is tremendously moving, stirring, and unwieldy all at once. The story chronicles four Black Vietnam War veterans who return to Vietnam to recover the body of their fallen squad leader and some gold they left behind. The film digs into racial tensions between the U.S. and Vietnam, but also between the U.S. and Black soldiers who fought for their country only to return home to find they had even more battles to fight. This is a confronting and ugly film that cuts no corners in showcasing all aspects of humanity, and Delroy Lindo gives the performance of his career as a hardened, bitter man harboring old wounds that refuse to heal. It’s not just the best Netflix movie of 2020 so far, it’s the best film of the year so far full-stop. – Adam Chitwood

The Devil All the Time

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Director Antonio Campos’ adaptation of Donald Ray Pollock’s 2011 novel is a grimy Southern gothic noir following an extremely disparate group of people in post-WWII Ohio who ultimately collide in explosive ways. It’s a movie about religious obsession and the burdens of faith, and the darker implications of what we chose to pass on to our children. It’s also a movie about Robert Pattinson playing a slimy, reptilian Southern Baptist preacher, which is a thing I never realized I needed until he strolled onscreen sporting a tremendous fake belly and far too many rings. The rest of the cast is stellar, too – Tom Holland plays the put-upon main character Arvin with a quiet intensity we don’t normally see from him, Bill Skarsgård plays his tortured father Willard, and Jason Clarke and Riley Keough star as a married pair of serial killers, and that’s just half of the main cast. Interestingly, Pollock serves as the film’s narrator, and his deep cowboy drawl is a perfect fit. The Devil All the Time is an extremely dark film, at times almost punishingly so, but it’s a gripping drama loaded with memorable performances that is well worth your time. – Tom Reimann

Enola Holmes

Photo by Alex Bailey/Legendary

One of the most pleasant surprises of 2020 was Enola Holmes. The film wasn’t supposed to be a Netflix movie – Warner Bros. sold it to the streamer early in the pandemic, and it was still able to find an audience in 2020. But what a delightfully charming movie. It works on a base level as a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery starring Millie Bobby Brown as the youngest Holmes sibling, but the script by Jack Thorne adeptly digs into themes of feminism and mother-daughter relationships, turning this charming book adaptation into a thematically rich story of independence. Brown shines, of course, but Henry Cavill is also excellent (and insanely handsome) as Sherlock Holmes and director Harry Bradbeer – best known for Fleabag – does a wonderful job of keeping the audience in Enola’s POV. In a year without major blockbusters, Enola Holmes delivered on the spectacle and heart in equal measure. – Adam Chitwood

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Rachel McAdams in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest
Image via Netflix

What an absolutely unexpected delight Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga turned out to be. While many presumed this was another “silly Will Ferrell comedy,” this film (written by Ferrell and Andrew Steele) actually turned out to be a surprisingly emotional and thoughtful story of hope, love, and pride. It does indeed deliver on the comedy antics, but Rachel McAdams more than holds her own as one half of the titular Icelandic performing duo, delivering on both the comedy and emotional aspects of the story. And the songs? Absolute bangers. — Adam Chitwood

Image via Netflix

Extraction has two things going on, both very appealing. One: It is an absolutely raw, brutal powerhouse of an action picture, with aggressively violent combat and a one-take sequence that grabs you by the chest and doesn’t let go. Two: It is an interior story about a man trying to regain his humanity when being human means being killed. Chris Hemsworth tackles (sometimes literally) both sides of his character expertly, grounding the trope-laden narrative with uncommonly excellent physical and emotional stakes. His Tyler Rake is a mercenary on the brink of existence, a man who finds nothing worth enjoying in the day-to-day of life, whose capacity for normalcy was beaten out of him some time ago. When he gets the assignment to find a kidnapped child (Rudhraksh Jaiswal) and return him, he does so out of grim obligation (“It’s always fuckin’ complicated, isn’t it?” sighs Hemsworth in a line reading that skillfully evades “badass” for the stronger “resigned”). And when this assignment spins out of control, Hemsworth must fight for his life, his soul, and his newfound friend’s future. Don’t get it twisted: This is absolutely a movie where Hemsworth annihilates the shit out of a bunch of dudes (and, in one strange sequence, some teenagers and younger?). But it’s also a movie where Hemsworth has done his homework and has given his character’s physical struggles resonant emotional stakes. Also: Hollywood, if you’re reading, hire Sam Hargrave to direct all of your action movies and then some. The way this guy stages combat is a jolt to behold. – Gregory Lawrence

The Half of It

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The Half of It has earned comparisons to Netflix’s breakout hit To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before for a few reasons. They both spotlight Asian American leading ladies, both of which are living with their cool dad after the death of their mothers, and there’s even a shared seduction by Yakult moment. But The Half of It is a much more pensive, lyrical, and heartbreaking movie beneath the swooning love story. Written and directed by Alice Wu, the film offers an update on the classic Cyrano de Bergerac — and not in the deeply unsettling catfishing way Sierra Burgess Is a Loser did. Wu’s touching, gorgeously shot tale finds three teenagers searching for their identity and hungry for their first love, all wrapped up in a messy, hungry love triangle that never feels cheap or exploitative. It’s been along wait for Wu’s next feature after her 2004 debut Saving Face, but it was worth it. Gorgeously shot, expertly paced, and filled with characters you can’t help but learn to love, The Half of It is a knockout self-aware teen romance that’s as bittersweet as the real thing. — Haleigh Foutch

His House

Image via Netflix

If you’re feeling a bit tired of all the tropes that come along with traditional British haunted house movies, His House is a striking breath of fresh air. But, you know, spooky air. You won’t find any Victorian mansions or pallid apparitions in billowing nightgowns, instead, Remi Weeks’ feature debut delivers a present-day update on the haunted house yarn, rooted in rich character arcs, devastating emotional revelations, and a tremendously empathetic on the horrors and hope of the immigrant experience. Wunmi Mosaku and Sope Dirisu star as a refugee couple determined to forge a new life in England after making a traumatic escape from Sudan, but it’s not long until they discover trauma has a way of sticking around, sometimes in downright terrifying ways. Weeks crafts an evocative, visually stirring film about coming to terms with that trauma, translating it all through the familiar thrills of a ghost story, while reinventing the format with unique mythology and timely themes. It’s a beautiful, chilling film; easily one of the best horror movies of the year, and one of Netflix’s best too. – Haleigh Foutch

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I’m Thinking of Ending Things

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As is often the case with a Charlie Kaufman production, things are not what they seem in the writer/director’s 2020 Netflix movie I’m Thinking of Ending Things. Kaufman adapts Iain Reid’s novel of the same name, which, generally speaking, follows a young couple — Jake (Jesse Plemons) and a nameless Young Woman (Jessie Buckley) — who are going to visit the Jake’s parents. One of the biggest concerns about the trip is that the Young Woman has doubts about the longevity of her relationship with Jake and tries to decide if she should break up with him as the movie goes on. I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a cerebral movie (hello, it is Kaufman, after all) that touches on a variety of broad themes: Depression, relationship power dynamics, the extremely male concept of “greatness,” the nature of reality, the meaning of existence, and even death. As the Young Woman tries to assert herself and establish autonomy, she is confronted by all of these issues as Jake’s “nice guy” façade begins to crack and the dark interiors of his mind begin to seep through the cracks. I’m Thinking of Ending Things not only boasts a meaty story you’ll want to revisit, but it also features to in-freaking-credible performances from Plemons and Buckley, with the latter damn near running away with the movie during an extended sequence which sees her firing off a Pauline Kael movie review in a masterclass moment. — Allie Gemmill

Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey

The cast of Jingle Jangle
Image via Netflix

I’m calling it: Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey is officially a Christmas classic, the first time I think I’ve seen one in the wild since Elf. It’s a family-friendly musical adventure-comedy with an adept cast singing and dancing their way through all kinds of pop-rock-MT tunes and inhabiting some delicious, steampunk-inspired production design courtesy of Gavin Bocquet. But don’t let the candy cane exterior fool you. Jingle Jangle, like many Christmas classics before it, is undeniably melancholy, so willing to plumb the depths of Forest Whitaker‘s darkness before allowing him any kind of catharsis (I will be thinking about Whitaker’s eccentric, heart-shattering, wild performance for some time to come). But as this catharsis yields its head, courtesy of an incredible performance from the young Madalen Mills, it tastes so, so sweet. Hug your loved ones close. – Gregory Lawrence

The Lovebirds

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The last time Michael Showalter and Kumail Nanjiani worked together, the result was one of 2017’s biggest indie successes and an Oscar nomination for Nanjiani and co-writer Emily V. Gordon. The Lovebirds is a very different beast from The Big Sick, though, as the film (one of several films picked up for streaming distribution after COVID-19 shut down movie theaters this spring) is more of an homage to darker comedies from the 1980s like Martin Scorsese‘s After Hours and John Landis‘s Into the Night. Nanjiani and the luminous Issa Rae star as a long-term ordinary couple whose relationship has frayed to the breaking point; the timing couldn’t be worse, though, as a violent incident leaves them terrified to go to the cops — and completely out of their depth when it comes to the criminal underworld upon which they’ve stumbled. It’s a zippy romp that makes incredible use of Rae and Nanjiani’s chemistry. As writer Alanna Bennett once said, a great rom-com lead is often defined by his or her ability to gaze properly at their love interest. The Lovebirds is a textbook example of that.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

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Another electric play adaptation from Netflix this 2020, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom is a thrilling, vital, alive piece of cinema. Director George C. Wolfe makes sure August Wilson‘s original text does not die on the vine, lensing and constructing sequences that earnestly shocked me with their kineticism; even in the film’s eventual “people talking in a room” construction, Wolfe renders everything with a Chicago-esque sense of movement, of appropriately jazz-like spontaneity. The performances in this film are just the best you’ll see all year. In the title role, Viola Davis has disappeared. You’ll only see Ma Rainey on the screen, a volcanic, barely-controlled, barely lucid yet wholly controlling figure that dominates and endears in equal measure. And Chadwick Boseman, in his final film performance, is astonishing. He’s pleading, bitter, disruptive, charismatic, easy to love and hate in equal measure. They just don’t make ’em much better than Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom– Gregory Lawrence


Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman in Mank
Image via Netflix

David Fincher, who has made two series for Netflix since 2013, took his blank check and made a true passion project: Mank, a pseudo-biographical portrait of Herman J. Mankiewicz (played by a prosthetics-free Gary Oldman), the embattled screenwriter of Citizen Kane, from a script written by Fincher’s late father Jack. (He had been working on it from the 1990s to the time of his death in 2003.) Fincher goes all-out (in a typically Fincherian way) trying to recreate the production methods and overall look of a movie from the 1940s – the skies are static matte paintings; he digitally “degrades” the film, adding scratches and cigarette burns; the sound rendered in a muffled mono; and he even coaxes a big, brassy score out of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, members of aggressively glitchy electronic rock band Nine Inch Nails. But dwelling on the myriad technical accomplishments is only part of what makes Mank so special. It’s also a delicious satire of the Hollywood machine, of the way that it uses creative people and discards them just as quickly, and has thread of a Chinatown-esque conspiracy plot as the big studios utilize dirty tactics and the foundations of “fake news” to swing an election in favor of a Republican candidate. In this way Mank’s poisonous core separates itself from many of the other movies-about-movies that the industry frequently trips over itself to applaud. – Drew Taylor

Miss Americana

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Few expected the Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana to be a warts-and-all portrayal of the insanely famous musician and songwriter, but the film is far deeper than it needed to be. Indeed, the first half of the film does a nice enough job chronicling Swift’s career thus far, but it reaches new heights in its second half as Swift decides to take a public political stance for the first time and struggles to reconcile knowing what’s right with doing what’s right—especially for someone as famous as she. This documentary is basically the origin story of a feminist, and in that way, it’s a warts-and-all portrayal of the struggles young women face in deciding to stand up and use their voice in a world in which so many simply want them to smile and stay quiet. The intimate look inside Swift’s writing process is a bonus. – Adam Chitwood

The Old Guard

Image via Aimee Spinks/Netflix

Leave it to Gina Prince-Bythewood to bring a deep heart and humanity to an action movie about immortal warriors. Charlize Theron continues to kick all kinds of ass in The Old Guard, and the action scenes are terrific, but what sets this film apart is how Prince-Bythewood takes the time to get to know who these characters are, what makes them tick, and most importantly what they care about. The film also takes a unique approach to violence, as KiKi Layne‘s freshly-immortal warrior witnesses the various killings that take place, each taking of a human life leaves an impact on her. An action movie with a heart and a brain? Inconceivable! — Adam Chitwood

Over the Moon

over-the-moon-netflix-social (1)
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At one point master Disney animator Glen Keane, the man who created Ariel and The Beast amongst many, many others, was set to helm Tangled. Story problems and health issues eventually forced him off of the project although many of his designs still remain. And it only took another 10 years (and winning an Oscar for his Kobe Bryant animated short “Dear Basketball”) for him to finally direct his very first feature. Over the Moon is a modern fable about a young girl named Fei Fei (Cathy Ang) who longs to bring proof of the goddess (Phillipa Soo) living on the far side of the moon. So she builds herself a rocket to get there. While there might be some of the trappings of Keane’s previous work (an aspirational girl longs for adventure, Broadway-style musical numbers, cute animal sidekicks), he clearly wanted to break free of those same trappings and offer up something wholly unique. The fact that Fei Fei is greeted on the moon not by some regal, European-inspired castle but a glow-in-the-dark rave and that the goddess wouldn’t be singing some traditional song but a K-Pop-style bop is proof alone that Keane was going for something different. With beautiful character designs (many of them by Keane), lavish animation by Sony and Pearl Studios (formerly DreamWorks Oriental) and a wonderful score by Steven Price, Over the Moon was a welcome relief from 2020. Honestly, we could have all used an intergalactic voyage after being trapped inside all year. – Drew Taylor

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