The Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or Horror Movies io9 Rewatched in 2020

Three of the films we discovered (or rediscovered) in 2020.
Three of the films we discovered (or rediscovered) in 2020.
Photo: Next, Disney, Paramount

Twenty-twenty hasn’t been good for much, but it has been given us bountiful free time— time you hopefully used to finally make good on that statement “Oh, I’d love to watch that but I don’t have time.” Well, in 2020 you did. As a result, many of us revisited and once again fell in love with old favorites, or finally discovered films we’d just never gotten around to before. Below, here are stories of those experiences from the io9 staff.

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The Rocketeer

Rocketeer still flies high.
Rocketeer still flies high.
Photo: Disney

Growing up, all I knew about The Rocketeer is that I liked it, though I’m not sure I knew why. It was just a cool movie about a guy in a suit flying around and beating up bad guys. I hadn’t really thought too deeply about it for decades until this year when, on a random Wednesday night, I decided to watch it again. Dear god, it’s glorious.

Yes, all those kind of swashbuckling superhero vibes I remembered were there, but the film is great because The Rocketeer is new at this. He’s not that confident. He’s a little suave, a little cool, and a lot of nervous but still manages to rise to the occasion. Plus there’s a nice romance in the middle. Joe Johnston directs the hell of the film, soaking it in that perfect period look, and James Horner’s score is one of those you hear all the time, but forget where it came from.

That this movie wasn’t a huge hit when it came out and just kind of ended (minus the recent cartoon series) adds to its charm too. It’s just this beautiful little gem buried in the Disney+ archive, waiting for you to rediscover and enjoy whenever you want. - Germain Lussier

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Train to Busan

Zombie train for the win.
Zombie train for the win.
Photo: Next
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As an editor of a pop culture website, I try to watch All the Things. As you can imagine, that’s a losing battle. However, this year I made a conscious effort to make a list of movies I’d been meaning to watch (both old and newer) and power through them when I could—Candyman, Sweetheart, Freaks, Starfish, One Cut of the Dead, Halloween 3...there were a bunch.

High on that list was the much-hyped 2016 film Train to Busan. Considering Yeon Sang-ho’s zombie thriller had been talked about so much, I was a little worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but it wound up surpassing them. We all know zombie films are a dime a dozen but this one keeps your blood pumping from start to finish and then stabs you repeatedly in the heart—not an easy task! With its somewhat claustrophobic premise and rather large cast of characters that manage never to fall into horror tropes, it’s truly a fantastic ride from start to finish. I’m so glad I can finally say I’ve seen it and recommend it to others. Now I just need to get around to that sequel. - Jill Pantozzi

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Salem’s Lot

Salem’s Lot.
Salem’s Lot.
Photo: CBS
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An internet rabbit hole involving Stephen King, creepy dolls, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and probably some other weird stuff made me realize that I’d never actually watched the 1979 miniseries Salem’s Lot—the Tobe Hooper-directed King adaptation about a sleepy town in Maine with a sudden vampire problem. There’s a new take on Salem’s Lot from James Wan cohort Gary Dauberman currently in the works, but chances are good it will not much resemble this version of King’s second published novel, which frames its unsettling tale with some deliciously tacky 1970s style and holds way back on any Texas Chainsaw-type gore, since it was made for CBS.

The story, for those unfamiliar, is filled with elements that King would repurpose again and again in subsequent works. David Soul, then at the height of his Starsky and Hutch fame, plays Ben Mears, an author who returns to his hometown so he can be closer to the Marsten House, a run-down mansion with a tragic past that’s haunted his memories for decades. Hollywood royalty James Mason plays its new owner, a mysterious antique dealer with an even more mysterious partner that nobody’s ever seen. But the true standout is Reggie Nalder as alpha bloodsucker Kurt Barlow, hissing and growling and looking very Nosferatu. (The rest of the vampires make do with simple but very effective make-up involving freaky eyes and even freakier fangs.) The rest of Salem’s Lot is remarkably low-key in tone, even as the supernatural threat begins to rise, but anytime Barlow is onscreen, campy hysteria reigns.

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Salem’s Lot was remade in 2004 as another miniseries with a pretty fantastic cast—Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer, James Cromwell, Andre Braugher—but I think my obvious next choice is a movie I have seen but am long overdue to revisit: 1987’s A Return to Salem’s Lot, a delightfully bonkers in-name-only sequel from legendary B-movie director Larry Cohen. - Cheryl Eddy

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Gemini Man

Double Wills in Gemini Man.
Double Wills in Gemini Man.
Photo: Paramount
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Through the power of streaming services, I recently found myself presented with a chance to watch Gemini Man, a film I’d never particularly planned on seeing even before the lackluster reviews started pouring in. The more negative the buzz around a movie is, the safer it is to assume that the movie’s simply not good, but in some instances—you can’t always tell when—there’s a way that sort of buzz turns into its own beast that has less to do with the substance of the film itself and more to do with the direction conversations about the film are going. With all this in mind, I thought to myself “Hey, why not give Gemini Man a chance to see if it’s anything close to being the clunker people say it is?”

I was pleasantly surprised to find that Gemini Man is, in fact, one of Will Smith’s lesser movies that’s particularly notable for its lack of any internal common sense. You’d think a man fighting a clone of himself would stop to remark “Hey, that’s a clone of me” and not need this very obvious reality pointed out for him. Gemini Man insists that’s not the case, which is ridiculous, but it has the unintended side effect of making the movie a testament to the fact that sometimes, word of mouth really is to be believed. - Charles Pulliam Moore

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Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

This happened in 2020.
This happened in 2020.
Photo: Netflix
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We’ve lost a lot of good things this year—some of which are outside of io9’s typical purview. For me, one of the biggest was 2020’s Eurovision Song Contest. I’ve been a fan of Eurovision for a few years now (it’s kind of become my Super Bowl at this point). I love how simultaneously ridiculous and earnest it is, and it’s great finding my artists to root for (I was hardcore gunning for Iceland’s Daði Freyr this year, just check out this music video). But covid-19 took it away, along with so much else.

Then, lo and behold, a bright light appeared in the darkness—Netflix’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The movie arrived at the perfect time. Not only was it a lighthearted frolic of a film where Rachel Adams and Will Ferrell sang songs with a Russian Dan Stevens and Kassandra from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, but it filled the void of not having a new Eurovision competition to enjoy this year. It’s the kind of movie you can turn on in the background as you’re making dinner, just to have a good time enjoying mash-ups with your fave Eurovision stars...and a knife fight involving magical Icelandic elves. They’re real, and they’ll fuck you up. - Beth Elderkin

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The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 

What a motley crew.
What a motley crew.
Photo: Warner Bros.
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The arrival of The Lord of the Rings trilogy on 4K late this year (and a much needed day off) allowed me the chance to watch Fellowship for the first time in nearly a decade recently. While the new mastering provided enough flash to dazzle, what hit me most was just how much re-seeing Peter Jackson’s first steps into Middle-Earth shot me right back into my own past.

The LotR films were some of the most fundamental and influential pieces of media of my early teen life, even more than the Star Wars prequels or the then-nascent revival of Doctor Who—reigniting a love of fantasy, its lines becoming a shared cultural lexicon between me and my friends (and eventually developing a keen r/shireposting habit). They’re films that I simply cannot comprehend without that bias, I can’t be critical of them in the way I can be with so many of the pieces of media I love. Fellowship’s earnestness, its warmth, its sheer sincerity for the bonds between these characters, from Sam and Frodo stepping out of the Shire to the forging and breaking of the Fellowship, is just so overwhelmingly uplifting to me. That it can still have that effect decades after having seen it fills my soul with joy. It’s a perfect adventure, and I was so glad to go there, and back again. - James Whitbrook

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DISCUSSION

forkish
Forkish

I hope that Fellowship of the Ring was the extended edition. I don’t think I was ever able to go back to watching the theatrical versions.