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31 of the most popular movies of the year, ranked from worst to best

Business Insider Australia logo Business Insider Australia 23/11/2020 Meghan Cook
Liu Yifei, Anya Taylor-Joy posing for the camera: 'Mulan,' 'Tenet,' and 'Emma.' were released in 2020. 'Mulan,' 'Tenet,' and 'Emma.' were released in 2020.
  • Released in theatres and online, the most talked-about films of the year include horror flicks, action blockbusters, and intimate dramas.
  • Popular films like "Miss Juneteenth," "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," and "Da 5 Bloods" earned overwhelming critical praise.
  • Other big films like "Fantasy Island," "Dolittle," and "Like a Boss" had a harder time impressing critics.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

2020 has been a unique year for Hollywood â€" many films have found a second life on streaming platforms as movie lovers watch from home. But not every film this year has wowed critics.

Read on for the most popular movies of the year, ranked by critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes.

Note: All scores were current on the date of publication and are subject to change.

Most critics were disenchanted by "Fantasy Island."

Lucy Hale with the mouth open: Lucy Hale in 'Fantasy Island.' Lucy Hale in 'Fantasy Island.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 7%

Summary: In the horror-comedy "Fantasy Island," five strangers fly to a mysterious island after enigmatic proprietor Mr. Roarke (Michael Peña) promises to make his guests' wildest dreams come true.

Based on the ABC series from the late 1970s and early 1980s, "Fantasy Island" was received as a superfluous remake with haphazard plotting.

"The biggest shock of this new movie reimagination is that it makes the original seem fresh and smart by comparison," James Berardinelli wrote for Reel Views.

Reviewers found little praise to offer "Dolittle."

a person holding an animal: Robert Downey Jr. in 'Dolittle.' Robert Downey Jr. in 'Dolittle.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 14%

Summary: Gifted with the magical ability to talk to animals, Dr. John Dolittle (Robert Downey Jr.) sets sail with a menagerie of friends to find a cure for a dying monarch.

Even critics who loved Downey Jr. in previous films had a difficult time digesting the adventure comedy, which was packed with contrivance and silly dialogue.

"'Dolittle' ought to have ... done less," Clarisse Loughrey wrote in her review for the Independent.

"Like a Boss" had a great cast, but a lukewarm reception.

Salma Hayek looking at the camera: Salma Hayek in 'Like a Boss.' Salma Hayek in 'Like a Boss.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 22%

Summary: After their small cosmetic company is bought out by industry icon Claire Luna (Salma Hayek), Mia (Tiffany Haddish) and Mel (Rose Byrne) find themselves tested by the demanding CEO.

When critics looked beyond the star-studded cast and glam-filled messages of girl power, they agreed that "Like a Boss" ultimately lacked substance.

"There's nothing wrong with the cast of this glossy comedy,"Ed Potton wrote for the Times. "Yet even this hugely likable trio can't save a film that strives for subversive laughs and sisterly inspiration and falls short on both counts."

Janelle Monáe shined in "Antebellum," but critics weren't fans of the film itself.

Janelle Monae wearing a hat: Janelle Monáe in 'Antebellum.' Janelle Monáe in 'Antebellum.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 28%

Summary: In the horror film "Antebellum," prized author Veronica Henley (Monáe) finds herself caught between the past and present when she wakes up in Civil War-era Louisiana.

Monáe received well-earned praise for her tour-de-force performance, but critics lamented the fact that the film was held back by torture imagery and poorly executed messaging.

"A movie that wants so desperately to be as good as 'Get Out' but offers nothing more than gesturing broadly at Black pain to elicit a trauma response," Dominic Griffin wrote for the Armchair Auteur.

Critics said "The War With Grandpa" paired a talented cast with predictable plotting.

a man standing in front of a window: Robert De Niro and Oakes Fegley in 'The War With Grandpa.' Robert De Niro and Oakes Fegley in 'The War With Grandpa.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 29%

Summary: Peter (Oakes Fegley) and Grandpa Jack (Robert De Niro) have always been close, but after his grandfather moves in and takes over his bedroom, Peter pulls out all the stops to get his room back.

Although "The War With Grandpa" boasted a strong ensemble cast from top to bottom, critics agreed certain elements of the script fell victim to formulaic plotting and prank-heavy comedy.

"'The War With Grandpa' is a fairly by-the-numbers, all-ages comedy that offers a few moments of genuine hilarity amidst baffling dramatic scenes," wrote film critic Rob Dean.

Reviewers noted that "The New Mutants" felt uneven and unfinished.

Maisie Williams in 'The New Mutants.' Maisie Williams in 'The New Mutants.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 32%

Summary: In "The New Mutants," five budding X-men - Wolfsbane (Maisie Williams), Magik (Anya Taylor-Joy), Mirage (Blu Hunt), Cannonball (Charlie Heaton), and Sunspot (Henry Zaga) - live in a safe house where everything is not as it appears.

After years of languishing in production development, "The New Mutants" finally released to a chorus of disappointed film reviews.

"It's not as awful as it should be," Peter Grey wrote for This is Film. "Sadly, it's not as good as it could be either."

Despite its potential, "Holidate" didn't follow through.

Emma Roberts et al. sitting on a stage: Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey in 'Holidate.' Emma Roberts and Luke Bracey in 'Holidate.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 46%

Summary: Sick of being berated by nosy relatives all holiday season, Sloane (Emma Roberts) and Jackson (Luke Bracey) decide to platonically pair up to make it through a year's worth of festivities.

Critics commended the film's self-aware approach as a new entry in the rom-com genre, but distracting jokes and errant plotlines held it back from its full potential.

"'Holidate' falls in the bland no-man's land between being sharp enough to appeal to adults (à la 'Bridesmaids') and tame enough to watch with the whole family," Karen Han wrote for Polygon.

Critics said "Scoob!" would please kids more than parents.

a woman taking a selfie: The Mystery Gang reunited in 'Scoob!' The Mystery Gang reunited in 'Scoob!'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 48%

Summary: Scooby-Doo (voiced by Frank Welker) and the Mystery Gang come together to tackle their biggest challenge yet when they face a villain bent on worldwide destruction.

Critics said "Scoob!" was bright and colourful, but also hindered by overly ambitious story arcs that felt disconnected from the original series.

"Despite some clearly well-executed animation and some initial promise, this is decidedly lacking in anything that allows this to stand as little more than an exercise in exploiting intellectual property," Andrew Gaudion wrote for Films Hounds.

With big laughs but a lazy plot, "Hubie Halloween" earned mixed reviews.

Julie Bowen standing in front of a crowd of people: Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler in 'Hubie Halloween.' Julie Bowen and Adam Sandler in 'Hubie Halloween.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 51%

Summary: On Halloween night, community volunteer Hubie Dubois (Adam Sandler), the self-appointed Halloween Helper, finds himself in over his head as he tries to save Salem, Massachusetts, from an elusive kidnapper.

Dopey and diverting, "Hubie Halloween" was received as a mildly entertaining comedy that was sure to please die-hard Sandler fans.

"None of this is particularly original, but nobody said you had to be original to make people laugh," Bilge Ebiri reviewed for Vulture.

Distracting CGI held "The Call of the Wild" back from being a fully enthralling drama.

a close up of Harrison Ford and a dog posing for the camera: Harrison Ford in 'The Call of the Wild.' Harrison Ford in 'The Call of the Wild.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 61%

Summary: Based on the book by Jack London, "The Call of the Wild" follows gold prospector John Thornton (Harrison Ford) and house dog, Buck, as they face harsh conditions in the Alaskan wild.

Messy CGI aside, "The Call of the Wild" earned a fair share of positive praise from critics for staying faithful to the source material in the ways that mattered.

"At a time where cynicism reigns, it's refreshing to call back to the simple thrills of venturing into the unknown - CGI pups at your side or not,"Loughrey wrote for the Independent.

Critics said it felt formulaic, but "Sonic the Hedgehog" was sure to please young fans.

James Marsden and Jim Carrey both starred in 'Sonic the Hedgehog.' James Marsden and Jim Carrey both starred in 'Sonic the Hedgehog.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 63%

Summary: Based on the Sega video-game franchise, "Sonic the Hedgehog" uses a mix of live-action and animation to bring Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz) to the big screen as he faces off against Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey).

Although not many critics were rushing to call it original, "Sonic the Hedgehog" earned points for being fun for the whole family.

"Family audiences will enjoy it and forget it," Grant Watson wrote for Fiction Machine. "Anyone with a specific interest in cinema already knows what they are likely to think."

"Trolls World Tour" was praised as a light, family-friendly adventure.

a close up of a stuffed toy: Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake voiced characters in 'Trolls World Tour.' Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake voiced characters in 'Trolls World Tour.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 70%

Summary: Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) return in "Trolls World Tour" to stop a set of rock-and-roll lovers from destroying the six factions of music.

A lightly told welcome distraction, "Trolls World Tour" was praised for its bright pops of colour and catchy, kid-friendly songs.

"'Trolls World Tour' is not a mind-blowing cinematic achievement, but it is exactly what kids, and parents, need right now,"Randy Myers wrote for the San Jose Mercury News. "That's where it hits the high note."

"Tenet" garnered praise and confusion in equal measure.

John David Washington in 'Tenet.' John David Washington in 'Tenet.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 71%

Summary: In the mind-bending thriller "Tenet," a young CIA agent (John David Washington) is tasked with preventing a new World War by manipulating the flow of time.

Narratively puzzling but a technical achievement nonetheless, "Tenet" earned its fair share of admirers.

"Both utterly dazzling and increasingly bewildering," wrote USA Today critic Brian Truitt.

For most critics, "Mulan" was an intriguing take on a Disney classic.

Liu Yifei in 'Mulan.' Liu Yifei in 'Mulan.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 74%

Summary: In a modern update of the 1998 Disney animated film, "Mulan" follows Hua Mulan (Liu Yifei) as she disguises herself as a man to join the front lines of a war against the Rouran warriors, led by Bori Khan (Jason Scott Lee).

With action-packed choreography and female-driven storytelling, "Mulan" was received as a fitting companion piece for the original film, even if it didn't share the same Disney magic.

"Although it's missing the charm and the magic of Disney's animated classic, its message of acceptance and empowerment is more vital than ever," wrote René Sánchez in his review for Cine Sin Fronteras.

Critics said "Bad Boys for Life" added emotional layers to a familiar story.

Will Smith standing posing for the camera: Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in 'Bad Boys for Life.' Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in 'Bad Boys for Life.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 77%

Summary: In the latest entry of the "Bad Boys" franchise, detective Mike Lowrey (Will Smith) and Marcus Burnett (Martin Lawrence) partner up once more to take on an old enemy in the fast-paced streets of Miami, Florida.

By and large, critics agreed that "Bad Boys for Life" was a fun action film filled with thrilling sequences and unexpected emotional depth.

"'Bad Boys for Life' adds emotional gravitas that wasn't seen in the previous 'Bad Boys' films," wrote Culture Mix critic Carla Hay.

"Birds of Prey" kept critics on the edge of their seats.

Margot Robbie posing for the camera: Margot Robbie in 'Birds of Prey.' Margot Robbie in 'Birds of Prey.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 78%

Summary: In the follow-up to "Suicide Squad" (2016), a freshly single Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) helms a vigilante crew of unexpected allies after crime boss Black Mask (Ewan McGregor) puts a price on her head.

Fuelled by humour and frenetic energy, "Birds of Prey" was a strong addition to the DC Universe.

MontiLee Stormer called the superhero comedy "darkly comic and colourful" as well as "engaging without being too over-the-top."

Critics called "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" a haunting drama.

a person standing in front of a window: Jessie Buckley starred in 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things.' Jessie Buckley starred in 'I'm Thinking of Ending Things.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 81%

Summary: A young woman (Jessie Buckley) agrees to meet her boyfriend's (Jesse Plemons) parents, but their daylong road trip soon spirals into a disturbing and transformative experience that neither of them could have anticipated.

Not for the faint of heart, "I'm Thinking of Ending Things" was praised as a dark, disorienting, and inventive entry from filmmaker Charlie Kaufman.

"Delving into memory, misery, and mortality," wrote Rolling Stone critic David Fear. "'I'm Thinking of Ending Things' not only nudges Kaufman back into the spotlight, it reminds you of how much his voice has been missed."

The stars of "Bill and Ted Face the Music" were welcomed back like old friends.

a man standing in front of Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter posing for the camera: Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in 'Bill and Ted Face the Music.' Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter in 'Bill and Ted Face the Music.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 82%

Summary: When Bill Preston (Alex Winter) and Ted Logan (Keanu Reeves) are challenged with the seemingly impossible task of composing a song that will save the fate of human-kind, they decide to travel through time to steal it from their future selves.

It may have leaned a little too much into its wacky nature at times, but "Bill and Ted Face the Music" served as a welcome return for fans of Reeves and Winters.

"Somehow it works," Danny Leigh wrote for the Financial Times. "Remarkably, you may party on."

"Just Mercy" was elevated by powerful performances and strong messages.

Michael B. Jordan in a suit and tie: Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in 'Just Mercy.' Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx in 'Just Mercy.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%

Summary: Based on the true story Bryan Stevenson recorded in his book by the same name, "Just Mercy" follows Harvard graduate Bryan (Michael B. Jordan) as he takes on his first big case and defends Walter McMillian (Jamie Foxx), a man who faces murder charges and fights to prove his innocence.

Critics agreed that "Just Mercy" was shot through with enough idealism and powerhouse acting to make up for any narrative missteps.

"'Just Mercy' may rely on formulaic structures and predictability to illustrate its point, especially in its highly charged final third, but it is hard to walk away from this film without being moved," wrote film critic Kelechi Ehenulo for Confessions From a Geek Mind.

Critics showered Ben Affleck in praise for his turn in "The Way Back."

a man wearing a suit and tie: Ben Affleck in 'The Way Back.' Ben Affleck in 'The Way Back.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 84%

Summary: Stuck reliving his glory days, former-basketball-star-turned-coach Jack Cunningham (Affleck) tries to restore his reputation as he tries to recover from an alcohol addiction.

Affleck blew critics away with his vulnerable and magnetic central performance in "The Way Back."

"Affleck gives his first truly transformative, vanity-free performance as an alcoholic high-school basketball coach in this otherwise familiar underdog sports yarn," Kevin Maher wrote for the Times.

"Emma." moved swiftly along with sweeping visuals and charming wit.

Anya Taylor-Joy wearing a hat: Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Emma.' Mia Goth and Anya Taylor-Joy in 'Emma.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 87%

Summary: Based on the novel by Jane Austen, the movie follows Emma Woodhouse (Anya Taylor-Joy) as she comes of age in Regency-era England and meddles in the romantic lives of her family and friends.

Although it had a slow build-up, the film was quickly praised by critics for its gorgeous visuals and infectious wit.

"It takes a while for 'Emma.' to find its groove but once it gets there it's a delight," Adam Graham reviewed for the Detroit News. "The source material is too good to disappoint."

Imperfect, but charming, "Onward" moved most critics to tears.

a group of people wearing costumes: 'Onward' was a 2020 Pixar hit. 'Onward' was a 2020 Pixar hit.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 88%

Summary: In Pixar's "Onward," bickering brothers Ian (voiced by Tom Holland) and Barley (voiced by Chris Pratt) embark on a journey to unearth lost magic and bring their father back for a day.

Although the trademark Pixar magic started to fade for some, critics largely received "Onward" as a dazzling animated movie with a wellspring of emotion.

"'Onward' might not quite hit the zenith of the gargantuan Pixar mountain, but it's just one more burst of gas away from that sky-high summit," wrote Flickering Myth critic Tom Beasley.

Critics said "Words on Bathroom Walls" handled a delicate subject matter with aplomb.

a man and a woman standing in a room: 'Words on Bathroom Walls' was based on Julia Walton's best-selling novel. 'Words on Bathroom Walls' was based on Julia Walton's best-selling novel.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

Summary: Based on the best-selling book by Julia Walton, "Words on Bathroom Walls" centres on Adam (Charlie Plummer) as he is diagnosed with schizophrenia and falls in love during a turbulent senior year.

Unlike many films that focus on mental health, "Words on Bathroom Walls" took a delicate subject and shaped it into a sensitive romantic drama.

"I was really impressed by its ability to approach the subject of mental illness in a way that is sensitive, insightful, and thoughtful without ever being mawkish," wrote KPCC film critic Christy Lemire.

"Unpregnant" was praised for balancing heart with comedy.

Haley Lu Richardson et al. that are standing in the street: Barbie Ferreira and Haley Lu Richardson in 'Unpregnant.' Barbie Ferreira and Haley Lu Richardson in 'Unpregnant.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 89%

Summary: Based on the novel by Jenni Hendricks and Ted Caplan, the HBO Max film follows seemingly perfect teen Veronica (Haley Lu Richardson) and her former best friend (Barbie Ferreira) as they embark on a road trip from Missouri to New Mexico so Veronica can get an abortion without parental consent.

"Unpregnant" took a serious subject and turned it into a heartfelt, comedic film about friendship.

"Nevertheless, the film's solid grounding in friendship and comic teamwork carries the day," wrote critic Roger Ebert. "'Unpregnant' becomes more affecting as it goes along thanks to the sincere, committed, and mostly unaffected lead performances by Richardson and Ferreira."

Critics singled out Elisabeth Moss' performance in "The Invisible Man."

Elisabeth Moss on a bed: Elisabeth Moss in 'The Invisible Man.' Elisabeth Moss in 'The Invisible Man.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Summary: In the horror-thriller "The Invisible Man," Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) emerges from an abusive relationship but can't shake the idea that her ex-boyfriend is watching her every step.

A cerebral and inventive thriller, "The Invisible Man" stayed with critics long after they left the theatre, namely due to Moss' lead performance.

"Moss brings full life to her characters," film critic Victor Pineyro wrote. "What an amazing and capable actress."

Critics enjoyed unlocking and unpacking the mysteries in "Enola Holmes."

Millie Bobby Brown in 'Enola Holmes.' Millie Bobby Brown in 'Enola Holmes.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 91%

Summary: After her mother goes missing, Enola Holmes (Millie Bobby Brown) gives her brothers Sherlock (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft (Sam Claflin) the slip as she takes matters into her own hands.

Carried by Brown's indelible charm, "Enola Holmes" was warmly received as a smart and enthralling mystery thriller.

"So delightfully subversive that it deserves to become a Netflix series," wrote film critic Susan Granger.

"Da 5 Bloods" was praised as one of the best dramas of 2020.

Chadwick Boseman standing posing for the camera: 'Da 5 Bloods' had a stellar cast. 'Da 5 Bloods' had a stellar cast.

Rotten Tomatoes score: 92%

Summary: In Spike Lee's war drama "Da 5 Bloods" four veterans (Delroy Lindo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Clarke Peters, and Norm Lewis) return to Vietnam to unearth buried treasure and honour their fallen squad leader (Chadwick Boseman).

In the hands of a capable director and a magnificent cast, "Da 5 Bloods" earned a spot on many critics' lists as one of the best films of the year.

"'Da 5 Bloods' runs two hours and thirty-four minutes, but it's not a second too long," wrote Richard Brody in his review for the New Yorker. "On the contrary, it feels compressed, bustling, and frenzied with its intellectual and dramatic energy."

Humour and creative storytelling helped "Palm Springs" stand out.

a little girl sitting on a bench: Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in 'Palm Springs.' Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in 'Palm Springs.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 94%

Summary: While attending a wedding in Palm Springs, California, reluctant maid of honour Sarah (Cristin Milioti) finds herself inexplicably drawn to easygoing Nyles (Andy Samberg), who hides an unbelievable secret.

"Palm Springs" impressed critics with its humour and heart, while setting itself apart as a refreshing addition to the rom-com genre.

"An uplifting and optimistic piece of escapism that looks to the future after realising we can't dwell in the present forever ... arguably the perfect film to watch in 2020," wrote Starburst magazine critic Sol Harris.

Critics marveled at the passionate performances in "Portrait of a Lady on Fire."

a woman talking on a cell phone: Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire.' Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant in 'Portrait of a Lady on Fire.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 98%

Summary: In the period drama "Portrait of a Lady on Fire," French painter Marianne (Noémie Merlant) is commissioned to create a portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) while living in a nobleman's manor that invites intimacy behind closed doors.

Awash with beautiful cinematography and filtered through a powerful female lens, "Portrait of a Lady on Fire" earned high marks from critics around the world.

"French director Céline Sciamma's fourth feature film ... ventures into period cinema in a new way, with expressive vigour and meticulous attention to scenographic details," wrote Carlos Bonfil for La Jornada.

Positive praise poured in for "Never Rarely Sometimes Always."

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Sidney Flanigan in 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always.' Sidney Flanigan in 'Never Rarely Sometimes Always.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 99%

Summary: Blindsided by an unexpected pregnancy,Pennsylvania teen Autumn (Sidney Flanigan) heads north with her cousin Skylar (Talia Ryder) to plan a way forward.

Emotional without ever edging into melodrama, "Never Rarely Sometimes Always" was praised as a must-see.

"'Never Rarely Sometimes Always' shows with such clarity that there is a world of women's stories existing underneath the surface that desperately need to be told," Curtsies and Hand Grenades critic Willow Maclay wrote.

The drama "Miss Juneteenth" captivated critics.

Nicole Beharie sitting at a table: Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze in 'Miss Juneteenth.' Nicole Beharie and Alexis Chikaeze in 'Miss Juneteenth.'

Rotten Tomatoes score: 99%

Summary: In the drama "Miss Juneteenth, " single mother and former beauty queen Turquoise Jones (Nicole Beharie) raises her daughter (Alexis Chikaeze) to follow in her pageantry footsteps.

With painfully realised details and master-class performances, "Miss Juneteenth" earned overwhelming acclaim from critics.

"It's a universal story of familial love, told and performed with deftness and real personality," Owen Richards wrote for the Arts Desk.

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