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2020 is a sneaky good year for films

Greg W. Locke

Whatzup Features Writer

Published December 9, 2020

This year very well might go down as the worst year in modern history for the release of new films. Makes sense, though, right? Given that most people have avoided going to movie theaters since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

But here’s the thing about that very common opinion: I think it’s wrong.

I overheard a friend saying that the only competition Mank has at the awards shows are Tenet and Sonic, so why care about awards shows.

But I think he’s wrong.

I think that 2020 ended up maybe being a sneaky-good year for movies. Maybe just maybe.

Yeah, some of the films we were dying to see (e.g. The French Dispatch, whatever the Bond film is called, all the other ones) were pushed back until after a vaccine is in play. But a whole lot of the smaller studio films, art house films, foreign films, and documentaries were still released. 

And while they didn’t fill seats in theaters, most of them were quickly flipped to VOD, streaming, and home media, and ultimately were reported to be more successful than expected.

The Andy Samberg comedy Palm Springs, for example, is considered to be one of 2020’s most successful films despite bringing in less than a million at theaters. After making a splash on the film festival circuit, this $5 million film was bought by Neon and Hulu for around $17 million. 

It played in theaters briefly before becoming one of the year’s biggest streaming hits. In addition to being as widely watched as just about any blockbuster ever made, Palm Springs is actually a pretty decent mainstream comedy.

I’m not sure how the streaming values break down, but movies like Palm Springs, Da 5 Bloods, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, The King of Staten Island, Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Mank, The Trial of the Chicago 7, The Social Dilemma, Hubie Halloween, and Never Rarely Sometimes Always are all considered to be massive hits due almost entirely to their streaming revenue.

So how about that: Some indie and indie-centric studio films survived the Great Everything Plague of 2020. It would seem a lot of smaller movies might have a chance at getting some awards season attention that might not have otherwise been possible.

Take Kelly Reichardt’s incredible First Cow, for example. This one was released in theaters just as theaters started closing down and people started staying home. It was released to the kind of glowing reviews every filmmaker dreams of, but no one was paying attention. The world was too otherwise engaged. 

But now, as all the critics start listing it as their favorite film of the year, we’re beginning to see a new interest in the movie.

With this being an unprecedented year for the film industry, it will be fun to watch the year-end and awards season conversations unfold. I like to think that we’ll end up with the kind of awards season that includes films like I’m Thinking of Ending Things, Da 5 Bloods, Nomadland, and possibly even both The King of Staten Island and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.

Just picture it: Pete Davidson and Sacha Baron Cohen fighting it out with Gary Oldman (Mank), Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal), and Bill Murray (On the Rocks) for the Best Actor statue.

What a year.

Stay tuned next week as I continue with part two of this awards season preview. 

What was your favorite film of 2020? Send your thoughts my way at

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