While many of our lives were put on pause in 2020, we pressed play on Netflix, Hulu, Disney Plus and other streaming services at an overwhelming rate. With very few films hitting theaters because of the pandemic — that is, if any theaters in your town were open — and even fewer reasons to leave the house unnecessarily, streaming services saw an uptick in subscribers. Eighty percent of U.S. consumers now subscribe to at least one paid video-streaming service, according to Deloitte’s digital media trends survey, up from 73 percent in the pre-pandemic days. In a year that most would say was very bad, having easy access to a vast library of movies and TV was a good thing. Well, unless you were Quibi.
The pandemic influenced how we watched TV, but also what we watched. While many binge-watched new series like the psychological chess drama “The Queen’s Gambit,” others found predictability in comfy favorites like “The Office,” which aired its final episode seven years ago. During the week of March 9, when most workplaces first closed because of the pandemic, viewers spent 1.23 billion minutes with the employees of Dunder Mifflin, according to a Nielsen study, which excluded mobile and PC devices. So it is likely that number should be even higher.
This year, more movies went straight to streaming — a pattern that will likely continue into the foreseeable future — further blurring the lines between film and television. Whether you watched Hulu’s queer holiday rom-com “Happiest Season” or “Love Is Blind,” the experimental Netflix reality series that asked its contestants to fall in love sight unseen, it was on a small screen.
While easy access may be good for movie fans, those who work in Hollywood have talked about the toll the pandemic streaming boom has taken on the industry. For one, it may have ended the blockbuster as we know it, because it’s impossible to recoup a big-budget film if no one is going to the theater. “People have now been acculturated to streaming and watching movies at home in ways they weren’t before,” Ben Affleck, whose film in “The Way Back” found success on VOD early in the pandemic, told Entertainment Weekly in September. In his opinion, the pandemic “probably accelerated a trend that was already taking place.”
In an isolating year dominated by streaming content, our pandemic viewing habits, understandably, were all over the place, which is why many of our favorite TV shows or films of 2020 weren’t actually released in 2020. With that in mind, we reached out to the creators, directors, writers, producers and stars behind 2020 movies and TV for their year-end watch lists.
From the final performance of the gone-too-soon Chadwick Boseman to a 1947 psychological thriller about a group of nuns in the Himalayas, below are the best things these five women in Hollywood watched in 2020.
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
“I was so taken by HBO Max’s ‘I Hate Suzie’ by Lucy Prebble and Billie Piper — a story of an actress whose life is unraveling but who is also stumbling toward herself during the fallout. The writers peel back layers of her story so delicately — but also are constantly shifting your perception in a way that is both maddening and exhilarating.”
The Russian American Paralympian who starred in and executive-produced the Netflix documentary “Rising Phoenix,” which takes a closer look at the history behind the Paralympics.
“Without question my favorite movie of the year, hands down, is ‘Rising Phoenix.’ I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched the documentary. It shows the world the strength and resilience of people with disabilities by telling the story of the Paralympic movement through the journeys of nine athletes. At the same time, it clearly shows the inequity that still exists in this world and challenges us to make this world a better place for all people.
If I had to choose a second, it would be ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ — the story of a young girl raised in an orphanage, as I was, and her personal struggle to become the world’s best chess player. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character Beth taps into her special gift which is playing chess. She faces multiple challenges but in the end prevails. Her strength, her courage and her determination reminds me of my own journey as a Paralympic athlete. ... What a year this has been for all of us.”
“Although it was released right at the end of this year, I thoroughly enjoyed watching ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.’ I couldn’t help but be in absolute awe of Chadwick Boseman. He was absolutely spectacular in the film and managed to be so dedicated to his character and craft while suffering cancer in silence. It just brought a new meaning to our purpose on this Earth, which is to ensure we reach our full potential always and give it our absolute all, as we don’t know when it will be our last day.”
Director of Hulu’s “Shirley,” a surreal biopic of the renowned horror author Shirley Jackson starring Elisabeth Moss.
“Mine is a tie between ‘Time’ — the documentary by Garrett Bradley — and ‘Black Narcissus’ — the original 1947 film about a group of nuns establishing a convent in the Himalayas. ‘Time’ is a subtle film about Fox Rich, who is trying to get her husband out of prison; the film grows and grows in emotional impact to one of the most powerful climaxes I’ve seen in a long while. I can’t stop thinking about it.
‘Black Narcissus’ — oh my gosh, the flowing black habits; the way the wind is moving in every frame; the gorgeous landscapes and miracles of invention; all the symbolism and imagery works together to forge a visceral experience of a moment in time and a collective of women facing an unknown.”
The New Jersey-based wedding planner appeared on the Netflix reality dating series “Indian Matchmaking.”
“The best thing I watched this year was ‘Schitt’s Creek.’ A friend of mine recommended it to me, and I absolutely fell in love. I originally binged it in the beginning of the year and re-watched the entire series again during quarantine. I laughed, I cried, I connected with each character; Alexis is my spirit animal. The show brought levity at a time when the world felt heavy. Most of my tears were tears of joy for each character. Totally ready to binge it again!”
“The best thing I watched this year was ‘The Great.’ Elle Fanning is really good, and Nicholas Hoult playing Peter III as a wicked idiot may be the funniest performance of the year. I loved the tone of ‘The Favourite,’ and honestly, if [‘The Great’ creator and co-screenwriter of the 2018 film ‘The Favourite’] Tony McNamara wants to just keep picking different countries and time periods and making shows about them, I’m here for it.”