December 2020’s Best Streaming Titles: Black Dynamite, Lord of the Rings, The Expanse, Soul, Wonder Woman 1984

Blaxploitation homage, epic fantasy, TV’s best sci-fi, Pixar’s latest, the return of Wonder Woman, and more.
Wonder Woman 1984 - Patty Jenkins
Gal Gadot returns in Wonder Woman 1984

As Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, et al. add more content, it can be difficult to know what to look for amidst all of the newly added titles. So I’ve compiled a list of particularly noteworthy and interesting movies, TV shows, etc. to add to your streaming queues in the new month.

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Netflix

Jurassic Park (Dec 1)

Your dinosaur-loving kids will lose their mind when Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel arrives on Netflix. Scientists figure out a way to clone extinct dinosaurs, and the first thing they do? Why, create an amusement park on a remote island, of course. What can go wrong? Plenty, as it turns out, and it’s up to some paleontologists and Jeff Goldblum’s chaos mathematician to find a way to survive when the dinosaurs run amok. Jurassic Park still holds up as topnotch sci-fi action/​thriller material.

Alice in Borderland, Season One (Dec 10)

When a jobless young man obsessed with video games wishes for a new life in another world, he unexpectedly finds his wish granted. Now he and a few other stragglers must make their way in this strange new world, where one must play games to survive. Alice in Borderland is based on a manga by Haro Aso and directed by Shinsuke Sato, who has previously directed live action adaptations of other manga titles including Gantz, Death Note, and Bleach.

Song Exploder, Volume 2 (Dec 15)

My wife and I really enjoyed the first volume of Netflix’s Song Exploder, which interviews musicians about the inspiration and processes behind their most famous and beloved songs. The first volume sat down with the likes of Lin-Manuel Miranda and R.E.M. Volume two will feature Nine Inch Nails and Dua Lipa, among others.

The Midnight Sky (Dec 23)

In this adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s acclaimed sci-fi novel Good Morning, Midnight, an aging scientist (George Clooney, who also directed the film) stranded in the Arctic must brave the elements to warn a group of astronauts about a catastrophe that’s ruined the Earth. I read Good Morning, Midnight a few years back and enjoyed it quite a bit, so I’m excited to see Clooney’s adaptation, which looks to be plenty dramatic and emotional. The film also stars Felicity Jones, Kyle Chandler, and David Oyelowo.

Equinox, Season One (Dec 30)

If you were left wanting even more enigmatic, haunting European sci-fi following the conclusion of Germany’s Dark, then Netflix has got you covered. The Danish series Equinox certainly seems to be channeling a Dark-ish vibe, as its protagonist is confronted with the existence of parallel universes while investigating her sister’s mysterious disappearance.

Transformers: War For Cybertron Earthrise (Dec 30)

I enjoyed the first volume of Transformers: War For Cybertron more than I thought I would, due largely to a darker, more morally complex storyline that focused on the final, desperate days of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons on their home planet. (Also, Jetfire!) At the end of volume one, a few Autobots had managed to escape, but as this volume’s title suggests, the war is about to continue on a new — and familiar — planet.

Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Netflix in December 2020.


Hulu

50 First Dates (Dec 1)

Adam Sandler reunites with his Wedding Singer co-star Drew Barrymore for this delightful little romantic comedy about a womanizing veterinarian who falls in love. But there’s a catch: his new love has amnesia and forgets about him every morning. It’s got some of the raunchy humor that you’d expect from a Sandler movie, but also a lot of heart. Rob Schneider, Sean Astin, and Dan Aykroyd also star.

Black Dynamite (Dec 1)

In this hilarious parody/​homage to classic blaxploitation films, Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is the baddest mofo in the hood. But in order to defeat The Man who killed his brother, the dealers pumping heroin into the streets, and the fiendish Dr. Wu’s kung fu treachery, Black Dynamite will have to unleash his full martial arts fury… and show the ladies some love, too.

The Fifth Element (Dec 1)

There are certain movies that, if I ever come across them playing on the TV, I will stop everything I’m doing and watch them. Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is one such movie, with its sci-fi tale about a great evil that can only be stopped by a young woman. Packed to the gills with stunning visuals and set design, as well as an intriguing mythology all its own and a manic sense of energy, The Fifth Element is a blast to watch.

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (Dec 1)

Peter Jackson’s adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic fantasy trilogy — which is arguably the fantasy trilogy — deserves all of the praise that it’s received over the years (like my review of the first film). With its incredible production values, astounding special effects, solid casting, and a script that knows when to remain faithful to the source and when to depart from it, the Lord of the Rings movies are just about as good as literary adaptations get.

Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Hulu in December 2020.


Amazon Prime

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (Dec 1)

This adaptation of Judi and Ron Barrett’s popular children’s book is successful precisely because it takes its premise — a harebrained scientist invents a device that creates food-inspired weather (e.g., cheeseburger rain) — to its logical and zany end. Of course, things go hilariously wrong, with trippy visuals and crazy action to boot. The film features the voice talents of Bill Hader, Anna Faris, Bruce Campbell, and Mr. T, and was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who would later give us The Lego Movie and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

True Lies (Dec 1)

It’s doubtful that big budget action comedy like True Lies would be made today. For one thing, Hollywood just doesn’t seem to make goofy blockbusters any more, particularly about a computer salesman (played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) who’s actually a secret agent. Furthermore, the movie’s treatment of Muslim terrorists wouldn’t fly in today’s culture. But as an example of mid ​‘90s Hollywood blockbuster-dom, it doesn’t get much better than True Lies. The movie also stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Arnold, Tia Carrere, and Bill Paxton as a wannabe lothario who gets in way over his head.

The Expanse, Season Five (Dec 16)

The best sci-fi series on television returns for its fifth season. Season five finds the crew of the Rocinante apparently going their separate ways. Amos Burton returns to Earth to settle some unfinished business while Naomi Nagata tries to track down her long-lost son. Meanwhile, her son’s father, an infamous terrorist, launches a new offensive against Earth in order to ensure the Belt’s freedom.

Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Amazon in December 2020. As usual, there’s a lot of overlap between Hulu and Amazon Prime’s offerings.


Disney+

Sky High (Dec 4)

In this fun little riff on superhero films, the son of the world’s greatest superheroes is sent to an elite high school where he must hide a terrible secret: he doesn’t actually have any superpowers. Placed along with the rest of the sidekicks, he must figure out how to tell his parents the truth while navigating the normal pitfalls of high school life — and battling an evil mastermind’s nefarious plot. Sky High stars Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Bruce Campbell, Dave Foley, and Wonder Woman herself, Lynda Carter.

Soul (Dec 25)

Pixar’s latest heads directly to Disney+, foregoing theaters altogether. An aspiring jazz musician finds himself shuffling off this mortal coil and going on an epic journey to the Great Before, where human souls are formed and given their individual characteristics before being born on Earth. The film, which was directed by Pete Docter (Inside Out, Up) and Kemp Powers, received near universal acclaim when it premiered earlier this year at the London Film Festival.

Here’s everything arriving on and leaving Disney+ in December 2020.


HBO Max

Code 46 (Dec 1)

In this dystopic sci-fi film by Michael Winterbottom, an insurance fraud investigator (Tim Robbins) finds himself falling for a woman (Samantha Morton) who forges documents that allow the poor and impoverished to gain access to better resources. With its fascinating — and frightening — vision of the future, replete with cloning, genetic engineering, wealth disparity, and environmental ruin, Code 46 is a must-see movie if you like your sci-fi on the more thought-provoking side.

The Crow (Dec 1)

Alex Proyas’ adaptation of James O’Barr’s comic is a fever dream filled with a gothily romantic aesthetic, an excellent soundtrack featuring the likes of The Cure and Nine Inch Nails, and Brandon Lee’s martial arts prowess. To this day, Lee’s tragic death still looms large over the film, transforming it into something far more than the sum of its parts.

Hero (Dec 1)

In interviews, Jet Li has talked about turning down the Matrix sequels and choosing instead to star in Zhang Yimou’s Hero. Which was definitely the right choice: the Matrix sequels were underwhelming (to say the least) while Hero is one of the greatest martial arts films of all time (read my review). It’s certainly one of the most beautiful thanks to stunning visuals, an evocative score, and beautiful costumes. As for the martial arts, they’re the epitome of visual poetry, whether its combatants fighting each other in their minds’ eyes or gliding over a mirror-like lake.

Hot Fuzz (Dec 1)

The second film in Edgar Wright’s Three Flavours Cornetto trilogy finds London’s best cop transferred to a quiet town in the country where nothing seems to happen. Until people start turning up dead in spectacularly gruesome accidents, that is. Or could there be some sort of nefarious criminal conspiracy at work? Hot Fuzz is a brilliant homage/​parody/​deconstruction of the buddy cop genre (read my review) and stars a veritable who’s who of British acting, including Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Timothy Dalton, Bill Nighy, Bill Bailey, and Olivia Colman (to name a few).

Wonder Woman 1984 (Dec 25)

In a further sign that COVID has changed the movie industry, the year’s biggest superhero movie will begin streaming on the same day (Christmas) that it arrives in theaters. As the title suggests, Wonder Woman 1984 finds Diana Prince in the mid ​‘80s, where she faces new villains even as she’s inexplicably reunited with her lost love who sacrificed himself decades ago. The first Wonder Woman movie was a real delight and a massive success. Suffice to say, this will be one of the biggest streaming events of the year.

Here’s everything arriving on and leaving HBO Max in December 2020.