clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

13 genre shows and movies filling the blockbuster void this summer

The science-fiction, action, and horror to watch on streaming services

A man and woman dressed in bulky coats and heavy winter gear clutch each other and look fearfully offscreen as snow falls around them in TNT’s Snowpiercer series.
Daveed Diggs and Sheila Vand in Snowpiercer
Photo: Justina Mintz/WarnerMedia via Polygon

Normally, the summer-movie season means alternating between the beach (for enjoying warm weather) and the multiplex (for enjoying franchise tentpoles and marquee studio genre fare, and avoiding sunburn). But summer 2020 has been crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. The season’s most anticipated big-name releases have either been pushed back or yanked from the release calendar entirely. Everybody itching for Watchmen’s Yahya Abdul-Mateen II to whisper “Candyman” into a mirror one too many times has to wait until September. Those eager to see Vin Diesel and his cinematic faaaamily drive fast cars in an angry way will have to wait until April 2021 to find out which laws of physics they’ll ignore this time out.

But genre is everywhere, and between now and the opening of your personal must-see genre movie, there’s a genre summer movie season ahead on VOD and television, whether you’re craving horror, action, or science fiction. For summer 2020, here’s Polygon’s preview of genre films and TV to watch.

Two young men and a woman dressed as movie-theater ushers sit in a movie theater alone, staring at the screen in shock. Photo: Fangoria

Porno

A handful of teens working at the local theater in a middle American Christian town uncover a film reel sealed away in the building’s basement. Because they’re in a horror movie, they play it and summon a succubus (Katelyn Pearce) who torments them with sexual violence. And then: the exploding genitals. Porno takes much too long to actually get going, but director Keola Racela has enough tricks up his sleeve in the final half hour to make the preceding 60 minutes worth watching.

Porno launches May 8th on iTunes.

A small, distant figure in blue sits in an all-white room, in front of a white screen and some white equipment, with two figures in all-white armor standing behind the chair. Photo: Shout! Studios

Proximity

Isaac (Ryan Masson), a scientist working for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gets snatched by aliens and no one believes him. So he sets out to make people believe him, and also run away from the government. There’s a weird bit of kismet at play in some of the film’s promo imagery — characters wearing masks in public while sitting apart from each other, for instance — and one clear allusion to George Lucas’ non-Star Wars film THX 1138. The timing and the reference points, plus the promise of a new original science-fiction feature film, make Proximity an intriguing prospect.

Proximity launches May 15th on iTunes, Amazon Prime, and Vudu.

Two people in drab jumpsuits at the far back of a grungy beige space full of monitors showing statistics and diagrams. Photo: Jesse Giddings/WarnerMedia

Snowpiercer

After three years in development purgatory while getting shuffled between networks, Bong Joon-ho’s most polarizing movie is now a prequel TV series. The movie makes it clear what to expect from the show’s story: It’s the future, the Earth is a ball of ice, and all the surviving members of mankind live or toil aboard the colossal title train, which hurtles around the globe in perpetual motion. Rebellion is still in the air, but the particulars vary: Daveed Diggs plays a former detective and current member of the train’s tail-end class, hired by Jennifer Connelly to solve a murder in the train’s upper class, to help maintain the balance on the train. The show looks wild, but TNT’s definition of wild isn’t Bong’s definition of wild.

Snowpiercer launches May 17th on TNT.

A tough-looking older man catches the arm of a man in grey with his back to the camera. Photo: Saban Films

Villain

Eddie Franks (Craig Fairbrass) is done living a life of crime, but a life of crime isn’t done with him: No sooner does the career criminal finish his prison sentence and vow to go straight than his brother pisses off an evil drug lord. Will Eddie return to the world he left behind to save his family? Probably. Guys in Eddie’s position usually do.

Villain launches May 22nd on iTunes.

Simon Pegg, wearing a dull metal collar that’s chained to the wall, peers out from under a fringe of lank, ragged, long grey hair in Inheritance. Photo: Vertical Entertainment

Inheritance

Usually, parents leave their children inheritances in the form of a house, or money, or some other innocuous financial bequest. In Vaughn Stein’s sophomore film, a rich man dies of a heart attack and leaves his daughter (Lily Collins) a prisoner (Simon Pegg), chained up in a concrete tunnel beneath the family estate. Stein describes Inheritance as a “classic thriller,” and though while little about the plot has been revealed (for obvious reasons, since the film is about secrets), the cast, including Patrick Warburton and Connie Nielsen (who’s having a busy 2020), is a solid hook.

Inheritance launches May 22nd via On Demand and digital rental services.

A young man and woman, both in heavy 1950s glasses, sit at a counter in front of an old-school heavy radio mic in The Vast of Night. Image: Amazon Studios

The Vast of Night

A young 1950s radio DJ and a switchboard operator pick up an unknown radio signal that leads them down a rabbit hole of mystery. Filmmaker Andrew Patterson appears to be working with a minimal budget, but The Vast of Night proves that know-how and raw imagination trump money every time, as his two protagonists race to discover the signal’s source in an ode to The Twilight Zone.

The Vast of Night launches on May 29th on Amazon Prime.

Scott Adkins stands in a boxing ring, wearing jeans and a tight polo shirt, looking down at his big orange boxing gloves. Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Debt Collectors

What’s more dangerous than a debt collector? Multiple debt collectors. Since 2017, Winchester’s filmmaking machine Jesse V. Johnson has without fail dropped at least one new jaw-shattering action film per year, usually starring undisputed Action Cinema VOD King Scott Adkins. The textures, tones, and flavors don’t really matter, because whatever combination Johnson and Adkins decide on, their viewers are basically guaranteed a solid 90 minutes of marathon ass-kicking that outclass most of what passes as theatrical studio action. Given that there aren’t any theatrical studio action movies at present, you don’t have any other options, but even if there were, this is much likely to be the better option anyway.

Debt Collectors will launch on May 29th on Amazon Video and iTunes.

A line of drone-like vehicles stretches over a futuristic blue city. Photo: Shout! Studios

The Blackout: Invasion Earth

The subtitle appended to Egor Baranov and Nathalia Hencker’s Russian science-fiction thriller The Blackout is “Invasion Earth,” so whoever wrote the copy on the movie’s logline wasted their time by trying to be as vague as possible. When global contact is cut short with no evidence of nuclear war, terrorist attacks, or natural phenomena as the cause, it’s up to soldiers in a small area of Eastern Europe to figure out who turned out the lights and left a trail of dead bodies in their wake. Spoiler: It’s aliens. It’s always aliens. Foreign blockbusters don’t always make their way to U.S. screens, and The Blackout sounds interesting (albeit a bit familiar), so there’s no time like now to watch it.

The Blackout: Invasion Earth launches on June 2nd on Amazon, On Demand, and digital rental services.

Mia Wasikowska, in an elaborate red jacket and skirt, presents Damon Herriman, also in red, as he emerges from a set of red velvet curtains. Photo: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Judy and Punch

Judy (Mia Wasikowska) and her husband Punch (Damon Herriman) just want to bring back their marionette show in the town of Seaside, which isn’t located close to any sea. But Seaside’s a mob scene, and Punch is a lousy drunk. When he accidentally kills their baby, and Judy takes a beating from the locals, she swears vengeance on Punch and the whole town. Wasikowska often plays women spurned, and working with fellow Aussie Mirrah Foukes on this unique take on the centuries-old Punch and Judy tradition sounds like a new opportunity for her to explore that space afresh.

Judy and Punch launches on June 5th on Apple TV and Fandango Now.

A close-up of the blood-spattered face of a young blonde woman in a knit hat, holding up in an unclear, blurry, bloody weapon in the foreground. Photo: Quiver Distribution

Becky

Urban Dictionary defines “Becky” as “jealousy specifically from a skinny girl with a flat butt who criticizes & body shames girls with big round butts to disguise the fact that she’s jealous.” After Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott (Cooties, Bushwick) drop their new movie, Becky, on demand, maybe it’ll change that page to “a rebel girl who fights off a gang of home invaders at her dad’s lakehouse.” However good or bad Becky is, it’ll probably go down in history as “the film where Kevin James plays a ruthless criminal.” Maybe this is Kevin James’ Uncut Gems after all?

Becky will launch on June 5th via On Demand and digital-rental services.

Ashleigh Cummings, with a bloody, swollen eye, looks nervously around a crumpled fence and a pile of indistinct severed heads in season 2 of NOS4A2. Photo: Zach Dilgard/AMC

NOS4A2

Another year, another series based on a novel by someone with the surname “King.” Pop culture will never be done with the King dynasty, though NOS4A2 at least is the product of Joe Hill and not his father, Stephen King. Regardless, Hill’s novel NOS4A2 is his most Stephen King-inspired novel to date, an epic horror story revolving around vampires, children, and psychic powers. This season picks up eight years after season 1 left off, as Zachary Quinto’s immortal child-stalking soul-eater goes a-hunting for Ashleigh Cumming’s son.

NOS4A2 will launch on June 21st on AMC.

Bella Heathcote, spattered with blood and wearing a green hoodie, stars offscreen at something unnerving while standing in front of a dresser covered with photos and knickknacks in Relic. Photo: IFC Films

Relic

Mother-daughter duo Kay (Emily Mortimer) and Sam (Bella Heathcote) hoof it to their family’s country estate when grandma Edna (Robyn Nevin) disappears. The good news: Edna turns up about as quickly as she vanished. The bad news: She’s possessed, or haunted, or dealing with dementia, it’s initially unclear which. Relic premiered a millennia ago at Sundance 2020, and this summer, the rest of us get to enjoy this slow-burner in the comfort of our own (hopefully not-haunted) homes.

Relic will launch on July 10th via On Demand and digital-rental services.

Two men in dark hoodies and a woman in a red sweater, standing in misty darkness, stand at a split-rail fence, looking down at something below. Photo: IFC Films

The Rental

Two couples head off for a weekend retreat to celebrate their entrepreneurial success, and before long the whole vacation goes sour. This is a classic horror-thriller setup, but The Rental is written and directed by Dave Franco, not a name well-known either for horror or for filmmaking, and co-written by Joe Swanberg, a name you may either love or revile depending on whether or not you think a script is a necessary component for a functioning movie. Expect The Rental to hang somewhat loose, but also expect the cast (Franco, as well as his wife, Alison Brie, plus Dan Stevens, Sheila Vand, and Toby Huss) to fill in screenwriting blanks with natural chemistry.

The Rental will launch on July 24 via On Demand services.


Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. For more information, see our ethics policy.