17 Movies Like Hamilton (2020)

Staff & contributors

The concepts of roads not taken and domino effects have received plenty of cinematic attention in their showier forms by way of multiverse comic book movies and dimension-hopping films like Everything Everywhere All At Once. But, though there’s no hint of sci-fi in Past Lives, Celine Song’s gentle film can count itself as one of the best treatments of that universe-spawning question: “what if?”

When her family moves from Seoul to Canada, teenage Na Young bids a loaded farewell to classmate Hae Sung and changes her name to Nora. Years later, they reconnect online and discover the spark still burns between them. This is no idealistic romance, though: Past Lives is told with sober candor. Song acknowledges real obstacles standing in the way of a relationship between the two — those pragmatic (distance) and, more painfully, personal (evolving personalities, American husbands).

Those two threads — unrealized romance and the transmutation of identity that so often takes place after migrating — are expertly entwined in Past Lives to produce a sublime, aching meditation on memory and time, practical love and idealistic romance, and all the complex contradictions that exist in between. That Song communicates so much and so delicately in only her first film makes Past Lives all the more stunning.

Genre: Drama, Romance

Actor: An Min-yeong, An Min-young, Chang Ki-ha, Chase Sui Wonders, Choi Won-young, Emily Cass McDonnell, Federico Rodriguez, Greta Lee, Hwang Seung-eon, Isaac Powell, Jack Alberts, Jane Yubin Kim, Jay Karales, John Magaro, Jojo T. Gibbs, Kristen Sieh, Moon Seung-a, Moon Seung-ah, Park Jun-hyuk, Seo Yeon-woo, Shin Hee-cheol, Teo Yoo, Yim Seung-min, Yoon Ji-hye

Director: Celine Song

Rating: PG-13

Summer of Soul would already be remarkable if it was just a collection of some of the greatest live performances ever put to film. Boasting a roster that includes Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Gladys Knight, and Sly and the Family Stone, the nearly-forgotten 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured in the documentary was an all-star catalog of some of the biggest names in popular music, all at pivotal moments in their careers. Seeing them at the height of their powers, in front of a Black audience that meant so much to them, makes for an unexpectedly emotional experience.

But Summer of Soul also expands beyond the actual concert, using the Harlem Cultural Festival to represent a turning point in Black culture and history, especially after the death of Martin Luther King Jr. Through the film's pristine, electric editing and gorgeous archival restoration, music becomes a communal act of mourning, a rallying cry to face the uncertain future, and a celebration of a people and a heritage continuing to fight against erasure and persecution.

Genre: Documentary, Drama, History, Music

Actor: Abbey Lincoln, B. B. King, Chris Rock, David Ruffin, Fidel Castro, Herbie Mann, Hugh Masekela, Jesse Jackson, John F. Kennedy, John V. Lindsay, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Mahalia Jackson, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, Max Roach, Moms Mabley, Nina Simone, Questlove, Redd Foxx, Richard Nixon, Robert F. Kennedy, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Tony Lawrence, Walter Cronkite

Director: Questlove

Set in 1650 against the backdrop of the English colonization of Ireland, Wolfwalkers follows the story of Robyn, a young apprentice hunter who arrives in Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. Completing the “Irish Folklore Trilogy,” Tomm Moore’s film is a tale of sisterhood, friendship, and acceptance told with phenomenal artistry. Beautifully animated, with warm autumn colors and refined attention to detail, the film is beyond pleasing to the eye. The outstanding voice work from Honor Kneafsey and Eva Whittaker, along with a well-written and emotionally compelling story, make Wolfwalkers a unique animation experience for young viewers and adults alike. 

Genre: Adventure, Animation, Drama, Family, Fantasy

Actor: Aoibhin Murphy, Ben Andrews, Eva Whittaker, Honor Kneafsey, Jerome Burelbach, John Morton, Jon Kenny, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Nora Twomey, Paul Young, Richie Cody, Sean Bean, Simon McBurney, Tommy Tiernan, Vince Drews

Director: Ross Stewart, Tomm Moore

Rating: PG

A healthy mix of despair and self-deprecation has always been Bo Burnham's signature, but Inside takes it to the next level. It's a deconstructed film, rather than a simple one-night special; a one-man-show that constantly undercuts itself. Even more so, it sabotages its own immersive qualities and explores the depths of self-loathing by turning oneself into comedy material. Some may say, it's a classic move, but the pandemic reality and Burnham's unkempt look predispose us to embrace all the cringe (YouTube reactions), quirkiness, (the sock puppet), and frightening angst (suicide jokes) he puts forward. Emotional rawness and a polished DIY look fits the Netflix bill, but as far as the content goes, this one goes straight to the world heritage lockdown archives.

Genre: Comedy, Drama

Actor: Bo Burnham

Director: Bo Burnham

Rating: R

This groundbreaking documentary follows the USA Olympics sexual abuse case that made headlines in 2015. Through interviews with Olympians, their families, and investigative reporters, it’s also a documentary on the overall culture of abuse in gymnastics: sexual, physical, and emotional.

In one scene from the 1996 Olympics, gold medalist Kerri Strug has to run, vault, and land - all with a severe foot injury that was covered up by her coaches. She does this twice, limping between attempts and crawling off the mat on the second, crying. Meanwhile, her family, her coaches, the spectators - the World - is celebrating.

When she’s carried off, it’s Larry Nassar, the pedophile at the center of the documentary, who carries her.

Athlete A is groundbreaking exactly because it illustrates that the problem is not only with one doctor, or the 54 coaches who were also found guilty of sexual abuse, or the morally bankrupt leadership of USA Gymastics; it’s also about what went so wrong with society to see the abuse of young girls as cause for celebration.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Géza Poszar, Gina Nichols, Jen Sey, John Nichols, Maggie Nichols

Director: Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk

Rating: PG-13

Disclosure is a patient and articulate study of the ways movies have physically conditioned us to respond to certain expressions of queerness with fear, disgust, or laughter. But it also serves as a reminder that trans bodies have been represented on screen for as long as movies have existed—making it all the more unacceptable that we still often only see reductive and harmful stereotypes of trans people over 100 years since the birth of cinema. However, Disclosure is far from a "takedown" designed to make viewers feel bad. At the end of it all this remains a celebration film's power to dignify perspectives we rarely get to see through, and it's one of the nerdiest and most passionate trips through film history you could hope to have.

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Ajita Wilson, Alexandra Billings, Alexandra Grey, Angelica Ross, Anne Heywood, Arsenio Hall, Barbra Streisand, Bianca Leigh, Blanche Sweet, Brian Michael Smith, Caitlyn Jenner, Candis Cayne, Candy Darling, Carmen Carrera, Cathy Moriarty, Chaz Bono, Chloe Sevigny, Chris Sarandon, Christine Jorgensen, Crystal LaBeija, D'Lo, Dana Wynter, Daniela Sea, Daniela Vega, David E. Harrison, Divine, Dorian Corey, Dustin Hoffman, Eddie Redmayne, Edith Storey, Elliot Fletcher, Eric Gurry, Esme Percy, Ethel Lloyd, Flip Wilson, Gary Collins, Georges Du Fresne, Glenn Close, Hailie Sahar, Harry Langdon, Henry B. Walthall, Hilary Swank, Holly Woodlawn, Jack Doroshow, Jackie Curtis, James Garner, Jamie Clayton, Janet McTeer, Jared Leto, Jaye Davidson, Jazzmun, Jean Harlow, Jeffrey Tambor, Jen Richards, Jessica Crockett, Jim Carrey, Joan Rivers, John Gavin, John Lazar, John Lithgow, John Lone, Julie Andrews, Junior LaBeija, Katie Couric, Kim Kardashian, Lady Chablis, Laverne Cox, Leo Sheng, Lesley Ann Warren, Lilly Wachowski, Mandy Patinkin, Marquise Vilson, Mary Badham, Matthew McConaughey, Mercedes Ruehl, Michael Blodgett, Michael D. Cohen, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Milton Berle, Mya Taylor, Nick Adams, Octavia St. Laurent, Oprah Winfrey, Paris Dupree, Pepper LaBeija, Peter Scolari, Phil Donahue, Rain Valdez, Raúl Juliá, Ray Charles, Robert Preston, Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle, Roscoe Arbuckle, Sandra Caldwell, Sean Young, Ser Anzoategui, Stephen Rea, Susan Stryker, Sylvia Rivera, T.C. Jones, Tim Moore, Tom Hanks, Trace Lysette, Veronica Redd, Vivian Vance, Wendy Williams, William Hurt, Yance Ford, Zackary Drucker

Director: Sam Feder

Rating: R

This fun comedy-drama is about a New York playwright called Radha who never hit big. When she turns 40, she decides to reinvent herself as RadhaMUSPrime, a rapper.

And it’s all a personal affair: Radha Blank plays the main character (named after herself) and is also the writer, director, and producer.

The story is about rap and theater, but being so connected to reality, it feels like it’s about Blank making the movie itself. Its very existence feels like a triumph against the pressure of age, the misunderstanding of others, and the weight of unreached goals.

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music

Actor: Andrew Glaszek, Antonio Ortiz, Ashlee Brian, Doris McCarthy, Haskiri Velazquez, Imani Lewis, Irene Blackman, Jacob Ming-Trent, Kit Flanagan, Michael Izquierdo, Oswin Benjamin, Peter Kim, Peter Y. Kim, Qaasim Middleton, Radha Blank, Reed Birney, Stacey Sargeant, Styles P, T.J. Atoms, Tracy Wilder, Welker White, William Oliver Watkins, Young M.A

Director: Radha Blank

Rating: R

Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti (Modern Love, Black Mirror), and J.K. Simmons star in this easy but original rom-com that takes place in a wedding time loop. Nyles (Samberg) finds himself living the same day over and over again, so he gives in to the monotony and the fact that there is no way to escape it. 

When he is about to hook up with one of the guests, Sarah (Milioti), he is attacked by a mysterious character. The routine of his time-loop is broken. 

Palm Springs is often surreal and philosophical, which are not adjectives usually used to describe rom-coms. It offers just enough twists to be original without jeopardizing the things that make it a good rom-com.

Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Mystery, Romance, Science Fiction

Actor: Andy Samberg, Brian Duffy, Camila Mendes, Chris Pang, Conner O'Malley, Cristin Milioti, Dale Dickey, David Hutchison, Erin Flannery, J.K. Simmons, Jacqueline Obradors, Jena Friedman, June Squibb, Lilli Birdsell, Mark Kubr, Martin Kildare, Meredith Hagner, Michelle Johnston, Peter Gallagher, Rocky Bonifield, Tongayi Chirisa, Tyler Hoechlin

Director: Max Barbakow

Rating: R

Even if you aren't familiar with the original, Tony Award-winning Broadway production from Lin-Manuel Miranda, this adaptation of In the Heights is still infused with the same infectious energy and loaded with many of the same eclectic songs. This is musical theater at its most fundamental (cheesy, us-against-the-world romance; unstoppable optimism) and also at some of its most unique—with old-school Broadway numbers mixing seamlessly with hip hop, Latin dance, and cheery 2000s pop. But beyond its music, In the Heights offers a gorgeous tapestry of stories about life in a proud immigrant community and the challenges of staying rooted to home while reaching for the stars.

Genre: Drama, Family, Music, Romance

Actor: Anthony Ramos, Ariana Greenblatt, Christopher Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Dascha Polanco, Dean Scott Vazquez, Gregory Diaz IV, Javier Muñoz, Jimmy Smits, Leslie Grace, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Anthony, Mateo Gómez, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Olivia Perez, Patrick Page, Ryan Woodle, Seth Stewart, Stephanie Beatriz, Susan Pourfar, The Kid Mero, Valentina

Director: Jon M. Chu

There’s a scene early in the documentary when present-day Michael J. Fox, who famously suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, swaggers along a street and greets a fan, only to stumble at that very moment and have people surround him with concern. Instead of giving into their pity or pretending nothing happened, he cooly tells the fan, “It was so nice meeting you, you knocked me off of my feet!” 

This brief moment tells you all you need to know about the ‘80s icon—Fox refuses to be a victim. Still is his brilliant and admirable attempt at telling his well-known story on his own terms. It covers everything from his childhood and early work in Hollywood to his life-changing roles in Family Ties, Teen Wolf, and most memorably, Back to the Future. It also sheds light on Fox's life as a husband, father, and Parkinson's sufferer. Director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) does a genius job of using faceless reenactments and cuts from films and TV shows to accompany Fox’s narration, which pumps the film with a dynamism that matches Fox’s resilient spirit. 

Urgent, clever, and exciting, Still is one of the rare celebrity biographies that serves a higher purpose than just recounting a famous person's life. Anyone who understands the importance of constantly moving and evolving will appreciate this film's existence. 

Genre: Documentary

Actor: Angela Galanopoulos, Annabelle Fox, Chad Sayn, Christopher Lloyd, Crispin Glover, David Letterman, Donna Lysell, Eric Stoltz, Gary David Goldberg, Gene Siskel, Hannah Galway, Jason Calder, Jay Leno, Johnny Carson, Justine Bateman, Larry David, Liam Raymond Dib, Meredith Baxter, Michael J. Fox, Michael McDonald, Muhammad Ali, Rick Pearce, Robert Zemeckis, Roger Ebert, Shayn Walker, Siobhan Murphy, Steven Spielberg, Thomas F. Wilson, Tracy Pollan, Woody Harrelson

Director: Davis Guggenheim

Alex Honnold might not be the most relatable guy ever, but his obsession with free solo climbing and his single-minded approach to life makes him so interesting. He's precisely the type of person that chooses to follow his goals, at the expense of everything else. To a certain extent, he has to be — without whole-hearted commitment to the sport, he could literally die. It’s no wonder someone decided to document his climb of Yosemite’s El Capitan wall—a wall that’s 3,000 feet high and hasn’t been free-climbed alone before. The journey is visually stunning and a technical marvel in and of itself. However, what’s most memorable about this film is the character study of Honnold: he has an indescribable instinct that outsiders could only call a death wish. His emotional detachment might make this a frustrating film to watch, but Free Solo serves as a unique portrait of a man who spits at the face of death.

Genre: Adventure, Documentary, Drama

Actor: Alex Honnold, Jimmy Chin, Tommy Caldwell

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin

Rating: PG-13

If you grew up watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, you may find yourself now humming along: It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood, a beautiful day for a neighbor, would you be mine? Could you be mine? 

If you did not grow up watching this iconic children’s television program, you may still be familiar with its host, the late Fred Rogers. Rogers was an advocate for empathy and extending kindness toward people of all races, religions, and ages. He never talked down to the neighbors who paid him visits on the show, which aired from 1968 to 2001, even while tackling heavier subjects like grief, divorce, and loneliness.

Morgan Neville’s Won’t You Be My Neighbor best captures Rogers’ ability to build communities and make you, the viewer, feel less alone. Through interviews and archival footage, a clear portrait emerges of Rogers’ legacy and singular force of goodwill. Both the documentary and Fred Rogers’ spirit serve as reminders that each of us are worthy of love, exactly as we are.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Al Gore, Ayden Soria, Betty Aberlin, Bill Clinton, Bill Isler, Brian Kilmeade, Christa McAuliffe, David Bianculli, David Letterman, David Newell, Eddie Murphy, Eleanor Way, François Clemmons, Fred Rogers, George Wirth, Hedda Sharapan, Hillary Clinton, Jim Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Joe Negri, Johnny Carson, Josie Carey, Junlei Li, Koko, Lorin Hollander, Lynden Liu, Lyndon B. Johnson, Major Hawbaker Manask, Margaret Whitmer, Max King, McColm Cephas Jr., McColm Kona Cephas Jr., Nick Tallo, Robert F. Kennedy, Susan Stamberg, Tom Junod, Tom Snyder, Yo-Yo Ma

Director: Morgan Neville

Two misfits, an immigrant and a traveling cook, team up to start an unlikely enterprise in this slow but captivating drama. The story, set in 19th century Pacific Northwest, evolves around the arrival of the first cow to that part of the world. This presents a unique opportunity that the two main characters try to benefit from. 

First Cow is a mix between a Western and a modern-day plot-less indie drama.  It has likable characters, stunning scenery, and a fascinating look into how social outcasts lived back then.

Genre: Drama, History, Western

Actor: Alia Shawkat, Don MacEllis, Dylan Smith, Eric Martin Reid, Ewen Bremner, Gary Farmer, Jean-Luc Boucherot, Jeb Berrier, John Keating, John Magaro, Kevin-Michael Moore, Lily Gladstone, Mary Ann Perreira, Mike Wood, Mitchell Saddleback, Orion Lee, Patrick D. Green, Phelan Davis, Rene Auberjonois, Scott Shepherd, T. Dan Hopkins, Ted Rooney, Toby Jones, Todd A. Robinson

Director: Kelly Reichardt

Rating: PG-13

With its origins as a full-length rock monologue, it's understandable if Tick, Tick... Boom! comes off as overly concerned with its protagonist's personal anxieties and not the larger social and health crises happening right outside his door. But while it really doesn't offer much insight into the AIDS epidemic, or even the art scene of 1990s New York, the helplessness that Jonathan Larson feels in the face of his own inability to save the world comes off as honest expression nonetheless. Andrew Garfield and a strong cast that includes Robin de Jesús and Vanessa Hudgens give purpose and energy to this somewhat messy character study that still manages to land its emotional beats.

Genre: Drama, Music

Actor: Adam Pascal, Alex Lacamoire, Alexandra Shipp, André De Shields, Andrew Garfield, Bebe Neuwirth, Ben Levi Ross, Bernadette Peters, Beth Malone, Bradley Whitford, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Chad Beguelin, Chita Rivera, Christopher Jackson, Chuck Cooper, Danielle Ferland, Danny Burstein, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Eddy Lee, Ehizoje Azeke, Eisa Davis, Elizabeth Chestang, Gizel Jimenez, Howard McGillin, Ilia Jessica Castro, Jeanine Tesori, Jelani Alladin, Joanna Adler, Joel Grey, Joel Perez, Jonathan Larson, Jonathan Marc Sherman, Joshua Henry, Judith Light, Judy Kuhn, Ken Holmes, Laura Benanti, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Marc Shaiman, Mason Versaw, Micaela Diamond, Michaela Jaé Rodriguez, Nick Blaemire, Phillipa Soo, Phylicia Rashād, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Ricardo Zayas, Richard Kind, Robin de Jesús, Roger Bart, Ryan Vasquez, Sheila Tapia, Stephen Schwartz, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Levenson, Tariq Trotter, Tom Kitt, Utkarsh Ambudkar, Vanessa Hudgens, Wilson Jermaine Heredia

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rating: PG-13

As the face of kung fu, a sports documentary on Bruce Lee is practically expected for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series. So many of them have been produced since the actor’s death in 1973. However, in Be Water, director Bao Nguyen captures the icon not through his works, but through his philosophy. Starting with his first screen test, the camera rarely strays from him, keeping us hooked on his magnetic presence even during voice-overs of interviews from his friends and family. This, mixed with readings of letters he’s written, reveals a man whose self-discipline and attitude power through obstacles against him. The film only diverts its attention to identifying those obstacles, but it only better proves the actor’s strength. In martial arts and in film, Be Water respects Lee as a force of nature– the rare force that broke barriers and bridged the gap between East and West.

Genre: Documentary, Drama

Actor: Angela Mao Ying, Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Dan Inosanto, David Carradine, Diana Lee Inosanto, Fred Weintraub, Jay Sebring, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Linda Lee Cadwell, Muhammad Ali, Nancy Kwan, Paul M. Heller, Raymond Chow Man-Wai, Rudolf Nureyev, Shannon Lee, Tony Liu, William Dozier

Director: Bao Nguyen