The best movies to stream in May, from "Rocketman" to "The Lovebirds"

From Netflix comedies and Hulu horror, to HBO docs and even a little Scooby-Doo, there's something for everyone

By Hanh Nguyen
May 1, 2020 9:00PM (UTC)
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Taron Egerton as Elton John in "Rocketman" (Paramount Pictures)

Even as some public spaces and businesses are on the brink of reopening, social distancing will remain in effect, and that means watching movies is still best done from the comfort of your own home. Fortunately, the month of May brings plenty of films to streaming, ranging from the big budget flicks to the art house passion projects.

Of the former, the most anticipated is "Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker," the final chapter of the Skywalker saga that created so much ambivalence among audiences and critics alike. Despite this, Salon's Matthew Rozsa found the coda "extremely satisfying," even as fans decried the sidelining of Rose Tico or tried to puzzle out the ins and outs of the Force dyad.

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If Jedis and their space opera antics aren't your bag, fear not – May has a range of offerings to satisfy most tastes, from kid-friendly flicks and documentaries to rom-coms and horror. And of course, you can always check out which new movies you missed in March and April.

The following list will be updated as studios announce new releases:

May 1

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"All Day and a Night" (Netflix)

When Jahkor (Ashton Sanders of Barry Jenkins' "Moonlight") lands in prison, he searches for clues in the days preceding his arrest and through his childhood to figure out what he should do next to survive. Directed by Joe Robert Cole, who co-wrote "Black Panther" and also contributed to "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story."

"Bull" (Digital and VOD)

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Abe Turner (Rob Morgan) is a former bull rider who is struggling to maintain his dignity after a crushing life. After breaking into his house, his teenage neighbor Kris (Amber Havard) must make amends and soon begins working with him on the rodeo circuit.

In a Salon interview, Morgan discussed playing a cowboy, anger, and changing the narrative in life: "[Virginia State University] gave me a chance to grow into the person and the artist that I am, so I could be something. If it wasn't for them I would probably l be dead, to be honest."

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"Ema" (Mubi, with free 7-day trial)

We know it's hard to keep up with all the streaming services, but at least Mubi is willing to lure you in with a free trial combined with a very attractive exclusive preview. On May 1, the global curated streaming service will hold the virtual premiere of  "Ema," the newest film by Pablo Larraín ("Jackie," "Neruda") followed by a Q&A with the film's star, Mariana Di Girolamo.

According to Mubi, "Ema" is "an intoxicating comment on sex, power and chaos in modern-day Chile. Knife-sharp and unapologetically punk, the film is a whirlwind of provocative, no-holds-barred anarchy, anchored by a searing central performance from rising star Mariana Di Girolamo alongside Gael García Bernal."

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"The Half of It" (Netflix)

Director Alice Wu makes her "Saving Face" follow-up with this heartfelt, queer twist on the Cyrano de Bergerac tale. Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis of "Nancy Drew") is the only Chinese American kid in the tiny town of Squahamish, and other than writing term papers for $20 a pop, she keeps her head down. When football player Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) hires her to write a love letter to his crush Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), however, they both discover their feelings entangled in unexpected ways. 

May 4

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"Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker" (Disney+)

Yes, Disney+ is capitalizing on the May the Fourth Be With You celebration with a "Mandalorian" making-of docuseries, the conclusion of "Clone Wars," and the streaming release of this final film that reveals Rey's parentage, a First Order traitor, and just how many new characters you can stuff into a film (read: too many). This is about as "Star Wars" as it gets, and its gleeful mayhem will be a welcome distraction to our own troubles.

May 4 & 5

"American Experience: George W. Bush" (PBS, PBS.org, PBS Video app, 9-11 p.m.)

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This two-part documentary chronicles the life of 43rd U.S. president George W. Bush through archival and news footage and interviews with those closest to him, including chiefs of staff Andy Card and Joshua Bolten, speechwriter David Frum, senior advisor Karl Rove, and opinionated press secretary Ari Fleischer who deigned to speak to Salon, among others.

May 5

"The Lodge" (Hulu)

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After their own mother dies of suicide, Aidan and Mia aren't thrilled with their new stepmother Grace, the sole survivor of a Christian cult with members who also happened to die by mass suicide. But hey, that's totally not a red flag or coincidence or anything to Richard, who is smitten. To force his kids to accept their new family member, they all go on a Christmas getaway to a remote lodge that belonged to Grace's family. Prepare for the worst yuletide season ever. The film stars Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Alicia Silverstone, and Richard Armitage.

"Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind" (HBO)

In this intimate documentary, Natasha Gregson Wagner explores her famous mother's personal and private life through interviews with those closest to her, including husband and actor Robert Wagner, who speaks about her death on camera for the first time.

May 6

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"Becoming" (Netflix)

In other Mother's Day programming news, now that the Obamas' Higher Ground Productions has earned its first Oscar for the documentary "American Factory," the production company is focusing closer to home with Michelle Obama's book tour.

May 7

"Driveways" (iTunes)

In Brian Dennehy's first posthumous performance, the acting legend plays Del, a widower and Korean War vet who runs into Kathy (Golden Globe nominee Hong Chau) when she goes to clear out her late sister's house. The two strike up an unlikely friendship, which leads to Kathy's son Cody opening up.

May 8

"How to Build a Girl" (Video on Demand)

Beanie Feldstein ("Booksmart") stars as 16-year-old Johana Morrigan, who escapes her overcrowded home and humdrum life by reinventing herself as a glamorous music critic called Dolly Wilde. Based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Caitlin Moran, the sassy coming-of-age comedy also stars Alfie Allen ("Game of Thrones"), Paddy Considine, Lucy Punch, Jameela Jamil, Chris O'Dowd, and Emma Thompson.

"Jimmy O. Yang: Good Deal" (Amazon)

In this standup special debut recorded at the Neptune Theater in Seattle, the "Silicon Valley" and "Crazy Rich Asians" star covers the gamut from immigrant parents and Matt Damon to the logistics of hauntings by ghosts.

"Spaceship Earth" (Hulu, VOD, virtual cinemas, and participating drive-ins)

Long before the world began to shelter in place, eight intrepid pioneers, aka biospherians, attempted to live in a closed, self-sufficient vivarium known as the Biosphere 2. While the Arizona facility was used to study Earth's various biomes, it was also seen as a precursor to closed-living environments that would someday work off-planet. The experiment lasted two years and had its share of problems, both internally (personal squabbles and resources failing) and externally (perceptions that it was a cult). 

May 10

"Call Your Mother" (Comedy Central)

This film explores the relationships between comedians and their mothers.  Some of the comedians included are Louie Anderson, Awkwafina, Jimmy Carr, Bridget Everett, Rachel Feinstein, Judah Friedlander, Jim Gaffigan, Judy Gold, Jo Koy, Bobby Lee, Norm Macdonald, Jim Norton, Tig Notaro, Yvonne Orji, Kristen Schaal, David Spade, Roy Wood Jr., and more.

May 11

"Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics"  (Netflix)

Directed by Donick Cary, this comedic documentary about psychedelics features celebrities – including Adam Scott, Nick Offerman, Sarah Silverman, A$AP Rocky, Paul Scheer, and Nick Kroll – as they recall their most mind-bending trips via animations, reenactments, and more.

May 11 & 12

"Asian Americans" (PBS at 8-10 p.m.)

With more hate crimes being perpetrated against Asian Americans due to coronavirus paranoia, there's no better time to delve into the persecution and racism this group has faced in this country dating back to the 19th century. Narrated by Daniel Dae Kim and Tamlyn Tomita, this four-part series airing over two days examines the range of experiences, from the Chinese working on the railroads in the 1850s and the incarceration of the Japanese Americans in camps during World War II, to the rise of the Model Minority myth and the development of an Asian American identity. The series also includes interviews with writers, historians, activists, and celebrities like comedian Hari Kondabolu and author Viet Thanh Nguyen.

May 12 

"Capone" 

Tom Hardy plays Al Capone, and well, what more do you want? This impersonation is the next best thing to getting another movie where he gets to play Bane.

"The Happy Days of Garry Marshall" (ABC at 8 p.m. & Hulu)

In this two-hour special, stars of the most iconic TV shows and films – including "Happy Days," "Laverne & Shirley," "Mork & Mindy," "Pretty Woman" and "The Princess Diaries" – come together for this heartfelt tribute to the creative and hilarious genius. Stars include Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Ron Howard, Henry Winkler, Pam Dawber, Julie Andrews, Anne Hathaway, Chris Pine, Ashton Kutcher, Jimmy Kimmel, Yvette Nicole Brown, Cary Elwes, Jennifer Garner, Kate Hudson, Rob Lowe, John Stamos, and more.

May 15 

"Basketball County: In the Water" (Showtime, 9 p.m., On Demand and Showtime Anytime)

From executive producers Kevin Durant and Rich Kleiman comes this documentary that examines the phenomenon of the Maryland county that has produced elite basketball stars.  Besides Durant, Prince George's County also produced Victor Oladipo, Michael Beasley, Quinn Cook, Rebekkah Brunson, Marissa Coleman, and many more to the tune of 25 NBA and more then a dozen WNBA players since 2000.

"Scoob!" (On demand)

This film is intended to be the first installment in a series of films set within a Hanna-Barbera shared cinematic universe. An origin story of sorts, the film revisits the first meeting between Shaggy and Scooby, and how they eventually teamed up to solve mysteries with the rest of the Scooby gang. In the present, Fred, Velma, and Daphne must figure out where their friends are when Shaggy and Scooby are unexpectedly recruited by the Blue Falcon to prevent a global "dogpocalypse." The voice cast includes Frank Welker, Will Forte, Zac Efron, Amanda Seyfriend, Gina Rodriguez, Mark Wahlberg, Tracy Morgan, and Ken Jeong.

May 22

"AKA Jane Roe" (FX at 9 p.m., and next day on FX on Hulu)

For FX's first documentary feature film, the network delves into the life of Norma McCorvey, who is the real-life "Jane Roe" from the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case, in her final series of interviews prior to her death.

"Come to Daddy" (Amazon)

When the privileged musician Norval Greenwood (Elijah Wood) tries to reconnect with his estranged father in a remote cabin in Oregon, he gets pulled into a bizarre horror show that involves murder, mistaken identity, and kidnapping. Get ready for a bloody yet darkly humorous ride.

"Inheritance" (On Demand)

When the patriarch (Patrick Warburton) of a wealthy and powerful political family dies, he leaves his daughter Lauren (Lily Collins) a bizarre inheritance that turns out to be . . . Simon Pegg in a bad wig. No really, this long-haired stranger is the key to secrets that could destroy the family. The film also stars Chace Crawford and Connie Nielsen.

"The Lovebirds" (Netflix)

Michael Showalter's wacky rom-com starring Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani was supposed to get a theatrical release, but that was canceled dues to the coronavirus pandemic. Instead, it's getting its debut on Netflix. In the film, lovebirds (Rae, Nanjiani) become embroiled in a murder mystery and must survive the night, while keeping their love alive.

"The Painter and the Thief" (Hulu)

This Norwegian documentary by Benjamin Ree tells the true story of how Czech naturalist Barbora Kysilkova befriends one of the accused thieves, Karl-Bertil Nordland, at his criminal hearing and then goes on to paint his portrait.

"Rocketman" (Amazon and Hulu)

The award-winning film comes to streaming to tell the story of Elton John (Taron Egerton) in his early days in England  as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through his musical partnership with Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). "Game of Thrones" star Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard join in the musical fun.

"The Trip to Greece" (Video on Demand)

In this fourth installment by Michael Winterbottom, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon team up once again for another European jaunt, this time through Greece to retrace the journey of Odysseus. That sounds . . .  ominous.

"Villain" (Digital and VOD)

In this gruesome thriller, ex-con Eddie Franks is out of prison and wants to have a normal life, reconnect with his daughter, and even clear his brother's debt. Unfortunately, that last effort is thwarted by the local drug lord, and of course violence ensues.

May 25

"Uncut Gems" (Netflix)

Adam Sandler is a revelation as the fast-talking jeweler Howard Ratner, who is always angling to get ahead and have his way, despite the law or any marital vows. He conceives of a scheme to make big money after he comes into possession of an uncut opal, but Boston Celtics center Kevin Barnett, an impatient brother-in-law, and a nail-biting basketball game all contrive to delay a happy payday. 

May 26

"I Still Believe" (Hulu)

In the Christian musical romantic drama, "Riverdale" star KJ Apa gets to show off his chiseled-jawed musical chops to play real-life singer-songwriter Jeremy Camp, who falls and love and marries Melissa Lynn Henning (Britt Robertson), who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Expect a tearjerker, but one buoyed by faith.

"Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations" (PBS, 9 p.m.)

In this compelling documentary, director Andrew Goldberg examines contemporary antisemitism by "looking at the far-right in the U.S., the far-left in the U.K., Islamic radicalism in France, and a massive government antisemitic propaganda campaign in Hungary." The film also gained access to the Tree of Life synagogue after the horrifying shootings, and features numerous high-profile interviews, including Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, and more. Julianna Marguilies narrates the film, which had a brief theatrical release before it was cut short due to the pandemic.

May 27

"On the Record" (HBO Max - launch day!)

Warner Media's streaming service dubbed HBO Max is finally here, and this is one of its much-ballyhooed first day offerings. This documentary directed and produced by Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering ("The Hunting Ground," "The Invisible War") tells the "powerful and haunting story of music executive Drew Dixon as she grapples with her decision to become one of the first women of color, in the wake of #MeToo, to come forward and publicly name hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons of sexual assault." Other accusers, including Sil Lai Abrams and Sheri Sher, are also featured.

May 29 

"The Vast of Night" (Amazon)

And finally, a bit of sci-fi from Amazon: 

"In the twilight of the 1950s, on one fateful night in New Mexico, a young, winsome switchboard operator Fay (Sierra McCormick) and charismatic radio DJ Everett (Jake Horowitz) discover a strange audio frequency that could change their small town and the future forever. Dropped phone calls, AM radio signals, secret reels of tape forgotten in a library, switchboards, crossed patchlines and an anonymous phone call lead Fay and Everett on a scavenger hunt toward the unknown."


Hanh Nguyen

Hanh Nguyen is the Senior Editor of Culture, which covers TV, movies, books, music, podcasts, art, and food. Follow her at Hanhonymous.

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