In most parts of the country, May is when spring really unfurls her full beauty, beckoning us to emerge from our homes and step into the fragrant sunlight. Don’t be fooled. There are far too many great movies and TV series premiering on streaming this month to waste time enjoying the out-of-doors. There are recent Oscar-winners, intriguing original films, new seasons of acclaimed original series, a handful of worthy cult curiosities, and one of the most anticipated TV returns in recent memory, just waiting for you on your streaming platforms of choice. To help you resist the temptations of the warming weather, we’ve compiled a list of May’s best streaming options and broken them down by premiere date and platform.
Sorry, fresh air, there’s watching to be done.
Premiering May 1
Don't Think Twice, Netflix
Written and directed by revered comedian Mike Birbiglia, this charming 2016 comedy is about what happens when improv comedians stop playing icebreakers and start getting real. Centered on a successful-ish improv troupe whose ranks include characters played by Gillian Jacobs, Keegan-Michael Key, Kate Micucci, Chris Gethard, and Birbiglia himself, Don’t Think Twice explores a weird time in those performers’ lives, as the beckoning of greater success (for some) and the age-old question of “Am I getting too old for this shit?” creates deep schisms within a group that considers itself family. Given its comedy-world purview, it’s no surprise that Don’t Think Twice is often hilarious; what’s surprising is how thoughtful and emotional it can be as well.
Junebug, Sundance Now
Director Phil Morrison’s 2005 comedy Junebug is the rare indie film about the rural South that doesn’t condescend to its subjects, as art gallery owner Embeth Davidtz accompanies her new husband home to North Carolina to meet his family. It’s a warm, richly observed little slice-of-life film that just happened to give the world Amy Adams. (She, largely unknown at the time, received her very first Oscar nomination for her performance.)
The Charlie Brown specials most people know and revere are the ones celebrating holidays, like the melancholy It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown! and the even more melancholy A Charlie Brown Christmas. But you’d be a fool to sleep on Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, a 1977 special that throws Charlie Brown and the gang into a high-stakes summer camp whitewater rafting adventure that’s just plain fun. There’s even a rival group of kids for everyone to rally against, complete with an evil genius cat to taunt Snoopy.
Winter’s Bone, Amazon
It may feel sometimes as though Jennifer Lawrence, Movie Star has always been with us, but in fact it was this acclaimed 2010 indie, adapted on a shoestring budget by writer-director Debra Granik from a 2006 novel, that introduced her to the world. Filmed in the Ozarks, Winter’s Bone is a gripping modern-day Southern Gothic set among poverty-stricken rural outcasts: petty criminals, meth-heads, indifferent lawmen, and a girl attempting to keep her family afloat by navigating between them all. Lawrence’s Ree must prove that her father is dead in order to keep her house from being seized to pay his bond so she can continue to care for her younger siblings. Her fight to save her family comes at a grim cost, revealed in one of the eeriest climaxes in recent film memory.
Premiering May 5
The Phantom of the Opera (1943), Starz
This film deviates from all other more faithful Phantom of the Opera remakes, as well as from Universal’s renowned stable of horror classics, including the famed 1925 silent Phantom adaptation starring Lon Chaney. In this version, true love doesn’t conquer all and horror mostly takes a backseat to lots of singing. Tenor turned movie star Nelson Eddy plays a new character who forms a bromance with another rival for soubriquet Suzanna Foster’s affections in order to rescue her from her obsessive stalker, Claude Rains — a rather farcical plot that plays out against a constant backdrop of glitzy opera staging. It’s like Phantom of the Opera as an extra-campy MGM musical, and it’s great.
Sense8 season two, Netflix
There are no other shows like Sense8, full stop. This brainchild of Matrix directors Lilly and Lana Wachowski, along with Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, presents eight people, living all around the world, then suggests they have a shared consciousness and can draw on each other’s skills to get out of jams. That makes for exciting action sequences, sure, but also a generalized sense of unity with all of humanity. At times, it feels like Sense8 is trying to save the world, and, hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing.
Carnal Knowledge (May 5) and The Graduate (May 6), Mubi
Get to know the great director Mike Nichols with this double bill of two of his finest films. 1971’s Carnal Knowledge is a three-part tale of two men’s changing relationships to sex as they go from college age to middle-age, with Jack Nicholson and, uh, Art Garfunkel in the main roles. And then there’s 1967’s The Graduate, which sends Dustin Hoffman on a quest for meaning and does as much as any film to define “the Baby Boomers.”
Premiering May 6
Master of None season two, Netflix
The first season of Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang’s Netflix comedy took an intimate, heartfelt, and very funny look at what it means for Indian-American actor Dev (Ansari) to live and work in New York City without resorting to the clichés that premise usually brings with it. (Okay, except the unrealistically huge apartment.) Season two promises more of the same, plus some bonus time in the gorgeous Italian countryside as Dev explores the nuances of pasta-making. So come May 6, you can sit back, relax, and vicariously live through Dev’s new Instagram-ready adventures.
Manchester By the Sea, Amazon
Boasting some of the strongest performances of 2016 — Casey Affleck won an Oscar for his role, and both Lucas Hedges and Michelle Williams were nominated for theirs — Manchester By the Sea is about a man who has to return home when his brother dies to look after his teenage nephew. Once there, he’s forced to remember and engage with an achingly painful past he’s made every effort to run away from. As that premise would suggest, it’s a heartbreaking weeper of a movie — but it’s also surprisingly funny. Really!
Sully, HBO Go
Clint Eastwood delivered with this surprisingly effective 2016 film about the “Miracle on the Hudson,” when Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger landed his damaged passenger plane in the Hudson. Tom Hanks plays Sully as he deals with the strange aftermath of the flight. It’s the sort of movie everyone in the family can enjoy, while still being a serious adult drama.
Premiering May 12
Anne with an E, Netflix
Who better to bring Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved Anne of Green Gables to TV screens (yet again) than Moira Walley-Beckett, best known for her Emmy-winning work on Breaking Bad? After all, Anne Shirley and Walter White have plenty in common. Like how they both destroy everyone who opposes them! We’re curious to see how Walley-Beckett handles this, but the story is timeless for good reason.
I Love Dick, Amazon
God bless Transparent creator Jill Soloway for realizing that what America needs most right now is a TV series built around the inimitable Kathryn Hahn, one of our finest, funniest actors. Soloway and co-creator Sarah Gubbins send Hahn’s character, Chris, into rural Texas to examine her own relationship to sexual desire, her artistic ambitions, and other stuff, in this adaptation of the groundbreaking novel of the same name. Oh, and it’s funny, too. We promise.
Premiering May 18
Riverdale season one, Netflix
Riverdale, the CW’s latest hit, appears to be the result of a network exec saying, “What if we took Archie Comics and Dawson’s Creek, mixed them with Twin Peaks and Veronica Mars, and added just a touch of Crimson Peak?” The show doesn’t always pull off its ambitious goals, but it’s incredibly fun to watch it try. Especially charming is the relationship between Betty and Veronica, which has been reimagined from a bitter rivalry between frenemies into a rich and complex friendship, with bonus mystery-solving.
Premiering May 19
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt season three, Netflix
It’s a miracle! Everyone’s favorite former mole woman (played by Ellie Kemper) returns for a new season, in which she’s headed off to college. Season two moved much more deeply into the struggles that Kimmy and the crew experience in dealing with their scarred backgrounds, and season three promises more of the same.
The Keepers, Netflix
Netflix struck gold with the heavily discussed Making a Murderer, so it’s time for even more true-crime documentaries to hit their streaming shores. Of them, the most promising is this seven-part series about the unsolved murder of a nun whose former students believe her death may have been tied to a Catholic Church cover-up of sexual abuse by priests.
Premiering May 20
The Wizard of Lies, HBO
HBO usually waits until late May to unveil its big Emmy hopeful TV movie for the year, and in 2017, it would seem to be this. It’s easy to see why the network has such hopes, with no less than Robert de Niro as scam artist Bernie Madoff and Michelle Pfeiffer as Madoff’s wife. It’s even directed by Barry Levinson, of Rain Man and Diner fame. Here’s hoping it’s better than the anemic ABC Madoff miniseries.
Premiering May 21
Following the most dramatic Best Picture win in Oscar history — not to mention well-deserved wins for Best Supporting Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay — the tiny indie Moonlight enjoyed a brief second life at the box office, but it’s still woefully underseen. Hopefully the ease of streaming will prompt even more people to seek out writer-director Barry Jenkins’s beautiful cinematic triptych, which charts the personal and sexual awakening of a young man named Chiron through three stages of life. Powerful and unique, it’s as close as narrative film gets to poetry.
Twin Peaks, Showtime
David Lynch and Mark Frost’s seminal 1990 TV series is returning to TV, 26 years after it left the air and 25 years after movie spinoff Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me left theaters. What do we know about the revival? Almost nothing! How much do we want to see it? A lot! How many “It is happening again” jokes have we forced ourselves to suppress in writing this blurb? Dozens!
Boardwalk Empire season five, Amazon
If for some reason you haven’t yet watched all of HBO’s solid, if inessential, 1920s gangster series Boardwalk Empire and you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber, well, the fifth season hits May 21, so you can see how the whole story concludes. Though not as good as the third or fourth seasons, season five offers a fitting conclusion for the saga of Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) and the Atlantic City rum-runners he calls associates.
Premiering May 23
Casual season three, Hulu
Rich people in Los Angeles have problems with intimacy. If that sounds good to you, you will probably like Casual, a TV show that definitely exists. If it doesn’t, stay far, far away. We like it, though.
Premiering May 26
War Machine, Netflix
Director David Michôd’s loose retelling of a true story sends Brad Pitt’s four-star general to Afghanistan to try to bring the war there to a close, only for him to discover that not everybody wants the war to end. The black comedy and political satire is almost as interesting for another reason: It’s one of the first big entries in Netflix’s 2017 initiative to become as central to the world of film (where it lags behind fellow streamer Amazon) as it is to the world of TV.
Jeffrey Wright plays the rockstar artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who rose from homeless street artist to the darling of the 1980s art world using techniques from graffiti art, in this 1996 biopic. The film (directed by Julian Schnabel, who’s an artist himself) also stars David Bowie as probably the best Andy Warhol to appear on screen other than Warhol himself (and that’s debatable). It’s a great, iconic peep into a genius’s mind and a messy industry.
Premiering May 27
Poldark season two, Amazon
Nothing goes right for Captain Ross Poldark in season two, because nothing ever can, and thank goodness for that. The entire show — about a gentleman farmer and coal miner in 18th-century Cornwall, torn between two beautiful women — is built around shots of Poldark farming in shirtless frustration, while various women in beautiful gowns say things like, “But what about the mines?” and Cornwall is achingly lovely in the background. If Poldark ever caught a lucky break, it would destroy the whole story.
The Wicker Man (1973), Mubi
Baudy and bonkers, Robin Hardy’s cult horror classic remains a magical hybrid: It’s part detective mystery, part satire, part scathing takedown of hippie culture, part musical, part nightmare fuel about a rural community gone off the rails into collective madness. Come for the notoriety of the plot — a bumbling puritan of a police sergeant (Edward Woodward) investigates the alleged disappearance of a young girl on a remote British island where the locals engage in pagan debauchery — and stay for the fantastic acting (particularly Christopher Lee as the enigmatic Lord Summerisle), the elaborate theatrical staging, and the interminable weirdnesses that make this film much more than merely a date with the Wicker Man.
Premiering May 30
House of Cards season five, Netflix
The fourth season of Netflix’s House of Cards premiered in March of 2016, a little over a year ago according to the calendar, but before the 2016 presidential election, so it may as well be eons. It’s not your fault if you don’t remember every detail of what happened. Here’s a refresher: Frank Underwood’s (Kevin Spacey) skeletons were dragged out of the closet, his and his wife Claire’s (Robin Wright) presidential ticket looked all but lost, and the two watch ICO terrorists kill an American hostage. Now we’ll find out how they’re gonna turn their tragedy into political gain.
Doctor Strange, Netflix
While Doctor Strange is somewhat notorious as one of Marvel’s more controversial films when it comes to casting and race, it’s also worth remembering as a movie as inventive and beautiful as anything Marvel has ever created. Streets fold onto one another. Buildings turn into conveyor belts. Reality is ripped apart at the seams. If Doctor Strange’s visuals are the future of Marvel’s grand design, all those warnings about “superhero fatigue” will have been false alarms.