Netflix has an exciting and motley assortment of science fiction shows and movies to enjoy this May, whether you're in the mood for grim stories about xenophobia or just some lighthearted time-travel. The first two Back to the Future movies hitting the platform feels like a huge deal, as is the triumphant return of District 9. But we also have to consider the sci-fi films that are leaving, especially Outbreak, that mediocre pandemic movie from the '90s that now feels all-too-real.
If you’re hankering for a taste of tomorrow this May, here are 11 of the best science fiction shows and movies available to stream on Netflix, with a focus on whatever’s new, original, or leaving soon.
11 & 10. Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II
Great Scott! Two of the most iconic science fiction movies of all time have landed on Netflix as of May 1! Released in 1985 and 1989, the first two Back to the Future movies are cultural touchstones for time travel stories, even if more contemporary stories like Avengers: Endgame and Future Man poke fun at the series' approach to time travel.
In these films, teenager Marty McFly is best friends with a disgraced nuclear physicist Dr. Emmett "Doc" Brown who transforms a DeLorean into a time machine. Marty has to navigate high school with his parents in the first film after he goes back in time. In the second, he and Doc wind up in the future for other hijinks.
Back to the Future is basically just a series of lighthearted romps that never takes itself too series, but the lovable dynamics between these ridiculous characters is always fun. Consider them a must-watch.
Back to the Future and Back to the Future Part II arrive on Netflix May 1.
We may never be able to pin the blame of the coronavirus on any single animal, but in the 1995 pandemic thriller Outbreak, the host is a white-headed capuchin monkey named Betsy, and a star-studded cast struggles to contain a deadly virus that threatens the entire planet.
Roger Ebert called it "one of the great scare stories of our time" on account of "the notion that deep in the uncharted rain forests, deadly diseases are lurking, and if they ever escape their jungle homes and enter the human bloodstream, there will be a new plague the likes of which we have never seen." The last thing you probably want to watch right now is a movie about a global pandemic, but you can't deny Ebert's predictive assessment of the movie.
Outbreak is nowhere near as accurate to real-life events as Contagion — and it's probably a worse movie — but for anyone who wants to mentally process the pandemic by staring it straight in the face, this is a pretty good way to do just that.
Outbreak will be removed from the Netflix library on May 31, so watch it before it's gone.
The mostly-bad Evolution is the ideal brain-dead, goofy sci-fi film to watch if it's late at night and you don't want to think anymore. A meteor crashes in Arizona, and a couple of community college professors discover a blue ooze that accelerates millions of years' worth of evolution into a matter of hours. Evolution really wants to be the alien alternative to Ghostbusters, but the laughs simply do not land well.
But hey, you do get to see a group of scientists remove an alien from inside someone's butt. That's gotta be worth something, right?
Evolution will be removed from the Netflix library on May 19, so watch it before it's gone.
The first three Underworld movies all join Netflix's library on May 1, and while an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves sounds more like a dark fantasy than science fiction, these movies exist in a grim horror dystopia that incorporates technology in interesting ways. (Sun Bullets, anyone?)
Kate Beckinsale is excellent as the protagonist Selene, a centuries-old vampire who was orphaned in a Lycan attack and then transformed into a vampire to get her revenge. In the present-day, she works for her coven as a trained killer. But once the werewolves take interest in a human doctor, she uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the foundation of her very existence.
The first film is the best, and things get increasingly more bonkers as the series progress, but for anyone who loves hardcore, ridiculous vampire action, they can be a lot of fun.
Underworld will be added to the Netflix library on May 1.
6. District 9
Neill Blomkamp’s debut film was a bonafide sci-fi action hit when it was released in 2009. A surprisingly poignant apartheid allegory, the film explores xenophobia and segregation when a large number of literal aliens wind up stranded on Earth. A shady human organization seeks to master the aliens' advanced technology, but the people involved care very little for the welfare of humans or aliens.
After a human field agent is exposed to a mysterious substance alters his DNA, things go from tense to explosive very quickly in a compelling exploration of what it means to be human — even if you're an alien.
The surprising final twist is heartbreaking and romantic, but the adventure it presents says a lot of interesting things about how we treat people that are different from us.
District 9 returns to Netflix on May 15.
The Matrix, The Matrix Reloaded, and The Matrix Revolutions all left the platform at the end of February only return on April 1? It's quite the whirlwind, but we're just happy to have them back.
Released in 1999, The Matrix changed the action genre, inventing a new style of cinematography known as bullet time. The movie follows a hacker called Neo who discovers he’s been living inside a simulation hundreds of years in the “future” after robots with advanced A.I. rebelled against their creators and harvested human bodies as batteries, using a lifelike simulation to keep them complacent.
After learning the truth, Neo emerges in the “real world” and ultimately discovers that he’s the hero destined to save humanity. With a fourth film in development, there’s no better time to watch this trilogy before it leaves once again (probably in about 6 months)
Starring expert movie sprinter Tom Cruise as a "Precrime" cop in the late 21st century when predictive technology allows the police to stop crimes before they happen, Minority Report is a genuinely compelling and provocative cyberpunk thriller that grapples with similar themes to Devs on FX. What is the nature of free will when we know what's going to happen? Does free will even exist?
Aside from asking these kinds of profound questions, Minority Report is also an exciting action movie without the trappings of its cyberpunk world. Directed by Steven Spielberg based on a story by Philip K Dick, what's not to love?
Avatar: The Last Airbender is strictly speaking neither sci-fi nor anime, but there are elements of both infused into what remains one of the absolute best animated series in recent memory. For it to be coming to Netflix is kind of a huge deal, and you should drop everything to watch this series when it arrives on May 15.
In this world, people called Benders can harness a single elemental energy: Earth, Air, Water, or Fire. Entire cultures are built up around these specific elements, and the Avatar is a once-in-a-generation Chosen One who can wield all four and bring peace to the world.
The current 12-year-old Avatar, Aang, flees his home with the Air Nomads and winds up trapped in the ice for a hundred years. He awakens to find a world ravaged by war and suffering from dominion under the Fire Nation. The people need a hero. It’s up to him to master the four elements and face Fire Lord Ozai to bring peace to the world — all with the help with a small group of hilarious and likable new friends.
Avatar: The Last Airbender comes to Netflix on May 15.
2. Space Force
This Netflix original series is a workplace comedy series focusing on a group of people tasked with creating the Space Force of the United States, a new branch of the United States Armed Forces that President Donald Trump officially created in late 2019. It stars Steve Carell and Ben Schwartz, who had popular roles in workplace comedies The Office and Parks and Recreation, respectively. Netflix is clearly trying to poke fun at the president in a way that emulates both of those widely loved series, while also adding actors like John Malkovich and Lisa Kudrow in key roles.
Carrell plays a “decorated pilot with dreams of running the Air Force," but he's tasked with running the new Space Force with the aim of getting astronauts to the moon again. However, based on IMDb, it looks like he might duck out after Episode 1 in what feels like a bit of a bait and switch.
The 10-episode first season won't be released until the end of the month, but it's definitely one to look forward to.
Space Force will be added to the Netflix library on May 29.
1. The Flash
Perhaps the most consistently solid series in The CW's robust Arrowverse lineup based on DC Comics characters, The Flash is also the series that leans the heaviest on sci-fi themes. The nerdy and likable Barry Allen is transformed into a meta-human with superspeed after he's struck by lightning when the local particle accelerator explodes. He then dedicates his life to fighting crimes perpetrated by other meta-humans.
The earlier seasons are a lot of fun to watch, and while later seasons have their stumbles, The Flash seemingly course-corrected in Season 6. 2019 was a major year for the entire Arrowverse lineup as The CW explored the epic "Crisis on Infinite Earths" storyline from the comics. Whether you've never watched the series before or want to catch up on the latest season being added, The Flash is a binge-worthy superhero sci-fi romp to consider.
The Flash Season 6 will be added to Netflix on May 20.