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The 5 best sci-fi movies to watch on Netflix and other streaming services this May

Brave new worlds and explosive new thrills

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Happy May, Otto Mankitap readers!

We’re getting closer and closer to the loaded summer movie calendar, with exciting new releases coming out each weekend. But until then, there are plenty of great movies to watch at home to tide us over.

Each month, we pick five science fiction movies for you to watch at home, on Netflix and other streaming platforms. This month, we have movies from directors with new movies out (or actors with new movies out), and the usual slate of guaranteed hits no matter the time of year.

Let’s get into it.

Alita: Battle Angel

Rosa Salazar as Alita in Alita: Battle Angel, getting ready to angrily throw a punch. Image: 20th Century Fox

Year: 2019
Run time: 2h 2m
Director: Robert Rodriguez
Cast: Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly

The new Ben Affleck psychological thriller Hypnotic isn’t exactly good, but it is a new Robert Rodriguez movie, which is always an opportunity to celebrate. A skilled director drawn to fun projects, Rodriguez is one of the more consistent names working in genre cinema, and one of his best movies is the unfairly maligned adaptation of a legendary manga.

Alita: Battle Angel follows the well-tread ground of sci-fi universes with “haves” living above the “have nots” in a very segmented society. The story follows a cyborg (Rosa Salazar, in stunning motion-capture) who wakes up without any memories and looks to find her place in a chaotic world. Salazar is genuinely fantastic in it, and the movie is a feast for the senses, with exciting fight and rollerball sequences.

The long-awaited sequel might actually be happening thanks to the financial and technological success of Avatar: The Way of Water, so it’s a great time to catch up with the first one. —Otto Tap

Alita: Battle Angel is available to stream on Hulu, Fubo, DirecTV, and FX Now. It is also available for digital rental and purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.

Blade Runner 2049

Ryan Gosling standing in front of a hologram in Blade Runner 2049. Image: Warner Bros.

Year: 2017
Run time: 2h 44m
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Harrison Ford, Ana de Armas

Denis Villeneuve’s 2017 sequel to Ridley Scott’s landmark “future noir” film may not have proven (yet) to be a cultural juggernaut like its predecessor, it still nonetheless stands as one of the best sci-fi films of the 2010s.

Set 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 centers on the story of KD6-3.7 (Ryan Gosling), a next-generation replicant working as an LAPD officer tasked with “retiring” other replicants who attempt to elude the control of their human creators. When Officer K inadvertently unearths a secret that threatens to tip what remains of civilization into chaos, he’s tasked with solving a mystery whose answers lie in the whereabouts of one of his predecessors: former LAPD blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford).

Blade Runner 2049 is a sequel in the truest sense, a film that represents the natural continuation and inevitable consequences of the hubris and horrors first glimpsed in the original Blade Runner. The fiery smokestacks have been snuffed out, the tides have risen, and landfills have spilled over to reclaim the cities themselves. The future is bleak, to say the least. Even still, Villeneuve’s film hits the same chord as Ridley Scott’s in challenging its audience to question what it means to be human at all, and whether there’s any hope for humanity to build a better future both itself and its artificial descendants. And with a new TV series on the horizon, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to brush up on the franchise’s latest cinematic installment. —Toussaint Egan

Blade Runner 2049 is available to stream on Hulu. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.

Ex Machina

Oscar Isaac, with buzzed hair, glasses, and a full beard, stands in front of a painted wall (Jackson Pollack-style) in Ex Machina. Image: A24

Year: 2014
Run time: 1h 48m
Director: Alex Garland
Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac, Alicia Vikander

Artificial intelligence is the discourse du jour on everyone’s lips right now, so what better time than to watch Alex Garland’s (official) directorial debut about the dawn of machine intelligence? Ex Machina follows Caleb Smith (Domhnall Gleeson), a programmer working for the world’s largest internet search engine who wins the opportunity to spend the week with his boss: the reclusive tech mogul genius Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). Upon learning that Nathan is working on creating an artificially intelligent android, Caleb agrees to become the human component of a Turing test to discern whether or not Nathan’s creation Ava (Alicia Vikander) is truly sentient. Things quickly spiral from there, as Caleb finds himself torn by his brewing feelings for Ava and his growing distrust of Nathan’s erratic behavior. As exquisitely sleek as it is chillingly memorable, Ex Machina is the kind of sci-fi that rewards upon rewatching again and again. —TE

Ex Machina is available to stream on HBO Max. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.

Pitch Black

(L-R) Richard B. Riddick (Vin Diesel) staring at a knife with William J. Johns (Cole Hauser) in the background in Pitch Black. Image: Gramercy Pictures/Universal Pictures

Year: 2000
Run time: 1h 49m
Director: David Twohy
Cast: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell, Cole Hauser

Fast X, the latest adventure with Dom Toretto and his hard-won family/heist crew of racers, is out in theaters now. Now, you could use that as an excuse to revisit the first nine entries in the saga (and we wouldn’t blame you one bit). Or, you could visit the start of a different personal project for Diesel, one of Hollywood’s nerdiest movie stars.

It’s pretty well known at this point that The Last Witch Hunter was inspired by a Dungeons & Dragons character played by Diesel. And Pitch Black spawned a passion-project sci-fi trilogy the likes of which we haven’t seen since.

For my money, Pitch Black is the only all-the-way-good one of the bunch. Combining veteran sci-fi director David Twohy with veteran horror writers Ken and Jim Wheat is a great way to deliver a thrilling sci-fi horror adventure, one somewhat in conversation with John Carpenter’s Ghost of Mars, which would come out the following year.

In Pitch Black, we’re introduced to Diesel’s Richard B. Riddick, who at this point is a dangerous criminal being transported to prison. When the transport ship crashes, Riddick and his fellow survivors must team up to survive the planet’s hostile environment and escape. —PV

Pitch Black is available to stream on Netflix. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.

Starship Troopers

(L-R) Casper Van Dien and Michael Ironside as Juan Rico and Jean Rasczak in Starship Troopers. Image: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Year: 1997
Run time: 2h 9m
Director: Paul Verhoeven
Cast: Casper Van Dien, Dina Meyer, Denise Richards

The 2024 presidential race is starting to ramp up, so why not watch one of the best movies from one of the most perceptive (and misunderstood) commentators on the bizarro world of modern American politics: Paul Verhoeven! Verhoeven’s scathing satire of American foreign policy and the military industrial complex took Robert A. Heinlein’s 1959 novel of the same name and turned into a schlocky sci-fi war movie that somehow went over the heads its audience (and critics) back when it first released.

Set in the 23rd century, Verhoeven’s film follows a group of high school classmates raised in a fascistic military government who are thrust to the front lines in an existential war against a race of highly evolved arachnid creatures. Taking cues from the infamous Nazi propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, Starship Troopers plays out like an in-universe recruitment film set in a world where democracy is dead and “service guarantees citizenship.” It’s a subversively ingenious movie more than worthy of reappraisal and one of the best (and most eerily prescient) sci-fi films of its era. Would you like to know more? —TE

Starship Troopers is available to stream on Netflix. It is also available for digital rental or purchase on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and Vudu.

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