May has become a major marker in the summer movie season. Over the past two decades or so, May has turned into a breeding ground for juggernauts of films. Paired with April, these two months introduce the summer season and raise the scale of offerings, that can lead to a sense of quantity as opposed to quality. But that’s just not the case.
Today, we’re going to be looking at ten of the very best May releases ever. Much like last month, and a far cry from prior installments, there are some major titles to be found here. It’s not only blockbusters though, as some quality indies dropped during this month throughout the years. It’s a very strong group of titles, especially when one considers what did not make the cut. “About a Boy,” “The Beaver,” “The Believer,” “Brewster’s Millions,” “Captain America: Civil War,” “Finding Nemo,” “Frances Ha,” “He Got Game,” “The Natural,” “The Nice Guys” “Return of the Jedi,” “The Strangers,” and “Top Gun” make a baker’s dozen of terrific honorable mentions.
10“The Avengers” (2012)
dir: Joss Whedon
April has become Marvel’s month to shine the past two years with “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame,” but their first team-up hit in May. “The Avengers” almost seems quaint now, but at the time, it was an unheard of endeavor. Joss Whedon and company pulled off the film not just cementing the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a special place, but raised the game for all blockbusters to come. As far as May releases go, it’s an historic one now.
dir: John Carney
John Carney has become a filmmaker uniquely able to integrate music into his stories. “Once” was the entry that brought him to the attention of the world. The song, ‘Falling Slowly,’ broke out and scored an Academy Award win for Best Original Song. The small, Irish musical romance stands in sharp contrast to the larger offerings May seems to cultivate. Yet, it stands just as tall, with a charm that will stand the test of time.
8“Deep Impact” (1998)
dir: Mimi Leder
Most disaster movies are all about spectacle. “Deep Impact” certainly has the requisite scenes of that sort, but Mimi Leder is far more concerned about the humans within the disaster. Moving between Morgan Freeman‘s President and various characters, the personal toll of potential extinction is explored. An underrated gem, the years will, hopefully, continue to be kind to this film.
dir: Ridley Scott
This May release went all the way to the Academy Awards and won Best Picture, Best Actor for Russell Crowe, and other honors. If that isn’t a testament to what the best of this month can accomplish, what is? Ridley Scott found a way to tell an intimate story of revenge on a giant canvas, making “Gladiator” a critical and financial hit in the process. The awards and kudos were proof if filmmakers put out quality cinema, it doesn’t matter the time of release, awards season voters will remember.
6“Star Trek” (2009)
dir: J.J. Abrams
Before J.J. Abrams relaunched the “Star Wars” universe, he gave a reboot to the “Star Trek” franchise. Finding a way to keep the original timeline intact while bringing a whole new generation of actors to the iconic roles was truly special. This sort of film rarely receives awards attention, but there was legitimate Oscar buzz for this film, especially in craft and effects categories.
5“Iron Man” (2008)
dir: Jon Favreau
The film that sparked the expansive Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MCU was conceived with “Iron Man,” an improbable hit. At the time, Jon Favreau was taking a leap of faith in casting Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark, but the venture paid of with the film reigning as one of Marvel’s best offerings. The success here is responsible for billions of dollars in iconic entertainment. Had this film not met the standards of fans and critics, the cinematic world right now would be a different, less super, place.
4“Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015)
dir: George Miller
The rare massive franchise sequel that also became an awards’ darling, George Miller defied the odds with his lively incarnation of “Mad Max.” “Mad Max: Fury Road” is an absolute juggernaut of a visual experience that captivates on every element. Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, and company are caught up in giant set pieces, with cautionary stunts. The result is impossible to argue against. Nothing else looks like this in the history of the medium.
dir: Paul Feig
One of the funniest comedies of the last 25 years, “Bridesmaids” proved that laugh riots can be awards vehicles as well. Melissa McCarthy scored her first Academy Award nomination in Best Supporting Actress for her scene stealing turn, while star/co-writer Kristen Wiig received recognition in the Best Original Screenplay category. Iconic in its comedic set pieces, this took the Judd Apatow formula and showed that women can do raunchy comedy just as well, if not better.
dir: Pete Docter, Bob Peterson
One of Pixar’s most touching adventures, there wasn’t a dry eye to be found when audiences first saw “Up.” The boldness to depict, even if just in the background, family tragedy, loss and grief in the opening sequence of the film is a gamble, but one that paid off. Pixar trusted fans of their work to go along with them for this balloon-tethered ride, and they did. A Best Picture nominee and Best Animated Feature winner at the Oscars, it has become a modern classic in animation.
1“Before Midnight” (2013)
dir: Richard Linklater
Franchises and sequels are commonplace at this point in the year. They’re rarely independent franchises though, so this trilogy has a very special place in cinema. Richard Linklater, along with Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, deified the odds in making “Before Midnight” the final installment of their indie series. Watching these characters age, grow, and deal with issues both new and old was enrapturing. The experience is singular and makes it May’s best release ever.