What’s the point in having a room full of awesome home theater gear if you can’t enjoy the best it has to offer? Not all Blu-rays are created equal. Some are hardly better than a DVD when it comes to high definition picture and sound. With that in mind, here’s our official list of the best movies to own on Blu-ray. A solid video transfer and impressive sound were important factors in our decision-making process, but the movies’ overall quality was also taken into consideration, along with whether the releases are of legendary stature or considered cult classics — at least, most of them… Ahem — we’re looking at you, Pacific Rim…
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a list centered around the best Blu-rays to show off your home theater, you’ll find that right here.
Multiple members of the Digital Trends staff contributed to this list.
James Cameron’s incredibly successful and record-breaking Avatar is likely to be on just about every “Best of” list when it comes to video quality, and for good reason. While not the most original film in terms of unique ideas and predictability, it’s hard to ignore the movie’s dazzling visual presentation. For this film, Cameron crafted a truly immersive world, and because he shot it in 3D at 24 frames per second, this edition makes the environment all the more immersive. With the proper home thater setup, this release will come close to the theatergoer’s experience.
This version of the trilogy is the one to own in terms of video and audio quality and uncut content. The extended editions of the three films offer more than two hours of extra footage, and Peter Jackson’s breathtaking shots of beautiful New Zealand landscapes and massively scoped battles really come to life on Blu-ray. As the fifth (and what should be the last) release of the trilogy, this edition is – hands down – the definitive one.
George Lucas’ world of Jedis, Wookies and Ewoks – as depicted in all six movies – is a visually groundbreaking achievement, and is best digested in high definition. However, with Disney’s crack at the Star Wars universe on deck – and who-knows how many more spinoffs and side projects slated for the near and distant future – purists might find themselves buying slightly better releases of the saga’s tales every year for eternity. But for now, this is it in terms of comprehensiveness.
Ridley Scott’s dystopian noir wasn’t a box-office smash when it hit theaters in 1982, but over time it became a cult classic, and today one might consider it a true classic, not just one that appeals to science fiction nuts and film nerds. Scott enlisted the expertise of Greek composer Vangelis to create the entrancing soundtrack that is certainly a big part of the experience – and the expansive future cityscapes, with their burning factories and towering cyber-pyramids, are a gem to see in high definition. This extensive edition of the film is expensive, but it contains four separate releases: Scott’s “Final Cut,” the (poorly named) Director’s Cut, the 1982 Theatrical Release, and the 1982 International Release. Plus the discs come in a container akin to Rick Deckard’s FAMOUS briefcase. It clocks in as the most expensive collection on tour list, but we think it’s worth it.
From oceans, caves, forests and mountains, to jungles, deserts and icy expanses, Planet Earth covers it all. And except for a small amount of very hard-to-get footage, the groundbreaking documentary was shot entirely in HD, making it all the more worthwhile to own a high quality edition. Both family-friendly and picky (girl)friend-friendly, this 4-disc Blu-ray release is an essential one. We also highly recommend Life and Frozen Planet.
We included both Full Metal Jacket and 2001: A Space Odyssey on our last list, and for good reason. But as far as “bang for your buck” goes, this edition is hard to beat. It also includes A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Eyes Wide Shut, Barry Lyndon, Lolita and the two hour-plus documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, released in 2001. Exploring both mainstream and obscure Kubrick territory with startling, refreshing crispness and clarity, this is a solid release for Kubrick diehards and novices alike. Though it’s missing Dr. Strangelove, Spartacus and more, buying this set will kill seven birds with one stone (at a very reasonable price).
Despite their shocking violence (especially upon release) and relentless brutality, The Godfather and its subsequent follow-ups are films that just about everyone sits through at some point in their lives. They’re not by-the-book family-friendly — more so coming-of-age tales that you draw something new from each time you return throughout life. This collection contains “The Coppola Restoration” versions of the trilogy, along with a plethora of featurettes: commentaries, storyboards and the very cool family tree/crime organization feature and historical timeline — it’s definitive, to say the least.
The film received Warner’s “Ultra-Resolution” treatment when it was re-mastered back in 2003, resulting in quite the treat for those of us not old enough to have seen Casablanca in theaters back in 1942. And now, retaining all of the special features from the non-Blu-ray Collector’s Edition (and more), the picture is even crisper with the Blu-ray release. With commentaries by Roger Ebert, historian Rudy Behlmer and Lauren Bacall herself, the premiere episode from the short-lived 1955 TV series, a 48-page photo book and some very cool archival correspondence, you shouldn’t pass up this two-disc edition.
The UK Blu-ray release of this richly brought-to-life comic book is the one to go for in terms of audio and video quality. Zack Snyder, who also took Superman and 300 from ink to film, directed this adaptation of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel masterpiece, and you’ll get roughly 25 minutes of extra footage by purchasing this edition. A visually absorbing film that tastefully retains many elements and facets of the comic’s aesthetic, Watchmen is the meta-midlife-crisis of superhero movies — which doesn’t mean it won’t kick ass on a buff home theater system. You’ll realize and/or remember this within the first few window-shattering and skyscraper-plummeting moments of the film.
Both a breath of life into the arguably close-to-floundering James Bond franchise (Goldeneye was great, Tomorrow Never Dies less so, and so on. Poor Pierce Brosnon…) and a step backward to the genesis of the dashing antihero, Casino Royale kicked off the wildly successful new era of Bond. Daniel Craig brings out the flawed and cynical facets of Bond’s mystique that we haven’t seen since the Sean Connery days, offering a new and tasteful take on the saga while remaining faithful to the character’s original nature. Based on Ian Fleming’s first novel that introduced Bond to the world, this film is worth taking in via exceptional Blu-ray — we haven’t seen a Bond film that looks this good in a long time.
It’s one of the more experimental and unconventional films on our list, but the aesthetic style and lengthy abstract visualizations in The Tree of Life make it unworthy of a non-HD viewing. Watching in theaters was truly eye-opening and awe-inspiring, and because the film is so visually engaging, it’s just an obvious choice to go with Blu-ray. Written and directed by Terrence Malick (writer/director of The Thin Red Line and writer of Dirty Harry), the movie follows a son and his father over the course of both their lives, along with their fractured Midwestern family. Though boring as hell on paper, the film delves deeply into themes of evolution, biology, life and death, without getting preachy — Malick shows more than he does tell, and it makes a big difference.
How can you not expect some serious visual grit and flair when you’ve got Frank Miller (the creator of the source comic series), Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino sharing the director’s chair? Throw in a cast including Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Benicio Del Toro, Brittany Murphy, Mickey Rourke and Clive Owen, and you’ve got a serious movie. Sin City contains three totally separate – though intimately and necessarily connected – stories that the famed directors splash atop entirely digitally-rendered backgrounds that vividly capture Miller’s sordid cityscape. Blu-ray allows all of these elements to flow perfectly across your home screen like frames from a comic book.
We couldn’t get too serious, violent, dark or deeply meta-intellectual with this list, so we turned, naturally, to Disney. Not that we did so just for the sake of your children – on the contrary, Disney has released so many essentially “perfect” (and, especially during the 1989-1999 “Disney Renaissance,” visually engrossing) films that deciding which ones to list here hurt our brains. Sleeping Beauty has become deeply entrenched within American culture, and the meticulous work put into it (it required almost four and a half years and one million finished drawings) really shines in this Blu-ray release.
Mel Gibson’s depiction of the legendary Scottish rebel William Wallace, along with his wearing of both director and producer hats, led to five Oscars, including Best Picture, in 1995. Braveheart is one of the most highly anticipated Blu-ray releases thus far, and for good reason. With 1080p, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 surround sound, and more than two hours of new special features — including interactive historical timelines and 3D models of two major Scottish battlefields — this 2009 edition is a treat for war buffs and Gibson fan-boys and -girls.
This hearty classic occupies a special spot in many collections, particularly those of people who came of age in the early ‘90s. Loosely influenced by the Biblical tales of Joseph and Moses and William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Disney’s Lion King was a massive success, earning two Oscars for its musical achievements, and the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Music or Comedy. The music certainly stands out, but the visuals are on another level, especially considering the film’s 1994 release. This Blu-ray release is worth it for the famous wildebeest stampede scene alone, which took more than two years for animators to complete (the scene is just two-and-a-half minutes long).
While not an obvious pick for many Blu-ray “Best-of” lists, this 1962 film starring Peter O’Toole is certainly one of the monumental greats, and now (again, for those of us who weren’t even a blip on a sonogram in the ‘60s) the vast Arabian deserts and particularly vivid colors are sharpened and made crisp again, enhancing the already intriguing story of T.E. Lawrence, a British Army officer involved with the Arab National Council and attacks on Aqaba and Damascus during World War I. At such a low price, there’s really no reason to skip over this massively influential film.
As previously discussed, the Extended Editions of the Lord of the Rings films will almost certainly go down as canon amongst the truest of LOTR geeks, simply because they cover so much more territory than the theatrical releases – a huge factor when it comes to faithfully adapting the works of master world-builder J.R.R. Tolkien. The same goes for the still-in-production Hobbit trilogy, which sinks its teeth even deeper into the source material, spanning three films across the mere 300-page novel. Enjoy the improved-upon (from the original LOTR trilogy) special effects and enrapturing depiction of Middle-earth in stellar Blu-ray — otherwise you’ll be missing out on a jaw-dropping experience.
This heartwarming – and at times bittersweet – tale of a sweet little robot contains some pretty mature ideas when considering the film’s G-rating. It’s still something a child of any age can watch with no parental qualms, but it’s arguably the most philosophical Disney movie in quite some time; possibly ever. Wall-E features some very cool graphics and sounds, making the 2008 Blu-ray edition a must-have for Disney buffs and parents-in-need-of-child-distractors alike (plus, you can enjoy this one with them). This release comes packed with features including deleted scenes, commentaries from Pixar’s biggest geeks (“Geek Track”), Wall-E’s Tour of the Universe, and “making-of” featurettes.
While perhaps the most lacking film on our list in terms of plot, story and acting, and certainly over-saturated in cheese, Pacific Rim is deserving of a spot if only for its insanely huge-scale battles between monstrous sea beasts and manmade robot behemoths. With the right home theater setup — and, specifically, this Blu-ray edition of the film — this creation of Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) will melt your face; be prepared to scoop it off the floor after witnessing this flawed-but-visually-enticing gem of a monster flick.
With one of the best content-to-price ratios on the list, the Blu-ray edition of the Alien Anthology is quite the collection. With six discs, it contains two versions each of the first four Alien flicks: Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. The comprehensive collection also includes a wide array of features, including audio commentaries with Ridley Scott for the two versions of Alien, isolated original and theatrical scores, and plenty of deleted and extended scenes to wet your extraterrestrial whistle, so to speak …