Every year, the technology for watching movies improves, inching along on the quest to provide total immersion in a film. So much is made about advances in visual fidelity, however, that the role of sound is sometimes overlooked. Sound design is a crucial aspect of filmmaking, engulfing the audience in a way visuals simply cannot, and movie producers are always looking for ways to make cinematic sound more engaging and realistic. Dolby Atmos is one of the most revolutionary formats to hit commercial and home theaters in years, and it sounds incredible, thanks to its ability to rain sound effects from up above and all around you.
Along with overhead sound, Dolby Atmos (and its rival DTS:X) offers enhancement over traditional surround sound setups by placing each “sound object” (such as a radio alarm or a buzzing bee) in a specific spot in the soundstage, as designated by the film’s sound engineers. This enables highly detailed sound mixes that help evoke the suspension of disbelief. Dolby Atmos has transformed home theater audio and it’s becoming more and more prevalent, with a rapidly expanding list of supported titles. Below are our picks for the best movies to watch in Dolby Atmos right now. (And here’s a list of theatrical releases with Dolby Atmos, but be warned: They may not all support Atmos on Blu-ray or digital release.)
Important things to know
Atmos on Netflix?
Before we jump in here (feel free to skip to the next page if you’re an Atmos pro), there are a few things you might want to know. Streaming is preferable to purchasing movies for many; if you’re already paying for a Netflix subscription, you might as well use it, right? Netflix does have some Atmos movies to stream, but it’s a fairly limited selection, and you’ll need a plan that supports Ultra HD (4K) streaming. Set your streaming quality to “High” or “Auto,” then look for titles with the Atmos logo next to the description. Oh, and one more thing: Netflix only supports Atmos on Xbox One consoles, LG OLED televisions, and the Windows 10 desktop app. Sorry. Here are some more details.
What about other streaming services?
Per the official Dolby website, Vudu and German platform Maxdome are the only other (non-Netflix) services to offer Atmos support. As with Netflix, you’ll want to browse those services’ libraries (see all Vudu’s UHD content here) and look for the Dolby Atmos logo. Amazon Prime Video supports Dolby Vision HDR, but not Dolby Atmos. Neither Hulu nor HBO platform currently support any Dolby tech.
Digital copies vs. Blu-ray
In many cases, you’ll need to buy (or rent) a physical Blu-ray copy to get the full Dolby Atmos experience. Most on-demand streaming services — some of which also act as hosts for purchased digital copies — do not support Dolby Atmos; that includes Amazon and the Google Play Store. While iTunes does not currently support Dolby Atmos, Apple announced Atmos support will be coming this fall, along with tvOS for Dolby Atmos on the Apple TV 4K.
With the recently upgraded Movies Anywhere program, most any digital film you own on those platforms — assuming it’s not ineligible — should automatically transfer into your Vudu library as well. Obviously, Vudu’s selection of Atmos-supported content is still limited, but it’s better than nothing. Keep in mind many Blu-ray purchases include digital Ultraviolet codes.
Note: Movies Anywhere only includes movies from Disney (Marvel, Lucasfilm, Pixar), Fox, Sony, Universal, and Warner Bros., and some exclusivity agreements may prevent certain titles (even those made by the aforementioned studios) from appearing across all libraries.
Which playback devices support Atmos?
We’ve got a more thorough breakdown in our Dolby Atmos explainer, but for specific lists of supported devices, head here and scroll down until you see an array of colored boxes with the header “Enjoy Dolby Atmos on These Products.” Atmos is supported on a wide range of devices, including TVs, smartphones, and Blu-ray players, but keep in mind you’ll need an Atmos-capable sound system to hear the results.
What about TV shows?
As you might expect, the films that best take advantage of Dolby Atmos are typically action-packed movies that can show off the technology’s capabilities (that’s why a good number of our selections are on the Action/Adventure page). Since TV shows are produced with the living room TV in mind — not the movie theater screen — they don’t include Atmos as a general rule. There are two major exceptions — HBO’s Game of Thrones and Westworld — which do feature Dolby Atmos support, but only if you buy seasons on Blu-ray. Sorry, streamers, no luck yet.