Check out CNET's roundup of must-have Blu-ray movies to show off your home theater. We'll be updating our picks as new discs come out.
'Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection'
If you're a Hitchcock fan -- and film fan in general -- this Masterpiece collection, which contains 15 movies, including "Vertigo" and "Rear Window," is worth considering, especially at its current sub-$110 price (that's about $8 per movie). Not all the films have been given equal restoration treatment, and "Dial M for Murder," "Strangers on a Train," "Notorious," and "To Catch a Thief" are not part of the collection, but the director's best-known films -- "Psycho," "The Birds," "Rear Window," "Vertigo," "North by Northwest" -- look great. (Alas, both "Vertigo" and "Rear Window" aren't available separately yet, aside from usually overpriced international import editions.)
For those of you who might already own the "Alien Quadrilogy" DVD box set, we've got some bad news: this HD version is really pretty spectacular. "Alien" and "Aliens" have all-new 4K resolution video transfers ("Alien 3" and "Alien Resurrection" also have updated video transfers but they're not brand new) and the sound has been upgraded to 5.1 lossless mixes (DTS-HD Master Audio format) across the board. In addition to a boatload of extras, all four films include their respective theatrical and "special edition" versions, too. In the past, we've used these discs for black-level torture tests for our TV reviews and they definitely look better and offer more shadow detail on better displays. While I won't get into all the extras, there are plenty.
'Apocalypse Now (Three-disc Full-disclosure Edition)'
As its title implies, in the box you'll find three discs that pull together "The 1979 Cut," the longer "Apocalypse Now Redux," and the "Hearts of Darkness" documentary. Both versions of the film are presented in high definition for the first time from a 1080p transfer "supervised" by Francis Ford Coppola. You also get a bunch of extras, which gives fans of "Apocalypse" a lot to chomp on.
While hard-core "Avatar" fans will prefer the Three-Disc Extended Collector's Edition, others might make do with the cheaper 3D theatrical release, which includes the 2D Blu-ray as well. With no letterbox bars above and below the image on wide-screen TVs (Director James Cameron wanted the Blu-ray to preserve the true 16:9, or 1.78:1 aspect ratio) and stellar audio and video quality, "Avatar" is great way to show off your home theater. It's also been praised for offering one of the better 3D experiences, though 3D experiences at home will vary widely based on your 3D display.
Back in 1959 "Ben-Hur" won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Motion Picture, Best Actor, and Best Director. You'd figure an epic like this would have been out on Blu-ray a while ago, but it only hit stores at the end of September (2011).
If you're wondering why the math doesn't add up on that 50th anniversary, the restoration process, which cost $1 million, took longer than expected and the 2009 release for the actual 50th was missed. Warner Bros. says the the frame-by-frame restoration from an 8k scan of the original 65mm camera negative was the highest-resolution restoration ever completed by the studio and the picture here is stunning. So, too, is the audio, with an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. In short, this is a truly epic restoration of an epic.
As far as bonus features go, the "Ben-Hur Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-ray" has more than four hours of extras, including an all-new hi-def feature length documentary hosted by son Fraser Heston; a reproduction of Heston's diary during filming; and an exclusive hardbound photo book. The price is a bit steep on the Ultimate Collector's Edition (Amazon has it for $47.99), but you can dig up of the standard version for less than $15 (at the time of this writing, it's $11.49). In March, you'll also be able to pick up a double-feature Blu-ray pack that includes "Ben Hur" and the "Ten Commandments" for $14.99.
For fans of "The Big Lebowksi," this one's a no-brainer: if you're going to watch this movie over and over, you might as well see it in HD. And we think it's arguably one of the greatest movies of all time, so it makes our list.
This "limited" edition comes with a 28-page companion book along with the bonus extra, "The Lebowski Fest: An Achiever's Story," which takes an "in-depth look at the popular Lebowski Festival," which co-sponsored a cast reunion for the launch of the Blu-ray.
"Blade Runner" may not have the ultimate audio or video quality, but this newly remastered version is splendid compared with the poor original DVD. Better yet, this collection comes with every version of the movie ever released.
Though Paramount has received some criticism for the video quality of its "Gladiator" Blu-ray, "Braveheart" has fared much better, getting high marks for both picture and sound. We agree -- and also like the replay value on this one.
David Lean's classic--and arguably, one of the best films of all time--has come to Blu-ray in a completely new remastered version. More specifically, this includes a new 4K "digital restoration," as well as 5.1 surround-sound audio. I've seen this one lately for less than $10, which is definitely a bargain for Lean fans.
Like "The Sting," "Chinatown"'s video isn't a home run, but it's certainly a solid double or maybe even a triple. Yes, there's some softness in spots along with some graininess, which is fairly typical of older movies, but overall Paramount's done an impressive job preserving the natural look of the movie, and the detail in many shots gives the film a fresh quality. You don't feel exactly like you're seeing a new film, but the image does make you constantly say to yourself, "Wow, Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway look young."
If already own the DVD, this Blu-ray does offer a significant improvement in picture quality (it sounds very good, too) and if you're a fan of the movie, and have a large HDTV, I'd say it's worth the upgrade.
See pricing for "Chinatown" from Amazon.com.
The top animated movie of 2013 wasn't from Disney or Pixar -- it was Universal's megasequel "Despicable Me 2." For $20, you get the movie in three formats -- Blu-ray, DVD, and digital HD (your choice of iTunes or Ultraviolet). Also on board: three new Minion minimovies, to boot.
We've had several Pixar movies on the list over the years, including "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille," which both offer reference-quality video and audio. But with the arrival of "Finding Nemo," on Blu-ray -- there's also a 3D version available -- I reluctantly took "The Incredibles" off the list while leaving "Up" on it. Of course, with Pixar titles everybody has their favorites, and since they all offer great audio and video quality, it's just a question of which ones you think will have the most replay value for you.
Bottom line on "Nemo:" it looks and sounds great (it has 7.1 soundtrack). Is it my favorite Pixar movie? Hard to say, but I am an Albert Brooks fan, so there's something to be said for that.
After initially putting out a "Gladiator" Blu-ray with less than optimal video quality (some have described it in much worse terms), Paramount has released a remastered version that's worthy of our list.
Whether you thought "Hugo" should have taken home a Best Picture Oscar or not (people tend to really love this film or just think it's OK), one thing is clear: director Martin Scorsese's first 3D effort and an ode to the movies is truly a winner on Blu-ray. The video transfer is nothing short of spectacular and the detail throughout the film is something to behold. This one's beautifully rendered and sharp, sharp, sharp.
As for sound, the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track is up to the level of the video, with a nuanced soundtrack that really brings to life the Paris train station and all mechanical objects in the movie.
This Blu-ray comes in a three-disc 3D version (it also includes the standard Blu-ray and DVD as well as a digital copy) and a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD version.
If you have a 3D TV (and a 3D capable Blu-ray player) or are thinking about getting one in the future, it's worth paying the extra $6 for the three-disc version. This is one of the more impressive 3D movies available today, and the 3D effects are especially well done in the first third on the film.
Note: If there's a shortcoming here, it's the extras (they're OK, not great), but that's a relatively minor gripe.
For fans of "Inception," it's a no-brainer to pick up the movie on Blu-ray. But this visually arresting film that boggled a few minds has an outstanding VC-1-encoded 1080p video transfer that offers lush color and detail. Impressive as the video is, the audio is arguably even better with lots of nuanced sound and tight, rumbling bass that will put your surround system to the test (and make a great demo for guests).
In a year brimming with superhero movies (again), I'm choosing "Iron Man 3" as the pick of the litter. Robert Downey Jr. anchors the actionpalooza third installment, which boasts a pristine HD transfer and 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack.
A lot of people have noted that best thing about Blu-ray is seeing "new" versions of old films in the format.
"Jaws" doesn't qualify as a really old film, but it did first hit theaters in 1975, so it's certainly an older film, and it looks truly impressive on Blu-ray. This is one of the films that Universal has chosen to restore for its 100th anniversary (Universal's, not the film's), and some of its earlier restoration efforts have been lauded while others have been criticized for introducing too much digital noise reduction and smoothing things out too much, so the films look less like film and more like video. (Alas, today's audiences are averse to an abundance of film grain).
Such is not the case for "Jaws." I projected the film on a 100-inch screen using a $3,000 JVC DLA-X30 front projector and was immediately struck by how detailed and vibrant the image looked, with an ample amount of light film grain and only a few blemishes along the way. The water and backgrounds feel like they have more depth to them, and the color feels just right (OK, the bright-red blood in water looks a little fake, but that's because it was fake).
The sound has been remastered as well, with a new 7.1 surround remix of the original mono track (that original mono version is included in the DTS 2.0 track if you want to hear the movie that way). While purists tend to greet such remixes coolly, this one comes off very well, especially during the frantic beach scenes where panicked swimmers exit the water en masse.
As far as extras go, there really isn't anything here that wasn't on the DVD (and some goes back to the laserdisc) except an 8-minute video, presented in HD, about the restoration process for "Jaws" that includes comments from director Steven Spielberg, who says the movie looks better on Blu-ray than it did when it played in theaters back in 1975. You also get a digital copy and an UltraViolet copy, which is nice.
Universal gets knocked by videophiles for allegedly going overboard with the digital noise reduction, creating an overly smooth image that looks too much like video rather than film. But to our eyes, anyway, the video transfer for "Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy" looks great with no glaring issues and is clearly a significant upgrade over the DVD version, which also looked good (for DVD).
All three discs have lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and they all sound awesome (if you own a home theater, the audio is arguably what makes this worth owning).
Alas, the only drawback here is that you have to buy all three movies (we're less partial to the sequels). That said, you do get digital copies of all three movies, and a few hours of "all-new" bonus features are thrown in to sweeten the pot.
"Lawrence of Arabia" seemed to take forever to get to Blu-ray. As you'd expect from a movie that took its sweet time to come to the format, it looks and sounds incredibly impressive, thanks to Sony's stellar 4K restoration and a new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack. You'll still see plenty of film grain in all those shots of the sky and sand, but the overall detail and vibrancy of the colors will have fans of the film constantly muttering "wow."
After having "Baraka," which offers true reference-quality video, on the list for a while, we felt it was time to swap in the newer "Life" series from the BBC. We prefer the original version narrated by David Attenborough to the Oprah-narrated version that appeared on the Discovery Channel (it, too, is available on Blu-ray).
'The Lord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy (Extended Edition)'
Legions of devoted "LOTR" fans doled out one-star reviews on Amazon for the Blu-ray theatrical release of the three movies because they all wanted the Extended Edition, which has finally arrived in a package that includes a whopping 15 discs. Alas, most of the bonus features are on DVD, not Blu-ray, which is too bad. But for the $70 or so that it costs for this edition, you will get 682 minutes of spectacular audio and video that's sure to test the mettle of your home theater. Truth be told, we did not re-watch the three films in their entirety before posting this blurb, but true fans shouldn't hesitate to block out the over 11 hours to view them all in one sitting--without bathroom breaks.
Note: We're still waiting for the extended and theatrical-release versions to be bundled in one Blu-ray package. As of this writing, the theatrical-release version of the trilogy (in Blu-ray) retails for about $15 less than the extended version.
We're a little heavy on Coen brothers movies on the list, but have always had a soft spot for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" a quirky, visually stylized flick inspired by Homer's Odyssey that features an excellent soundtrack and George Clooney at his amusing best.
Some have complained of a poor video transfer that doesn't accurately reflect the washed-out, sepia look of the movie (there are some complaints that too much green has been introduced). But we thought it looked fine--as the director intended it to look.
We had "Band of Brothers" on the list for a while and still think it's a good pick. But we thought it was time to move on to HBO's follow-up World War II miniseries, "The Pacific," which was also produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and has been reported to cost at least $150 million to make.
The 1080p AVC-encoded transfer is excellent with lots of great detail, but like "Brothers," it's the audio that's really superb and hits reference quality.
Depending upon your predilection for giant robots, you'll find this ode to classic Japanese "Godzilla" movies to be anywhere from awesome to downright silly. (That said, it's more watchable than any of the "Transformers" movies -- admittedly, a low bar.) Either way, there's no denying that the on-screen megadestruction sets a new standard for HD reference video.
After years of waiting, "Pulp Fiction" has finally made it to Blu-ray, and it's priced very reasonably on Amazon.
We're happy to report that both the video and sound are stellar (yes, director Quentin Tarantino personally supervised the production of the Blu-ray). And while there isn't a whole lot in the way of new of extras that are different from what you'll find on the two-disc Collector's Edition DVD, you do get a set of new retrospective cast interviews and a featurette called "Critics Corner: Then and Now."
It's interesting to watch "Saving Private Ryan" again after all these years because you realize how much influence it's had on today's video games. Like Spielberg's other recent Blu-ray release, "Minority Report," the video has some grain and color hues that make it seem less than pristine -- but that's how the movie's supposed to look (and it does look good). Not surprisingly, the first 25 minutes are that much more intense in HD.
"Shakespeare In Love," which won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1999, looked really good on DVD and is spectacular on Blu-ray. With all the ornate costumes in the film, this one really benefits from having the increased resolution and detail. It's also a really clean-looking transfer with little in the way of film grain.
Of course, not everybody thought "Shakespeare" should win out over "Saving Private Ryan," but the movie's held up well and is priced well, too.
The long wait for the original "Star Wars" trilogy to arrive on Blu-ray is finally over and not without a bit of controversy, as purists aren't happy that the movies are full of even more digital "fixes" than we've seen before.
No matter. This is still a must-have, and early word is that the movies look and sound fantastic on Blu-ray, blasphemous tweaks aside. (We'll update this caption with more impressions when we get our hands on the discs).
After a long wait, "The Sting," one of the great movies of all time, has finally come to Blu-ray as part of Universal's 100th anniversary collection. Lest we forget, this movie actually came out on HD-DVD a few years back, but the video quality was roundly panned.
The good news is that with the latest restoration the video is significantly improved in this release. While you'll still encounter some sequences that look a little soft, the majority of scenes look sharp, with excellent detail (the cars and suits look great) and overall the movie looks really good.
It's also worth noting that Universal has taken some criticism for overdoing its digital noise reduction and cleaning the up image too much, making it look more like video than film. There's some evidence of that here, but at the same time, it appears that some restraint was shown, which leaves you with a more pleasing balance.
As far as sound goes, the remastered surround mix sounds clear and detailed and offers some subtle improvements over the movie's original mono soundtrack. And in case you were wondering, Marvin Hamlisch's Oscar-winning adaptation of Scott Joplin's music does sound terrific. ("The Sting" won the Oscar for Best Picture in 1973).
We waited a while for "Taxi Driver" to come out and now that it has, we're not disappointed. This is a great video transfer that makes the movie look better than you've ever seen it and even grittier than you probably remember it. Yes, there's plenty of grain, but the image still seems sharp, and this one looks a lot better than many other '70s flicks that have made it to Blu-ray.
When Titanic was first released, I wasn't among those who saw it multiple times in the theater. And I didn't run out and see it when it came back to theaters in a 3D version not too long ago. But even if you're not a huge fan, it's hard to deny Titanic's epic quality and not surprisingly, the Blu-ray release is as good as they come in terms of picture and sound quality. While I was most struck by the sharpness of objects and actor's faces in close-ups, as well as the excellent shadow details in darker scenes, you can find plenty of other aspects to praise (I tend to shortchange audio, for instance, in these snap reviews).
Note: The link below goes to the 4-disc 3D version of the movie, which also includes the 2D Blu-ray and costs the same as the 2D-only Blu-ray package. Even if you don't have a 3D TV, you might as well get it in case you one day get one.
We should probably have more Kubrick films on the list, but "2001" is currently the only one that's here. The Blu-ray offers an excellent video transfer of the film and is a torture test for your TV's black levels.
For the Blu-ray release of "The Wizard of Oz," Warner Brothers remastered the film, scanning the negatives using 8K resolution. The final "capture" master was created in 4K resolution, which is twice the resolution of the master used for the DVD release. Though we're not keen on most 4:3 (non-wide-screen) Blu-rays, "The Wizard of Oz" has simply never looked better than it does here. After first offering only an Ultimate Collector's Edition of the film, you can now get an inexpensive standard special-edition version.