I have no idea how many titles have been released on DVD, but the 90,000-title library available at Netflix gives a pretty good indication. That's a much larger pool of titles than the infant Blu-ray format (still far fewer than 1,000 titles available), but it's far from comprehensive. Despite such guilty pleasures as Gymkata and Strange Brew hitting the the silver disc in the past few years, there are still some high-profile movies (and TV shows) that have yet to be released on DVD.
There are a variety of reasons for the no-shows. Sometimes there are squabbles over who controls home video rights; other times the company is taking its time to locate a good print of the movie, and investing time and money into restoring the image and soundtrack to optimal condition. Whatever the reasons, however, the net result is that some favorite flicks or TV shows remain unavailable on DVD. Some of these are bona fide classics--The Magnificent Ambersons and The African Queen remain AWOL on DVD. Others are less well-known, but still have recognizable stars or top directors: Night People (with Gregory Peck), Holiday Affair (Robert Mitchum), Otto Preminger's Forever Amber, and Samuel Fuller's China Gate--just to name a few that my parents have been searching for. Once you get to cult classic territory, the list seems endless. A good friend of mine has been holding on to his well-worn VHS copies of 84 Charlie MoPic and The Final Option for more than a decade. International cinema can also be tough: don't look for DVD versions of Mediterraneo or Love Without Pity in North America.
Turning to TV, things can become even more frustrating. It's Garry Shandling's Show is nowhere to be found, while Shandling's Larry Sanders Show has only the complete first season and a "best of" compilation--apparently tepid sales of the former didn't justify a complete season-by-season release. Projected sales volume isn't the only problem. Another roadblock is music rights: co-creator Judd Apatow insisted on paying big bucks to keep the '80s pop soundtrack of his cult hit Freaks and Geeks intact when it hit DVD. By comparison, the WKRP in Cincinnati producers had to settle for poorly dubbed muzak when they couldn't afford to pay for the rights to include the classic rock tunes heard on the original TV broadcast versions. That's the same reason Tour of Duty's once hard-rocking Rolling Stones' intro is a generic instrumental when viewed on DVD.
To make matters worse, searching for some of these movies on Amazon or eBay will offer glimmers of hope, only to be dashed when reading the fine print. Many of the movies are available in overseas editions, but that means you'll need a region-free DVD player--and, usually, a PAL-compatible video display--to watch them.
However, It's not all bad news. Following in the steps of the always excellent Criterion Collection, the Weinstein brothers' Miriam Films line has been restoring and releasing such old-school epics as Anthony Mann's El Cid and The Fall of the Roman Empire. David Lynch fans finally got his Lost Highway on DVD earlier this week. Still, it looks as if those us waiting to see North American DVD versions of Saul Bass's Phase IV or the cheesy apocalyptic thriller Damnation Alley are going to have to dig in for the long term.
Got a favorite movie or TV show that hasn't yet been released on DVD? Share your thoughts below.