Best 4K Blu-ray discs
The age of 4K Blu-ray is here, delivering the best video quality of any in-home format to date.
We have chosen the following discs from the hundreds available so far. These movies not only show off the capabilities of your brand-new television, they're also good. (Well, we liked them, at least.)
All of these titles include the 4K disc as well as the standard 1080p Blu-ray copy in the package. To watch the 4K version you'll need a 4K TV and a 4K Blu-ray player, such as the Sony UBP-X800. All of the 4K discs also include HDR (high dynamic range) information, and when watched on a compatible HDR TV they can look noticeably better than standard Blu-ray.
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4K movies don't need to be all about explosions and spaceships, and this Korean domestic thriller is a great showcase for cinema's subtler side. The movie offers shades of Old Boy as well as Bong Joon-ho's earlier The Host -- both in terms of its muted color palette and themes of isolation and family. It's as hilarious as it is gripping.
Russian Ark was one of the first "tracking shots disguised as a movie" and it was heavy on spectacle. 1917 joins Russian Ark as a technical masterclass in this method of film-making, even if the story is essentially two soldiers running from point A to point B. The centerpiece is a sequence set in a ruined town with flares flying overhead (Ch. 13), which serves as a great test for your TV's contrast levels.
Martin Scorsese's The Irishman may have generated buzz at the 2020 Oscars (but no actual awards) and yet the movie helped remind us why we love his films. Casino may be one of the director's less-recognized pictures, but it offers cool visuals and smoldering performances by an excellent cast. The 4K update offers subtly-realized HDR effects, particularly of Las Vegas' neon canyons, with a picture that is so much cleaner than other recent re-releases such as The Shining or Black Hawk Down.
Black Hawk Down
Here at CNET we've used Black Hawk Down as a touchstone in our audio testing labs for many years, and so we were excited by the prospect of a 4K/Dolby Atmos version. And you know what? It's everything we could have hoped for. Sure it's still a grainy-looking movie, but the picture has been elevated in many ways including the addition of some subtle HDR effects. But the most impressive thing is the sound mix -- this film proves why Dolby Atmos should be renamed the "helicopter effect channel". The sounds of Somalian markets surround you as Black Hawks full of rangers swoop overhead. This disc is a new reference.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
It's one of only two animated movies on this list, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is its own thing. You may have seen superhero origin stories before, or other animated films, but without a doubt you have never witnessed anything quite like this. It looks like a comic book, but the most amazing comic book you've ever seen. There's HDR... and then there's this movie. With a great story, a multitude of interesting characters and excellent Atmos sound, this is one of the 4K Bu-ray discs you must own.
Blade Runner 2049
Forget everything you know about sequels made 30 years after the original. Blade Runner 2049 is the rare update that actually improves the first film. Beautifully shot, this piece of art is made to be shown on a 4K UHD TV. Of all the films in this list, if you're a sci-fi fan at all, this is the disc you absolutely must buy first. You'll need a beefy home theater or a good pair of headphones for this movie -- because you're going to want to play it loud.
Mad Max: Fury Road
When it comes to feminist revenge films masquerading as macho action flicks, they don't come bigger, louder or more fun than Mad Max: Fury Road. There's no real story, or even that much dialogue: it's more akin to a two-hour roller-coaster ride with the promise of redemption at the end.
The HDR effects range from subtle to gaudy (especially when it comes to "flamethrower guitar guy") but as you'd hope they improve what is already a superbly shot and directed action movie.
Not as flashy visually as some of the other movies here. But despite its muted color palette, the images are clean and the film stands up to 4K resolution in a way that most movies can't. Throw in the unbearable suspense and a great soundtrack and you have an instant home theater classic. As far as visual storytelling is concerned, Dunkirk is the new benchmark.
The poster child for what 4K movies are capable of, The Revenant is one of the most beautifully shot movies we've ever seen. The picture quality is flawless and both the expanded color palette and dynamic range pop. Put it on the biggest screen you can afford and turn the volume up!
Planet Earth II
If there's one title that looms large over other 4K releases recently, it's the BBC's Planet Earth II. Shot mostly in 4K and complete with HDR effects, the latest installment of this series features all of the stunning footage you'd expect from the award-winning team behind the original and Life. And of course it's narrated by David Attenborough.
From the opening scene of a sloth swimming among mangroves to the later macro shots of ants eating tadpoles, the cinematography can be simply breathtaking at times. If you want to show off your TV's ability to deliver color and detail, this is the disc.
A beautifully crafted movie in terms of visuals and story, Wonder Woman is the superhero movie we had to have on this list. Special effects are used subtly, at least until the end of the movie, while HDR gives scenes like Steve Trevor's interrogation with the Lasso of Truth a real boost. Yes, some of the scenes do suffer from film grain -- including, strangely, the opening CGI sequence -- but overall, this is one origin tale you need in your collection.
Mission Impossible: Fallout
There's one thing the Mission Impossible franchise has been missing for years. And no, I don't mean 4K HDR -- Mission Impossible 1, 2 and Rogue Nation were all released in 4K. The missing word is "fun," and Mission Impossible: Fallout is packed with it.
From the opening minutes you see the iconic self-destructing message and a thrilling parachute sequence inside a lightning storm. The movie's 4K picture looks clean and the HDR effects serve the story rather than startle you out of it.
Avengers: Infinity War
OK, so Robert Downey, Jr. looks like he'd rather be anywhere else, but of the three Avengers films so far this is both the most visually arresting and the most emotionally affecting. If you saw it at the cinema it's worth seeing at home in HDR, 'cos this thing just pops.
Marvel movies might be a dime a dozen these days, but Black Panther isn't a cookie-cutter, by-the-numbers CGI-fest. It has something to say, and it does so in a way that is both entertaining and visually arresting. The world of Black Panther is fleshed out with both real characters and tangible-looking scenery -- it won the Oscars for both costume and production design. RIP Chadwick Boseman.
The Greatest Showman
If there was ever a disc that could make you shake your head in amazement at how good 4K movies can look, The Greatest Showman is it. It offers spectacular image quality and finely judged HDR effects. The story may be a little hokey but it's forgivable as a way to space out the supremely catchy songs. Only Hugh Jackman's at times bizarre makeup and slippery trans-Pacific accent distract somewhat from the spectacle. But what a spectacle it is. This UHD 4K Blu-ray is one of the best reasons to buy a 4K TV.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Put aside its slightly creaky story and dumb heroics and see the eighth movie in the series for what it is: a visually stunning popcorn movie. Like Blade Runner 2049, Last Jedi hinges on spectacular set pieces, including a throne room fight (which pops in HDR) and the final Battle of Crait. While all of the Star Wars movies are now available in 4K this was the first.
The Shape of Water
Did The Shape of Water deserve an Academy Award? Everyone has their own opinion, but this film is arguably better than anything director Guillermo Del Toro has made since Pan's Labyrinth. It's a seductive and gentle film, quite unlike anything else the great man has worked on before. With its romantic overtones and Parisian feel it reads like a love letter to filmmaker Jean-Pierre Jeunet (who incidentally accused Del Toro of ripping off a scene from Delicatessen). Like most fairy tales, The Shape of Water features moments of shocking violence -- and some real tenderness.
The 4K disc's image is clean and lacking in film grain or other artifacts. It's a fairly dark movie and the HDR effects aren't glaring, so the better your 4K TV is at producing black levels in particular the better. This film is one for fans of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Amélie alike.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
Big, loud and kind of dumb, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets is nevertheless one of the most stunning-looking sci-fi films yet committed to disc. The creature design -- from the knowingly Fifth Element-like ambassadors of the opening scenes to the enigmatic Pearls -- is almost worth the purchase price in itself.
The Martian may not be the best comedy of 2015 as voted by the Golden Globes judges, but it is a rollicking adventure combining equal parts plausible science and dumb heroics.
The HDR effects, with the right settings, make this movie pop on your TV, and you'll probably never want to go back to standard HD after watching it.
Blade Runner: The Final Cut
The neon-soaked visuals in Blade Runner are perfect for an HDR overhaul with the opening scenes as eye-popping as you could hope for. Some of the transitions can be a little jarring: from detailed flyovers of the Tyrell Corp. building, which show the benefits of 4K, to the grainy indoor shots. If you somehow don't own one of the many versions of this movie, this is the one to get in 4K.
The Lego Movie
While some of the discs here tend to monochromatic palettes (red for The Martian and gray for The Revenant), one of the most colorful 4K Blu-ray discs we've seen is The Lego Movie. It's perfect for showing off the wide color gamut capabilities of your 4K HDR TV. It's also a fun film that can be enjoyed by young and old alike.
Despite its moody tone, Logan is anything but dour when it comes to visuals. Images are sharp, and the special effects including HDR are as subtle and well handled as the storytelling. Impressive visuals aside, this film is an involving and moving send-off to one of our favorite superheroes.
While way too sweary and violent for your usual comic book movie audience, Deadpool is perhaps the best of the more adult adaptations so far. It ranks alongside other mature comic movies such as Watchmen, Blade and Hellboy, but has more black humor and pure glee than all three.
The HDR 4K version is even more eye-popping than what you might have seen in the cinema, but care has been taken so that it still looks "realistic" (which is a hard thing to say for a CGI superhero movie). The film's colorist hit the nail on the head when he said HDR is the best reason to buy 4K Blu-ray, and here he helps prove it.
Star Trek: Come for the lens flare, stay for the lens flare in HDR. Even if you've seen this movie before, the high dynamic range version is worth a rewatch. The picture simply bursts from the screen. Though it was a toss-up between this and its follow-up Into Darkness, also available in 4K HDR, Star Trek is widely considered the better film.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice Ultimate Edition
While some of the HDR effects are a little dodgy -- does the white cloth of a protest banner really shine like a fluorescent tube? -- the fight scene this movie is named after (chapter 11 on the disc) really pops in HDR.
From the recent Bond files of "gritty spy thriller" comes Jason Bourne. It balances jittery camera work, fine detail and natural-looking HDR effects with skill. This movie shows that HDR is moving beyond the "sticking spears at the camera" phase that 3D went through and is maturing as a cinematic tool.
Life of Pi
Life of Pi was the early 4K HDR movie of choice in many of the demos we've seen, and high dynamic range makes what was already a visually stunning movie even more spectacular.
The Fifth Element
Yes, it's a 20-year-old movie and yes, there's some grain, but Luc Besson's bonkers sci-fi epic pops in a way that it never has before. The modern HDR effects are subtle but well executed and colors burst and crackle inside every frame. If you only buy one remastered movie in 4K consider this one.
If you like your crime movies gritty and morally compromised, Sicario is one of the best in recent years. The advantage of the 4K version, reportedly, is that it was natively shot in the format and exhibits more of the detail than you could see before. Compared to many of the other titles here, its HDR effects are relatively subtle, and that's not a bad thing in our book.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
While it may not be the best movie in the Pirates series, this is an enjoyable romp with some spectacular visuals. Come for the HDR lighting effects; stay for Javier Bardem's underwater hair.
Kingsman: The Secret Service
If you ever wondered what a James Bond movie would look like if it was made by the Wachowskis, wonder no more. Kingsman is violent, cartoonish fun, and the 4K version boasts much better color and a pleasing three-dimensionality to objects that the standard HD version can't touch.
While some of the opening scenes are overly grainy by the time the film builds to the confrontation (chapter 14) the seamless blend of CGI, live action and understated HDR will win you over. Bonus points to the movie makers for Chappie's bling.
John Wick 2
While Keanu Reeves playing a human with actual human emotions is a little far-fetched, John Wick 2 is a visual treat. Like Jason Bourne and Batman v. Superman, John Wick punctuates its grimy night scenes with HDR neon signs and taillights, lending the movie an energized noir atmosphere.