10 movies you should watch to show off your surround sound

Put your new sound system to the test with these movies known for their outstanding sound design.

Taylor Martin CNET Contributor
Taylor Martin has covered technology online for over six years. He has reviewed smartphones for Pocketnow and Android Authority and loves building stuff on his YouTube channel, MOD. He has a dangerous obsession with coffee and is afraid of free time.
Taylor Martin
3 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

When you upgraded your television to a new 4K unit, you likely realized that the content available to show off those 6 million additional pixels was scant. Even today, 4K content is seriously lagging behind demand.

Fortunately, the same isn't true of audio. If you've recently upgraded your home theater with a surround sound system, there is a vast library of movies with incredible sound, many with scores or soundtracks to match.


"Mad Max: Fury Road": All about that base.

Below are 10 movies that will let you experience the full range of your home theater sound system.

  • "Mad Max: Fury Road" is two hours of straight high intensity action. But the nonstop visuals are backed up by some of the best sound design in the business. It brought home the 2016 Academy Award for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing.
  • "TRON: Legacy" is as visually stimulating as it is candy for your ears. The soundtrack alone is enough to land the movie on this list, but the attention to detail by Skywalker Sound was enough to get TRON: Legacy an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound Editing in 2010.
  • "Inception", which kick-started the overused, dramatic, foghorn-like BRAAAM sound, actually edged out TRON: Legacy for the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing in 2010, and rightfully so. With audio queues throughout, sound plays a major role in the plot of the movie. You'll definitely want to turn up the volume for this one, and pay close attention.
  • "WALL-E", like most Pixar creations, is an impressive work of art, both visually and audibly. Sound designer Ben Burtt, famous for his sound work in Star Wars, Indiana Jones and "E.T.", explained he had to create more sound files for "WALL-E" than any other feature film he's worked on. He had to create "a whole world of sounds," since every movement for WALL-E and the accompanying robots makes a sound.
  • "American Sniper" is another Academy Award winner for Best Sound Editing. Unlike many war flicks that bombard you with explosions and over the top gunfire, "American Sniper" relies on subtleties and realism in its sound, which will whip you back and forth from the battlefield to a tense silence back home.
  • "Saving Private Ryan" took home the Academy Award for Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing, C.A.S. Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Feature Film and Golden Reel Award for Best Sound Editing in 1999. Using realism similar (albeit a bit more action-packed) to what you'll find in "American Sniper", "Saving Private Ryan" does a fantastic job of making you feel as if you're on the battlefield. This is due, in part, to the utter lack of music during battle scenes.
  • "The Hurt Locker" has a similar lack of music and visceral audio realism. Much of the audio was recorded on location in Jordan, says Paul Ottosson, sound designer, supervising sound editor and re-recording mixer of the film.
  • "The Dark Knight" is another winner of an Academy Award for Best Sound Editing. The roar of the Batmobile (literally, the sound of animals roaring and growling was paired with race boat engines to create the Batmobile sound) and the intensely dramatic score makes "The Dark Knight" a must-listen on a new sound system.
  • "Interstellar" is a controversial pick -- space movies often are. It was (intentionally) mixed to emphasize the music and sound effects, often drowning out important dialogue. Turn on subtitles and enjoy the incredible scores.
  • "Gravity"changed the game for movies that take place in outer space. The music was specifically composed for surround sound in Dolby Atmos. As Sandra Bullock spins around in space, the music follows her (or you, the viewer). Space films also feature a lot of silence or music to mask the silence, since sound isn't transmitted in a vacuum. However, sounds can be transferred through objects in the form of vibrations, which the sound designers of "Gravity" took full advantage of.

Just know that while movies are often tailored to surround sound, music is typically best enjoyed through stereo speakers. Here are some tracks that will show off your hi-fi speakers.