(December 4, 2019) The gift giving season is upon us and that means it's time to rank the best disc releases of the year! This year, review expert Michael Scott and I have compiled a list full of must-own gems. Much like 2018, this year was chock full of great films, giving home theater fanatics access to sensational Blu-ray and 4K UHD content.
Before you begin picking through our top picks, let’s quickly review the two predominant disc options: Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. You'll typically find a $5-$10 difference between the two formats, with Blu-ray being the cheaper option. However, many of the 4K discs on our list can be had for under $20. Assuming the person you’re buying for has 4K capable equipment, the 4K Ultra HD version of a film typically is the way to go. Not only do 4K discs offer a vastly improved viewing experience, but most studios reserve their best audio encodes for 4K versions of a film. That means immersive sound for the ears and High Dynamic Range and Wide Color Gamut for the eyes – a dazzling trio! If you’re not sure if your gift recipient is running a 4K set up, you can still buy the 4K version with confidence as Blu-ray versions of a film are typically bundled with a 4K release.
To make your holiday shopping easier, we’ve included “Buy It Now” links to Amazon (if a 4K version of the film is available, the link leads directly to that copy). And, where available, we’ve also included links direct to Michael Scott’s review of a release; if you’re curious to read a film’s full review, simply click on the film's title.
Also, it's worth mentioning that we're currently running a Flash Giveaway contest for a new 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray copy of Game of Thrones: Season Eight. The contest runs until December 6th. Click here for more information.
20. Apocalypse Now: Final Cut (4K Blu-ray)
Apocalypse Now is the first of several re-releases on our 2019 list, standing as one of the most iconic war movies of all time. This particular release features a beautiful 4K restoration thanks to a 2160p transfer in a cinematic 2.39:1 aspect ratio. And the film's gorgeous image is perfectly matched to a superb Dolby Atmos track. This is a must own release for any fan of film and a great addition to larger home theater libraries.
19. Aladdin: The Signature Collection (4K Blu-ray)
This isn't the first time Disney's classic animated tale has made its way to disc, but it is the film's first 4K presentation. Michael Scott says this release represents a major bump in both audio and video, but also includes nearly 45 minutes of brand-new extras. "This is going to be one of those odd recommendations where I FULLY recommend picking up this as a good upgrade in video and a change in audio, while I still recommend holding onto the 2015 Diamond edition release as well," says Scott. "This new edition has the 1.60:1 aspect ratio, while the Diamond has the theatrical matte'd 1.85:1 edition, and the extras on that set are well worth keeping." A must own for fans of animated Disney releases.
18. Scarface: The World is Yours Limited Edition (4K Blu-ray)
Scarface is still just as much of a classic watch today as it was 36 years ago, and Universal’s new 4K remaster is just what the doctor ordered. Whether you love or loathe this excessive film, it's become an indelible part of popular cinema in the last three-and-a-half decades. The new transfer brings what we’ve always wanted to the table, with the 4K disc looking simply magnificent. If you have the equipment (or if you’re just future proofing), then it is easily the version to get as it handily eclipses the standard Blu-ray disc.
According to Michael Scott, this Limited Edition release is "a bit of a mixture of swag and video benefits, as this edition comes with a solid plastic statue of the infamous 'The World is Yours' statue found inside Tony Montana's estate. The statue stands about 10.5 inches high x 5.75 inches wide, but 5 inches deep, and is pure gold in color. ALSO found within the Blu-ray case is a newly minted version of the 1932 gangster movie Scarface from whence the DePalma version was remade. While not reviewed [by AV NIRVANA], the film itself looks and sounds great for a 1932 movie and is a VERY welcome addition to the set."
17. Godzilla: King of the Monsters (4K Blu-ray)
Here's a flick for the true AV home theater fan on your list. While we admit it's somewhat lacking in the story department, Godzilla's audio is an enthusiast's dream. Michael Scott says the audio "mix is hard, loud, aggressive, and just rippling with sonic low end power from beginning to end. The rumble of the ships, the roar of Godzilla himself, as well as the crash and smashing of the battles between Godzilla and the rest of the Titans is literally epic in nature. The surrounds and overheads are awash with discrete background noises, ranging from the thudding of helicopter rotors, to the swooshing and swirling of water and wind as massive wings beat down from above and around the listening position. With that added height layer (due to the larger than life nature of Godzilla and his enemies) the sonic immersion is absolutely incredible and makes this a perfect audio mix to the core." If you know someone with a killer system, Godzilla is easy to recommend.
16. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (4K Blu-ray)
Dreamworks' How to Train Your Dragon series has enjoyed tremendous success over the last nine years, and The Hidden World is the perfect ending. "While it is not AS great as the first two films," says Michael Scott, "The Hidden World is not far behind them and has a tear jerker of an ending that had me really wanting to rewatch the trilogy from beginning to end. The themes of moving on and growing up were fantastically done, and Dreamwork’s legendary attention to audio and video makes the 4K the absolute winner here. The Blu-ray is excellent to the core, but if you have the equipment, then the 4K UHD disc is THE one to get. The host of extras is just icing on the cake and makes this 4K UHD home video release cream of the crop."
15. 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi (4K Blu-ray)
Here's yet another re-release on 4K UHD Blu-ray, and it's a good one. The story is riveting, laced with terror, sadness, and heroism, brought to life with an incredible 4K image struck from an original 2K transfer. But the release's flawless audio takes the cake. As Michael Scott says, Paramount's "Dolby Atmos track is a monument to the man who loves to watch (and listen to) the world just explode." This is a must own film.
14. Freaks (Blu-ray)
2018's Freaks is scheduled to be released by Well Go USA on December 10th, but you can pre-order it now. This Sci-Fi psychological thriller was a hit in theaters, and we can't wait to experience it on disc. While AV NIRVANA hasn't released an official review, we do know the disc will carry a 5.1 DTS-HD MA encode with a 2.39:1 image. We'll update this gift guide once Freaks becomes available.
13. Alien 40th Anniversary (4K Blu-ray)
One word: Alien. Here's another word: Four-K. Well, okay, "Four-K" might not be an actual word, but seeing Alien and 4K together is a wonderful thing, right? It's hard to believe this massive classic was released 40 years ago, but fans of the series can certainly celebrate with this statement edition. Featuring a 4K remaster from the original 35mm photo chemical film stock, supervised directly by Ridley Scott himself and re-color timed to imitate the theatrical experience more accurately, Alien has never looked this good. And while the audio didn't get an immersive sound re-mix, the film's 5.1 DTS-HD MA encode is thick and immersive in its own right.
12. Game of Thrones: Season Eight (4K Blu-ray)
Little needs to be said about this release, as it marks an end to HBO's incredible run with the series. Should you buy it? YES. This 4K release carries a Must Own recommendation for any GOT fan. As mentioned above, we're currently hosting a Flash Giveaway contest for this statement release (click here to enter).
11. Ad Astra (4K Blu-ray)
Much like Freaks, Ad Astra has yet to be released on disc (it, too, hits store shelves on December 17th). That doesn't mean you shouldn't pre-order this blockbuster hit, because it's sure to be a coveted disc for most home theater and film fanatics. We're expecting a lot from its native Dolby Atmos audio track, which should rival the film's 2.39:1 4K video presentation. Stay tuned for a full official review (well update this list once that becomes available).
10. Aquaman (4K Blu-ray)
Hello there, home theater demo material! While we admit placing Aquaman at number ten might be a bit of stretch (its story isn't as strong as other Warner superhero flicks), the film is a great gift for the true home theater enthusiast. This is largely due to a five-star audio presentation that Michael Scott says is a powerhouse and "pure ear candy." Scott continues: "The track smashes you in the face with the opening submarine battle, and sets the stage for the rest of the action packed film with an incredible LFE assault that just doesn’t let up. When I mean it doesn’t let up, I meant it DOESN’T let up! The bass is constant and powerful, pulsating in the background from the rousing score, to delivering wave after wave of low end during the copious battles. Tridents smashing together carry the weight of the seas behind it, and the thundering roar of a giant sea monster at the end will give you chills. Surround activity is insane, with overheads and back channels used with incredible frequency."
See what we mean? Buy it.
9. The Shining (4K Blu-ray)
Stanley Kubrick's masterpiece FINALLY hits 4K UHD Blu-ray and the results are simply stunning. Tapping a new scan from the original 35mm film, The Shining has never looked this good. Ever. And while the audio track isn't sensational, it more than gets the job done. To put it simply: this is a must own classic that deserves a spot in every movie collection.
8. Toy Story 4 (4K Blu-ray)
Has Pixar ever swung and missed? Not as far as we can tell. And while Toy Story 4 is almost a check swing, it's still a solid flick. Of course, beyond the story, the film looks devastatingly good in 4K and carries an immersive sound Dolby Atmos audio track to match. This release is any easy recommendation for young and old alike.
7. Avengers Endgame (4K Blu-ray)
Endgame marks the end of a 22 movie series. That statement, alone, is a lot to digest. And while Marvel (sort-of) dropped the ball with the film's storyline, its still a solid movie. Michael Scott says "the 4K UHD version is a nice upgrade over the Blu-ray, and if you have the equipment is my personal choice to go with due to both the Atmos track AND the video upgrade. All extras are housed on the Blu-ray disc, and rather healthy ones at that. All in all, definitely recommended for comic book fans or those who've been following the Marvel universe for this long."
6. A Star is Born (4K Blu-ray)
Super stars Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga headline this 5-star 4K UHD Blu-ray release. Loaded with excellent video appeal and stellar Dolby Atmos-laced audio, Michael Scott says "A Star is Born is a multilayered tragedy, and Cooper allows for several subplots to play out on screen, culminating in the inevitable demise of one, and the surging rise of another." Scott continues by saying the "film is powerful and tear jerking, while being homey and comforting at the same time. The music itself is incredible, giving both people the 'voice' they so desperately wanted, and has itself been given a series of Academy Awards." Warner’s 4K UHD disc is very VERY solid, with a nice array of extras and a superb presentation. Definitely a must watch and a must own.
5. Shazam! (4K Blu-ray)
Shazam! is one of this year's surprise releases, suffering in the marketing department from rather awkward trailers and still images. Don't pass judgement, though, until you've given this film a chance, as it makes for great family fun. The 4K disc's audio and video qualities are simply fantastic, with a native Dolby Atmos track delivering pure reference material. Audio-fantics will love its swirling 360-degree attack, while bass-heads will revel in the release's highly nuanced (not to mention punishing) LFE track. This is one film every enthusiast should own.
4. John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum (4K Blu-ray)
Parabellum hit store shelves this past September and immediately became a collector's favorite. While the film's aggressive storyline and brutal violence make this a poor choice for younger ones on your list, those same traits are what makes it such a great film for fans of action flicks. Much like other Wick releases, Parabellum carries a dazzling 2.39:1 cinemascope image that simply explodes on the screen... and the audio? Forget about! The film's native Dolby Atmos track is loaded with power and mesmerizing dimensionality. Buy. Buy. Buy.
3. The Haunting of Hill House: Extended Director's Cut (Blu-ray)
It's a shame Hill House was only issued on Blu-ray, as the show's stylized look and feel could definitely benefit from a 4K presence. That said, it's a gorgeous looking Blu-ray release that's perfectly complimented by a competent 5.1 Dolby True HD audio mix. The unique horror storyline is refreshingly unique, carrying the genre confidently in artistic directions that will keep a viewer riveted for all ten episodes spread over three discs. Add stellar acting performances and convincingly realistic special effects, and Neftlix's Hill House represents a perfect horror release.
2. Batman Beyond: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)
Number two on our list is a gorgeous box set release that ships with all kinds of goodies for the Batman fan in your life. Michael Scott's official review was glowing, giving the release a Must Own stamp of approval. According Scott, "Batman Beyond is simply superb as a followup to the Batman: The Animated Series, which was one of the best shows to come out the 90s and early 2000s. Beyond easily rivals it’s progenitor and almost surpasses it in some ways."
1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (4K Blu-ray)
It's always tough to pick an absolute number one, especially when a list's Top Five are all exceptional releases. Nevertheless, this year's top spot is occupied by one of the most visually arresting films ever to hit 4K UHD Blu-ray, maxing-out the capabilities of High Dynamic Range and wide color. It doesn't hurt that Spider-Verse is a fun story the entire family can enjoy, having reeled in an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. While the 4K UHD Blu-ray version is preferred, enthusiasts won't be disappointed if standard Blu-ray meets their needs. Spider-man: Into the Spider-Verse is a sure-shot home run of a gift.