Weekend Roundtable: Favorite Audio Commentaries

Ah, the audio commentary… So often a chief selling point on DVD and Blu-ray packaging, but does anyone actually listen to these things? Well, we do, and in this week’s Roundtable, we’ll tell you some of our favorites.

Did you realize that the audio commentary was first pioneered by the Criterion Collection all the way back in 1984 for the Laserdisc release of ‘King Kong’? Ever since then, the popular feature has become a staple on every video disc format to follow: Laserdisc, DVD, HD DVD and now Blu-ray. These days, you can even download fan-created tracks or unofficial spoof commentaries (such as RiffTrax) from the internet to sync up with your movie playback. For this Roundtable, we’ll open up discussion to any and all of these forms of audio commentary.

(Incidentally, if you’re wondering what the banner image at the top of this post is about, that’s a photo taken during the recording of a commentary track for ‘The Simpons’. The participants from back to front are: Max Pross, Matt Selman, Tom Gammill, Dan Castellanta, Hank Azaria, Mark Hoppus, Tony Hawk, J. Stuart Burns and Matt Groening. While none of our staff actually chose a ‘Simpsons’ commentary for their favorite, this was the best photo that Google could find for me.)

Nate Boss

The regular commentary track for View Askew’s ‘A Better Place‘ isn’t bad by any means, but there’s a hidden track on the disc that is, by far, the most bizarre and hilarious thing I’ve ever heard. After viewing the film, go to the Special Thanks page and select “The Pizza Guy.” Doing so will open up a secret menu with this track, which features the same participants (director Vincent Pereira and most of the main cast), only this time they’re all drunk and/or stoned out of their minds. Bryan Lynch decides to have a lisp and play [REDACTED] of Fangoria magazine, and it’s one of the most mean-spirited things you’ll ever hear. Never before has someone on a commentary track wondered what a garment in the film thought of the film. The (horribly wrong) secrets of filmmaking are revealed. And their labor of love gets mocked non-stop.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

It’s not all that tough to track down a really great audio commentary for a really great film. I thought this time that I’d write about a commentary track that’s fascinated me for years and years, and it’s for a movie I’ve never really been able to stomach: ‘A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell‘. Director Brett Piper tells a slew of really great stories: doing the movie’s ambitious stop-motion effects work on his kitchen table, the police repeatedly being called in as savages dragged actress Linda Corwin around on a leash, a film lab with the best of intentions mutilating some of Piper’s optical effects work, and shooting the flick on a spring-wound 16mm camera with no sync sound at all.

The thing that really keeps me coming back to this commentary is how unrepentantly vicious Piper is towards Troma. He complains about how the distributor retitled the movie from ‘The Dark Fortress’ to something so shamelessly exploitative (never mind the lack of nymphoid barbarians or dinosaur hells), the insultingly terrible “deals” they’ve tried to make with him over the years, the ridiculous prologue Troma stapled on here, and how the cult studio’s fan base are a bunch of slobbering hornballs with double-digit IQs. Brett Piper knows that Troma is too cheap to edit any of that out of the commentary, and he really doesn’t hold back. At the same time, Piper plays it equal opportunity and doesn’t hesitate to tear apart his own movie either. It’s hard to really recommend ‘A Nymphoid Barbarian’ on its own, but that audio commentary does make the DVD pretty much essential viewing.

M. Enois Duarte

The potential to deliver a good audio commentary is always there in every movie. It all depends on the conversation and the enthusiasm of the people delivering it, particularly when they share anecdotes about the technical or creative process of filmmaking. There are a few commentaries I’ve enjoyed over the years, but only one in recent memory has left a lasting impression. Say what you want about Zack Snyder’s ‘Watchmen‘, but the Blu-ray disc itself pushed forward what the high-def format is capable of. In effect, it raised the bar for what the future of audio commentaries can be. We are visual creatures by nature, and this Blu-ray takes advantage of that fact by filling the screen with comparison stills and entertaining pop-up trivia. The commentary portion has Snyder dissecting his own film via split-screen and explains the magic of movie-making with before-and-after footage and other technical details. Since that initial experience, I find myself now unconsciously comparing other secondary tracks and conversations to it. And I’m anxiously waiting the next great innovation in audio commentaries.

Mrs. Z

For my money, the best commentary around is Robert Rodriquez’s track for ‘Desparado‘. The film is a fantastic over-the-top action movie with explosions and shoot-outs galore. On the commentary, Rodriquez explains in detail how he took a relatively modest budget of $7 million and made it look like $70 million. It turns out that you can save a lot of money by re-using the same two stuntmen over and over. (“There goes Bob across the bar. There’s Bob again flying through the air.”) Rodriquez’s enthusiasm for filmmaking is contagious, and he’s genuinely funny. If you have any interest in filmmaking, you’ll enjoy hearing about the budget challenges he faced and how he was able to work around them to realize his vision. The commentary for ‘El Mariachi’, the $7,000 prequel to ‘Desparado’, is also well worth a listen.

Mike Attebery

For some reason it hasn’t been included on either of the Blu-ray releases of ‘The Usual Suspects‘, but if you can track down the Special Edition DVD or even the mid-’90s Laserdisc (that’s where I heard it first), there is no better audio commentary for a kid who wants to make movies than the play-by-play observations director Bryan Singer and writer Christopher McQuarrie provide for their breakout film. This is exactly what audio commentaries were made for! If there’s a kid in your life with Hollywood dreams, get them a DVD with this commentary.

Aaron Peck

There have been so many audio commentaries over the years that I’ve just loved, but when Josh said that we could pick a RiffTrax for this if we wanted to, I had to go with the RiffTrax for the first ‘Transformers‘. It’s one of the best riffing sessions the guys have ever done. It lambastes the movie for its silliness, and rips it limb from limb like an Autobot dismantling a Decpticon. “Now that was an effective use of the bike-cam” is a classic quote when the camera is inexplicably placed on Shia’s bike as he rides into the warehouse district. Anybody who’s listened to it will remember with fondness the “Lucas the Body Bag” fiasco as the guys go off for a good two minutes talking about what they’d name their body bags after John Tuturro spouts out a line of dialogue that actually does sound like he says, “Lucas the body bag!” The entire riff is full of clever one-liners like that. It’s really the RiffTrax guys at the top of their game. If you haven’t yet, take the time out to listen to it. Great stuff.

Dick Ward

Some audio commentaries provide revelations about the filmmaking process, but what fun are those? Now, take the 2002 comedy ‘Rules of Attraction‘. I don’t specifically remember anything about the movie except that it was made during a time that I felt like the world was obsessed with Shannyn Sossamon. The commentary, though, is brilliant. Skip past the dull technical commentaries about how things were made, and you’ll find a special commentary track by none other than Carrot Top. He’s not in the movie at all, and he very clearly hasn’t even seen it, but he does commentary anyway. And you know what? It’s actually really funny.

Josh Zyber

Honestly, I usually dread the prospect of listening to audio commentaries. Far too many of them are so deadly dull. However, I have a pair of favorites that are equally tied for my affections, and they’re both related to Paul Verhoeven movies. The first is the commentary by feminist critic and author Camille Paglia on ‘Basic Instinct‘. Yes, this really happened, and it’s awesome! An unabashed fan of the film, the self-described “feminist bisexual egomaniac” uses her patented brand of over-analysis to put the movie’s story, themes, and style into context with the tradition of Hollywood femme fatales, psychoanalysis, classical mythology and Cubist art, among many other things. She does so using phrases like “wet tumescent sexual attraction” with deadly seriousness. This audio lecture is riotously entertaining, and also quite informative.

Just as good is the “Greatest Movie Ever Made” commentary on ‘Showgirls‘, delivered by a writer named David Schmader whose only association with the movie is that he adores it for the trash masterpiece that it is. Schmader hosted annotated screenings of the film that were popular enough to draw the attention of MGM, which signed him right up to record a commentary. In the track, he describes the “incredible density of failure that makes Showgirls sublime.” This guy really gets the movie. His enjoyment of it as he watches again is palpable and frequently hilarious. In fact, watching with this commentary makes the movie far more entertaining than watching it without.

That’s what we like. Tell us about your favorite audio commentaries in the Comments.


  1. Dick, yeah that Carrot Top commentary comes out of left-field. I liked some of it, but there are times where he just snickers through whole scenes which is pretty annoying. But, when it’s funny it’s really funny. It’s great that he’s never, ever watched it and doesn’t know who anyone is in it either.

    • Josh Zyber

      This reminds me of the most bizarre commentary I’ve ever encountered. There’s a literary magazine called McSweeney’s, which is edited by the author Dave Eggers. The 11th issue was published as a hardcover book with a bonus DVD. The DVD featured interviews with some of the authors who contributed to the issue, and a bunch of silly things such as a parody of MTV’s “Cribs” called “Literary Cribs” (in which we learn that writers tend to live in abject poverty).

      But the real highlight was the “Making of McSweeney’s No. 11” featurette, which included an audio commentary by no less than Francis Ford Coppola, who recorded it while watching the featurette for the first time with no audio. He spends the time saying things like, “I’m not sure who this woman on screen is, but she has a very pleasant demeanor. I’m sure that she’s very knowlegable about whatever she’s talking about. I don’t know what that is, of course. Oh, I wonder who this new fellow is…” It’s totally SURREAL.

  2. i haven’t heard the dr horrible blu cause i bought the movie on i tunes but i have heard the 2 commentary tracks on serenity. joss whedon is a great story teller and his commentaries are some of the best. also john carpenter commentaries especially with Kurt Russell.

    • Josh Zyber

      The track on Dr. Horrible is a musical commentary. Whedon and the cast sing it from start to finish. It and the other supplements are worth buying the Blu-ray for, even if you already got the movie from iTunes.

      Good call, Shayne. 🙂

  3. Alex

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Ghostbusters commentary with Ivan Reitman, Dan Ackroyd, and Harold Ramis. It is screamingly funny, particularly their descriptions of Slimer and of the fx used for the library. Then they launch into liberal jabs at Bill Murray, clearly taking advantage of the fact that he’s not there. Terrific stuff.

    • I miss that they didn’t port the “mystery science theater 3000” style video track to accompany it, and sadly, I think the track only works in 4×3 letterbox mode on the DVD (I would have to recheck, though, I am not positive). It was one of the most unique commentaries I have ever seen / heard, and really don’t get why it was never used on anything else.

  4. “$27,000 thousand dollars, to make some baalllsss”

    The all singing STEP BROTHERS commentary was one of the best I ever heard, certainly better than the movie itself!

  5. Patrick A Crone

    Pretty much any Kevin Smith movie commentary including Clerks the Animated series. Even Cop Out was enjoyable in Maximum Comedy Mode.

    • I watch the animated series commentary more than I watch the series on its own :p

      Mallrats has great commentary too. Affleck just kills it 🙂

  6. I tend to like Spoof Audio Tracks. My favorite is by The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything on the Veggietales Jonah movie. Its absolutely hilarious, and I actually enjoy it more than the movie.

    I also really like the Audio Commentary on The Chronicles of Narnia The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe. It has the actors and the cast reminiscing about stuff. Its really great because you have the director trying to talk about what is going on on the screen and all the technical stuff, then you have the kids piping in telling stories and such. Its a really well balanced audio track.

    I have learned that I really like the actor’s audio commentaries the best. I have almost stopped listening to Director’s commentaries, but I think that is because I heard too many where the director just isn’t comfortable talking into a microphone, and way too many commentaries where there will be silence sometimes for several minutes. Actors seem to be more at home doing this, and the commentaries just seem to flow better.

  7. Jane Morgan

    House of Games: The Criterion Collection.

    Commentary by director David Mamet and actor Ricky Jay.

  8. For some reason I gravitate toward David Fincher’s commentaries. I’m a huge fan of Se7en, its probably in my top 5 favorite films, I remember when I went out and bought the special edition DVD I listened to every commentary on the disc simply because I loved the movie so much. From then on I’ve made it a point to listen to each of his commentary tracks on his films along with the more technical ones found on Se7en, Fight Club and Zodiac. Hes dry but funny and often sailor mouthed (damn you Social Network Blu Ray for censoring Fincher). Otherwise, I rarely take the time to listen to the commentary or seem to forget that I have, I know there was a period of year or so when I tried my hardest to watch every movie I possibly could with the commentary on but found none of them as engaging or informative as Fincher’s.

  9. Ethan

    How about Tropic Thunder, where Robert Downey Jr. continues throughout in character (as promised in the film itself). It was absolutely hilarious.

  10. motorheadache

    I’m not typically a fan of commentaries, especially director’s solo commentaries, but the Jonathan Hensleigh commentary for the Punisher (Tom Jane) is great. I wish every director commentary was like this– he is very open about criticisms of the film, and discusses what he was going for whether or not it ended up working well. This is especially rare for new commentaries that are recorded for the first home video release of the film.

    Unfortunately, its only on the theatrical cut DVD.

  11. Ryan Clements

    Carrot Top’s Rules Of Attraction commentary has always been my favourite, but the cast/crew commentary on Bound was always a standout, and the bogus commentary for Blood Simple was hilarious.

    Barely listen to commentaries these days, as by and large they can be painfully boring (yeah, even Zach Snyder’s Watchmen commentary)! Thanks for pointing out a few others worth hearing… Gonna have to find this RiffTrax commentary for Transformers!

  12. Apropos of the banner photo, I’ve never listened to a Simpsons commentary track, but the Futurama ones are generally an entertaining mix of informative, nerdy and just plain funny.

    And 22 minutes is about the perfect time for a commentary track, too.

  13. Commentary: The Musical is great, a wonderful choice, but no commentary beats the hidden A Better Place track. NONE. it’s so amazingly insane and cruel, it’s just perfect. i still to this day want to visit the PIZZA STORE, and wonder if the Fangoria editor ever heard this track and how frequently he was belittled.

    The Criterion commentaries on Yojimbo and Sanjuro are EXCELLENT for technical and informative values.

  14. This is Spinal Tap with the band’s (in character) commentary is like seeing a new movie. Alan Arkin & Peter Falk with The In-Laws is another I recall fondly.

  15. Brian H

    John Milius and Arnold on Conan the Barbarian-
    Everything that you want from a commentary, great anecdotes, insight into the production and conception of the project and insight into the people involved.

    Simpsons commentaries around seasons 4 and 5 are great because of the transitions involving the writers, including conan o’brian. This versus Aqua Teen commentaries that feature twelve people and dead air.

  16. A second place prize goes to ‘Bloodrayne’ for the brutal honesty of Uwe Boll. When one joke in particular fails to deliver he utters the sentence “brilliant line, terrible actress.” And he means it. Great stuff 🙂

  17. Jared Chamberlain

    I’m a huge fan of Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier’s commentary on the special edition DVD of Road House, priceless. Honorable mention goes to Robert Downey Jr, Val Kilmer, and Shane Black on Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.

  18. My favourite commentary ever was recorded for “The Goonies”. It’s just hilarious. Brolin: “That’s real gas, you know. Everything used in this movie was real.” (pause) Donner: “Except the actors!” (all laugh). Brolin: “You had his style, you had his thing. You still do that?”; Feldman: “No, I moved on to Britney Spears now” (about his relationship with Michael Jackson). Cohen: “You’re about to see the worst bluescreen in the history of film.” (all laugh) Cohen: “What was that? Donner? This is a big budget movie?”. Feldman: “I saw Superman, I believed the man could fly!” (etcetera)

    Chris Columbus and Macaulay Culkin on “Home Alone” is great too. Culkin is very open and humble. “I’m such a ham”, he says. Or when Columbus isn’t sure whether or not Old Man Marley was part of the first draft John Hughes wrote. “I gotta call John about that (he then realizes it’s quite stupid to call someone about a 20-year old first draft). I gotta look at those old Home Alone scripts!!”. Culkin: “That’s all I do, every day. This movie consumes my being.”

    All “The Simpsons” commentaries are a must, by the way!
    At the start of “Lisa’s Rival”, which features Winona Ryder as Allison, Al Jean (or someone else) says: “Now, I don’t wanna hear any jokes about her recent troubles”. “Yeah, yeah” they all agree. “I just wanna say one thing : she stole the show!” adds another crew member. Genius.

  19. Mike

    Oliver Stone always has a something interesting to say on his tracks.

    Richard Donner and his “old boys” club always sounds like he doesn’t even remember making the movie (any movie) in question.

    Worst, most pretentious track EVER: Cameron Crowe on Vanilla Sky. Lowest point, whooping it up with Tom Cruise via speakerphone. You can pinpoint the exact moment when we forever lost Crowe to celebrity whoredom.

    • Josh Zyber

      That’s the one where Crowe’s wife provides a soft-rock musical score for the commentary, right?

      I think Cruise just has the ability to make any conversation turn instantly vapid. His commentary with J.J. Abrams on Mission Impossible III is likewise insufferable. I don’t think that track has a single useful or interesting piece of information in the whole thing, and that includes the “Enhanced Commentary” extensions on the HD DVD.

  20. TomB

    Always interesting: Francis Ford Coppola and Ridley Scott on their movies. Also Frank Darabond on The Green Mile.

  21. I recommend John Frankenheimer’s commentary on French Connection 2. It’s a good film, but the stories of its production in Marseilles are amazing. Particularly interesting are his tales of the French mob, which somehow got a copy of the screenplay and showed up on set with their edits, trimming where the text was too close to home, which the director could not refuse. In exchange for the additional draft, the Mob supplied a complete, working drug lab set for the filmmakers.