Posted Fri Jan 5, 2024 at 05:50 AM PST by Matthew Hartman
We saw incredible highs of scores of new and deep catalog titles making their way to Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD. We saw major studios like Disney/20th Century and Paramount recommit to the cause not only by punching out numerous long sought-after catalog flicks but delivering them with an A/V quality that showed marked improvement (especially from Paramount). And where the majors fell short, the independent labels stepped up unleashing a tide of new releases that was often difficult and expensive to keep up with. We had readers who had abandoned physical media return to collecting their favorites on disc while others said they practically doubled or even tripled their collections within a year! While Best Buy signaling its exit from the physical media market space seemed like bad news, other retailers and online shops are already picking up the slack. With physical media collecting looking a little brighter, lets take a bit to reflect on some of our favorite releases of the year:
Since it's damn near impossible to whittle down hundreds of new releases into a tiny list of ten or twenty, let alone find a way to rank them, we're simply going to showcase the titles that made our writers' favorites lists. No particular order but all amazing releases:
While this was a bumper crop year for new and catalog 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, good 'ol 1080p had a few great tricks up its sleeve as well. From great TV season releases to true cinematic classics to some stellar 3-D Blu-rays, there are too many titles we'd love to showcase so we have to whittle it down a bit. Here are some of our favorites of 2023.
- Consistently Excellent
Across Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Lionsgate has remained consistent and dedicated. If we're not getting every new release with a Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray disc, they're giving their back catalog titles exciting 4K UHD releases. Not only are they catering to collector the A/V quality of their releases remains consistently excellent. The Mist, Young Guns, John Wick 4, The Wicker Man, Talk to Me, House of 1000 Corpses, The Lord of War - all are excellent releases. 2023 Grade: A
- Most Improved
It wasn't that long ago that the name "Paramount" could be something that caused worry among disc collectors. Some discs could be great, some were pretty rough with over-blown grain management and tanked bitrates on 4K releases that actually fared worse than their Blu-ray counterparts. Now that issue did pop up a time or two for masters that were previously streaming-only releases, but if you chart their efforts from Star Trek: The Next Generation Motion Picture Collection to Titanic, you'll find an impressive range of excellent titles throughout the year with near flawless A/V presentations. To top off their own efforts, if they didn't release a great back catalog title themselves, they licensed it out an independent label.
2023 Grade: B
- Universally Impressive
What can you say about a studio that can deliver a title like Fast X and The Alfred Hitchcock Collection: Vol 3 to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray in the same year? Universal has always been great at giving film fans the newest releases with the best A/V out there (Oppenheimer anyone?) but they've been steadfast at updating their deep catalog titles with worthy Blu-ray and 4K offerings. And like Paramount, they've been terrific about licensing out their most exciting catalog titles to independent labels like Shout! Studios, Kino Lorber Studio Classics, or for great 4K releases the import markets like Germany's Turbine. 2023 Grade: B+
- Bumpy Start but Turned A Corner
It's no secret that Disney and by extension 20th Century Studios has had a bumpy time with physical media releases the last couple of years. That is to say in many cases we should be lucky enough to even get a disc release of any kind at all (where is Barbarian on disc?). When discs did come, they could vary in quality because of a frustrating adherence to only using BD-66 discs and no Dolby Vision HDR support or be hit by anemic Atmos mixes. Celebrating the House of Mouse's 100th birthday was at times tough but had some moments for celebration with Cinderella and Snow White. Things improved dramatically in the last four months. Between a terrific first round of Disney+ titles coming to Blu-ray and 4K, upgrading Hulu's Prey to a beast of a 4K disc release, and James Cameron practically saving the studio with a full round of Avatar releases on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, AND 3-D Blu-ray - things got better fast. We can only hope the effort will continue into 2024 and beyond. 2023 Grade: C+
- Great Effort but Some Worrying Trends
As the studio also celebrated its 100th Anniversary, it made an incredible effort to dig in and release a flood of catalog titles on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray while also ensuring their sub-label Warner Archive Collection maintained a steady flow of excellent releases. Where's the problem? While A/V presentations could be terrific for a number of titles, we had four Rocky films that should have been highlights of the year that were hit by audio issues that were never rectified. Likewise, a grand set such as the Christopher Reeve Superman set had inconsistent HDR grades one to the next, with a problematic Atmos track for The Quest for Peace. But more problematic has been the desperate releases between regions. In the U.S., we would receive basic releases and few if any interesting alternate packaging options, and we also had a dramatic lack of new or archival extra features. However, across the pond, the U.K. would get expansive and exciting deluxe editions like The Exorcist or the upcoming 4K release of Se7en making costly imports almost a frustrating requirement. If it weren't for Warner Archive, the studio would be in much rougher shape. Hopefully 2024 will be better. 2023 Grade: B
- Setting A High Bar for New and Catalog Titles
Similar to Lionsgate, Sony Pictures Home Video has had a terrific 2023 for new title releases, excellent catalog releases, and a slew of impressive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray SteelBook re-releases with Dolby Vision upgrades. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-verse was a magnificent, demo-worthy disc, but then they go and give the same care and attention to catalog titles like The Remains of the Day, Rudy, and The Way We Were. While some of their SteelBook rereleases haven't exactly necessitated a double-dip, but for those that didn't make the previous purchase these are certainly the better options. With Columbia Pictures celebrating its own 100th Anniversary this year and another Columbia Classics 4K set coming, 2024 looks to be very exciting for catalog titles on Blu-ray and 4K disc. 2023 Grade: A
For the last few years, Kino Lorber Studio Classics has been delivering a treasure trove of exciting catalog titles on Blu-ray and 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. That effort compounded in 2023 with a massive selection of terrific discs to make valuable shelf space for. Between 4K discs like Stalag 17 or 12 Angry Men, we also had an amazing release of Rawhead Rex! They've also committed some amazing releases dedicated to bringing fan-favorite and obscure Film Noir, Western, and Drama titles to Blu-ray and their new Kino Cult label offers some new unique genre flavor into the mix.
They may live in Germany, but every Turbine release is a quality one, and often the label delivers the world its first - or best - 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray releases with unsurpassed A/V quality. Pearl always should have gotten a 4K release from the start, but Turbine delivered it. In the same breath we can't forget to highlight their efforts on titles like Repossessed and Cool as Ice - of all films. While it's cool that we get such a diverse range of titles with the best possible A/V options, they also deliver multiple attractive artwork options with a range of limited-run Mediabooks. We're been teased that some great titles are on the way in 2024 and we can't wait to see what's coming.
The Criterion Collection has long held a status for curating a collection of releases that spans the breadth of cinema from across the globe. In a year we had titles like the amazing Ranown Westerns and a film like Mildred Pierce space alongside the likes of Malcolm X and Tod Browning's Sideshow Shockers. While each month's titles may seem a little disjointed or not as robust, exciting, or essential as some other labels out there, they are at least quality releases. And when Barnes and Noble have their biannual sales, we often have many titles worth considering to add to the shelf. Now with their Janus Contemporaries efforts, there are even more titles coming to the market that would otherwise be lost to streaming let alone get a disc release at all.
One of the most committed to the cause of Physical Media, Vinegar Syndrome and their sister company OCN Distribution have had an incredible 2023, and 2024 is already gearing up to be bigger and better. Vinegar Syndrome on its own offers up a number of impressive sub-labels, but then OCN Distribution compounds the collecting excitement with its cadre of partner labels. Across the board, fans can pick through over a dozen new titles every month. Where else are you going to get The Prophecy I-II-III, Showgirls, and Sidekicks on 4K? On top of those hits, you can snag high-quality releases from obscure gems from labels like Saturn's Core, Canadian International Pictures, Dekanalog, and Deaf Crocodile among many others. Then you have the subscription service. With a subscription, you get the base release sent to your door every month with the option of picking up new sub-label titles at 50% off. Sure, that upfront for a subscription can be a bit hefty, but several writers here at HDD have given it a try and have now resubscribed. With another new sub-label on the horizon with Cinématographe, even more great movies are coming to disc with exciting attractive packaging.
Between their labels, Shout Studios, Shout Select, and Scream Factory, 2024 saw some genuinely great discs come to collector's shelves. You have classics like The Magnificent Seven alongside JFK with The People Under the Stairs and a bunch of Chucky fan favorites all in a single year. If you could fault the studio for anything it would be being too aggressive. Promised for 2023, The Ring Trilogy 4K set is now due to arrive in 2024. We also had a bunch of upgrades with the likes of The Dead Zone punched out alongside a ton of Jackie Chan films and and a slew of nearly-forgotten Shaw Brothers films coming to Blu-ray for the first time. You have everything from Comedy, Westerns, Horror, Drama, Martial Arts all getting amazing releases. 2023 was a year to celebrate.
Via Vision and their sublabel Imprint Films did a masterclass job bringing film fans all over the world some remarkable releases. We saw numerous global first releases on Blu-ray with incredibly intricate packaging and some amazing box sets. Their commitment to delivering the best possible A/V releases is one thing, but to also load up their sets with a bunch of new bonus features is better than commendable it's downright admirable. Here's hoping 2024 sees plenty more great hits, we need more Rawhide seasons on Blu-ray!
Arrow may have a tough time offering some of their biggest and best titles on both sides of the big pool separating the U.S. and U.K., but if you can't get a film on both shores, you can be sure it's worth importing. We haven't had the chance to fully review the Hellraiser and Psycho collections yet, but from what we've seen they're incredible sets. Alongside efforts for Barbarella and even Tremors 2 saw a great release, Arrow hasn't lost their knack for amazing A/V quality on both formats. Now we're just salivating for Conan the Barbarian to arrive on 4K. Hopefully, 2024 is just as aggressive and impressive as 2023.
Severin titles can sometimes be a tad pricy, more than the average, but in terms of quality A/V, packaging, and pure volume of amazing titles, you get every cent of what you pay for, and then some. Where else are you going to see something as expansive like The Sensual World of Black Emanuelle multi-film box set ride high with Pod People and Jess Franco's Count Dracula while finally giving the world a luscious release of Cemetary Man (Dellamorte Dellamore)? Toss in their monthly bundle deals and amazing swag packages, and Severin had an amazing year. Thanks to them fans have their own Trumpy and Joe Spinell stuffed buddies!
Second Sight has been around for a while now, but we felt they really burst onto the scene with their fantastic Dawn of the Dead 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray. That commitment to quality releases hasn't wavered in the years since and 2024 was a terrific year. We weren't able to review all that we wanted to of their releases - still have It Follows and Crimes of the Future to dig into - but every release has been eye-catching and worth the wait. And for some, we've waited a long time. George Romero's Martin was a highlight of the year as was their Limited Edition of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. What's also more than commendable and should be the industry standard is their commitment to quality control. When a problem is spotted, they pull the product before it ships and delay the release rather than throw it out to the masses hoping no one notices or if they do, go through the expensive and arduous task of issuing disc replacements. Get it right first and fans will be happy.
Another label we wished we'd been able to review more from is U.K. label 88 Films. From maniacal martial arts classics to ghastly Italian horror gems, 88 Films had a great crop of releases this year on Blu-ray and 4K. They've positioned themselves in such a way that when a title gets announced domestically, one often has to pause and keep an eye on the 88 Films social accounts just to see if they won't be punching out one themselves for a possibly an even better release. In the Line of Duty I-IV, Police Story 3: Super Cop, and Hell of the Living Dead all saw terrific releases. We aim to review more of their stuff soon and do our damndest to keep up with their 2024 lineup.
Powerhouse Films and their sublabel Indicator kept fans on both sides of the Atlantic busy. From amazing 4K titles like Two Orphan Vampires to amazing Blu-ray releases of The Big Gundown - it's truly a good thing to see so many amazing titles come out you can barely keep up. We had a hell of a time trying to! Each of us at HDD picked up several of their 2023 slate and were often gobsmacked by the care and attention to the releases. We can only hope to dig in deeper and give more of their work the attention they deserve in 2024. Their pre-order lineup already looks fantastic.
Not wanting to leave anyone off this list, but there's so many amazing labels out there truly doing A+ work giving fans incredible content on physical media. We have to give honorable mention shoutouts to all of the great labels we've reviewed and hope to see more from in 2024.
2023 was one of the most exciting years for physical media collectors. It may seem dire with brick-and-mortar locations like Best Buy and Target shuttering or greatly reducing their offerings, but with the major studios waking up from their expensive streaming hangover and all of the stalwart and new independent labels cropping up, collectors had a lot to celebrate. And with all of the titles already announced into 2024, we've got a hell of a year ahead of us.
The team here at High-Def Digest want to thank all of you readers out there who click in to check out our personal mumblings about movies on disc. We also want to thank all of the incredible independent labels out there. You've made this hobby a passionate and exciting one delivering one exciting slate of releases after another. You're the folks that make this hobby grand and worth the effort.
Happy Collecting Everyone - see you all throughout 2024!
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