Maybe physical media’s days are numbered with streaming services a progressively better experience, and already superior when it comes to ease and convenience. But for film enthusiasts, nothing beats holding and truly owning a movie on Blu-ray—particularly in a deluxe or limited edition, perhaps with bundled goodies and fancy packaging.
A bookcase filled with your favourite films looks better than mindlessly scrolling through rows of icons, the same as everyone else on a streaming service. There’s a feeling of pride, ownership, and uniqueness.
So how better to celebrate the last day of 2020 than to choose our 20 favourite Blu-rays and 4K Ultra HD discs. The limited edition Steelbooks. The deluxe box-sets. The expensive collections. The mouthwatering must-buys. How many of these did you purchase this year, and what would you add to the list?
20. 2001: A Space Odyssey – Titans of Cult (4K Ultra HD Steelbook)
Stanley Kubrick‘s masterpiece was already a must-have purchase when it arrived on 4K with a superlative transfer, but then Titans of Cult released this Limited Edition Steelbook version with an exclusive enamel pin and embroidered patch. Hard to justify buying 2001 if you’d already splashed out on this film in Ultra HD, but this was arguably the best 4K version in terms of the artwork and goodies.
19. It: Chapter One & Two – Zavvi (4K Ultra HD Steelbooks)
With both It films now available, Zavvi had a few box-set releases to tempt customers who had already bought each Chapter separately. The most expensive was the Ultimate Collector’s Edition (with a figurine of Pennywise), but it was hard to justify the £139.99 price. The best value was undoubtedly the metal box-set, with each Steelbook given new artwork, bundled with two fold-out posters.
18. Gamera: The Complete Collection – Arrow Video (Blu-ray)
It made perfect sense for Arrow Video to release this (literally) monstrous Complete Collection box-set of the Gamera kaiju films, in a year where Criterion released an equally enormous Godzilla bundle. Costing a mighty £125, it still sold out, and I daresay a lot of customers took a risk on the films simply because of the truly epic artwork and physical extras (art cards, booklet, map). Two less expensive box-sets are coming in January 2021, covering the Showa and Heisei era’s separately.
17. The Shining – Warner Bros. (‘Collector’s Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
The 40th anniversary of another Kubrick classic resulted in another batch of different Shining releases on 4K, but while I prefer the vivid yellow Steelbook from Zavvi, there’s no denying this released a better value package if you wanted some extra physical goodies. These included an exclusive booklet, a letter from Stanley Kubrick to artist Saul Bass, Saul Bass’s early design illustrations, behind-the-scenes imagery, and a replica theatrical poster. The only downside was the less interesting artwork on the disc itself.
16. Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection – Universal (4K Ultra HD)
While not the most visually appealing box-set on this list, dropping four of Alfred Hitchcock‘s best films on 4K represented one of the year’s best bargains for cinephiles. Only Psycho was otherwise available in 4K separately, celebrating its 60th anniversary (with the Uncut version making its home video debut), but this set also contained Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds. The artwork inside is better than expected, but familiar if you have the older Blu-ray Hitchcock box-set. Interestingly, the Region A version lacks the plastic trays and is more of a Digibook.
15. Flash Gordon – StudioCanal (‘Collector’s Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
A cult favourite for many, seeing Flash Gordon on 4K was revelatory in terms of the punchy colours and extra details. The film’s a love-hate situation, mostly dependent on nostalgia, but StudioCanal certainly didn’t let its 40th anniversary pass by unnoticed. The £50 Collector’s Edition contained the documentary Life After Flash, the Queen soundtrack, a 32-page booklet, a mini-book telling the Story of Flash Gordon, an original artwork poster, and a reproduction of the first Flash Gordon comic-book. I’m not a huge fan of how StudioCanal stuff these goodies inside a relatively small box, as it’s difficult to crack open and get to the discs quickly, but I’m sure Flash fans appreciated the efforts here.
14. The Elephant Man – StudioCanal (‘Collector’s Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
StudioCanal had a great year with some classic releases on 4K for the first time, but what marked The Elephant Man apart was its more creative packaging. The box-set opens out to reveal a pop-up of the hospital Joseph Merrick was taken to, together with a booklet and some art cards. This did result in a rather fat package, held together by a popper, which was of debatable design quality, but it was nevertheless StudioCanal’s most memorable release of the year. You can read our review of this release here.
13. Bruce Lee: Greatest Hits – Criterion Collection
While unavailable on Region B here in the UK, Criterion Collection’s incredible Bruce Lee: Greatest Hits release was a must-buy for any Kung Fu fans with a region-free Blu-ray player. This stunning release brought together five of the martial artist’s best-known films: The Big Boss (1971), Fist of Fury (1972), The Way of the Dragon (1972), Enter the Dragon (1973), and Game of Death (1978). The wasp-coloured artwork was obviously inspired by Lee’s iconic attire in his last movie, and the set featured 4K restorations of every film—except Enter the Dragon, which instead received a 2K restoration of the rare 99-minute theatrical cut. The extras includes lots of new material, including interviews with relevant producers and Lee’s biographer. They even threw in the 1981 film Game of Death II (comprised of unused material with Lee from previous films) as a bonus extra, together with the 2004 documentary Blood and Steel (focusing on Enter the Dragon’s creation). It was a real shame this box-set didn’t come to the UK, but we live in hope another distributor will essentially repackage this for us soon.
12. The Game – Arrow Academy (‘Limited Edition’ Blu-ray)
Nobody saw this coming! Arrow Academy isn’t a branch of Arrow Video particularly known for this Limited Edition box-sets, but in 2020 they dropped this excellent release of David Fincher‘s The Game. It wasn’t a 4K upgrade, but the transfer looked a touch better than the US Criterion Blu-ray release from years ago. More importantly from a collecting mindset, this came in a tall and sturdy case (feeling and weighing more like a hardback book), with an information booklet inside. The little details and artwork are what made this release so beautiful, even if some may not have appreciated how difficult it is to shelve. You can read our review of this release here.
11. Beetlejuice – HMV (‘Cine Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
There two great release for Beetlejuice this year, timed for Halloween. Zavvi’s Steelbook set had funky artwork with vibrant greens and purples, but I opted for HMV’s more traditional box-set full of goodies as part of their Cine Edition range. The box-set was designed to look like a copy of the ‘Handbook for the Recently Deceased’, and inside you had a poster, a glow-in-the-dark embroidered patch, and collectable chalk. I know it’s a lot of bumph you’re unlikely to ever use, but I’m a sucker for a limited edition (1500 copies) gift set. And the replica Handbook idea was great.
10. Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection – HBO (4K Ultra HD Steelbooks)
Forget the gimmicks, this was just a straightforward release from HBO: all eight season of their epic fantasy series Game of Thrones, together on 4K Ultra HD in fancy Steelbook packaging. It’s a thing of simple beauty. There was a cheaper non-Steelbook release for £199.99, but an extra £50 for those metal cases was sorely tempting. An eye-watering amount of money to spend (and I’m sure many fans had already been collecting the expensive Blu-rays each year), but for diehard fans who want the best way to see and store their favourite TV series forever… this was the release one dreamed about.
9. Total Recall – StudioCanal (‘Collector’s Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
Another sterling release from StudioCanal was Paul Verhoeven‘s Total Recall, another of their excellent upgrades for mainstream ’80s and ’90s action films. The simultaneous Steelbook version had better artwork, but this more expensive Collector’s Edition came with the usual paraphernalia: art cards, a poster, the soundtrack, a booklet. Sure, it’s a generic box-set release that stuck to a formula, but seeing this given premium 4K treatment was a treat. You can read our review of this release here.
8. Columbia Classics – Columbia Pictures (4K Ultra HD)
Another mouthwatering 2020 release was Columbia Pictures dropping six classic films on 4K (Mr Smith Goes to Washington, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr Strangelove, A League of their Own, Jerry Maguire), although it instantly presented consumers with a quandary. This wasn’t a cheap set at £200 and there’s a good chance you didn’t want all six films, with A League of their Own and Jerry Maguire‘s inclusion more eyebrow-raising. And if you’re a Kubrick fanatic on a high with 2001, The Shining, and Full Metal Jacket 4K’s this year, would you lay down that sort of cash just to get Dr Strangelove on 4K too? It’s a box-set for those with deep pockets and refined tastes, but with a gorgeous hardback book to pore over this was definitely a highlight of the year’s physical media releases.
7. The Hobbit – New Line Cinema (4K Ultra HD Steelbooks)
It’s not anyone’s favourite trilogy of the two, but The Hobbit still represents a demo-worthy transfer in 4K. The Dolby Atmos track is particularly thrilling. There are no 3D versions, or an option to play these films in the High Frame Rated (HFR) format Peter Jackson filmed them in, but The Hobbit trilogy is nonetheless a feast for the eyes and ears. And the £99 Steelbook box-set is beautiful, especially in terms of the individual matte artwork that represents each film. It’s such a pity there are no extra features whatsoever, as they’re undoubtedly being held back for 2021’s Middle Earth deluxe box-set containing both trilogies.
6. The Lord of the Rings – New Line Cinema (4K Ultra HD Steelbooks)
Everything I’ve said about The Hobbit 4K Steelbook release also applies to this trilogy, but the lack of bonus material was a potential dealbreaker for some. But if you wanted to see The Lord of the Rings trilogy in stunning 4K with awesome Dolby Atmos, with a better colour-grading job than the earlier Blu-rays, it’s hard to argue against owning these. Although there’s debate about digital noise reduction (DNR) smoothing away some details from the earlier Blu-rays, etc. The non-Steelbook box-set is £25 cheaper, but I think it’s worth the extra cash because of the amazing artwork.
5. Back to the Future trilogy – Universal/Amazon (‘Collector’s Edition’ 4K Ultra HD)
The 35th anniversary of Back to the Future inspired a tonne of new box-sets, including the trilogy’s debut on 4K. For my money, Amazon had the best-looking gift set, as it contained three beautiful Steelbooks (each one combining into an elongated image of the DeLorean spanning three time periods), which one could also buy at other retailers. However, Amazon’s deluxe box-set also contained a replica of the ‘Gray’s Sports Almanac’, a trilogy poster, two lenticular cards (one a brilliant version of Marty’s vanishing family photo), a blueprint of the DeLorean, a photo of the Clocktower from 1885, a fridge magnet, a Gibson guitar pick, and a continuity script excerpt! The only negative is that the box-set is contained inside a rather dull-looking black package resembling the DeLorean’s time circuits. And it’s a shame the Steelbooks are stored so peculiarly inside, with two nestled together at the bottom, but one randomly near the top. But in terms of value, the goodies inside are top quality and great fun.
4. Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga – Lucasfilm • Disney (4K Ultra HD)
After the release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the scene was set for a nine-film, trilogy-of-trilogies, comprehensive release of the so-called Skywalker Saga. This £199.99 box-set was the end result, although each film was also given individual 4K and 4K Steelbook releases. The key selling point of this box-set is the deluxe packaging and heavy book full of gorgeous artwork, although the way the 27 discs are slipped into the pages isn’t the best idea. One might argue getting the individual releases looks more impressive on a shelf, but it’s more expensive in 4K, so while £199 isn’t to be sniffed at it may represent the best value option.
3. Friday the 13th – Scream Factory (Blu-ray)
The second box-set not available in the UK, but I just had to mention this little beauty. It’s something of a miracle that Scream Factory managed to negotiate the complicated rights issues with the Friday the 13th franchise of 12 films. These aren’t 4K releases, but new 4K scans were taken of the first, second, third, and fourth movies. Some of the soundtracks were also restored and there’s an entire disc dedicated to bonus material. The incredible artwork and bundled poster is perhaps the biggest draw for people who likely own these movies already, making a lot of Jason fans drop $130 into Scream Factory’s bank account.
2. Dawn of the Dead – Second Sight (4K Ultra HD)
Second Sight made waves on social media with their loving 4K restoration of George A. Romero‘s 1979 classic Dawn of the Dead, with a beautifully designed box-set that managed to be functional and easy to access. It also contained two thick hardback books (a novelisation of the film and an essay). But what really sold fans is the chance to own the three versions of the film in 4K quality—the Theatrical Cut, the Cannes Cut, and the Argento Cut. There’s a wealth of extras and Dawn has simply never looked better, despite its low-budget. This is an essential purchase for zombie heads. I also appreciated the thought that went into the packaging, as it’s not a pain to open up and get to the discs. The box lifts apart and everything’s ready to grab in seconds.
1. Godzilla – Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)
Despite being released almost a year ago, Criterion’s stunning release of the Showa era of Godzilla movies (1954-1975) has loomed over every box-set in 2020. This was the prestigious label’s 1000th release, so they pulled out all the stops with a gargantuan Blu-ray set resembling a hardback pop art book full of beautiful and vivid landscape cartoons. It’s a shame Criterion haven’t started releasing 4K discs, but the chance to own all 15 kaiju classics in such a seminal release was too alluring. £149.99 is a hefty sum to throw down for a box-set, but it was reduced to £100 in sales and the price means it hasn’t gone OOP yet. Compared to other mega-boxes released this year, it’s arguably a steal to own that many films from a boutique label.
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