The word on the street continues to be that streaming is the future and physical media is on death’s door, but don’t tell that to the numerous home video labels and millions of consumers. Studios are still releasing their films to Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UltraHD, and people are still buying them. 2020 has been something of a rough year in many — well, most — ways, but it still saw plenty of fantastic home video releases.
As a way to celebrate that, I’ve put together a list of the best and most memorable releases of the year. To be clear, this isn’t necessarily a list of the best movies to land on disc this year — it’s more about singing the praises of labels big and small going the extra mile to deliver stunning, cool, fantastic, and/or long overdue films with love, restorations, and plenty of extras.
Beautiful Box Sets!
It’s not uncommon for box-sets to focus their attention on a singular filmmaker, and three were given some love this year that deserve a shout. My first pick is a director beloved by many but generally disregarded by many more — Al Adamson: The Masterpiece Collection [Severin Films] brings together a whopping thirty-one features from the late genre-loving director into one lovingly put together box set. My full review is here, but in short, this is a packed release guaranteed to please fans of low-budget horror, action, and exploitation.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection [4K UltraHD] highlights four titles from a far more famous filmmaker, and while Hitch’s films have been collected multiple times before this is the first box-set of new 4K UltraHD remasters. The set includes Rear Window, Vertigo, The Birds, and Psycho, all looking the best they’ve ever looked, and it’s a fantastic gift for film lovers with 4K capabilities.
Back to the lesser-known side of things, Solid Metal Nightmares: The Films of Shinya Tsukamoto [Arrow Video] collects ten films from the subversive Tsukamoto including his groundbreaking Tetsuo: The Iron Man and its sequel. The filmmaker blends a creative, experimental spirit with high energy genre weirdness, and this set slathers him and his films with love.
UltraHD is the current top standard for home video releases, and people continue to make the upgrade with new TVs and players. These next three sets are for those tech-heads who want to see their favorites remastered into 4K and collected for their convenience. Columbia Classics – 4K UltraHD Collection brings together six of the studio’s hits including Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Strangelove, Gandhi, A League of Their Own, and Jerry Maguire.
The case is big but beautifully crafted to allow room for artwork and individual slipcases for each film — most have yet to be released individually making this an eclectic but limited opportunity — the transfers, extras, and packaging are all aces, and the included hardcover book is fantastic.
Rambo: The Complete Steelbook Collection [4K UltraHD] brings the entire franchise together in one of my favorite packages of the year. Each of the five films gets a 4K remaster and its own slick steelbook with new art inside and out, and the five are then fitted into stiff styrofoam sleeves within a metal hardcase that’s also adorned with new art. It’s a must-own for fans with 4K.
Finally, Resident Evil: The Complete Collection [4K UltraHD] collects all six films in the long-running videogame adaptation franchise in sharp 4K with loads of extras. Each film is in its own thin cardboard case, and they all fit into the outer box.
Horror fans have had an embarrassment of riches this year with box sets celebrating everything from giallos to creature features. The Complete Lenzi/Baker Giallo Collection [Severin Films] delivers on the former with four films featuring the collaboration between director Umberto Lenzi and star Carroll Baker. The titles alone tell you you’re in for a memorable time — Orgasmo, So Sweet So Perverse, A Quiet Place to Kill, Knife of Ice — and the new remasters and a bevy of extras don’t disappoint.
Forgotten Gialli: Volume 1 [Vinegar Syndrome] brings three more brilliantly titled giallos into newly remastered glory with The Killer Is One of 13, Trauma, and The Police Are Blundering in the Dark all getting facelifts and new extra features. The glorious weirdos at Vinegar Syndrome have a second volume coming soon as well.
If you’re open to overseas imports, George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead has just arrived in its ultimate incarnation from Second Sight. Available in both 4K UltraHD and Blu-ray, their smart-looking box houses seven discs featuring three different cuts of the film and an epic amount of extras. It’s getting insanely positive responses, and I’ll add my voice to the chorus once I track one down!
More delights for horror fans arrived this year highlighting complete (and semi-complete) franchises, and the big title in that regard is Friday the 13th Collection: Deluxe Edition [Scream Factory]. Not all of the films have been remastered, but the box is gorgeous, the extras are copious, and if you don’t currently own the series this is the way to go.
Gamera: The Complete Collection [Arrow Video] brings an older franchise home with a monster that may be unfamiliar to many. The beast is a Godzilla type, and its thirteen films from 1965 through 2006 deserve the attention this set demands.
Finally, the exploitation “classic I Spit on Your Grave [Ronin Flix] got a box set this year too, and you’ve never seen such an ugly film receive such beautiful treatment. The original film as well as its direct sequel, with the returning director and star, are included in separate cases with a third holding a feature-length documentary on the films. While the movies are ugly in content, fans will be blown away by the original’s 4K remaster delivering an incredibly impressive transfer.
Small Labels, Big Studios, All New to 4K UltraHD!
In addition to the handful of box sets released in 4K UltraHD above, the format has seen a surge of standalone older films getting the upgrade this year too. My own personal most-anticipated 4K release is Vinegar Syndrome’s upcoming edition of Don Coscarelli’s The Beastmaster (1982) — the first in their new VSU line of titles given the “ultra” treatment. A new 4K remaster and some new extras including an exhaustive feature-length making-of documentary are complemented by a hard case with a magnetic clasp holding the slipcased release and a forty-page hardbound book within. Gorgeous.
The label previously got into 4K releases with remasters of 1994’s Tammy and the T-Rex, 1986’s Rad, and 1989’s undersung slice of kiddie Christmas horror, Deadly Games. All of them have delivered the goods so far, so expect The Beastmaster release to be the best it’s ever looked.
Blue Underground is another genre-happy indie label, and they’ve gone big into the world of 4K with some stellar remasters from their back catalog. Their latest release brings Daughters of Darkness (1971) into the modern era with stunning clarity, depth, and definition. The film’s lush cinematography and production design find new life in UHD, and the label brought the same kind of love to other titles as well including Maniac (1980) and Vigilante (1982).
Three Lucio Fulci films — Zombie (1979), The House By the Cemetery (1981), and The New York Ripper (1982) have also gotten the 4K upgrade treatment, and in some cases, the results have been the difference between night and day. Here’s hoping 1981’s Dead & Buried is next on their list.
Arrow Video has been delivering fantastic special editions of beloved older films for years now, and they’ve also jumped into 4K recently with some equally memorable results. Flash Gordon (1980) probably isn’t the first film you think of when imagining older “classics” rebirthed in 4K, but the campy good time is a world of color and motion meaning 4K enhances the already sensory experience of watching it. It’s still a gloriously cheesy film, but it’s also still a damn delight.
Arrow also released Pitch Black (1990) in 4K, a film built on darkness which has never looked richer, and they’re about to unleash a new 4K version of the beloved creature feature, Tremors (1990).
Indies aren’t the only ones jumping into 4K as big studios see the benefits as well. Paramount Home Video delivered a bevy of 4K upgrades to films from some of their biggest stars this year. Michael Mann’s Collateral (2004) benefits immensely and beautifully from the new master as the film captures the Los Angeles night as few films do, and the detail in Mann’s digital video comes through with clarity and effect.
The studio also released new 4K versions of other Tom Cruise films including Top Gun (1986), Days of Thunder (1990), and War of the Worlds (2005). Two of Eddie Murphy’s biggest hits got the 4K upgrade this year too. Beverly Hills Cop (1984) sees a Detroit cop head west to a far sunnier LA than Mann’s film captures, and the fast-moving, faster-talking antics shine with clarity in action and colorful depth. They also released Coming to America (1988) in a 4K steelbook.
Not to be outdone, Warner Bros. gave Martin Scorsese’s epic Goodfellas (1990) a 4K bump bringing the film’s sharp visuals and music cues to even more vivid life.
One of the year’s biggest 4K releases is actually two, and both belong to Peter “I’ve forgotten all about my earlier genre classics and sold out for the big bucks” Jackson. The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy features all three films — The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and Return of the King — and nothing on the special features front. It’s bare-bones, but the films, both theatrical and extended spread across six discs, look pretty damn great in 4K.
The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy is available, too, in a similarly supplement-free release, and while it’s the lesser trilogy it looks even better as its effects have aged more skillfully. If you absolutely must have special features, they’ll be releasing a massive six-film collection complete with new and old extras in Summer 2021.
Kino Lorber’s new 4K release of Mad Max (1979) doesn’t include the entire trilogy (yes I’m pretending Thunderdome doesn’t exist), but it’s still a major release as Kino’s new transfer brings the apocalypse to light in gorgeous fashion. The action unfolds with crisp attention to detail, and the Australian landscape explodes with life (and death if we’re being honest).