The 50 best Blu-ray Discs money can buy
21st May 2008 | 11:37
Bought a Blu-ray player recently? Then you'll need something to watch...
Just bought yourself a Blu-ray player? Finished GTA IV and looking to stretch the home cinema talents of your PlayStation 3? Then invest in one (or more) of the Blu-ray Discs in our Top 50, which celebrates the best that the HD format has to offer.
50Return to House on Haunted Hill - Warner Home Entertainment, £27.99
We’re the first to admit this horror sequel isn’t a great film. But its interactive Choose Your Own Adventure-style viewing mode makes it sing as a modern-day Blu-ray marvel. There are 90 different permutations of the tale available to view including additional lesbian ghost sex!
4928 Weeks Later - 20th Century Fox, £28.99
Due to its low budget origins, this impressive sequel isn’t the best-looking BD disc ever. However, it will leave you quaking with fear thanks to a dynamic and expansive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that drags you into the heart of the on-screen horror.
48The Fountain - 20th Century Fox, £24.99
Director Darren Aronofsky's provocative tale of love across millennia was rendered almost unwatchable on DVD thanks to a muddied, indistinct transfer. Thankfully this sublime Blu-ray print easily makes amends, rendering the dreamlike visuals perfectly.
47The Tudors: The Complete First Season - Sony Pictures, £34.99
This sex-fueled American TV drama about the early years of Henry VIII’s reign certainly benefits from this three-disc set’s gorgeous 1080p transfers. The verdant landscapes and detailed costumes look almost 3D and the copious flesh-tones are extremely well-rendered.
46Closer - Sony Pictures, £17.99
Proof positive that hi-def isn’t just about explosive blockbusters... This challenging and involving tale of tortured love affairs looks simply spectacular on Blu-ray. And really, which red-blooded man wouldn’t want to watch Natalie Portman strip in 1080p?
45Bram Stoker’s Dracula - Sony Pictures, £17.99
Even if it didn’t boast an impressive MPEG-4 transfer, there would still be plenty to recommend about Francis Ford Coppola’s take on the Dracula story. Not least the wonderful new extras including a commentary, four-part 72 minute documentary and 12 deleted scenes.
44Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut - 20th Century Fox, £28.99
This vastly improved re-edit of Ridley Scott’s historical drama contains some of the most epic battle scenes yet witnessed in hi-def. If they’d only kept the legions of extras from the four-disc DVD, this Blu-ray Disc would have been much higher up our list.
43The Simpsons Movie - 20th Century Fox, £28.99
It's understandable that you might not expect much from a hi-def version of The Simpsons. But, thanks to a straight digital-to-digital transfer, this feature film outing for Homer and family never looks less than spectacular, while the DTS-HD MA mix is as light and bouncy as you'd expect from animated fare.
42Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby - Sony Pictures, £24.99
One of the first discs to take advantage of the additional storage space offered up by dual-layer 50GB discs, the hilarious Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby made the most of it by ensuring that all of the many extra features are presented in 1080p, just like the film itself.
41Ghost Rider: Extended Cut - Sony Pictures, £24.99
This camp comic-book spectacular roars into life on Blu-ray courtesy of a razor-sharp transfer that makes the most of the eye-popping special effects and the kind of dynamic uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix that will rattle the foundations of your house.
40Rocky Balboa - MGM/20th Century Fox, £24.99
Sylvester Stallone's long-awaited return to the ring delivers a knock-out punch with its devastating combination of glossy (if stylised) MPEG-4 visuals and lossless audio that drag you right into the ring with the pugilists and guarantees you feel every blow that's landed.
39Blood Diamond - Warner Home Video, £25.99
Part action thriller, part message movie, Blood Diamond is a gripping look at the cost of the diamond trade. The already impressive hi-def package is completed by the inclusion 47 short behind-the-scenes vignettes that didn't even appear on the two-disc DVD release.
38Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior - Warner Home Entertainment, £25.99
You can keep your Braveheart and your Lethal Weapon, for our money Mel Gibson was never better than when he brought post-apocalyptic warrior Max Rockatansky to the big screen. In addition to a lovingly restored transfer, this hi-def disc also trumps the bare-bones DVD with a fascinating director's commentary.
37The Searchers - Warner Home Video, £25.99
Over the years Warner Home Video has made a name for itself as a true master when it comes to restoring classic movies. One of the first to appear in hi-def is John Ford's epic western, which looks utterly breathtaking thanks to landscapes that look so 3D you'd think you could step right into the screen.
36Starship Troopers - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
Paul Verhoeven's misunderstood sci-fi satire bristles with spectacle in hi-def. The armies of CG bugs look better than ever thanks to the insanely detailed imagery and the wonderfully dynamic uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio brings the interplanetary war to life in your front room.
35Chicken Little - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
Disney's first non-Pixar computer-animated feature didn't quit measure up to studio's classic 2D offerings like Snow White or Beauty and the Beast, but it certainly delivers a feast for the eyes in high-definition. It also lays some exclusive BD-Java-based extras including an interactive Q&A to enjoy while watching the film.
34Hellboy - Sony Pictures, £17.99
This visually impressive comic-book adaptation is done full justice on Blu-ray by a magnificent MPEG-4 transfer that really brings the striking imagery to life. Just as impressive are the involving lossless audio mix and generous set of extras including a two-and-a-half hour 'Making of' documentary, commentary and deleted scenes.
33The Departed - Entertainment in Video, £29.99
It's easy to be seduced by the criminal lifestyle when watching Martin Scorsese's remake of the Chinese hit Infernal Affairs in glorious Full HD. Accompanying the magnificent imagery and enveloping DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack are a pair of featurettes about the influences behind the film, nine deleted scenes and the trailer.
32Face/Off - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
What it lacks in extra features, this UK-exclusive Blu-ray version of John Woo's Face/Off more than makes up for with an impressive hi-def makeover for the film itself, including a bombastic uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack that has bullets flying past your heading and explosions rocking your chairs.
31Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Warner Home Video, £25.99
This postmodern genre pastiche was overlooked at cinemas, but is well worth checking out of Blu-ray. Not only will it keep you gripped and make you chuckle, but it looks and sounds fantastic, and also throws in an exclusive commentary that wasn't on the UK DVD release.
30Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Warner Home Video, £25.99
The second best of the Potter films to date conjures up some of the most spectacular sequences in the series' history. Harry's battle with the dragon is a masterpiece of visual effects and sound design, all of which shines through on Blu-ray. And unlike some other Potter discs, this one also waves its wand and delivers some decent extras.
29The Seventh Seal - Tartan Video, £37.99
Best known for its scenes of Death playing chess, acclaimed filmmaker Ingmar Bergman's classic shows that even 50 year old black and white films can look unbelievably good on Blu-ray. In addition to the lovingly restored HD transfer, this so-called 'Future Proof' set also includes a DVD version of the movie as well.
28Independence Day - 20th Century Fox, £22.99
Summer blockbusters don't come much bigger or much dumber than this entertainingly silly reworking of War of the Worlds. Overflowing with epic set-pieces and spectacle, the film is a joy to behold in 1080p, while the DTS-HD Master Audio mix is loud enough to convince you that the world really is ending!
27Eastern Promises - Pathé Distribution Ltd., £24.99
Cult filmmaker David Cronenberg comes to London for this shocking thriller about the Russian mafia. The grim and gritty visuals are expertly handled by the hi-def transfer, the lossless audio ensures that the naked fistfight has a truly visceral impact and there are even a couple of fascinating behind-the-scenes featurettes on offer as well.
26Queen: Rock Montreal & Live Aid - Eagle Vision, £16.99
Offering unbeatable value for money, this cracking disc delivers not one, but two legendary sets. The 1981 Montreal gig is the main focus of the release, remastered into 1080p for this release and accompanied by a phenomenal DTS-HD mix. Queen's Live Aid set is only an extra and is presented in standard-definition, but it's still must-have stuff for fans.
25The Rock - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery head to Alcatraz to stop a rogue military faction from releasing chemical weapons on American soil in this entertaining action flick. Unsurprisingly, the film looks and sounds first-rate on Blu-ray, but it doesn't skimp on extras either, delivering six featurettes, outtakes, interviews and more.
24Déjà Vu - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
Not content with quite literally opening with a bang and then serving up one of the most audacious car chases you'll ever see, the Blu-ray version of this time-twisting Denzel Washington thriller also includes an exclusive 'Surveillance Window' mode that allows you to drop out of the film at certain points to see how specific scenes were made.
23Tekkonkinkreet - Sony Pictures, £17.99
We haven't seen much in the way of hi-def Japanese animation yet, but if Tekkonkinkreet is any indication of what fans can expect, then there are plenty of good days ahead. The image is bright and vibrant, the uncompressed audio is suitably kinetic and it even throws in a commentary, documentary and interviews.
22Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
The weakest part of the Pirates franchise still has a lot to recommend it on Blu-ray. The transfer is finely detailed and looks exceptionally filmic, while the uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix is extremely aggressive. The two-disc set also packs in plenty of extras, including a Blu-ray exclusive game that includes specially filmed 1080p footage.
21Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Warner Home Video, £25.99
Darker and definitely more mature than its predecessors, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban remains the high point of the Potter franchise. Director Alfonso Cuaron brings a distinctive look and feel to the story that translates perfectly to the home thanks to a striking 1080p transfer. The uncompressed PCM audio matches the flawless imagery, ensuring that the action scenes sound suitably robust and involving.
20TMNT - Warner Home Video, £27.99
The ‘Heroes in a Half-Shell’ get a high-definition makeover courtesy of this astonishing disc. The undoubted highlight is the remarkable VC-1 encode. Taken directly from the original digital source, it's a flawless representation of what the filmmakers intended. Similarly impressive is the Dolby TrueHD mix, which manhandles the listener before beating them into submission.
19Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
The first, and best, of the series, Curse of the Black Pearl comes extremely close to matching its two sequels in terms of picture and audio quality. What makes the Blu-ray version so special though is an interactive series of vignettes about pirate lore. Making use of BD-Java prompts and seamless branching, it allows the user to tailor their viewing experience. Either drop out of the film to watch the vignettes at relevant points, or save them all up to run automatically after the final credits roll.
18Superbad: 2-Disc Extended Edition - Sony Pictures, £24.99
As the funniest film of 2007, we'd be recommending the hilariously crude (yet genuinely touching) teen comedy Superbad even if it weren’t one of the best Blu-ray discs around. However, as luck would have it, this two-disc set easily exceeds expectations with a superlative transfer and lively uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack. However, with the set the film is only half the fun, as there's no shortage of hilarious extras including spoof featurettes, masses of deleted scenes and an exclusive set-top game.
17Cars - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £26.99
Most people agree that Cars wasn't Pixar's finest hour. Yet even when Pixar isn't at the top of its game, its films are still much better than the competition. Unsurprisingly, Cars looks simply phenomenal in glorious 1080p, ranking up there with the best transfers we've ever seen. Better still though is the 'Cine-Explore' viewing mode, that uses BD-J technology. There's also a second encode of the film that enables viewers watch the film while switching between a pair of commentaries, check out pop-up artwork and link from the film to deleted scenes and featurettes.
16Pan’s Labyrinth - Optimum Releasing, £24.99
The third of writer/director Guillermo del Toro 'adult fairy tales', this dark and disturbing film contrasts the horrors of the Spanish Civil War with a nightmarish world of creatures overseen by the decrepit beast Pan.
Having allowed his imagination to run riot, del Toro packs the film with incredible sights, all of which are brought brilliantly to life by the exceptional Full HD transfer. There's no shortage of features either, including a commentary, documentaries, art galleries and more. It's just a shame that the video commentary from the American release isn't included.
15Shoot ‘Em Up - Entertainment in Video, £24.99
If your idea of home cinema heaven is surrounding yourself with the sound of gunfire and explosions then you're going to love Shoot 'Em Up. This adrenaline-fueled flick might have its tongue wedged deep into its cheek, but it also serves up a kick-ass DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack that really makes the most of the seemingly never-ending shoot-outs that permeate the film. Add a top-notch transfer and an exclusive BD-Java video commentary, and you have a Blu-ray disc to set your sights on.
14The Host - Optimum Releasing, £24.99
Forget Cloverfield; if you want a truly original monster movie then make sure to catch this South Korean addition to the genre. Admittedly, the impressive HD imagery on the disc ensures that you can now pick apart some of the small flaws in the computer-generated beastie, but the film still manages to impress. While there are no exclusive extras, this single-disc offering is over-flowing with additional goodies including a commentary, ten behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, 14 deleted scenes and the trailer.
13300 - Warner Home Video, £27.99
Historical revisionism at its most macho is the order of the day in this testosterone-driven, CG-aided recreation of the final stand taken by 300 Spartan soldiers against the might of the Persian empire.
What it lacks in realism, it more than makes up for with stylish visuals (drawn from the acclaimed comic book) and a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that's more aggressive than the wolf Leonidas fights at the start of the film. Throw in a host of extras including featurettes, deleted scenes and a commentary and you have an unbeatable warrior in Blu-ray form.
12Live Free or Die Hard - 20th Century Fox, £28.99
Leave it to Bruce Willis to bring some top-notch explosive action to Blu-ray. This Blu-ray version isn't the slightly extended, ‘swearier’ version that appeared on DVD, but it's undoubtedly the best looking and sounding version, with the atmospheric DTS-HD Master Audio mix continually dragging you off the sofa and right into the middle of the on-screen action. If we have any complaints it that, while including some fascinating 'Making of' material, the UK disc drops the commentary and interactive game that were included on the American release.
11Casino Royale - Sony Pictures, £24.99
Is Daniel Craig the best Bond? Well, for our money it's a little too early to tell. However, we're happy to go on record saying that Casino Royale is undoubtedly the best looking and sounding Bond film in the franchise's lengthy history.
The video is crisp, detailed and colourful (if deliberately over-saturated) and the uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix is packed full of sonic highlights that you'll use to show off your system to friends for months to come. Once again, our only complaint comes down to the rather lackluster extras (although a couple are at least in HD) and the feeling that a superior feature-packed edition won't be far off.
10Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride - Warner Home Video, £25.99
Anybody who thinks that stop-motion animation is a thing of the past needs to take a look at this incredible Blu-ray release. This is a dark, dark film, and yet the image is always packed full of detail, while the animation itself (stop-motion with additional computer effects) is smooth and clean.
Although the disc only offers a high-bitrate Dolby Digital 5.1EX mix, the film always sounds rich, while the musical numbers have unexpected range. Fans will also get a kick out of the eight informative behind-the-scenes featurettes and music-only soundtrack included on the disc.
09Planet Earth: The Complete Series - 2entertain Ltd., £49.99
Who would have thought it? A nature documentary nestled amongst Blu-ray Buyer's top ten Blu-ray discs! But, then Planet Earth is no ordinary nature series.
Each 50-minute episode of this captivating look at our planet and the myriad types of animals that inhabit inspires a greater sense of awe and wonder in the viewer than any Hollywood blockbuster could ever hope to achieve. This is simply down to the breathtaking visuals, with the gorgeous HD transfer making it feel like you could just step forward and be swimming with dolphins or scaling steep cliffs with snow leopards yourself.
08Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £29.99
If this final part of the Pirates trilogy ends with more of a whimper than a bang in terms of storytelling, at least it knows how to deliver masses of crowd-pleasing spectacle along the way. The uncompressed PCM 5.1 mix whips up a storm as the climactic battle occurs in the maelstrom, and even here the impeccable image quality never falters.
Once again, all of the extras from the two-disc DVD are present, this time joined by a fascinating Inside the Maelstrom hi-def feature that gives you a time-lapse look at the making of the sets for the final battle, while dipping in and out of more in-depth behind-the-scenes material.
07Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer - 20th Century Fox, £28.99
As daft and garish as the '60s Batman TV series, this Fantastic Four sequel is a jolly superhero romp filled with outlandish characters and special effects. The titular Silver Surfer is one of the film's major plus-points, a completely computer-generated character that looks even more impressive than ever before courtesy of yet another exceptional 1080p transfer from 20th Century Fox.
Technically it's nigh-on impossible to fault this disc, and amongst the many extras you'll also find a surprisingly entertaining BD-Java strategy game that provides much more of a challenge than the so-called 'interactive games' included on many other Blu-ray discs.
06Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Ultimate Edition - Sony Pictures, £22.99
If there's one contemporary filmmaker who is noticeably under-represented in hi-def at present it's Steven Spielberg. Thankfully, while only one of his films is currently available on Blu-ray, it's one of his very best.
Unlike a certain other filmmaker, while Spielberg has tampered with the Close Encounters cut several times over the years, he's not just giving us one version, instead this two-disc set includes the original 1977 theatrical cut, the 1980 'Special Edition' and the 1997 'Director's Cut' via the magic of seamless branching. A second disc houses three documentaries, deleted scenes and several Blu-ray exclusives including extensive photograph/art/storyboard galleries and three theatrical trailers.
053:10 to Yuma - Lionsgate, £24.99
While much of the industry felt hamstrung by Profile 1.0 functionality and was waiting for the arrival of Profile 1.1 companies, Lionsgate went out of its way to deliver more than you might expect on its 1.0 discs. 3:10 to Yuma is a prime example of this.
Not only does it count a plethora of featurettes and documentaries amongst its extra features, but there's also an 'Inside Yuma' viewing mode that uses a second encode of the film and BD-Java to deliver picture-in-picture content. And it doesn't hurt that the film itself is a sharpshooter of a western that you can't help but enjoy.
04Blade Runner: The Final Cut - Warner Home Video, £27.99
Despite being the most visually influential film of the 1980s, Ridley Scott's sci-fi-noir adaptation of Philip K Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep was poorly treated on DVD. That was, until last year, when Scott unveiled his new Final Cut of the film.
This Blu-ray edition boasts the most stunning looking version of the film ever released - despite being some 26 years old, the imagery is so sharp and colourful that it looks as if it was only shot yesterday. The Blu-ray disc also comes packaged with a bonus DVD containing the fabulous three-and-three-quarter-hour retrospective 'Making of' documentary Dangerous Days. It's just a shame that the UK didn't get the five-disc edition released in America, containing all five different cuts of the film and even more special features.
03Hairspray: Two-Disc Shake & Shimmy Edition - Entertainment in Video, £29.99
We admit it. We were just as surprised as anyone that a musical made it into the top three of this list of the 50 best Blu-ray discs. Let alone one based on a Broadway show that has its origins in a low-budget flick from the 'Sultan of Sleaze' John Waters.
Not only is it a great film, guaranteed to leave a smile on your face, but it also boasts a superlative VC-1 transfer and gorgeously wide DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtrack, which works wonders with the musical numbers. Then thrown in a seemingly endless supply of extras, including a Java-based, non-Profile 1.1 picture-in-picture commentary. Only when you see the hi-def magic they've worked on this film will you really start to see where we're coming from.
02Spider-Man: The High Definition Trilogy - Sony Pictures, £49.99
Even with a slightly disappointing final film, Spider-Man reigns supreme as the current king of the Hollywood blockbuster. And, if like so many of us, you're a fan on the web-slinger's films then you can't pass up the chance to own them in high-definition.
Despite being made several years apart, and in different aspect ratios, there's an impressive consistency to all three 1080p transfers, each capturing the shadowy, night-time action as easily as it does the bright colours of Spidey's costumes. The trio also sound fantastic thanks to truly heroic Dolby TrueHD soundtracks that blow pretty much everything else available out of the water in terms of fidelity and directional effects.
Much as the critics knocked it, Spider-Man 3 also comes laden with extras, the vast majority of which are featured in hi-def. It's just a pity that there are no extras at all for the first two films, beyond the inclusion of both the theatrical and extended cuts of Spider-Man 2.
01Ratatouille/Pixar Shorts : Limited Edition Double-Pack - Walt Disney Home Entertainment, £34.99
So here it is, the best Blu-ray release available... and it's a kid's film? Well, we think it's safe to say that anybody who has had the pleasure of sitting through the likes of Toy Story and Finding Nemo will be aware that Pixar crams more characterisation, emotion, laughs and action into each of its films than you'll find in most Hollywood product. And the company's latest, Ratatouille is no exception.
As a Blu-ray package, this limited edition set is simply unmissable. Ratatouille looks simply sublime, bursting with levels of fine detailing that will make your eyes water. The uncompressed PCM 5.1 audio is similarly impressive, throwing effects all around your speaker system with ease. There's also a healthy set of extras including two animated shorts, deleted scenes and plenty of Blu-ray-exclusives including a Cine-Explore Java-based Profile 1.0 picture-in-picture viewing mode.
But that's only half the fun. The second disc in the set, The Pixar Short Films Collection: Volume One, houses all 13 of Pixar's CG shorts up to and including Lifted (the short produced to accompany Ratatouille). They all look great, sound even better and there are even more fan-pleasing extras including filmmakers' commentaries for all 13 shorts and The Pixar Shorts: A Short History featurette.