The holidays are upon us once again, which means it’s time to stress out about what you’re going to buy everyone on your shopping list. Fortunately, we have plenty of great ideas for the movie buff or TV fanatic in your life with some of our favorite Blu-ray and 4K releases from the past year. Check out our selections below, complete with easy-to-buy links to Amazon.
The Lord of the Rings: The Motion Picture Trilogy
It’s been almost 20 years since the release of the first installment in Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and to this day, it remains one of the best movie trilogies ever made. Jackson’s big screen adaptation of the J.R.R. Tolkien novels is a near-perfect piece of cinema that’s both technically impressive and completely engrossing from beginning to end. Fans have been patiently waiting for Warner Bros. to release the films on 4K Ultra HD since the format first launched, and that wish has finally been granted just in time for the holidays. Though the nine-disc set doesn’t include any bonus material — you’ll have to wait for next year’s “Middle-Earth Ultimate Collector’s Edition” for that — it does contain the theatrical and extended versions of all three films remastered in glorious 4K. The process was overseen by Jackson himself, and as you’d expect, the movies look and sound incredible, breathing so much new life into the trilogy that it’s like watching the films for the first time all over again. Warner Bros. has set the bar ridiculously high with this collection, and it’s hard to imagine anything will come close to matching it anytime soon.
Game of Thrones: The Complete Collection
Hating on “Game of Thrones” may be popular these days, but it remains one of the best shows in modern TV history thanks to its exciting storytelling, incredible performances, stunning visuals and show-stopping moments. There aren’t many shows capable of captivating the attention of so many different types of viewers, but that’s what made “Game of Thrones” such a global phenomenon year after year, culminating in what was arguably the TV event of 2019. Though the final season triggered strong reactions from fans, it’s hard to deny that even when it wasn’t firing on all cylinders, “Game of Thrones” was top-notch entertainment worthy of its pop culture dominance. It’s also one of the best-looking shows ever made, and the new 4K release only improves on that with unrivaled picture quality. This is the way that “Game of Thrones” was meant to be seen, and though many fans likely already bought the complete series box set that was released on Blu-ray last year, it’s well worth the upgrade.
Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection: Volume 1
This new collection featuring six iconic and highly acclaimed movies from the Columbia Pictures library is a film lover’s paradise. The limited-edition set contains fully remastered 4K versions of “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “Ghandi,” “A League of Their Own” and “Jerry Maguire,” representing a combined 41 Academy Award nominations and 17 wins. Though the inclusion of the latter two films may leave some scratching their heads, they’re undeniable crowd-pleasers that have stood the test of time. Nevertheless, the real standouts are “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Ghandi,” which seem to benefit the most from the 4K upgrade with gorgeous new video transfers. In addition to the films, which contain over 30 hours of special features like filmmaker commentaries, documentaries and archival featurettes across the various discs, the set also includes a really nice 80-page hardbound book by film historian and writer Julie Kirgo filled with essays, production notes and photos. Though the “Columbia Classics 4K Ultra HD Collection” is a bit on the premium side, the quality alone is well worth the investment.
The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection
This new collection featuring some of Alfred Hitchcock’s most iconic movies, including “Rear Window,” “Vertigo,” “Psycho” and “The Birds,” is a welcome addition to an otherwise miserable year. This is the first time that any of his movies have been made available in 4K, and for the most part, the upgrade is well worth it. Plus, it contains the original uncut version of “Psycho” as seen in theaters in 1960, which is reason enough for most fans to add this to their collection. Though it would have been nice if Universal offered each film individually — at this point, only “Psycho” has received a standalone disc — “The Alfred Hitchcock Classics Collection” serves as a great introduction to the Master of Suspense. The box set also includes hours of bonus material, including behind-the-scenes featurettes, audio commentaries by filmmaker William Friedkin on “Vertigo” and author John Fawell on “Rear Window,” audio recordings from François Truffaut’s in-depth interview with Hitchcock and more.
Resident Evil 4K Ultra HD Collection
The “Resident Evil” series isn’t exactly cinema at its finest — most of the movies aren’t even that good — but what it lacks in quality it makes up for in mindless fun. The original 2002 film remains one of the best video game adaptations ever made, and while that’s by no means a shining endorsement when you consider the competition, it still holds up remarkably well nearly two decades later. The rest of the films are difficult to enjoy as anything other than guilty pleasures, but they do contain some good action and a memorable lead performance by Milla Jovovich. The new 4K transfers also look and sound great, while the addition of some rare archival featurettes is sure to please diehard fans, which is ultimately who this limited-edition box set is geared towards. The packaging on the set itself could be better, but it’s not enough to deter anyone from adding this to their collection.
The Flinstones: The Complete Series
Long before “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy,” Hanna-Barbera’s “The Flintstones” was breaking ground as the original primetime animated series. It was also the first animated TV show to be nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and has remained a part of the pop culture landscape for the past 60 years. It’s a little surprising that it took so long for America’s favorite modern Stone Age family to receive the Blu-ray treatment, but this new collection from Warner Bros. will certainly please longtime fans. All 166 episodes are available in high definition for the first time, and they’ve never looked better — the image is crisp, the colors are vibrant, and the amount of detail is striking. Though the box set also includes some previously released bonus material as well as two feature-length movies (1966’s “The Man Called Flintstone” and 2015’s “The Flintstones and WWE: Stone Age Smackdown!”), it’s the high-def presentation of the series itself that makes this a must-own.
Bugs Bunny: 80th Anniversary Collection
Bugs Bunny is a global pop culture icon, so it only seems fitting that Warner Bros. commemorates the 80th anniversary of the wascally wabbit’s first appearance with an awesome box set featuring 60 theatrical shorts that have been remastered and restored to their original 4:3 aspect ratio for the first time on Blu-ray. The collection spans several decades — from the 1940s to the 1990s — and includes the Academy Award-winning short “Knighty Knight Bugs,” as well as other popular favorites like “A Wild Hare,” “Baseball Bugs,” “What’s Opera Doc?” and “Hair Raising Hare.” The three-disc set also contains a glittery Bugs Bunny Diamond Collection Funko Pop! figure, a documentary on Bugs’ illustrious career, 10 episodes of the new “Looney Tunes Cartoons” series and an introductory letter from animation historian Jerry Beck.
DreamWorks 10-Movie Collection
DreamWorks Animation has never quite matched the critical success of Pixar, but they’ve continually churned out solid animated films for the past two decades, including a number of successful franchises like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Madagascar” and “How to Train Your Dragon.” This new box set celebrates some of the studio’s most beloved films, including the first entries in the aforementioned franchises as well as “Home,” “Spirit: Stallion of Cimarron,” “The Croods,” “Boss Baby,” “Abominable” and “Trolls.” Obviously, some of these movies are much better than others, and the discs themselves aren’t any different from the ones that were previously released, but this is a great introduction to the DreamWorks Animation catalog that many parents would consider a must-own for their kids — and for a fraction of the price.
Illumination Presents 10-Movie Collection
Much like the DreamWorks Animation collection, this box set contains the entire slate of Illumination movies (so far) in one convenient package, including all three “Despicable Me” films and the “Minions” spinoff; “The Secret Life of Pets” and its 2019 sequel; the live-action/animation hybrid “Hop”; the musical comedy “Sing”; and the Dr. Seuss adaptations, “The Lorax” and “The Grinch.” Illumination has only been making feature films for a decade, so it’s admittedly a pretty mixed bag, with only “Sing” and the “Despicable Me” trilogy truly standing out as movies worth owning. But again, if you’re a parent looking to build your library of kids’ movies quickly and cheaply, you could certainly do a lot worse than this collection of family-friendly films, which your children will undoubtedly enjoy more than you.
Focus Features 10-Movie Spotlight Collection
Focus Features has been synonymous with critically acclaimed filmmaking since its formation in 2002, beginning with Academy Award winner “The Pianist,” which won Oscars for Best Director, Actor and Adapted Screenplay in addition to being nominated for Best Picture. In the nearly 20 years since, the studio has earned a total of seven Academy Awards and 11 Golden Globes, some of which are represented in this 10-movie collection. Though the addition of films like “On the Basis of Sex” and “Harriet” reeks of recency bias, especially when more deserving titles were left out as a result, this is still a really strong collection of movies that includes personal favorites like “Burn After Reading” and “Moonrise Kingdom,” Sofia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation,” Ang Lee’s “Brokeback Mountain,” and Joe Wright’s “Pride & Prejudice” and “Atonement.”
It’s a shame that “Mulan” didn’t get the big theatrical release that was originally planned because it’s not only the best live-action Disney reimagining to date but the first one that’s actually better than its animated counterpart. Unlike Disney’s previous remakes, Niki Caro’s adaptation of the Mulan legend doesn’t feel like a slavish retelling of the animated version. There are no songs and no wisecracking dragon, and it’s all the better for it. Though there are obvious similarities in the story (themes of family, honor and gender equality still play a major role), Caro’s film is very much its own thing — a beautiful and gracefully made period piece filled with strong performances, exciting set pieces and striking visuals. The movie may never receive the recognition it deserves due to its controversial PVOD release (among other things), but “Mulan” is such an incredible success that Disney would be wise to use it as the template for all live-action reimaginings going forward.
The prospect of a “Watchmen” TV series was equally exciting and worrisome. Though there’s plenty of room to expand upon the pages of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s groundbreaking graphic novel, as well as an appetite for more stories from that world, the risks seemed to outweigh the potential rewards. The end product falls somewhere in the middle; it’s better than expected yet completely unnecessary. Creator Damon Lindelof has done an admirable job of creating a show that’s able to exist as its own thing without severing its ties to the original text, and while the new characters are pretty hit and miss, Regina King, Tim Blake Nelson and Hong Chau all deliver great work in their respective roles. Though the series doesn’t quite reach the same heights as the graphic novel or even Zack Snyder’s 2009 film adaptation, it’s a solid companion piece that fans of either version will enjoy.
El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
This Netflix-produced sequel film to “Breaking Bad” chronicles the immediate aftermath of the show’s finale with two hours of tension, badassery, humanity and deft artistry. In other words, it’s two hours of Vince Gilligan doing “Breaking Bad” again, which is awesome. “El Camino” isn’t a redefining piece of cinema, but Gilligan delivers an excellent crime thriller filled with tense plotting, complex emotions, exciting developments and the dark humor that comes from juxtaposing idiots and banal dialogue with the high-stakes world of crime. That ability to pivot between heartbreak and hilarity, from introspective to explosive, without ever seeming incongruous but instead part of the same cloth has been Gilligan’s strength throughout his work. It’s what makes “Breaking Bad” a top-tier drama and “El Camino” a worthy follow-up. This limited edition Blu-ray is also currently the only way to own a physical copy of the film, and it’s packed with hours of supplemental material, including an audio commentary by Gilligan and star Aaron Paul, a making-of featurette, additional behind-the-scenes footage and much more.
Damien Chazelle’s sophomore effort is a gripping, electrifying and brutally unrelenting thriller that draws you in from the very first beat of the drum and never lets go — a freight train of intensity and emotion that leaves you breathless and your heart still pounding when it’s over. “Whiplash” is not only one of the best films of the past decade, but it also features perhaps one of the greatest endings to a movie ever. Chazelle doesn’t waste a single frame in this pressure cooker of a story about a young musician so determined to achieve greatness that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get there, even if that means enduring the physical, verbal and psychological abuse of the one man capable of squeezing out every last drop of potential. Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons deliver career-best performances as the aspiring drummer and music instructor, respectively, while the superb script and dynamic editing are equally as crucial to the film’s success. For a movie about perfection, “Whiplash” is pretty much perfect itself.
It’s a Wonderful Life
Everyone has their favorite Christmas movie, whether it’s classics likes “A Christmas Carol” and “Miracle on 34th Street” or more unconventional fare like “Die Hard.” But for many, the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without Frank Capra’s 1946 classic, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Though NBC has continued its tradition of showing the film every Christmas Eve, that hasn’t stopped Paramount from re-releasing it on home video nearly every year as well. For those who still don’t own the film or are looking for a good reason to upgrade, the new 4K release is yet another step up in quality. Even the colorized version (which is also included in the set) doesn’t look quite as fake as it used to, although that won’t change the fact that you’ll still feel dirty watching it. After all, when the black and white version looks as good as this, what’s the point?