2021 Gift Guide: Top 4K & Blu-rays for Movie and TV Fans

By on November 9, 2021

The value of streaming services for movies and TV has come even more into view over the past year and a half, but something else has, too: physical media doesn’t get weighed down by internet overload, hiccups, or general outages. Sure, this still ends up being a small victory in a period where convenience and connectivity have really flexed their muscles — especially with theatrical new releases – but it’s also been seen on a practical level when there’s just too much surrounding internet activity eating up data to get a good or even functional image. Reliability will always be secondary to the true joy behind physical media, though, and that’s the satisfaction of, in some way or another, having content you like within reach in a library, in a presentation that the owner has selected from other viewing methods.

There’s another benefit to little shiny discs, though: they make awesome gifts.  Whether it’s giving someone a movie they already love or sharing with them something you’ve personally watched – or heard of through word of mouth – that you feel they’d enjoy, it can be a personal thing with lots of thought behind it. Or, it can make for an easy-to-wrap package for under a tree or in a stocking, or to be tossed in the mix of a random exchange, and all that’s required is a player and the removal of some plastic wrap to kick off the show. And in the case of 2021’s still complicated theater and stream service situation, there’s the good chance somebody may’ve missed a particular theatrical film … or just needs a really good classic, or a box of classics, to get lost in.

The guide below mentions over two dozen different 4K and Blu-ray discs that’d make for wonderful presents to give throughout the holiday season. Follow the links to get to product pages, most of which land at Amazon, and check ‘em out sooner rather than later to see if those elusive holiday deals are still going on for certain ones.  

Gifts For Those Eager For Something New From The Theater

Let’s start off with the new releases of 2021 and how superhero movies hit differently. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Target Art Edition, 4K) presented the first real Asian comic-book superhero film, with a lead actor in Simu Lu who trained in several martial-arts styles in the lead-up to Marvel’s well-told hero’s journey.  Elsewhere, The Suicide Squad (Amazon, 4K) gets the DC film universe back on track by enlisting director James Gunn, who reveals that he gets the core of why the squad’s appealing with a hysterical, colorful, and chaotically violent trip with Harley Quinn and the gang to save the world from a … starfish. Then, there’s the live action origin story of Cruella (Amazon, 4K), which harnesses Emma Stone’s charismatic quirks in a meaningful, delightfully gray depiction of a villain’s ascent that, despite being a Disney movie, has the edge of a comic.

Other new movies discovered quality by exploring familiar ideas from different angles. On the heels of John Wick, both Nobody (Amazon, 4K) and Pig (Amazon, Blu-ray) take on the idea of a retired or reserved man of danger whose fighting spirit is reawakened by tense circumstances: home invasion in one, theft of a pet in another. Nobody gets Bob Odenkirk involved with vigorous action entertainment, while Pig taps into heavy drama involving Nic Cage about rediscovering oneself. Similarly, Free Guy (Amazon, 4K) takes the idea behind The Truman Show and brings it to the landscape of video games, where a non-playable character living in an MMO discovers the truth of his reality and pushes to break the illusion. Then, there’s A Quiet Place Part 2 (Amazon, 4K), John Krasinski’s horror sequel which tries to capture the same disquieting terror beyond a family’s isolated home.

Gifts For Those Who Enjoy Classics In New, Clear 4K Light

This year also marked the long-awaited arrival of The Criterion Collection to the 4K arena, and with that milestone also came the announcement of perhaps the company’s most monumental release: that of Citizen Kane (Amazon), often considered – and frequently debated – as being the greatest movie ever made. Regardless of how one feels about where Orson Welles’ grand drama about the rise and twisted perseverance of a newspaper tycoon falls on the “best of” list, it still makes for a brilliant gift for any film lover, as they’ll eventually want to revisit it alongside Criterion’s glorious supplemental package.  This grand entrance into 4K media for Criterion also quietly marks the introduction of David Lynch’s body of work into the ultra-HD format, as Mulholland Drive (Amazon) also gets a new scan and presentation.

Interestingly, one movie that probably comes up in most conversations about the greatest movies ever made also received a new 4K transfer presentation from Warner Brothers: A Clockwork Orange (Amazon). Like Stanley Kubrick’s other films found in a 3-movie 4K boxset from WB, it’s a worthwhile visual upgrade for a film that’s both increasingly tough to watch and absorbing to watch.  Speaking of upgrades, Shout Factory delivered one of the first substantive 4K-to-4K upgrades with John Carpenter’s seminal classic Halloween (Amazon), finally coming together in a not-so-debatably definitive presentation alongside individual releases for the rest of the franchise. Also, for those Wes Craven and ‘90s cinema fans, meta-slasher classic Scream (Amazon) has also finally been given the visual treatment it deserves with a fine new transfer from Paramount, just in time for the new movie.

Gifts For Those Who Like Old Hollywood, Subs, Spicoli and Spine Numbers

Over the past few years, The Criterion Collection has revived their reputation from the laserdisc days for pulling big, important movies into their workspace and giving them impressive treatments. While they’ve maintained a steady stream of variety from indie, arthouse, foreign, classic, and cult spectrums during the DVD and Blu-ray era and they’ve certainly offered a mainstream hit or two, they’ve tended to be more focused on smaller films that seem to need more than most. Now, on top of Citizen Kane, they’re digging deeper into studio catalogues for high pedigree classics that also “need it”, including the Bogart gangster-noir vehicle High Sierra (Amazon, Blu-ray), the classic ‘50s sci-fi thinker The Incredible Shrinking Man (Amazon, Blu-ray), and the renowned screwball rom-com Bringing Up Baby (Amazon, Blu-ray) with Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn.

They’re not just going after black and white classics, either. After The Breakfast Club proved that they’re interested in more mainstream ‘80s comedies with significance behind them, this year they delivered the iconic coming-of-age dramedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amazon, Blu-ray), complete with new interviews and the TV edit of the film. On top of this, The Criterion Collection have also procured the rights to two significant Asian cinema releases this year. Academy award-winning director Bong Joo-ho’s Memories of Murder (Amazon, Blu-ray) finally made its English-friendly Blu-ray debut in this region from Criterion, a masterful presentation of director’s most harrowing, gripping piece of cinema. Similarly to their beautiful Bruce Lee set, the label will also be producing a sprawling 6-disc boxset for the entirety of Once Upon a Time in China (Amazon, Blu-ray boxset) saga, mostly driven by director Tsui Hark and action legend Jet Li.

Gifts For Cult-Classic Lovers and ’80s Kids

Criterion wasn’t the only boutique label to have success in getting out some surprising titles this year, as cult-classic aficionados Arrow Video also produced some great ‘80s-era packages. Naturally, attention falls on David Lynch’s Dune (Amazon, 4K), which more than anything exists as a hypnotizing sci-fi curiosity nowadays … and, in a sense, as the oddball of Lynch’s body of work. Arrow provides a beautiful 4K transfer and heaps of extras to show and tell that story, though. They’ve done something similar for Ridley Scott’s Legend (Amazon, Blu-ray), another uniquely beautiful genre entry with a devoted fanbase, which arrives alongside a bountiful set of extras with the US and Director’s Cut versions in the best shape they’ve ever been.  Arrow also slipped in a stunning presentation of Tremors (Amazon) in 4K, an honorary ‘80s flick and action-horror classic.

Shout Factory devoted energy to their Halloween collector’s edition 4K releases, but they’ve also cranked out impressive discs from outside their ‘80s-cinema wheelhouse.  Moving to the ‘90s, they’ve presented the underappreciated Lovecraftian space horror flick Event Horizon (Shout Factory, Blu-ray) in a handsome package, and while it looks great, it’s the assertive sound that makes the disc mesmerizing. From there, Shout moves to modern cinema for a surprise release of Krampusthe Naughty Cut (Amazon, 4K), which features additional scenes and the original dialogue that was tweaked for the film to get a PG-13 rating.  Already a pretty fierce horror movie in its “tame” cut, this should be a perfect offering for the right film buff.  Perhaps even more surprising, however, is the fact that ultra-boutique label Vinegar Syndrome entered into the mainstream with a magnificent 4K release of the classic ‘80s fantasy film Beastmaster (Amazon, 4K + Blu-ray).

Gift For Those Who Take Pride In Filling Shelf Space With Cinema

Every time that it seems like the days of elaborate gift sets for physical movie releases might be in the rearview mirror, there’s always one or two in a given year that keep the energy alive. For 2021, that distinction largely falls on the 20th Anniversary 4K/Blu-ray release of Harry Potter (Amazon Exclusive), which comes in a nifty box designed to look like the Hogwarts Express train. Beyond that one, the rest of the gift sets this year have been designed to be slightly more manageable and streamlined on a shelf, letting graphic design do the work. As expected, a complete Middle-Earth 6-Film 4K Ultimate Collector’s Edition (Amazon, 4K + Blu-ray) batches the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit 4K trilogy sets from last year and adds new extras. There’s also the Karate Kid 4K Collection (Amazon, 4K), which presents the three Macchio films with classic poster cover art.

The rest of the gift sets on this list come with little caveats or asterisks, but they’re wholly worthwhile gifts for any cinema lover.  First, there’s the Evil Dead: Groovy Collection (Amazon) in 4K, which bundles together both the film and TV sagas of Bruce Campbell’s Ash against zombie-poltergeist baddies from the beyond … though, asterisk, this set doesn’t come with Army of Darkness, likely due to studio rights. The Criterion Collection has also lovingly crafted a World of Wong Kar Wai (Amazon, Blu-ray) boxset that curates all his “most beloved works” – including Blu-ray newcomer 2046! – in a beautiful package with, asterisk, controversially modified transfers under the supervision of the director. And then, continuing on the Criterion train, there’s the Essential Fellini (Amazon, Blu-ray) boxset released in November of last year, so the asterisk here is to make sure they didn’t get it last holiday.

About Thomas Spurlin

Film, home-media, and videogame scribe who digs green tea and walking his dogs.

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