These days, if you don’t own a Blu-ray player, you’re missing out, especially with a variety of classic movies being offered in high definition for the first time ever. But while we could easily fill several pages with suggestions of great films and cool box sets that deserve a spot on any holiday wish list, we’ve picked some of our favorites released over the past 12 months. If you can’t find anything worth buying here, then chances are that the person you’re shopping for doesn’t like movies.
Click the links within the write-ups to purchase each product online, and for more gift ideas, check out the other categories in our Holiday Gift Guide.
Back to the Future: 30th Anniversary Trilogy
By this point, you may well be weary of hearing about “Back to the Future,” given how much press the time-travel trilogy received when the first movie hit the big 3-0 earlier this year, but at some point you’ll find yourself wanting to revisit the fun of these three films, and that’s when you’ll want to have a copy of this five-disc set in your collection. In addition to a disc for each of the films, each of which has deleted scenes, “Tales from the Future” documentary segments, audio commentaries and various other bonus material, there’s also a separate bonus disc that includes a variety of additional mini-docs, plus a 2015 message from Doc Brown, two new commercials (one for “Jaws 19,” the other for a Hoverboard), and two episodes of “Back to the Future: The Animated Series.”
The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki
Hayao Miyazaki is one the most celebrated filmmakers in the history of animation, boasting a unique style that shines through in every one of his fantastical stories. Though Miyazaki’s films are currently available as individual Blu-rays, this 12-disc box set – which is available exclusively through Amazon – is the first time that they’ve been offered in a single collection. All 11 movies are included, from 1979’s “Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro” to 2013’s Oscar-nominated “The Wind Rises.” In addition, there are several hours of bonus material that are perfect for the Miyazaki admirer, including his 1972 TV pilot for Tetsuya Chiba’s “Yuki no Taiyo,” three episodes of the 1972 anime series “Akado Suzunosuke,” the 90-minute press conference announcing his retirement, and a 37-page collector’s book featuring the essay, “The Great Dichotomy: Looking at the Works of Hayao Miyazaki.” It’s probably not worth the double dip if you already own all of his movies on Blu-ray (especially since the extras from those releases have strangely been removed here), but this box set is a must-have for fans of animation, as well as kids who are beginning to outgrow their Disney and Pixar collections.
The Hobbit: The Motion Picture Trilogy – Extended Edition
Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit” trilogy was never going to live up to “The Lord of the Rings,” but it’s still a really solid collection of fantasy films that’s biggest mistake was trying to stretch J.R.R. Tolkien’s moderately sized novel into three movies. Granted, that’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for the extended editions that are collected in this nine-disc box set, but fans of the films will appreciate the added depth – and in the case of the final installment, the longer battle sequences – that the longer runtimes afford. More importantly, however, these extended editions are positively jam-packed with bonus material, including audio commentaries by Jackson and co-writer Philippa Boyens, as well as two additional discs for each movie that contain hours upon hours of behind-the-scenes featurettes detailing every aspect of the production process. Between all three films, there are nearly 30 hours of extras to dig through, which should keep even the most ardent Tolkien admirers busy for several weekends.
The “Fast and Furious” movies have always been about fast cars, beautiful women and ridiculous stunts, but the seventh installment in the long-running series has a weight on its shoulders unlike any sequel/prequel before it. The untimely death of Paul Walker not only affected the film’s production, but the manner in which he died cast a morbid shadow over the project. Thankfully, director James Wan was able to turn a horrible tragedy into a respectful and fitting farewell for Walker that adds a layer of emotion to “Furious 7” that resonates throughout the movie, and now, the entire franchise. Though the plot doesn’t always make sense, partially due to some last-minute rewrites to work around Walker’s absence, it’s easily one of the most entertaining “Fast and Furious” installments yet. The whole thing is every bit as ridiculous as you’d expect, but thanks to some incredibly entertaining action, gravity-defying stunts and the ever-charming ensemble cast, “Furious 7” is an absolute blast.
Mad Max: Fury Road
George Miller may be 70 years old, but that hasn’t stopped him from outclassing filmmakers half his age by making one of the craziest and most badass action movies in ages. Though “Fury Road” looks absolutely gorgeous, with John Seale’s stunning cinematography providing a painterly quality to the visuals, the real reason to see it is for the action. Conceived as one long car chase, the film is packed with some of the most amazing action sequences you’ll ever see. It’s a minor miracle that no one died during the making of this movie, because Miller’s high-adrenaline set pieces are so visceral and unbridled that you genuinely fear for the lives of the actors and stuntmen with each explosion, car flip and crash. The overcranked, sped-up look works better in some places than others, but for the most part, the gonzo vehicular mayhem is a jaw-dropping assault on the senses that gets weirder as it goes along. Every minute of action is pure cinematic magic, and though the movie would have benefited from a tighter runtime and stronger character development, it’s easily Miller’s best “Mad Max” film yet.
Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation
The “Mission: Impossible” series has a history of hiring a different director for each installment, and while that’s worked brilliantly thus far, Christopher McQuarrie has made a strong case for retaining his services on the next sequel with “Rogue Nation.” Granted, he doesn’t quite know what to do with Jeremy Renner’s character, but Rebecca Ferguson is a great addition to the team, while comic relief Simon Pegg demonstrates why he’s just as essential to the series as Tom Cruise. But make no mistake about it: this is Cruise’s movie as usual, and when he pulls off crazy stunts like hanging from a military cargo plane while in the air, all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. “Rogue Nation” starts to drag a bit in the end as it gets bogged down by one too many twists, but it’s yet another solid entry in the franchise that proves there’s plenty of gas left in the tank. In addition to its individual release, the film is also available as part of a new five-movie collection featuring the other installments in the series. It’s a great deal if you don’t already own them on Blu-ray, but the content is all the same.
“Ant-Man” may have been in development for a lot longer than the typical Marvel production, but that didn’t stop director Peyton Reed from producing a funny and fast-paced standalone adventure that weaves in tiny references to the MCU without feeling slavish to the material. In keeping with the studio’s tradition of exploring different genres with each new movie, “Ant-Man” is primarily a heist film that strikes a nice balance between comedy, action and drama. It’s also a movie that has serious daddy issues, featuring parallel father/daughter stories that drive the overall narrative and strengthen the connective tissue of Marvel’s expansive cinematic universe. Though it’s difficult to know exactly how much of Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish’s original script was retained in the final version, the former’s fingerprints are all over the film, especially the climactic third-act battle that takes place entirely inside of a little girl’s bedroom. Still, while “Ant-Man” isn’t quite as out there as Wright’s version likely would have been, it’s an undeniably unique comic book film that’s loaded with charm.
Though it doesn’t hold a candle to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original, “Jurassic World” is the sequel that fans have wanted (and deserved) for decades – a big, summer spectacle that understands the DNA of the franchise and doesn’t take itself too seriously. The first act is admittedly a bit messy as director Colin Trevorrow gets all of his pieces on the board, but the story really picks up once the Indominus Rex breaks free from confinement, turning into a full-fledged adventure film with no shortage of dinosaur-fueled destruction. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are both solid in their respective roles, while Vincent D’Onofrio, Irrfan Khan and Jake Johnson round out the excellent cast. Even the two kid actors (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins) are pretty likable, and that’s saying something. Granted, the movie isn’t without its flaws (particularly when it comes to basic common sense and logic, like in the climactic dino battle at the end), but it’s an entertaining piece of fan service that atones for the last two sequels.
For a movie studio founded on innovation, it’s been awhile since Pixar has created something truly original, which is why it’s so great to see the animation outfit return to those roots with “Inside Out.” Featuring all the touchstones of a typical Pixar film – it’s funny, charming, clever and touching, often at the same time – “Inside Out” is one of the studio’s most unique features to date, and arguably its most mature as well. Though it borrows generously from the Woody/Buzz road-trip plot of the original “Toy Story,” the movie is incredibly sophisticated, dealing with big-picture ideas that kids may not completely understand on a conceptual level but can still identify with thanks to the way co-directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have deconstructed it. Amy Poehler is smartly cast as the voice of Joy, a perky ball of energy that relishes the leadership role, but it’s Phyllis Smith who is the real standout as Sadness. While the other actors aren’t given as much to do, and the film has a habit of oversimplifying its treatment of Riley’s emotions, including some manufactured conflict that’s a bit flimsy, “Inside Out” makes up for those minor blemishes with boundless levels of creativity that win out every time.
Army of Darkness
While it doesn’t have much in common with the “Evil Dead” films that precede it apart from its main hero and some loosely connected story threads, “Army of Darkness” is hands-down our favorite installment in the series, specifically because it’s not a straight horror movie, but rather a genre-bending fantasy film that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, it’s actually quite cheesy in a B-movie sort of way, although that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable thanks to its immensely quotable one-liners, clever set pieces, Sam Raimi’s trademark visual style and a hilarious performance by Bruce Campbell. The movie is basically “The Evil Dead” meets “Jason and the Argonauts” meets “The Three Stooges,” and while it’s every bit as madcap as it sounds, that’s always been a big part of its appeal. The visual effects haven’t aged particularly well, and the acting leaves much to be desired, but Campbell is such an entertaining performer that he carries the entire film on the strength of his goofball antics and old-fashioned charm. Though horror fans won’t appreciate “Army of Darkness” as much as the previous movies, you won’t find a better representation of Raimi and Campbell’s combined sensibilities.
Supreme Cinema Series (Dracula, The Fifth Element & Leon: The Professional)
Either someone at Sony is infatuated with Gary Oldman, or he really did play a lot of villains in the ‘90s, because the veteran actor stars in all three movies from the studio’s new Supreme Cinema Series, a premium Blu-ray line that boasts a 4K restoration and Dolby Atmos soundtrack on every film. The difference that the enhanced video and sound makes to the overall experience is incredible. This is the way that consumers should be watching every movie, and while that’s not possible for a number of reasons, it’s great to see that Sony has chosen films that really benefit from the Supreme Cinema treatment, regardless of whether they’re considered true classics. Though we’re not huge fans of the collection’s debut title, Francis Ford Coppola’s polarizing adaptation of “Dracula,” the other movies released thus far – Luc Besson’s “Leon: The Professional” and “The Fifth Element” – are highly recommended for anyone that loves action films. They’re both a lot of fun and feature Oldman at the top of his mustache-twirling game. All three movies are also available in snazzy, limited edition packaging, but unless the recipient is a diehard collector, there’s no point in paying twice as much for the upgraded case, no matter how nice they may be.
Warner Bros. Holiday Steelbooks (Elf, Christmas Vacation, Scrooged & A Christmas Story)
If you have a fan of Buddy the Elf on your shopping list (and really, who doesn’t like the oversized, overjoyed star of “Elf”?), this new Blu-ray edition of the 2003 holiday classic will add a little style to their collection. There’s nothing new about the disc itself compared to previous releases – it features the same bonus material, including audio commentaries by Will Ferrell and director Jon Favreau, as well as various production featurettes – but it comes encased in a collectible Steelbook along with a soundtrack sampler. It’s not the only Christmas film to be re-released by Warner Bros. in special Steelbook packaging, either. Also available are “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” (newly remastered and still funny as ever), the Bill Murray-led “Scrooged” (a modern day update of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”), and the 1983 cult classic “A Christmas Story.” There haven’t been many great holiday-themed movies produced in the last 30 years, but these four films have earned their place in the annual Christmas rotation.
Zoolander: The Blue Steelbook
With the long-awaited sequel arriving in theaters early next year, Paramount has released “Zoolander” on Blu-ray for the very first time. Hilariously absurd and loaded with quotable one-liners, Ben Stiller’s biting satire of the fashion industry is a criminally underrated comedy that’s a lot smarter than it appears on the surface. A big part of its success is the chemistry between Stiller’s dim-witted male model and Owen Wilson’s ditzy rival, not to mention Will Ferrell’s performance as eccentric fashion designer-cum-terrorist Mugatu, which still ranks as one of the actor’s most memorable characters of his career. The Blu-ray is part of an exclusive gift set that includes blue Steelbook packaging (Blue Steel, get it?), brand new special features, a ridiculously good-looking headband to channel your inner Zoolander, and a movie ticket for the sequel when it hits theaters. That’s great value for a movie that can be purchased for a little under $15, and at that price, you should consider picking one up for yourself as well.
Dog Day Afternoon: 40th Anniversary
Based on the true story of a bank heist gone horribly wrong, Sidney Lumet’s “Dog Day Afternoon” is one of the seminal films of the 1970s and among the best crime movies ever made. It was also way ahead of its time with its portrayal of LBGT relationships, which makes this new 40th anniversary edition particularly timely in view of the recent transgender movement. Though it took Al Pacino 17 more years before he would finally win his first Oscar, he’s absolutely electric as amateur bank robber Sonny Wortzik, while John Cazale delivers excellent supporting work as his inscrutable partner in crime. The remastered video from the 2007 release still holds up pretty well by today’s standards, and there’s a solid collection of bonus material spread across the two-disc set, including a director commentary, a four-part making-of featurette and the 2009 documentary “I Knew It Was You: Rediscovering John Cazale.” Any self-respecting movie lover should have “Dog Day Afternoon” in their collection, and what better time than now to remedy that error by adding it to your wish list?
My Fair Lady: 50th Anniversary Edition
This classic musical and eight-time Oscar winner has been painstakingly restored from the original negative and other surviving 65mm elements, and now it’s available in a new high-definition Blu-ray just in time for the 50th anniversary. Starring the stunningly beautiful Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison, you have Hollywood royalty headlining one of the most beloved musicals in movie history. This will make a great gift for your mom, grandmother or anyone who loves classic Hollywood as well as the incomparable Hepburn. This edition also has an entire Blu-ray disc dedicated to 90 minutes of special features, including a variety of original trailers and featurettes that were used in theaters to promote the film, along with footage from the movie’s Los Angeles and British premieres in 1964 and the Academy Awards ceremony. It also includes a feature on the making of the film.