It’s hard to believe an entire year has passed since Mike Edwards and I compiled HTS’s definitive 2015 Movie Gift Guide. But, alas, here we find ourselves staring old man winter in the face as the Holiday shopping season is about to shift into overdrive. Last year we were lucky enough to have an incredible pool of movies to pick from, ranging from hard-driving titles like Rogue Nation and John Wick to the lighthearted Inside Out and Sci-Fi adventurelands of Interstellar and Ex Machina. While those films still make excellent gift choices for your favorite movie aficionados, the past 11 months have given us loads of new Blu-ray titles to recommend. After careful deliberation, we’ve hammered-out 20 titles that are sure to please. Of course, we're fairly certain that you, friendly readers, will have a few suggestions of your own. Please take a few moments to tell us about your favorite films of the year in the comments section. We look forward to reading what’s on your mind!
Click on each film’s title (with the exception of Deadpool and Game of Thrones) for direct links to Mike Edwards’ full HTS review and Amazon purchasing. Also, some of these films have been released on Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, and 4K UHD Blu-ray formats. We primarily talk in terms of Blu-ray, but don’t forget about 4K versions for systems that can handle the extra pixels.
Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
Kicking off our 2016 Holiday Gift Guide is one of the most hotly anticipated films of the last decade: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens . Thankfully, The Force Awakens reboots this incredible franchise with an absolutely killer storyline and new characters, with the same captivating vibe that allowed A New Hope to forever change Hollywood in 1977. The Blu-ray release is available in several versions, including the fan-geek “Steel Book” with bonus content. The film’s audio and video qualities are the same across all releases, which is to say they all look and sound equally stellar. This release is a near flawless recommendation. Buy it.
Star Trek Beyond
Nipping on the heels of The Force Awakens is another space-themed franchise: Star Trek. This year we were given the third installment since Star Trek’s own reboot, however its new director (Justin Lin) definitely adds a distinct new flavor to the overall feel of the story. While slightly more flawed than 2009 and Into Darkness, Beyond is an incredibly fun film that’s a must own for all Trekkies. Quite simply put: it’s a blast to watch. The film’s 2.39:1 image shines superb, loaded with textures, colors, and rich amounts of detail. And the included Dolby Atmos track is nearly perfect. Much like The Force Awakens, Beyond gets our confident stamp of approval.
High-Rise is a unique animal that, aside from The Night Of (detailed below), is our most edgy recommendation on this year’s guide. It’s a twisted dystopian story penned by deceased British novelist J.G. Ballard, detailing the chaotic and uncontrolled life within a modern tower block. This is not light material, which might be the perfect ticket for a hardcore film fan on your shopping list. The film’s audio and video presentation are both excellent.
Hell or High Water
Here's a film that will catch you by surprise (it certainly did that to us). While it only enjoyed a short run in theaters, it's found new life on Blu-ray. Headlined by Chris Pine, Ben Foster, and Jeff Bridges, Hell or High Water is an absolutely amazing flick that follows two bank-robbing brothers on a mission to save their family farm. Audio and video are both top notch, highlighted by a magnificent 1080p encode. This is one of Lionsgate’s top movies of the year.
The Revenant delivered Leonardo DiCaprio his first ever Oscar (awarded this past February), while also capturing awards in the Cinematography and Directing categories. It’s a gritty story of survival, nature, pain, and pure black-hearted evil. And if you haven’t seen the film, prepare yourself for one of the most intense man-versus-animal scenes ever created. The film’s 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is flawless, as is the video image shot by Arri Alexa cameras. The word “amazing” hardly summarizes The Revenant’s intense potency. Highly recommended.
Kubo and the Two Strings
It’s no accident that HTS awarded Kubo an overall review score of “92.” This film is simply a must watch for both young and old alike. Loaded with emotion and heartstring moments, Kubo is one of 2016’s best Blu-ray releases. Presentation quality is boosted by a ridiculously good cinematic image and an amazing 5.1 DTS-HD MA track. If you’re in search of a sure-shot crowd pleaser, Kubo should be at the top of your list.
Speaking of sure-shot, Pixar delivered yet another mega hit with the release of Finding Dory. No need to have "fear of sequel let down" with this film, as Finding Dory has a fantastic stride of its own. Characters are fun and lively and the storyline is heartwarming to the core. Adding to the fun is an audio and video presentation that does everything right. Much like Kubo, Finding Dory is an easy pick for a great family gift.
The Iron Giant
Rounding out our “Animated” category is the classic film The Iron Giant. Originally released during 1999, The Iron Giant has finally found its way to Blu-ray. The film’s style and substance are equally seductive and the release is loaded with extras that hardcore fans will love. Both the audio and video is top shelf, punctuated by a powerful and earthshaking 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix that will make your system sing. There’s even an “Ultimate Collector’s Edition” for those of you that know an extra-juiced fan.
Okay, we’ll admit that giving a holiday gift of horror is a bit creepy. But, if you’re hell-bent on going the horror route, then you might as well give something that’s super cool. Green Room is an off the beaten path flick that gets our mark as the “sleeper horror hit of the year.” The film documents the stress and terror experienced by an innocent punk band after witnessing a murder they weren’t supposed to see. Trapped in a remote location, the band finds itself wrapped in brutal negotiations with a bunch of really bad dudes. The release’s video and audio are top notch, guaranteed to leave your senses awash with hardcore fear.
Everest is a huge theatrical blockbuster that landed itself on Blu-ray with flawless delivery. The film’s awesome Dolby Atmos audio track is an absolute stunner, and its video is no slouch either (scoring a perfect mark in Mike Edwards’ review). If you’re looking for a fun and enthralling adrenaline ride, then this is a film to consider. It’s chock-full of intensity as the characters fight for their lives on the largest peak on Earth.
13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi
Another action film homerun is Michael Bay’s 13 Hours. Based on the horrific (and now historic) events surrounding the attack on an American consulate in Benghazi, Lybia, 13 Hours is flat out intense. Bay’s toned-down approach will draw you into terrifying battle sequences and undeniable stress as a bad situation continually turns worse. The film’s Dolby Atmos audio delivers overwhelming immersiveness, and the video encode reaches rare levels of perfection. Highly recommended.
Deadpool is easily one of my favorite Blu-ray releases of the year. It’s an edgy mixture of adult humor and action that does so many things right, as evidenced by the fact that it captured legitimate critical acclaim (not to mention wide reaching audience approval). Unfortunately its R rating from the MPAA is spot-on, making it impossible to recommend as a gift for children or folks sensitive to material that pushes the edge of the envelope. The film’s Atmos track and 2.39:1 image attributes are both reference quality. Highly recommended.
Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: Civil War represents another solid installment in the Marvel movie universe. Loaded with fantastical characters and action, the film delivers plenty of fun. Viewers are treated to a solid 7.1 DTS-HD MA audio experience and a gorgeous 1080p digital encode. Definitely give Captain America a look if you have a hardcore superhero fan in your life!
Director Bryan Singer’s fourth entry into the X-Men universe is admittedly not the franchises strongest. That's not to say it isn't a fun romp through fantasyland, though, with some new faces to boot. Audio and video are simply fantastic and the included extras are sure to please the most geeked-out of superhero fans. This is a great movie to show off an elaborate of home theater rig (plenty of demo material).
Game of Thrones: Season Six
Truthfully, very little needs to be said about HBO’s award winning series: Game of Thrones. The show’s accolades and legions of fans around the world speaks volumes. This year we saw both Season Five and Season Six hit store shelves on Blu-ray. Mike Edwards gave Season Five a rock-solid score of 94 (which makes it an excellent gift in its own right). However, the recent November release of Season Six is oh-so shiny and new. And the good news is that it’s another stellar installment. Much like previous releases, Season Six carries a reference quality Dolby Atmos audio track, and the show’s 1.78:1 AVC encoded 1080p image is top notch. This release is practically a must buy.
Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season
Arrow is, as of now, enjoying an excellent Fifth Season, bolstering our recommendation of the Fourth Season as a must watch. This show is simply a blast, and with 24 episodes contained on the set's discs, there’s hours upon hours of entertainment. Video and Audio quality are ridiculously high for a television series, and audio fans are sure to revel in Warner Bros’ aggressive 5.1 DTS-HD MA track.
The Night Of
HBO’s creative prowess has produced lots of gems and the late 2015 release of The Night Of completely slipped under our radar last year. This release is unique enough (and good enough) to land a spot on our 2016 list. It’s an intoxicating and well-crafted crime drama that oozes intensity, emotional impact, and utter intrigue. While the release is devoid of extras and otherwise noteworthy audio and video attributes, The Night Of delivers one of the best self-contained television shows we’ve seen in years. This release is unique, making it a great gift buy.
Supergirl: The Complete First Season
Supergirl might show a few warts during its first couple of episodes, but quickly finds its grace and has proven to be a fantastic addition to the Warner Bros’ superhero lineup. Notably, the show has a certain newness that fans of DC superheroes are sure to enjoy. With a run time of 877 minutes, this release has serious legs. Mike Edwards reviewed the DVD release version and found audio and video qualities to be solid. Look for the Blu-ray version of the release for the true hardcore enthusiast.
The Flash: The Complete Second Season
Flash has the distinction of being one of Mike Edwards’ favorite television shows over the past several years (which, considering the amount of media he analyzes, is quite a statement). Season Two manages to carry Season One’s interest and intrigue, with plenty of new layers for the heroes and villain of the show to explore. Much like Arrow, the audio and video qualities of Flash are superb. Your favorite hardcore enthusiast will absolutely love the release’s robust and active 5.1 DTS-HD MA surround track. And the show’s image attributes are spot-on, despite challenging dark and shadowy scenes.
Star Wars Rebels: Season 2
Season two of the popular Star Wars Rebels is a sure-shot homerun watch for any fan of the Star Wars universe. It wasn’t long ago that the demise of The Clone Wars series left a sour taste in rabid fans’ mouths. But, Disney has proven itself worthy of carrying the torch with Rebels, having enjoyed a sensational Season One. Season Two doesn’t miss a beat and uniquely ties itself into the original Lucas Star Wars trilogy that started it all. The series’ robust video presentation is loaded with brilliantly rich colors and inky blacks; fine details are abound. While audio is slightly dinged by the exclusion of a lossless encode, the track takes full advantage of 5.1 layouts with copious surround activity and well-rounded bass.