Every year we determine the best 4k Blu-ray Discs that are must-haves for anyone with a 4k Blu-ray player and 4k HDR TV. This year we’re lucky to have prolific disc reviewer Ralph Potts from AVS Forum and home theater expert DJ from Bright Side Home Theater join Jeff from HD Report to determine the year’s best.
There were about 180 new 4k Blu-ray releases in 2021 (not including retailer exclusives, gift sets, and reissues), so deciding the Top 10 was not the easiest task. Nevertheless, these are titles we found most worthy of viewing (and usually more than once) in your 4k home theater. If we missed a title or you disagree with our choices we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter. And, be sure to check out our complete list of 4k Blu-ray Discs since 2016!
Ralph: Like District 9, Elysium is a stylized film that portrays two worlds that are polar opposites. It succeeds at delineating them with an organic authenticity drawing the world above in an almost satirical fashion. The visuals are compelling and the production elements play perfectly against the narrative construct. It makes its Ultra HD Blu-ray debut featuring terrific audio/video quality and legacy bonus material. As a fan I am thrilled to now own it, looking and sounded better than ever since coming to home video. If you’re a fan this one is a no-brainer.
DJ: Neill Blomkamp knows how use sound to tell a story. The Atmos track here is fantastic in its attention to detail. The HDR helps to enhance the warmer earthy tone of the film as well.
Jeff: The production quality of Elysium was very good, and you can appreciate the work that was done using in-camera effects and miniature sets rather than all post-production CG. I thought Matt Damon was miscast for his role in this movie, and the story was not as original as Director Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, but nevertheless, Elysium is a high-quality video presentation from Sony Pictures even if the audio on the 4k Blu-ray is the same as the Blu-ray. Plus, the 4k BD has bonus material.
9. Underworld Limited Edition 5-Movie Collection
Ralph: All five Underworld films come to Ultra HD Blu-ray together for the first time in this Limited-Edition Underworld 4K Ultra HD Collection that features solid overall video quality, terrific Dolby Atmos immersive sound, a fan-friendly assortment of legacy bonus material and thoughtfully designed packaging. Underworld 4K Ultra HD Collection gets a recommendation for the total sum of its parts, which when combined, make it a must-have for franchise fans that are set up for Ultra HD/Dolby Atmos.
DJ: This series has been a long-time guilty pleasure. Well, feel guilty no more! The 4K set delivers each of these dark high contrast movies beautifully in HDR accompanied by an equally impressive soundtrack!
Jeff: I’m a huge fan of the Underworld franchise and was excited to hear the films would be released to 4k Blu-ray. The imagery in the Underworld films generally exists in darker environments (where vampires thrive) so I was looking forward to seeing what HDR can do to provide a greater range of detail and color in the shadows. And it does! There are also some immersive audio effects happening in the sewer systems and tunnels where much of the action takes place. In a dark home theater environment with surround sound you can really immersive yourself in the ‘Underworld.”
8. Godzilla (2014)
Ralph Godzilla gives a fun, fanciful, and entertaining facelift to one of B-cinema’s most recognizable icons. What it may lack in storytelling is more than made up for with top-notch production values that elevate the overall experience. Its Ultra HD Blu-ray debut takes the film’s innate production elements and pulse-pounding lossless sound up a notch, making for an entertaining home theater experience that should please fans capable of taking advantage of the upgrades.
DJ: What took so long! The HDR is a nice upgrade over the HD disc but the big star here is the Atmos track! Sound pans side to side, front to rear, and man the use of overheads is awesome! But the BASS… just wow. Strap down anything loose and enjoy.
Jeff: This is one of my favorite 4k releases of the year. I thought the story in Godzilla (2014) was better than this year’s Godzilla vs. Kong, and, even though 7 years older the effects look just as convincing. Visuals aside though, the audio experience has been one of my favorites of all time, and for this 4k upgrade the soundtrack was remixed in Dolby Atmos. What a ride!
7. My Fair Lady (1964)
Ralph: Nearly 60 years after its release this beloved adaptation of the Broadway stage hit starring Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison remains as enchanting as ever. My Fair Lady is a classic Hollywood film that epitomizes the lavishly entertaining musicals of its period. I thoroughly enjoyed this revisit. Audrey Hepburn lights up the screen in her performance. I reveled in the musical numbers and spirit of the film’s thematic tone. This is a visually compelling film that strives to recreate the look and feel of the stage play upon which it is based. The restored video quality looks excellent in 1080p, but this Ultra HD rendering is something to behold. I tip my hat to Mr. Harris and CBS/Paramount. This is one of the most impressive Ultra High-Definition catalog titles I have seen to date. It is an immaculate and faithful reproduction that befits one of the most beloved films of all time.
DJ: This disc is truly breathtaking! The natural life-like colors that are so vibrant make you wonder why they can’t do this with every movie!
Jeff: If there was a “best-restored film” category My Fair Lady would certainly be at the top, ahead of contemporaries such as The Ten Commandments and Spartacus that also got 4k upgrades. Derived from an 8k scan of the original film negatives, the image quality is immaculate on 4k Blu-ray, with excellent color rendering using Dolby Vision HDR and Dolby True HD 7.1 sound — a substantial upgrade from previous releases that isn’t exactly immersive, but very high quality given the age of this almost 60-year-old film.
6. Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection
Ralph: Indiana Jones needs little introduction and has thrilled fans the world over since his introduction in 1981. The creative collaboration of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas treated us to a swashbuckling action/adventure hero that entertained a new generation. There have been varying degrees of devotion to each installment with everyone (including this humble writer) agreeing that Raiders of the Lost Ark is the series crowning achievement. I am disappointed in the general lack of supporting bass in the new sound mixes of the first three films but, aside from that found the Dolby Atmos application to be complimentary across the board. I am not sure if that will be consolation to those hoping for reference-quality audio but, truth be told, overall, these present quite nicely, warts and all. I wish I could give this release a resounding thumb’s up but, I will say that in general, I am happy to own them and believe that as a whole, they are definitely worth your purchase consideration.
DJ: I have NEVER seen any of these movies look and sound this good! One of if not the BEST restoration of an ’80s collection I’ve ever seen!
Jeff: Having watched Raiders of the Lost Ark over the years on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, and of course in horrific quality on broadcast TV, this 4k Blu-ray edition (offered in the Indiana Jones 4-Movie Collection) gets as close as possible to the theater experience on a big screen. Vibrant colors and deep black levels that resemble the original film quality offer a more analog experience than some of the digitally-shot 4k releases we are getting used to.
5. The Suicide Squad
Ralph: The Suicide Squad is unabashedly uproarious, asking little of the audience other than to go with the flow, quirkiness and all. I had a great time, twice now, and look forward to whatever may come next. Stylistically speaking, The Suicide Squad isn’t the type of film that is going to dazzle with its use of eye-catching/vivid color. There is no question that its Ultra HD presentation appears faithful and makes for a distinct improvement when compared to the streaming and 1080p Blu-ray renderings.
DJ: One of the punchiest soundtracks of 2021! Sit back and enjoy the roller coaster ride that is the sights and sounds of one of the most dynamic movies of 2021!
Jeff: This is a really good-looking film on Ultra HD Blu-ray. The HDR adds deep color depth to the image (compared to the Blu-ray and non-HDR screens) and overall image sharpness is impressive. There was a lot of attention to detail put into this movie and the 4k disc proves it. The soundtrack and immersive audio effects add another level to the home theater experience that is really fun with a good speaker setup.
4. Free Guy
Ralph: Free Guy does exactly what it sets out to do. Take a storyline that may seem familiar and spin it to a multifaceted beat that provides just the right bit of escapism that everyone in the audience can connect with. I watched it with my wife and we had a ball. It comes to Ultra HD Blu-ray featuring top-notch video, engaging lossless surround sound, including a terrific Dolby Atmos listening track and, a fan-friendly assortment of extras. Free Guy is highly enjoyable while looking and sounding terrific on Blu-ray. I look forward to revisiting it soon!
DJ: If you think this is some bubble gum popcorn movie with no brains and no heart think again. The 4K disc has some of the most vibrant images of 2021 and the sound is phenomenal. A must-own for a true home theater fan.
Jeff: Free City really explodes with color on the 4k Blu-ray that’s enhanced with HDR10 High Dynamic Range. And, the level of detail is incredible in 2160p resolution. The Dolby Atmos track provides an immersive environment with some deep bass effects happening (especially in the traffic and unfolding city scenes) where you almost feel as if part of the action. Plus, it’s a film with a good concept that keeps you engaged for the full 1-hour and 55-minutes.
3. Godzilla vs Kong
Ralph: Godzilla vs. Kong isn’t perfect but, it pays appropriate tribute to one of the most iconic rivalries in monster movie lore. Depending on your expectations, Godzilla vs. Kong may not live up to its source material’s legacy but, there is no denying that it makes for an excellent popcorn flick. Its Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation features reference-quality Ultra HD video, excellent high-definition audio/video, a spectacular Dolby Atmos sound mix, and a fair supplemental set.
DJ: PURE HOME THEATER FUN. Period. From the fantastic HDR showing off the bright neon of the city to the low-end bass rocking your whole house you will be entertained from beginning to end.
Jeff: It’s almost torture sitting through the dramatic scenes waiting for the next Godzilla or Kong appearance, but when the monsters arrive it’s hard to walk away from the screen. This movie has some incredible imagery that is only enhanced in 4k and HDR color, never mind the roaring Atmos soundtrack that will immerse you in the cities the Titans destroy like kids trampling on LEGO sets. The only problem is there really isn’t a TV screen big enough to do this movie justice — Godzilla vs. Kong was simply made for the big screen.
2. Zack Snyder’s Justice League
Ralph: Zack Snyder’s Justice League is somewhat overindulgent and certainly overlong but, I have never once found myself glancing at the time, feeling as though it was dragging. I believe Snyder has presented a complete version of the film he envisioned to follow up the narratives started in Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman Dawn of Justice. It arrives on Ultra HD Blu-ray featuring excellent overall Ultra HD/HD video, terrific lossless sound, including an entertaining Dolby Atmos listening track but lackluster supplemental offering. I can’t say that Zack Snyder’s Justice League will convert those that already don’t care for Snyder’s handling of these DC films but, I thoroughly enjoyed it and highly recommend that you give it a chance.
DJ: Love or hate the 1.33:1 aspect ratio, you can’t deny this is a true piece of art. We need more people pushing the limits of storytelling and movie making!
Jeff: I rewatched the original Justice League ahead of this release and actually really enjoyed it, but Zack Snyder’s Justice League takes the movie to another level with the extra footage and variable aspect ratios that make this 4k release something you can watch over and over again and still get something out of it. The version is highly recommended for its cinematography, immersive audio, and multiple story arcs. If you’ve got HBO Max also check out Justice is Grey — the black and white version of this film that is just gorgeous.
1. No Time to Die
Ralph: No Time to Die is the 25th installment in the James Bond film franchise and the final one to star Daniel Craig in the iconic role. While not the best film in the Craig Collection it’s a solid and befitting sendoff that features the action and supporting story that have been a series staple since 2006. It comes to Blu-ray in this Collector’s Edition Ultra HD Combo Pack featuring audio/video quality that has earned it, the very rare, 100s across the board and, a fan-friendly supplemental package that is well worth exploring. No Time to Die is a worthy addition to both the James Bond and Daniel Craig/Bond films and comes highly recommended on Blu-ray.
DJ: – Elegant. Exquisite. The Movie itself is groundbreaking in the Bond Universe but the home theater experience is the clear leader for 2021. Like Lord of the Rings from last year, this disc is the disc to judge all others.
Jeff: The film we waited so long for certainly did not disappoint. No Time To Die was a great theatrical experience that also translates well to a home theater environment. I don’t know how anyone could watch this on a mobile device (unless focusing on the music and dialogue) because the cinematography, details in imagery, and dynamic soundtrack all demand an immersive and big screen experience. I love how the Bond films still use real on-set effects and stunts rather than sanitized green-screen productions to make the movies more realistic. You can tell Cary Joji Fukunaga, Daniel Craig, and the rest of the cast and staff poured their hearts into making this movie that ends a chapter in the long-running franchise.
Jeff: This is one movie that I think deserves to be mentioned in the best of 2021. The restoration of Akira Kurosawa’s Ran (1985) is just brilliant on 4k Blu-ray. It’s almost as if HDR was invented for a film like this, with colors in the flags and costumes that are vibrant but realistic — seemingly fulfilling Kurosawa’s vision of emphasizing color (the film even won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design). The sound is also incredible, considering the movie is almost 40 years old, with thunderous low frequencies in the final battle scene and occasional surround effects to immerse you in the action.
Ralph Potts is the Blu-ray Reviewer for AVSForum.com and has been writing about and or reviewing home audio/video gear and software for over 20 years. He has been writing Blu-ray reviews since 2008 and has covered well over 2000 titles released on Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray. You can find him along with an archive of his physical media reviews on AVS Forum.
DJ is the founder of Bright Side Home Theater that reviews home theater equipment, setups, and entertainment media. The podcast, part of the Nerdy Legion Podcast Network, can be found on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, and other platforms.