Digital downloads and streaming are getting really close in terms of audio and video quality compared to Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray discs. So, aside from our yearly list of Top 10 4k Blu-ray Discs we wanted to explore the streaming/download side of home media and suggest the best titles of the year. These movies were typically streaming before disc editions were available, and some may have left the streaming service while playing in theaters, on-demand, or made available as premium home premieres. Did we miss a title? Please let us know in the comments or via X.
1. Dune (2021) (HBO Max)
Dune released to US theaters in October 2021 and won’t be available until January on 4k Blu-ray, 3D Blu-ray, and Blu-ray. So, having seen the movie in both a theater and at home on HBO Max this was a no brainer to include in our best of home theater list. The film looks just incredible in 4k with Dolby Vision to expand the color depth on HDR TVs. And, the soundtrack from Hans Zimmer provides a deep underscore that carries the beautiful imagery from cinematographer Greig Fraser. Streaming on HBO Max (Disc purchase window may be in effect.)
2. Zack Synder’s Justice League (HBO Max)
Zack Synder’s Justice League arrived on HBO Max in color and in a black and white alternate version titled “Justice is Grey.” Both versions are beautiful, but the color ‘Justice League’ really gives you a quality image to showcase your 4k TV or 4k HDR TV. The soundtrack is also mesmerizing in Dolby Atmos, the sound format that expands to effects behind and over the viewer’s head. Streaming on HBO Max
3. Godzilla vs. Kong (HBO Max)
Godzilla vs. Kong released simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on March 31st 2021. The movie has so much detail in the battle scenes and in Godzilla and King Kong that it’s a must-watch on a 4k TV. The visual effects are incredible in this film, highlighted by the ocean battle scene and finale at the end where the Titans essentially demolish a city. The surround sound (offered in multi-channel Dolby Atmos) is a dynamic experience that will immerse you in a multi-layered effects. Streaming on HBO Max
4. Red Notice (Netflix)
Netflix’s Red Notice starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, and Gal Gadot is one of those popcorn flicks that might even get you to pay $10 to see it twice in the theaters. But instead, the film released to Netflix on Nov. 12 following a limited theatrical run. Red Notice provides a great home theater experience though, with high-quality production (it had a $200M budget) that streams beautifully in 4k and HDR. The soundtrack is also offered in Dolby Atmos on supporting systems, providing great surround sound effects especially during the fight scenes. Streaming on Netflix
5. Free Guy (Disney+)
Free Guy starring Ryan Reynolds, Jodie Comer, and Taika Waititi is extremely sharp in 4k resolution and full of color that’s enhanced with HDR. The Dolby Atmos track provides an immersive environment with some deep bass effects (especially in the traffic and unfolding city scenes) where you almost feel as if part of the action. And, it’s a film with a good concept that keeps you engaged for the full 1-hour and 55-minutes. Streaming on Disney+ (Disc purchase window may be in effect.)
6. The Tomorrow War (Prime)
Amazon Original The Tomorrow War is a high-concept sci-fi film in which humans from the future return to the past to recruit help in fighting an invading alien species on Earth. The best part of this movie may be the sound, with immersive and low-frequency effects that will spin your head, literally. The video is also impressive with 4k resolution and deeper color depth with HDR. The aliens and visual effects are really well done (as they should be) in this $200M film produced by Skydance and Paramount. Streaming on Amazon Prime.
7. Soul (Disney+)
You can get lost in the ethereal moments of Soul, only to be brought back with some incredible jazz numbers that could be metaphors for our spiritual selves. As well as a great story told in animation and some beautiful visuals, the real soul of this movie is in the Oscar-winning Original Score and Oscar-nominated Sound that transports you to another dimension; multiple speaker setups (or sound-bouncing soundbars) preferred, but not required). By the way, Soul premiered on the internet late Dec. 2020 so we are including in 2021. Streaming on Disney+.
8. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney+)
Marvel Comics character Shang-Chi (first appearing in 1973) is brought to live-action in the 25th title in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The best home theater moments arrive in the action scenes, but the good dialogue and characters carry the “normal life” moments happening while Shang-Chi (who named himself Shaun) is living in San Francisco as a parking valet. This movie has a lot of color, crisp video, and great immersive audio. And, it’s IMAX enhanced! Streaming on Disney+