The biggest Blu-ray release of 2023 is here: Avatar: The Way of the Water hits shelves on June 20 in both standard Blu-ray and 4K flavors. But please don’t let James Cameron’s colossal new blockbuster keep you from also enjoying a parade of weirdo, overlooked gems from the past thirty years.
Want to see peak Tom Cruise doing handsprings on public streets while avoiding evil lawyers? Or maybe you’d like to watch the movie that inspired the Waterworld stunt show that still thrills Universal Studios guests to this day? Personally, I’m morbidly eager to revisit Mallrats, Kevin Smith’s once-maligned, now-adored sophomore film.
If you’re new to this curation series, here’s how our Bluray and 4K curation works: Each month, in an effort to help you find your next favorite discs, we curate a list of our most anticipated releases. We haven’t had the opportunity to try these discs just yet, but each of these releases has potential and comes from a label we’ve enjoyed in the past.
If you want the formal thumbs up, check out our rolling list of the best Blu-rays and 4K UHD discs of the year.
Our most anticipated Blu-ray of June 2023
Image: 20th Century Studios
Avatar: The Way of Water (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 20, 2023
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The biggest theatrical release of 2022 becomes the biggest home video release of 2023. In true Cameron-fashion, the physical release arrives with the most extravagant package possible, including over a dozen featurettes. The production team spent years conceptualizing the tools to make the film possible, so it’s fitting that we should get an entire behind the scenes short dedicated to the creation of digital water. I’m most excited to watch the screen tests for actors we only see in the film as Na’vi. How does one sell themselves as a ready-to-be-digitized actor?
Fans who still have a 3D TV will be served, too. 20th Century is also releasing the rare 3D Blu-ray edition of the film.
The big Blu-ray and 4K releases for June 2023
Image: Paramount Pictures
Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – May 30, 2023
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The D&D film is one of the year’s best surprises. Frankly, I was skeptical of an adaptation of a tabletop games, but credit where it’s due. The producers brought together an incredible combination of creative talent in front of a behind the camera. Chris Pine and Michelle Rodriguez performing a script by the writers of Game Night? It works!
The package includes deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a couple of features explaining how the hell the creators converted an elaborate rule book into a compelling popcorn flick. We also spoke with the directors to learn where and why they broke the D&D rules.
Image: Wit Studio, CloverWorks/Crunchyroll
Spy x Family: Season 1, Part 1 (Blu-ray + DVD) – June 13, 2023
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The first half of the first season of Spy x Family earned the #3 spot on our Best Anime of 2022 list, but it was number one in my heart. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, here’s our short summary:
The show follows Loid Forger, a spy who’s tasked with a top-secret operation to stop the leader of the National Unity Party from harming peace relations between two neighboring countries. His plan is to get close to the political leader by meeting him through an event hosted at a super-elite elementary school. There’s only one problem: Loid is a bachelor.
The spy’s solution: to assemble a family, naturally. The thrust of the show follows Loid, his new wife Yor (who’s also secret assassin), and their telepathic adopted daughter, Anya. The show is somehow even sillier than that premise suggests, and also more cogent and emotionally rich, too.
Distributor Crunchyroll is best known for its streaming service, but some of its big releases, like this one, get the home video treatment. A bonus disc includes a panel with the English cast and interviews with some of the Japanese voice actors.
Image: Paramount Home Entertainment
The Firm (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 20, 2023
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The Firm isn’t Tom Cruise’s best film, but it may be my favorite. The 1993 drama is one of the great high-brow / low-brow creations of its era, the producers pairing Oscar-worthy talent with the king of beach reads, John Grisham. Cruise brings the star power, playing a young lawyer recruited from Harvard Law to join a small, powerful, and mysterious law firm in Memphis, Tennessee. Who does the firm represent? And how do they have enough money to casually reward Cruise with a new home and a fresh Mercedez-Benz?
Director Sydney Pollack is a master of ensemble casts and wisely surrounds Cruise – at this point still a budding talent best known for blockbusters – with top-tier actors, from Jeanne Tripplehorn and Gene Hackman to Ed Harris and Holly Hunter.
Some folks bemoan the 154-minute runtime, but in the age of exhausting superhero films, this once “long” movie feels rather quaint. It appears the disc is relatively barebones, but so long as I get to watch Cruise do an inexplicable gymnastics routine midway through the story, all in glorious 4K with HDR, well then I’ll have everything I need.
Photo: Arrow Video
Mallrats (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
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Clerks established Kevin Smith as the next promising indie director in the vein of Quentin Tarantino, baking a mix of obscenities and pop culture conversations into (what appeared to be) a repeatable art house formula for Gen X. His follow-up, Mallrats, undid all of that.
Where Clerks toyed with the expectations of contemporary independent cinema, Mallrats echoed 1980s teen sex comedies. The film bombed, and most critics and fans wrote off Smith as a one-hit-wonder. He would eventually reboot his career — and reboot it a few more times after that.
But here’s the thing: every movie has its fans. Every single one. And as a 10-year-old in 1995, Mallrats was exactly the movie I craved. Smith crammed the film with raunchy comedy, curse words, and nudity. He cast Jason Lee, a professional skateboarder, in the lead role, spotting a charisma that would fuel Lee’s career through decades of film and TV. And the soundtrack ruled. I’m positive that I listened to the CD even more than I watched the VHS.
Will I still like the movie now? I’m curious to find out! Arrow is treating the film like Smith’s opus. The limited edition includes interviews with Smith, cinematographer David Klein, and co-star Jason Mewes; an audio commentary stuffed with talent, including Ben Affleck; a making-of featurette, cast interviews from the shoot, an animated documentary, and more.
I expect there’s no way I’ll love this film the way I did as a teenager, but maybe the whole package can serve as a time machine for when I need to revisit that earlier self.
Photo: Arrow Video
Enter the Video Store (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
Do you miss the sweltering hot Friday evenings of summer, when you’d loiter in the local video store for hours, appreciating the free air conditioning and the thousands of schlocky box covers? Or were you born too late and missed this ’90s kid rite of passage? In either case, if you pine for that lost time, then you’re the target audience for Arrow’s new collection, Enter the Video Store.
The package includes five films, ranging from sleazy horror to trashy sci-fi. Regular ProSpelare readers likely will be interested in The Dungeonmaster, an ’80s film about a computer programmer who gets warped into a fantasy world. To capture the tangible quality of visiting the video store, the set also includes postcard-sized reproductions of cards, posters, and an 80-page book.
These aren’t the best movies on the planet, but let’s be real: quality was rarely the point of a trip to the video store. Half the fun was giving something new a try just because the package looked great. On a hot summer night, I’m not looking for Citizen Kane. I’m looking for Dolls, a horror movie about dolls.
Photo: Everett Collection
Dead and Buried (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
Dead & Buried is like a BBC take on Tales from the Crypt. When a small East Coast town is besieged by murders, a sheriff partners with a mysterious mortician to crack the case. One problem: the victims aren’t staying dead.
Director Gary Sherman drifts between German expressionism, ’50s creature features, and 1970s hardboiled realism like he’s trying on different sunglasses. Though you’re probably unfamiliar with Sherman’s work, you’ve seen the craft of special effects artist Stan Winston, who won Oscars for films like Aliens, Terminator 2, and Jurassic Park. This 4K disc should be a great opportunity to see some of Winston and company’s gnarliest creations in ultra high-definition.
This disc also includes a handful of behind-the-scenes featurettes and four commentaries, including the director, the co-director, the director of photography, and two film historians.
Image: Warner Bros,
Creepshow (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
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At the center of this package is a new 4K scan of Creepshow’s original camera negative and a complimentary featurette on the film’s restoration with director of photography Michael Gornick. Gornick also appears on one of the three autido commentaries – another features director George A. Romero and acclaimed special make-up effects artist Tom Savini.
I’m curious about the inclusion of featurettes focused on the commodity communities that surrounds cult films like this one. One featurette spotlights Mondo posters, whileanother focuses on the props and collectibles from the film. The art (and money) that float around niche media is endlessly fascinating, but rarely acknowledged in these sorts of packages.
The disc also includes a variety of behind the scenes interviews, deleted scenes, and still galleries of posters, lobby cards, and set photos.
Image: Universal Pictures
Waterworld (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
Reader, I’m such a sucker for this movie. Similar to Mallrats, it hit theaters at the peak of my childhood. I counted down the days, collected the toys, and read the novelization. Did I genuinely love the movie or did I need to love it because my younger self had built my entire personality around Kevin Costner doing Mad Max on water? Who’s to say?
Fortunately for me and other Waterworld weirdoes, Arrow has treated the film with the reverence reserved for holy relics. The 3-disc set includes the theatrical cut, the TV cut, and the “Ulysess cut.” Along with a bundle of featurettes, the set includes some tangible novelties: postcards, a double-sided poster, and a 60-page book.
If you can’t get enough Waterworld content, I wrote about one of my favorite YouTube channels, The Atoll. Its host has produced dozens of videos exploring every nook of the film’s existence, from the pinball machine to the lost Waterworld internet game.
Dry land is a myth!
Photo: Criterion Collection
Pasolini 101 (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – June 27, 2023
I’ve never seen a Pasolini film. Hell, I haven’t seen a trailer for the films, or even read much criticism beyond a few notes on Medea. This is my ideal way state of mind going into a big box set. I get to experience an artist’s work from beginning to end, bringing no preconceived opinions. How rare!
The collection includes a whopping nine films, two shorts, and three documentaries. To provide context, Criterion also will include a 100-page book of essays and “new program on Pasolini’s visual style as told through his personal writing, narrated by actor Tilda Swinton and writer Rachel Kushner.” I can’t wait.