2023 marks our first yearlong dive into the world of physical media. If you’re a regular reader, you’ve probably already read our monthly lists curating the most promising new Blu-rays and 4K UHD discs. We build those collections from exciting scheduled new releases, often giving a heads-up before we’ve had a chance to see them for ourselves.
This list is different — and more prestigious. Here we collect the best discs of the year. We’ve tried them. We love them. We want to share them. That’s it! We don’t set any additional boundaries to our curation. Whether you want a killer midnight horror film or a challenging collection of art house cinema, you will find something to appreciate.
The following recommendations have been listed in reverse chronological order of these disc releases, so you’ll always see the newest entries up top. The list will be updated throughout the year, and in December we will issue a final update along with awarding our favorite disc of 2023.
Be sure to share your own favorite new discs in the comments!
The best Blu-ray and 4K releases of 2023
Superman Collection (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – May 9
at Best Buy
The next Superman movie won’t hit theaters until mid-2025 at the soonest. If you’re craving some blue-spandex-and-red-cape heroics, this collection is your best bet. The collection includes the entirety of the Christopher Reeve era: Superman 1-4, along with the alternate Richard Donner cut of Superman 2.
The set also includes a smorgasbord of Superman. For fans of the films, the package features a truckload of commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a making-of TV special, and deleted scenes. And for folks who just love any and all things Superman, Warner Bros. bundled in a grab bag of episodes of the classic Fleischer Studios Superman cartoons.
I hadn’t seen the films until this release, and they’re a delight — and a refreshing alternative to the current trend of self-aware superhero fare. Plus, they’re stacked with some top-tier talent of their time, including Gene Hackman, Ned Beatty, Marlon Brando, and Margot Kidder.
Police Story 3: Supercop (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – April 25
When a few friends recently visited, I grabbed this disc off the shelf and promised to show them one of the most dangerous stunts they’d ever see on film. Police Story 3 is, of course, a great movie. So rather than skip ahead, we decided to watch the whole thing.
Every few minutes, they’d ask if this was the wildly dangerous stunt I’d mentioned. Michelle Yeoh jumping a motorbike onto a moving train? Nope. Jackie Chan dangling from a rope ladder attached to a helicopter? Nah, not that one.
For me, the most stomach-wrinkling stunt comes near the end, and involves Yeoh getting tossed from the roof of a truck and onto the windshield of a speeding convertible. Behind the scenes, Yeoh actually performed the stunt multiple times, nearly falling off the car and under its wheels on two takes.
Now, let me be clear: I am thrilled filmmaking has moved away from actors feeling they should risk their lives for one incredible shot. Yeoh’s most recent hit — Everything Everywhere All at Once — shows a good action movie can be made in humane fashion. But I also carry a conflicting respect for this astonishing stunt work.
Watching with newcomer friends, I realized this film doesn’t have one of the most jaw-dropping stunts in history. It has many. Yeoh and Chan bring out the best in one another as two of the last great artists in a type of filmmaking we will likely never see again. Fortunately, we can look back on it now through this breathtaking 4k restoration, knowing full well both would survive and have long, successful, and safer careers.
Image: Amazon Studios
Small Axe (Blu-ray) – April 25
at Bull Moose
One of the greatest directors of our generation released five films within a single calendar month. Practically nobody saw them. You can blame the pandemic (the films premiered in the fall of 2020) or the distribution and marketing of streaming cinema (they launched on Prime Video), but blame doesn’t solve the problem.
This collection, however, makes an effort. Small Axe collects the latest films from Steve McQueen, which range from one to two hours and blur the line between prestige TV, anthology series, and art house cinema. The result echoes McQueen’s history with visual art, nodding at every page of his portfolio, from his Turner Prize-winning art to the Academy Award-winning 12 Years a Slave to the “should have won every award” heist thriller Widows.
McQueen’s films span a wide range of subjects, but what connects them is a historian-like approach to filmmaking, emphasizing veracity and the elevation of underheard voices. Small Axe is, perhaps, the culmination of this focus. All five films capture the lives of West Indian immigrants in London from the ’60s to the ’80s. They range from small domestic dramas and romances to interrogations of policing and imprisonment.
The Criterion Collection is the best way to watch these films, not just because the image is as good as any other Criterion transfer, but because the set comes with some additions that feel as if they always belonged with the anthology: a filmed conversation between McQueen and professor Paul Gilroy, and the entire three-part documentary Uprising, released by McQueen and James Rogan the year after Small Axe, documenting the 1981 New Cross house fire.
McQueen’s work is audacious, smart, and important — which can sound difficult and intimidating. But here’s the good news: Small Axe is entertaining. Extremely entertaining. You don’t have to watch the films in any order, so if you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with Lovers Rock.
Violent Streets: The Umberto Lenzi/Tomas Milian Collection (Blu-ray) – March 28
Violent Streets is the most challenging pick on our list, but depending on your stomach for gore, it’s also one of the most rewarding. Italian director Umberto Leniz and Spaghetti Western star Tomas Milian partnered throughout the 1970s to create five harrowing crime films. The subgenre, dubbed poliziotteschi, now serves as a time capsule from Italy’s turbulent decade. But for the average English-speaking movie fan, where do you even start with a genre you’ve never even heard of, from a sociopolitical moment that wasn’t taught in your history class?
History — from the mouths of those involved — is the strength of Severin’s Blu-ray collections. Not only does its team provide the best possible way to see each film (beautifully restored, uncensored cuts), they also assemble the bonus feature equivalent of a college seminar. The first film alone comes with audio commentaries featuring the screenwriter and critics, interviews with Lenzi and Milan, and additional contextual featurettes.
I first dove into Almost Human, the most famous film of the bunch, trying its English language track. It played like a wacky, but uncomfortably violent, grindhouse bobble. Then I switched to the original audio and progressed all the way through some of the featurettes. And I felt like I’d learned about an entire other world and moment — while enjoying a wonderfully sweaty crime lord performance that would make Al Pacino blush.
If you enjoy film as a means of understanding the world, warts and all, then you have your next box set.
The House That Screamed (Blu-ray) – March 7
at Forbidden Planet
The House That Screamed is pitched as Suspiria meets Psycho. The trouble with a pitch like this is the film in question can’t possibly live up to the comparison. Technically, that’s true here. No, The House That Screamed isn’t as good as two of the best horror movies ever made. But damn, it gets close.
For film dorks like myself, its status as “Spain’s first major horror production” and its early place on the timeline of giallo, slasher, and gothic cinematic horror make it a must-watch. For everyone else, there’s the tawdry (but rarely leering) story of a murderer skulking the woods of an all-women boarding school.
The set includes both the uncut version, titled The Finishing School (La Residencia), and the 11-minute shorter U.S. version. Go with the longer cut, which has room to let the characters breathe and the thrills boil. Also included: a bunch of archival interviews and a new commentary by critic Anna Bogutskaya.
Image: Best Buy
John Wick 1-3 Stash Book Collection (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – Feb. 28
at Best Buy
One of the great modern action franchises just got a celebrated fourth entry, and Lionsgate released this fantastic “stash book” box set that is a replica of Wick’s own stash box from Chapter 3 – Parabellum. Designed like a Russian tome, with religious iconography on the cover, the three movie cases are hidden under about a dozen pages of a book of Russian folk tales. The set includes all three movies, behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and audio commentary from Keanu Reeves and director Chad Stahelski. The only drawback is it doesn’t include Chapter 4! —Pete Volk
Image: United Artists
Road House (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – Jan. 31
at Vinegar Syndrome
Patrick Swayze rips out a dude’s throat and then roundhouse kicks him into a lake. That’s it. That’s the pitch.
Vinegar Syndrome’s colossal celebration of this modern masterpiece includes a commentary track with the director, another with Kevin Smith and Scott Mosier, many brand new interviews with on- and off-screen talent, an hourlong documentary, multiple featurettes, a 40-page book, and of course the brand-new 4K scan of the original 35mm camera negative.
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