2023 Blu-ray Holiday Gift Guide

In my experience, we home entertainment enthusiasts and physical media collectors enjoy sharing, bringing the gift of movies and music to like-minded loved ones and maybe even (if we’ve been nicer than naughty) building out our own personal libraries. To help y’all get a handle on some of the best offerings this year, we’ve taken the liberty of grouping our recommendations into a few tempting categories.

For the Martial Arts Maven

Jackie Chan: Emergence of a Superstar Blu-ray (The Criterion Collection)
The Jackie Chan Collection Volume 1 (1976-1982) Blu-ray (Shout Select)

There’s never been a movie star with the skills, smarts and dedication of Jackie Chan, and cinema might never see his like again. Boutique label Criterion agrees, surveying six projects that chart the increasing creative control that presage his rise to the top: Spiritual Kung Fu (1978), The Fearless Hyena (1979), Fearless Hyena II (1983), The Young Master (1980), My Lucky Stars (1985) and Half a Loaf of Kung Fu (1978) in high-def restorations with stereo/5.1 Cantonese soundtracks and newly translated English subtitles.

Extras include a pair of commentaries, interviews and deleted footage. Shout!’s first set covers much that same critical phase of Jackie’s trajectory, showcasing him in a range of roles across seven movies: The Killer Meteors, Shaolin Wooden Men, To Kill With Intrigue, Snake and Crane Arts of Shaolin, Dragon Fist, Battle Creek Brawl and Dragon Lord, this last one in two different cuts. Terrific HD masters and an array of audio options abound, with commentaries for all and lots of legacy interviews, plus the exclusive new documentary, The Golden Boy: Harvesting A Major New Martial Arts Maverick.

Shaw Brothers Classics Vols. One and Three Blu-ray (Shout! Studios)

The Shaw Brothers’ cornucopia of high-production-value films never seems to stop giving, their catalog reborn in spiffy HD masters. The first set assembles eleven gems spanning 1967-1969, among them The Golden Swallow, The Golden Sword, The Thundering Sword, The Sword of Swords, Killer Darts and the equally dangerous-sounding The Flying Dagger. Jumping ahead, there’s an even dozen from 1976-1979: Web of Death, Death Duel, Deadly Breaking Sword, Shaolin Avengers, Shaolin Abbott, Shaolin Rescuers and still more. All are in Mandarin mono with new subtitle translations, some with English dubs, while almost every title here brings a new audio commentary (some with two) in addition to many new on-camera interviews and featurettes. (Volume 4 due by year’s end.)

The Tiger Cage Collection Blu-ray (Shout! Studios)

The entire Tiger Cage trilogy (1988-1991) is together on Blu-ray for the first time in North America, in 2K restorations. All are directed by the legendary fight choreographer and Kill Bill/Matrix veteran, Yuen Woo-Ping, so hang on for lots of high-caliber action as a deep bullpen of above-and-beyond cops (Donnie Yen in I and II!) takes on a string of particularly nasty baddies. Each includes a new audio commentary, a smattering of new interviews across the set, and the first two movies even arrive in two different cuts.

Ho-Ho-Horror

Paramount Scares Vol. 1 Limited Edition 4K Box Set (Paramount)

So many timeless frights from a single studio: Mia Farrow stars in Roman Polanski’s disturbing Rosemary’s Baby (1968), Stephen King and Mary Lambert take us to the Pet Sematary (1989), Tim Burton and Johnny Depp serve up Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) before we sink our teeth into the underrated gator thriller Crawl (2019) and the newest of the bunch, Smile (2022). All enjoy native 4K masters with Dolby Vision, with varying audio formats and degrees of bonus content, each with an exclusive new stylized slipcover. Also tucked inside this handsome presentation box are a custom issue of Fangoria, a funky logo pin, fun stickers and digital copy codes.

The Prophecy I-III 4K (Vinegar Syndrome)

Often overlooked despite a top-notch cast across the trilogy—Christopher Walken, Eric Stoltz, Viggo Mortensen, Amanda Plummer, Jennifer Beals, Brittany Murphy—The Prophecy is nonetheless a gripping saga of a stubborn evil angel determined to tip the battle for humanity’s fate in his favor. Gregory Widen’s The Prophecy (1995), Greg Spence’s The Prophecy II (1998) and Patrick Lussier’s The Prophecy 3: The Ascent (2000) are lovingly restored by Vinegar Syndrome for their 4K/HDR debut, crammed with new bonus content featuring actors and crew, and all housed inside an elaborate custom box.

Bride of Chucky 4K
Seed of Chucky 4K
Curse of Chucky 4K
Cult of Chucky 4K (Shout! Studios)

These final four o.g. Child’s Play sequels officially became “Chucky” films, in deference to their now iconic supernatural antagonist, rounding out the first three films in the series released by Shout! in 2022. Spanning almost 20 years, they plot some pretty wild territory as homicidal possessed toy Chuck finds love (Tiffany’s no Barbie but she’s a real doll), has a critter and more. All feature strong 4K/Dolby Vision masters and lossless 5.1 soundtracks; Seed, Curse and Cult all with alternate cuts provided, along with HD Blu-rays and ample new and old extras.

Anime-niacs*

*a completely original term I just came up with

Masaaki Yuasa: Five Films Blu-ray (Shout! Studios/GKIDS)

Masaaki Yuasa’s dynamic visual style, distinctive sense of humor, and his ability to defy genre have endeared him to audiences worldwide. All five of his feature films are here, from Mind Game (2004) to Inu-Oh (2021), plus extensive bonus features, gorgeous new art by Yuasa himself throughout (and on a poster) plus a companion book. A great gift not only for current fans but for anyone who wants a look at the future of the medium.

Gatchaman Complete Collection Blu-ray (Sentai)

The adventures of the International Science Organization and their elite, snazzily dressed Science Ninja Team, Gatchaman was reworked as Battle of the Planets for the U.S. TV, earning a loyal fan base. Sentai proffers this budget-friendly reissue of the collection with sleeve/disc artwork by comic book luminary Alex Ross, all 105 episodes here in lossless stereo English and Japanese with subtitles. Bonus content includes three OVAs (direct-to-video Original Video Animations) and 1978’s Gatchaman: The Movie plus 19 audio commentaries, creator interviews, auditions and more.

Evangelion:3.0+1.11 Thrice Upon a Time 4K/Blu-ray (Shout! Studios/GKIDS)

Shout! understands the charm of giant robot action combined with deeply layered characters, tendering the first-ever 4K Evangelion release: Thrice is a continuation of the Neon Genesis saga, the fourth and final “Rebuild of Evangelion” film and a blockbuster 2021 theatrical hit in Japan This handsome box also includes the movie on HD Blu-ray in lossless Japanese and English 5.1, a book, art cards and a poster, plus a disc of new extras.

Spirited Away: Live on Stage Blu-ray (Shout! Studios/GKIDS)

A compelling live-action adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s Oscar-winning 2001 masterwork, on stage in front of an audience? Sure enough, with sets, costumes, puppets and memorable music bringing it all to life in spectacular fashion; two different performances presented in their entirety, each with alternate casts.

Forged

Resident Evil Limited Edition 6-Movie 4K Ultra HD Steelbook Collection (Sony)

Critics be damned, these videogame-inspired zombie apocalypse thrillers deserve another look, from 2002’s original Resident Evil to 2016’s The Final Chapter (with newly added bonus content!), now housed in an enticing steel box with the individual metal cases for each that are so hot with collectors, and for good reason: They’re not only durable but they make the custom artwork really pop. Just as important to videophiles: Sony has now upgraded the HDR to Dolby Vision.

The Expendables Franchise 4K Collection (Lionsgate)

Franchise king Sly Stallone’s commitment to The Expendables is beyond question, always appearing, usually writing, once directing these potboilers that teamed big-name action heroes old and young to remind modern audiences how it’s done. This Walmart-exclusive steelbook is the only complete-saga set we were aware of at press time, housing all four Expendableses in a full metal jacket with some snazzy artwork courtesy of Phantom City Creative, all with explosive Dolby Atmos audio.

Small Screen, Big Boxes

Babylon 5 The Complete Series Blu-ray (Warner)
Farscape The Complete Series Blu-ray (Shout! Studios)

Creator J. Michael Straczynski’s slick mid-‘90s Babylon 5 brings together disparate alien races in good times and bad. The space station of the title is a U.N. of sorts, headquarters for an epic five-year arc (111 episodes) of high-stakes intergalactic politics. This “novel for television” is a commitment but definitely worth it for fans of serialized sci-fi. Debuting a few years later, Rockne S. O'Bannon’s Farscape took a more free-spirited approach, following fish-out-of-water human astronaut Crichton as he’s delivered to a strange, distant galaxy. There’s an abundance of weird creatures, including plenty of Jim Henson Company animatronics (don’t call them Muppets!), making and breaking alliances in their bid to stay one step ahead of the Peacekeepers. Cancelled after four seasons (88 episodes), the series includes here the cliffhanger-resolving Peacekeeper Wars mini-series, along with 30 commentary tracks, a new retrospective and lots more.

ALF The Complete Series Deluxe Edition DVD (Shout! Studios)

For sci-fi with big dash of comedy, the lovable “alien life form” better known as ALF lands with all 99 episodes (including the edited "Try To Remember"), restored to full broadcast length, plus the cleverly cast 1996 TV movie finale, Project: ALF. Also here are The Animated Series prequel and ALF Tales, putting the furry visitor from Melmac into popular children's stories. A new retrospective gives creators Paul Fusco and Tom Patchett a chance to reflect, and select episode commentaries are delivered by ALF and Patchett.

Columbo The 70s Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)

Following two pilot movies, Lt. Columbo became a more-or-less-monthly staple as part of NBC’s rotating Mystery Movie lineup, starting with the Steven Spielberg-directed episode, “Murder by the Book.” The rumpled genius with an endless list of pointed questions has graduated to television icon status. All seven “seasons” from that 1971 to 1978 run have been remastered at 4K by Universal and are presented by KLSC in excellent 1080p quality, with crisp digital audio and even an isolated music/effects track for all episodes plus a handy printed series guide.

The Flash The Complete Series Blu-ray (Warner)

The longest-running (see what I did there?) show in DC’s interconnected “Arrowverse,” The Flash (starring Grant Gustin, not Ezra Miller) crossed the finish line this year, leaving behind a gallery of defeated super-powered rogues and heaps of personal drama. Surprisingly ambitious for weekly broadcast TV in its scope and its visual effects, Flash was good comic book television, fun and exciting, and all 34 HD/5.1 discs from the nine single-season releases are neatly repacked here, so all of the extras are intact.

Mondo Bizarro

The Toxic Avenger 4K Collection (Troma Films/MVD)

Toxie is the most famous star from Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz's Troma Entertainment, embodying in his mutated persona the winking terror and raunchy humor that defined the independent studio. Despite their low-budget origins, they’ve spared no expense with new 4K scans of the four-part opus, revealing often-gnarly detail and texture plus super-charged colors. The eight-disc Tox Box also includes lots of commentaries, featurettes and new intros for all.

Inside the Mind of Coffin Joe Limited Edition Blu-ray (Arrow)

Brazil’s first-ever horror movie, 1964’s At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul, introduced the world to Zé do Caixão, a.k.a. Coffin Joe, a twisted undertaker whose unnerving exploits would become legendary across more than four decades of films, helping to usher in the “extreme horror” sub-genre. The complete canon is here; most written, directed by and starring José Mojica Marins; tales of sadism veering into drugs, perversion and even a bit of social commentary. All are newly restored at 4K, presented at solid 1080p with lossless audio, almost all with commentaries and lots more across the six discs, with Arrow’s typically exquisite packaging.

Timeless Tunes

1962-1966 & 1967-1970 (Universal Music Enterprises)

First released 50 years ago, the “Red” and “Blue” compilations are a great jumping-on point for the Beatle-curious, chronicling the lads’ superlative--and prolific--output across the better part of a decade. These editions have grown to 38 and 37 tracks respectively while sticking to their basic chronology, all with new/recent stereo mixes. At the end of the latter batch is the just-dropped cut, “Now and Then,” the last song all four worked on together. There are plenty of formats and configurations to choose from, CD sets and limited edition colored vinyl, with Atmos renditions available on digital/streaming.

The Sound of Music Super Deluxe Edition (Craft Recordings)

What better way to celebrate a classic than by making that music sound better than ever? Expanded, remixed and remastered from the vaulted multi-track tapes, this 4-CD/1-BD über-luxe set brings together every note from the film for the first time, with underscore, extensions, and 40+ previously unreleased tracks. The Blu-ray Audio platter packs the complete film score in 96kHz/24-bit hi-res as well as a new Dolby Atmos mix of the original soundtrack album release, still one of the best-selling of all time. The shiny discs arrive in a copiously illustrated, masterfully written hardbound book destined for the coffee table, where you’ll likely be tempted to serve tea with jam and bread.

COMMENTS
niyayaj128's picture

Sounds like a fantastic guide for my friends in cement patio company! I'm excited to explore the recommended Blu-rays for this holiday season.

jacob96's picture

Are these Complete Blu-Ray Series Are On Sale Right Now? Insulation Foam

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