Flashback 1996: Twister Hits DVD

Twenty years ago this month Twister took home entertainment by storm when it became the first Hollywood feature film to be released on DVD. The disc went on to become top-selling DVD in 1997.

See IMDb’s Twister Trivia page for a compendium of fun facts. Did you know, for example, that the sound of the tornado is actually a slowed down recording of a camel’s moan?

Twister also has the distinction of being one of the last movies to be released on HD DVD, the ill-fated “next generation DVD” format that lost out to Blu-ray in 2008. From our 2012 article, “Flops: 14 Formats and Technologies that Couldn’t Quite Hang On”:

HD DVD (2006)
It’s the story of a classic, high-stakes format war between competing systems—in this case, two high-definition optical disc formats vying to succeed DVD as home entertainment’s Next Big Thing. Unlike the legendary VCR wars of the ’70s that started the home video revolution, this was a battle to claim what would likely be the last physical-media format. And unlike the forgotten SD (Super Density disc) versus MMCD (Multimedia CD) skirmishes of the mid ’90s, which preceded the launch of DVD, there was no 11th-hour truce clearing the way for an orderly market introduction. No, this was a messy, full-on, public war that pitted the Toshiba-led HD DVD format against the Sony-backed Blu-ray format.

High-definition disc players in both formats shipped to stores in 2006, following a year of tit-for-tat posturing, stalled unification talks, and pleas from all corners of the industry to avoid a format war. In an interview with Billboard magazine, one retail executive termed the failure to agree on a single format “criminal,” saying he and his sales staff wouldn’t know which format to recommend to customers. HD DVD hit stores a couple of months before Blu-ray, giving it an early advantage, but the war escalated quickly as more players and discs were introduced in both formats.

The one-upsmanship continued: HD DVD players were less expensive (and easier and cheaper to manufacturer), but Blu-ray was more forward looking and offered greater disc capacity. A steady stream of format news would tip the balance one way or the other: Sony said it would incorporate Blu-ray into its PlayStation 3; Microsoft countered with an HD DVD drive for its Xbox 360. Studio alliances shifted: Warner Bros., HD DVD’s biggest supporter, started producing Blu-ray titles alongside HD DVD, while Paramount dropped Blu-ray to support HD DVD amid whispers of big bucks and back-room deal making.

Things could have gone either way through 2006 and well into 2007—until Blockbuster announced an exclusive Blu-ray deal and an industry survey revealed that Blu-ray discs were outselling HD DVDs two to one. The crushing blow came in January 2008 when Warner Bros. announced it would stop releasing HD DVD titles to focus on Blu-ray. Less than two years after bringing the first HD DVD player to the market, a shell-shocked Toshiba conceded defeat, ending consumer confusion and paralysis over which format to buy, not to mention the retail problem of dual inventories. The story of HD DVD versus Blu-ray has become fodder for a case study on how not to launch a format.

Photoacoustic's picture

This was the first Hollywood feature DVD release *in the North American market*. The first major DVD releases anywhere were in Japan, and included Blade Runner and the Fugitive in '96. There were several other titles that I can't recall. I have fond memories of the absolutely atrocious quality of the original Blade Runner transfer from then.

thehun's picture

The US had a "selected market" roll out, and Warner released a dozen or so titles at once.Yes Blade Runner and the Fugitive were among them, so is Twister, Interview With a Vampire, Lethal Weapon 2 and the host of others.I didn't buy Twister till when it was released with dual soundtrack option DD/DTS just for sheer curiosity years later.