As 4K dawns, where's the rest of my favourites?
Following on from my Top 15 List of Films You Might Not Have Seen, thanks to some suggestions from our regular readers I was inspired to compile a list of films that have yet to hit Blu-ray, in any country, on any region.As far as I am aware, despite rumours regarding a couple of them, the following titles have not yet been released. The general theme for the article opened the gates to a whole horde of titles, and streamlining them down to a Top 15 was almost impossible (which is why I’ve effectively made a Top 30 list by including a bunch of honourable mentions) but, even beyond those 30 there are some that I just could not squeeze in.
Films like David Fincher’s Panic Room, a slew of Hackman features (Mississippi Burning, Narrow Margin, The Package and Bat 21), two Kurt Russell thrillers (Breakdown and Dark Blue), a couple of Richard Gere films (No Mercy and Breathless), the Alec Baldwin/Kim Basinger/Michael Madsen/James Woods remake of The Getaway (which even had an HD-DVD release!), a horde of comedy classics (all the Marx Bros. and Laurel & Hardy outings would be a good start) and even a few Seagal and Van Damme films (On Deadly Ground, Double Team), didn’t make the cut, much as I eagerly anticipate them all arriving on the format.
With 4K rumours, specs, and debates raging, what films would you still like to own on Blu-ray, and are any of them in the following list?
A childhood favourite, this Joe “Gremlins” Dante-directed sci-fi action-comedy was actually executive producer by none other than Spielberg himself. It’s a great little romp, inspired by The Fantastic Voyage, and boasting a star turn from an eager young Dennis Quaid – who is channelling Cruise’s Maverick – who has to navigate the inner organs of a neurotic Martin Short, win back the heart of a sweet-as-hell Meg Ryan, and avoid the deadly intentions of go-to 80s villain Vernon Wells (Mad Max 2, Commando). The effects may be dated, but the concept is still solid, and well-executed, and there’s no excuse for this not having been released already.
Honourable mention: One of Quaid’s best performances in the underrated and brutal war drama, Saviour, also not out yet, takes a rare look behind the atrocities in Bosnia.
14. Dead Zone
One of the few Cronenberg films not to have a Blu-ray release, this Christopher Walken-starring psychological sci-fi horror thriller is based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, and features solid support from the likes of Tom Skerritt, Herbert Lom (again, playing a psychiatrist – it’s no wonder he went on to become one!) and Martin Sheen. More thoughtful and less effects - and gore - driven than most of Cronenberg’s fare, the film is far superior to the TV series that later followed, and remains another hidden gem.
Honourable mention: Even more obscure, the dark and oppressive Dust Devil is a fantastic little horror featuring a demented Robert Burke, essentially playing the devil, unleashing chaos on an unsuspecting group of individuals in Namibia. Afforded a Special Edition DVD release which even sported the fabled longer workprint, this one’s begging for a decent Blu-ray release
13. City of Industry
John Irvin’s neo-noir crime drama went completely under the radar on release, which is a great shame as, not only does it feature solid supporting performances by the likes of Stephen Dorff, Timothy Hutton, Famke Janssen, Lucy Liu and Elliot Gould, but it is also driven by an on-form Harvey Keitel, himself one of the world’s most underrated actors. Although quite standard fare in terms of narrative, it is surprisingly stylish, and Keitel brings to bear the kind of stoic, revenge-driven anti-hero that will remind you of Point Blank, Payback and all the best revenge thrillers.
Honourable mention: The little-known Larry Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum crime thriller, Deep Cover.
"Why don't you go to the police?"
"I'm my own police."
12. Year of the Dragon
The Deer Hunter’s Michael Cimino has only made 7 feature films, and, following his notorious exploits with Heaven’s Gate, most of them haven’t been treated very well. Almost all of them are worth checking out, but this Oliver Stone-scripted crime thriller is probably the most expansive of the lot, and features one of Mickey Rourke’s best classic-era performances. Whilst the Vietnam rhetoric rings as cliché now, and whilst the female lead was a terrible choice, there are still some epic classic-Cimino sequences, and an on-fire Rourke to drive the thriller forward.
Honourable mention: Almost impossible to get on DVD, let alone Blu-ray, the little-known drama Barfly also remains one of Rourke’s best early-years features, a powerful semi-autobiographical look at the alcoholic poet Charles Bukowski.
11. Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid
Another director with only a few titles to his name, the legendary Sam Peckinpah still has a couple of titles to hit High Definition, with this refreshingly lyrical anti-Western starring James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson topping the bill. Poorly received, it was far from his most violent outing – which was perhaps what the Studios were expecting from a story about Billy the Kid – but instead offering a reflective ode to the West, as was Peckinpah’s drive.
Honourable mention: The beautiful revisionist Western, The Hired Hand, starring Peter Fonda and Warren Oates, was given fairly good treatment on DVD, but has yet to receive the same consideration on Blu-ray, which is a shame as the cinematography alone would look spectacular in High Definition
10. Midnight Run
Boasting a slew of dismal straight-to-TV sequels in the 90s, as well as an unofficial 2003 remake, The Rundown, starring The Rock and Seann William Scott, there’s something rather charming about the Robert De Niro / Charles Grodin action-comedy Midnight Run, which was directed by Beverly Hills Cop helmer Martin Brest, who brought the same superb blend of drama, thrills, action, suspense, comedy and reluctant buddy-buddy antics that his Murphy vehicle sported just a few years earlier.
Honourable mention: One of the oddest missing-in-action Blu-ray titles is the Michael Bay buddy-buddy action-comedy sequel, Bad Boys II, which reunited Will Smith (back when he didn’t take himself too seriously) and Martin Lawrence and boasted a far bigger budget and some spectacular sequences that would surely make this a demo-quality disc.
One of Oliver Stone’s smallest projects was this offbeat little drama which sees Sean Penn get muddled up in a small town full of colourful individuals, brought to life by the likes of Nick Nolte, Jennifer Lopez, a young Joaquin Phoenix, Claire Danes, Billy Bob Thornton, Powers Boothe and Jon Voight. Perhaps it benefitted somewhat from being based on a novel, rather than one of Stone’s drug- or Vietnam-fuelled screenplays, this more indie project made superb use of all Stone’s trademark camera trickery which, for once, actually benefitted the strange narrative.
Honourable mention: Absolutely nothing in common with Stone’s U-Turn, but I have to mention Rutger Hauer’s demented turn in the psychological horror, The Hitcher, which also has never made Blu-ray.
8. The Day of the Jackal
Almost documentary-style, this classic thriller sees Edward Fox’s master assassin face off against Michael Lonsdale’s (Moonraker, Ronin) dogged detective, as a plot to kill the French President unfolds in a highly realistic fashion. What’s curious about this title is that the lacklustre remake (The Jackal, which boasted Richard Gere, complete with a dodgy Irish accent, Sidney Poitier and a relatively rare villainous turn from Bruce Willis) has already been released on Blu-ray!
Honourable mention: The tense spy thriller No Way Out, featuring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman (do none of his films get released?!).
"I have so much strength inside of me. You have no idea. I have a love in my life. So you tell me 'that's that', Mattress-man, before I beat the Hell from you."7. Sleuth
Michael Caine’s early career boasts some fantastic, and thoroughly underrated, little gems, including this masterful face/off between him and Thespian heavyweight Lawrence Olivier. Written for the stage, this limited-cast feature boasts an electric battle of wits between these two, with Caine managing to actually convince in his toe-to-toe battle with the arrogant master; indeed, you wonder how close to their real selves these two are in this movie. Another crazy film whose terrible remake has been out for years (another unfortunate choice for Caine to revisit, here switching roles and facing off against a poorly-chosen Jude Law).
Honourable mention: Another Caine classic, The Ipcress File, was actually the first in a series of movies he did featuring the anti-James Bond character, Harry Palmer, the first two sequels of which are actually very good. Although the third film, Billion Dollar Brain, has recently been announced for the format, the superior Funeral in Berlin has curiously been left out (each film was produced by a different Studio, hence the disparity). With any luck this mistake will eventually be rectified
Warren Beatty has starred in almost as few films in his career as Cimino or Peckinpah directed, but has made some real gems, almost all of which have gone underacknowledged. Whilst I enjoyed Bulworth, and there was some value in Love Affair, his last great movie was almost a quarter of a Century ago (although he finally shot his late-life Howard Hughes drama this year), this all-star biography of short-tempered Vegas-founder Ben Siegel, which featured support from his future-wife Annette Bening, Ben Kingsley, Harvey Keitel and Elliott Gould. Arguably one of his greatest roles, the Director’s Cut was finally released as a late DVD entry only for neither version to ever appear on Blu-ray.
Honourable mention: There are a whole host of Beatty classics yet to appear, like his early gems Lilith and Mickey One, but I'd vote for his classic 70s political paranoia thriller, The Parallax View, directed by genre-veteran Alan J. Pakula (All the President's Men).
5. Punch Drunk Love
What? Adam Sandler’s on the list? WTF?? Sorry, but this is a tremendous film, from the same guy who brought us the masterpiece that is There Will Be Blood, director Paul Thomas Anderson. Featuring excellent support from the likes of Emily Watson and the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman, it’s Sandler who truly surprises, embracing the tragic central character and finally channelling his angry man-child persona in a way that could be described as actual acting. You have to see it to believe it.
Honourable mention: This is not Sandler’s only bit of decent acting, he also did well in Reign On Me (which is out on Blu-ray already) and the bittersweet relationship drama, Spanglish, which has yet to hit the format.
4. Bad Day At Black Rock
If you’re fed up with relatively modern fare dominating the list, then here’s a couple of older classics. The excellent John Sturges thriller, Bad Day at Black Rock, is part-Western, part-film noir, and all-classic, with Spencer Tracy’s one-armed stranger arriving in a corrupt town to find some justice with the likes of villain Robert Ryan and henchman Ernest Borgnine.
Honourable mention: The classic John Huston noir, Key Largo, is also yet to be released in Blu-ray, despite many other Humphrey Bogart features hitting the format. A shame because this is a great little thriller, which also features genre legends Lauren Bacall and Edward G. Robinson.
For a guy who seemed to embrace High Definition, Steven Soderbergh hasn’t had much luck with his back catalogue getting released, with his 2002 sci-fi gem Solaris (a remake of Russian original by Tarkovsky) boasting an exceptional lead performance from George Clooney, and a wonderful balance of contemplative sci-fi concepts, visually opulent effects-work, a haunting score from Cliff Martinez (Drive) and tense, claustrophobic set-pieces. Considering that Soderbergh’s other Clooney features have been popular titles which have all hit Blu-ray, it’s strange that, even this less-financially-successful title (the Studios had a nightmare trying to market it) should have been released by now. And, wow, would it make a stunning demo disc.
Honourable mention: Soderbergh’s fantastic revenge thriller, The Limey, which sees veteran heavyweight Terrence Stamp follow the kind of path laid down by Lee Marvin in Point Blank as a career-con looking into his daughter’s murder. Again, this would look and sound superb in HD
Considering how popular he still is in Japan – even if he might have dropped off the Western map – it’s surprising that none of legendary writer/actor/director/editor ‘Beat’ Takeshi Kitano’s early classics have been released on Blu-ray. You may have seen the likes of Zatoichi, Brother and his latest gems Outrage and the vastly superior Outrage Beyond hit the format, but where’s Violent Cop, Boiling Point and Hana-Bi?? My personal favourite is his poetic Sonatine, an offbeat gangster drama which balanced all of Kitano’s trademark quirks, unexpected wit, and shock violence perfectly. With a tremendous score and beautiful coastal visuals, this is begging for HD treatment.
Honourable mention: Well, all of Kitano’s other above-mentioned unreleased early classics, but perhaps most prominently Hana-Bi, a stunning little anti-gangster film.
1. The Abyss
Although we may be only a few days away from hearing an announcement regarding the two missing-in-action titles in James Cameron’s early oeuvre, they still make the top spot, with The Abyss remaining arguably the greatest underwater epic ever crafted, marrying the claustrophobic lack of oxygen with tense pressurisation; showcasing hold-your-breath deep-sea diving with car-crash-style mini-sub chase sequences, all the while set against a backdrop of a Cold War-meets-alien entity plot. Ed Harris makes for a gutsy leader, but gets ample support from a boisterous Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and a frighteningly deranged Michael Biehn, as well as a colourful collection of other crew members, who all get room to breathe in Cameron’s epic sci-fi/action/adventure/drama/thriller. Given the Special Edition treatment on DVD, we’re all eagerly anticipating imminent release of its long-awaited HD debut.
Honourable mention: Cameron’s other unreleased gem, one of Schwarzenegger’s last great blockbusters, True Lies, which showed a lighter side to Arnie’s output, but still sported some classic and unforgettable Cameron-scale action sequences.
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