Now that we're a couple years into the 4K and HDR era, the format has really started to come into its own as movie studios have firmly committed to taking full advantage of everything that Ultra High Definition and High Dynamic Range colors have to offer -- and a little assist from Apple, Netflix, Amazon and Vudu for making 4K content readily available and affordable. So if you're taking the plunge into this beautiful new world of colors you've never seen on a TV before, these movies are absolute must-haves. NOTE: I'm not saying all these movies are good -- your tastes are probably different from mine -- but I am saying they look spectacular in 4K. ALSO NOTE: These are not 4K screenshots.
"Alien: Covenant" (HDR10 on disc and digital) -- Fox doesn't make use of Dolby Vision at all on any of its releases -- opting instead for the less dynamic HDR10 format exclusively -- so its 4K releases tend to stand out less than those of other studios. Nonetheless, "Alien: Covenant" is a hell of a looker in 4K. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything less from Ridley Scott, one of the greatest visual directors of all time.
"Avengers: Infinity War" (HDR10 on disc, Dolby Vision and HDR10 on digital) -- I had high hopes for this one, and it delivered one of the best looking discs in my collection even without the more dynamic Dolby Vision on the hard copy. It's leagues better than the 1080p version.
"The Avengers" (HDR10 on disc, Dolby Vision and HDR10 on digital) -- I don't usually expect much from 4K re-releases of titles from before the 4K era, but Disney's update of the original "Avengers" film looks shockingly great. As somebody who's always been pretty meh about the old blu-ray version, I was thrilled by Disney's work here.
"Black Panther" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- The first time I watched this disc it was in the HDR10 format and I wasn't overly impressed. But then I watched it with Dolby Vision and it was like night and day. This disc really pops.
"Blade Runner 2049" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- The first film shot by Roger Deakins in the 4K era is exactly as incredible as you'd hope. I wasn't a huge fan of Denis Villeneuve's sequel, but the HDR version of the film is so incredible to look at it made me like it more.
"The Fate of the Furious" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- I adore the warmth of the Dolby Vision version of the film, and in particular the way the reds pop spectacularly. Letty's '66 Corvette that she drives in the New York chase might be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen when captured this way.
"Game of Thrones" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc) -- I wasn't expecting much from HBO's 4K release of Season 1, but I was blown away with this overhaul. They've taken what had been the least visually interesting season of "Game of Thrones" and, through the power of Dolby Vision HDR, turned it into an absolutely striking visual experience. After seeing what HBO did here, I can't wait to revisit the rest of the series in 4K. Hopefully they won't wait too long to start rolling out the other seasons.
"The Hitman's Bodyguard" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- As much as I enjoy great implementation of HDR, it's rare for me to watch a movie in the format and think that this is what the director really wanted it to look like and he was hamstrung by the normal limitations of color in movies. But with "Hitman's Bodyguard," I can't help but come to that conclusion. It's just so gorgeous and the difference from the SDR version is so pronounced.
"Interstellar" (HDR10 on disc, Dolby Vision and HDR on digital) -- The Dolby Vision version of "Interstellar" is a bit controversial because it's an example of the use of HDR to fundamentally alter what a movie looks like. But I love it. This DV transfer effectively gives Christopher Nolan's film an old school Technicolor look, and I think it works perfectly.
"John Wick Chapter 2" (HDR10 on disc, Dolby Vision and HDR on digital) -- With 4K and HDR still being young formats, the first year or so of releases tended to be relatively underwhelming. But the second "John Wick" film, which still feels like a reference quality release to me a year later, was where the potential of 4K HDR really clicked for me. This is the way to watch this movie.
"Justice League" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- I dislike almost everything about this movie, including its visual style, so when I say that "Justice League" includes an absolutely stellar implementation of HDR you know I'm not messing around. It's tough to image how Warner Home Video could have possibly made it look any better than this.
"Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- It was an extremely pleasant surprise when the "Mamma Mia" sequel turned out to be one of the best movies of the summer, and it was almost as surprising that this one of the most stellar 4K releases of the year as well.
"The Matrix" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- This 4K release is billed as a return to what the film looked like before it was run through thick green and blue color filters to match the palettes of the sequels when it was first released on Blu-ray. While the new Dolby Vision transfer, overseen by director of photography Bill Pope, certainly does look more like it originally did, there are still a few new bells and whistles -- the whole thing certainly is a bit brighter than it ever was before. None of that is a complaint, though, as this is easily the best "The Matrix" has ever looked on home video and is an absolutely must-upgrade.
"Pacific Rim: Uprising" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- What was already an incredibly colorful movie, unsurprisingly, really pops in Dolby Vision. It feels like the film was made for this format. Just gorgeous.
"Phantom Thread" (HDR10 on disc and digital) -- The subtle usage of HDR here feels like the final touch that really brings the visual design of Paul Thomas Anderson's masterpiece together. Like it went from perfect to slightly better than perfect.
"The Purge: Anarchy" and "The Purge: Election Year" (HDR10 on disc and digital) -- The power of HDR becomes very evident in movies that spend a lot of time in high-contrast environments like city streets at night, and the two "Purge" sequels definitely benefit from that fact. These things are just so beautiful.
"Ready Player One" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- When you first fire up "Ready Player One" in 4K, it's not overly impressive to look at, but that's because you're looking at the grays and browns of the real world. Once the film shifts into the Oasis, by contrast, the colors are practically screaming into your eyeballs. (That shift is by design, of course.)
"Red Sparrow" (HDR10 on disc and digital) -- This is actually a case where HDR10 may actually be better than a Dolby Vision version would have been. This "Red Sparrow" transfer really captures the sort of dried blood color palette of the film in a way that DV would likely have blown out. I'm in love with just looking at this one.
"Skyscraper" (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- This one is a testament to the excellent work the Universal home video folks do on these 4K releases, because "Skyscraper" is not exactly the most visually remarkable movie. But the use of HDR makes it look legitimately beautiful.
"Starship Troopers" (HDR10 on disc) -- When a CGI-heavy movie gets a resolution upgrade, there's always a risk that its effects won't hold up under such scrutiny. When the original "Star Wars" trilogy was released on Blu-ray, for example, its 1997 Special Edition CGI additions were an absolute horror to look at. But Sony did a wonderful job with its new "Starship Troopers" transfer -- it might be the best 4K edition of a catalog title out there.
Steven Spielberg's back catalog -- The new 4K discs for "Jurassic Park" and "The Lost World" are perfectly fine upgrades, but his three other catalog titles that have been given the 4K treatment are all reference quality for how to do right by older films. "E.T.," (HDR10) "Close Encounters" (HDR10) and "Saving Private Ryan" (Dolby Vision and HDR10) are all stunning and are must-haves.
The fourth and fifth "Transformers" films (Dolby Vision and HDR10 on disc and digital) -- If you're looking for movies that will instantly blow you away with how sick they look in 4K, Michael Bay has exactly what you need. "Age of Extinction," the fourth one, has probably the greatest immediate wow factor of any 4K release so far. The first three also got excellent 4K upgrades -- they just aren't as spectacularly mindblowing as the other two.
"Wonder Woman" (HDR10 on disc, Dolby Vision and HDR on digital) -- Already a visually striking movie, the HDR in this release feels like it fills a hole in the look of the film you didn't know was there.