4K TVs are finally cheap enough for everyone, but there’s no point in upgrading if you don’t get to see some gorgeous new movies on it. To get the best picture possible, you’ll need a 4K Blu-ray player, and a few good movies to watch. Here, we’ve got some of the best, most beautiful Blu-rays you can buy.
Note: All the images in this post are pulled from 1080p sources and are not indicative of the quality you’ll see on a 4K HDR television.
Planet Earth II
This is the first, best Blu-ray you should get if you just want to show off. The BBC team uses state of the art camera gear to capture footage of the most beautiful locations, plants, and animals in the world. It’s not just 4K technology on display, either. The team uses drones, stabilizers, high-speed cameras, and other modern tech to get shots that weren’t possible even a decade ago. The result is some of the most gorgeous cinematography, depicting the wonders of our planet in the most vivid images you’ve ever seen. All from the comfort of your living room. Planet Earth II isn’t intended to be a 4K HDR demo disc, but it works perfectly as one.
Mad Max Fury Road
It’s not often that an action movie makes waves at awards shows, but Fury Road deserves every accolade. Director George Miller crafted an exhilarating two-hour car chase that, despite taking place in a post-apocalyptic desert, is blasted with color. Unlike most blockbusters, Fury Road is shot largely with practical effects and sparing CGI. Every grain of sand and every scratch on the cars is on full display in 4K HDR.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Disney stayed out of the 4K HDR scene for what felt like a little too long, but Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 makes an excellent first entry for the company. The title sequence for this film alone might just include every single color HDR is capable of reproducing. When we talk about HDR, we usually talk about brighter lights and darker blacks, but it also gives filmmakers a more nuanced color palette to work with. Guardians shows that off better than most movies, with an array of other worldly locations and characters. Director James Gunn doesn’t leave any part of the rainbow out, so if you want to see what a wide color gamut can do for a film, start here.
Not all 4K is created equal. Some movies are shot on less than 4K cameras and upscaled, or the effects aren’t rendered in 4K. It’s still better than your regular HD TV, but not quite what it could be. Inception does not have that problem. Director Christopher Nolan religiously shoots on film, which can be scanned at 4K (or higher, in the future). Inception is also home to some of the most surreal, practical effects-driven sequences in Nolan’s filmography. If you want to get as close as you can to watching a movie in theater-quality, this is it.
The Lego Movie
No one expected a glorified ad for Lego to be a good movie, but they kind of pulled it off. Part of what made it work is the charming, faux realistic animation style. While the movie is largely CGI, the textures and detailing on the Lego pieces makes it feel like you’re back in your childhood, playing in the Lego city you built yourself. All those details come through clear as day in 4K. You can see the wear and tear on the character’s painted-on clothes, and even that slightly-imperfect plastic texture.
John Wick was a surprise hit when it came out in 2014. The relatively simple revenge action film doesn’t gain a ton from the extra detail 4K offers, but the HDR really shines. Nearly every scene of the movie has a stylized color grading that gives each scene a distinct, powerful look. The vibrant colors contrast with the dark, shadowy environments to create a stark look that you can only fully appreciate in full HDR.
Kong: Skull Island
Creature features usually don’t have to meet very high expectations. Just offering a few thrills and a coherent enough plot to justify big animals smashing stuff is usually enough. Kong: Skull Island goes the extra mile by channeling Apocalypse Now, layering the film with a 70’s-era film grain, and bathing every scene in a nostalgic color palette, turning every scene into a stunning tableau. The HDR in particular gives the film a broader range of colors, which adds a layer of depth to details like Kong’s fur or the skin of other creatures. Even if you’re not a fan of King Kong or yet more cinematic universes, this movie is visually engaging from start to finish.
When you think of a visually interesting environment to show off a fancy new TV, you might not think of a movie that largely takes place on a red, dead planet. However, Ridley Scott’s The Martian shows off 4K and HDR in some surprising ways. A key trait of HDR is that it gives films more steps between nuanced colors. Instead of 256 shades of red, HDR offers 1024 shades. It’s not obvious how this helps until you see a close up of Matt Damon digging in the red martian sand. You can see more individual grains of sand. Regular 4K technically shows you more grains of sand than plain HD, but without the wider color palette of HDR you’re just getting more pixels and not more definition. The 4K resolution also shows more fine detail of the rocky terrain on the alien planet. The Martian was one of 20th Century Fox’s first 4K HDR Blu-rays, and it’s a strong opening.