For years now it seems like the death knell has continued to ring for certain areas of physical media. Many people have even claimed that 4K will most likely be the last physical video format. As streaming services continue to gain more subscribers, for fans of physical media, it can begin to look increasingly bleak. However, in the home video space, there are a few standout publishers that aren't part of the big studios, yet continue to put out great products in a market that is now often overlooked.
If you’re looking for the premier label when it comes to box sets and supplemental features, look no further than Indicator, a label that’s a part of Powerhouse Films. Their catalog, since launching in 2016, has been consistently great. As mentioned before, if you’re looking for truly great limited edition box sets, you’ll want to take a look at Indicator’s work. Some of their long-running continued releases include their Hammer sets, which bring together films from the famous British production company.
Other standout releases include their Marlene Dietrich & Josef von Sternberg at Paramount set, which is arguably better than Criterion’s own release, as well as their Columbia Noir box sets. Though they aren’t always given the newest and most remarkable video materials to work with, the bonus features they put together are among the best of any publisher. If you’re able to grab any of their limited editions, you’ll find their accompanying booklets extremely informative. This is a welcome addition when companies like Criterion have seemingly cut down so many of their booklets recently, and instead often opt for leaflets that are usually only a couple of pages long.
Next to Criterion, Kino Lorber’s catalog is probably the most impressive simply due to the breadth of titles that they handle. Releasing tons of films that have otherwise only seen the light of day on DVD, their consistent stream of titles continues to impress. They have a number of different branches under the main company, such as Redemption and Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Their recent jump to 4K has been largely well-received, such as The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, which for years has had notoriously bad Blu-ray transfers, has finally gotten the release it deserves. Their dedication to putting out silent films and movies that might otherwise be overlooked by other companies is also worth commending, as a lot of these movies would largely go unnoticed in many studios’ catalogs.
Probably the most well-known boutique label next to Criterion, Arrow Video has made quite the name for itself over the years. Primarily known for its horror output early on, they’ve continued to branch out from their spooky roots. At a time they even had their Arrow Academy line, which has since been shuttered but is now integrated into the main line, which had a more focused view on arthouse and foreign films. Some of the highlights included superb box sets from directors like Hirokazu Kore-eda, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and Éric Rohmer, among others. Their recent endeavor into 4K has also been great to see, with releases like David Cronenberg’s Crash, which offered a nice substitute to Criterion’s Blu-ray only release. Fans of horror are still getting their fair share of goodies as well, as their 4K output of Dario Argento's classic giallo films like Deep Red have been excellent.
Chugging along for quite a while now, Eureka Entertainment continues to be one of the top Blu-ray publishers in the UK. Their Masters of Cinema series has accounted for some of the finest Blu-ray releases out there, some of which include Metropolis, as well as their various Buster Keaton box sets. Lately, they’ve been taking a deeper dive into Hong Kong cinema, with releases from Sammo Hung and Ringo Lam. From silent classics to Japanese kaiju films, if you’re looking for variety in your collection, Eureka is definitely worth checking out. Like many of the other publishers here, you'll also want to pick up their titles early, as the booklets included alongside their releases act as great companion pieces to the films.
Second Sight Films
Slowly but surely making moves in a big way in the Blu-ray publishing world, Second Sight Films have made a great name for themselves over in the UK. Like many other companies on this list, their jump to 4K has been incredibly impressive. Their 4K release for George A. Romero’s classic Dawn of the Dead saw fans from the U.S. scrambling to import the title due to the muddied rights issues that have kept the home video releases stateside in an incredibly messy state. Like Indicator, Second Sight also provides great special features and booklets that make it worth seeking out their limited editions before they end up going out of print. Their recent releases of Julia Ducournau’s Raw and Nicolas Roeg’s classic Walkabout have been standout releases and some of the company’s most impressive work.
Scream Factory is the horror branch of Shout Factory, and since its inception has garnered quite a following with their solid releases. They’ve had the opportunity to handle two of the biggest horror franchises out there, namely Friday the 13th and Halloween, and the results have been met with largely positive praise. Their Friday the 13th set in particular brought all the films together in a massive box set that any horror fan would be happy to own. What’s great about companies like Shout Factory, as well as a number of other publishers on this list, is that they often deal with films that might have already been released, but in an inferior state. An example of this is the aforementioned Halloween, which had already seen a 4K release from Lionsgate before it made its way to Shout Factory. However, with the way the disc was handled through its authoring and how many special features were included, you can tell that when these boutique labels are given the opportunity, they really shine.
Out of all the publishers on this list, Vinegar Syndrome is the one featuring the most movies that you probably haven’t heard of. With that in mind, one might think that the quality behind the releases would somehow be compromised or dealt with a lesser hand, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Vinegar Syndrome has arguably one of the best track records when it comes to the work they do on the restoration of the films they release, and oftentimes since they’re working with films that other publishers would rarely, if ever, touch, the end result on their products is often astounding. They’re definitely the most “niche” out of all the companies listed here, but with their jump into 4K with titles like The Beastmaster and Rad, their work continues to gain a bigger following.
You'll so often read about the dwindling sales of Blu-ray and how they’re somehow often being outsold by DVDs. However, in a similar way to how vinyl has seen a resurgence in the past decade with companies like Mondo, Death Waltz, and Laced Records, many soundtracks and albums that might have otherwise never gotten physical releases (or re-releases) have found their way into fan’s collections. These film publishers, along with their vinyl counterparts, are serving as great examples of companies that are providing a product to a market that is often overlooked by the studios that handle the rights for these items. So often you might find yourself booting up your favorite streaming service, only to find that a movie you’d been hoping to watch isn’t available, but thanks to these companies you can always cherish your physical copies. With these publishers continuing to grow their relationships with major studios, the hope that the continued resurgence that we see in the music industry with vinyl will also continue in the world of home video.
"Just try to make it sound like you wrote it that way on purpose."
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