Top Ten Movies For Showing Off Your Home Theater
So let’s face it. We love to show off our systems. I built my home theater around my needs and wants, but I never shy away from throwing in one of my favorite discs or streaming movies to show it off. Whether it is thundering bass, amazing Atmos/DTS:X content, or brilliant HDR, I have a few go-to scenes or movies that showcase my system. On top of this, I see a lot of questions on forums asking what movies are best to show off our system. So with that, I present to you the top ten films I use to showcase my system.
So I won’t be selecting ten films for each category. Instead, I will choose two movies for all-around winners, surround sound, bass, HDR, and my honorable mentions. All my discs or streaming sources are 4k HDR with object-based surround. Let’s begin.
These are movies that I believe have excellent HDR, LFE (low-frequency effects), and surround mixes and will showcase all aspects of your home theater, not just one part. If you would have asked me to do this article a few years ago, I would have struggled to come up with a couple of movies to meet those criteria. Now the struggle is only choosing two! In my experience, there has been a huge shift with studios putting as much care and attention to home release sound and visuals, as with the theatrical releases. What a time to be a home theater geek!
Ready Player One (2018)
Ok, so I love Ready Player One. I liked the book and the adaptation. So, without getting into a film review, I recommend owning it on disc.
The soundtrack is outstanding. It has thundering bass that will shake your room, and the surround/Atmos track will have you ducking as objects whizz over your head and all around you. From the first bars of Van Halen’s Jump to the final fight scene in the Oasis, the soundtrack is crisp and immersive. My standout scene is the first race scene as vehicles zips across the screen, just to be smashed by Kong.
HDR in the “real world” is relatively dull. Set in a dystopian future, it makes sense that the actual visuals convey that. But in the Oasis, colors pop, and characters get brightly lit with bright (and multicolored) skin tones and clothing. Based on video games, it makes sense that colors are so vibrant, and on my OLED, they absolutely jump off the screen.
Dune UHD (2021)
Ok, so I will admit that one of my guilty pleasures is the 1984 Dune movie. When they announced a new Dune movie with updated visuals and soundtracks, I was over-the-moon excited. So what’s the verdict?
Film-wise, I loved it. But from a home theater standpoint, I loved this movie! HDR is incredible. It’s a mix of dimly lit and incredibly bright scenes that put your local dimming to the test. My favorite scenes tend to be the ones that are dimly lit and have excellent shadow detail. But any of the outdoor scenes will scorch your eyeballs. They are bright, dynamic, and with my OLED, light up a dark room. My standout HDR scene has to be when Rabban is talking to the Baron rising from some black goo. The shadow detail is superb, and the dimness adds to the creepiness of the Baron.
Sound-wise? Again, a standout! There are so many good scenes that I could recommend, but my absolute favorite has to be on the Sardaukar planet, where the soldiers are chanting in the rain. The rain is falling around you, and the sound of the Sardaukar chanting in unison makes my dual subs shake my room. But a close second is when Paul tries to use The Voice, and there is a super low tone that you feel in your chest before you can hear his actual voice.
Surround Sound/Object-Based Audio
I would guess that surround sound is what got most people into home theater as a hobby. I remember the first time I heard actual surround sound in a theater and was totally blown away by how “real” it sounded. When I found out that I could have that same experience at home, I was all in. Now, I am just as excited about object-based surround sound. Here, my choices focus on movies that really use all your home theater surround speakers and completely immerse you in the action.
Jurassic Park DTS:X (1993)
Jurassic Park is one of my favorite movies of all time, I have owned it on multiple formats, including VHS, Laserdisc, DVD, and UHD 4K with a DTS:X soundtrack.
I wish that I could pick out just one memorable scene, but the truth is that this movie is ideal for object-based surround. This movie rocks from Raptors coming through the bushes to attack from all around you to the T-Rex’s thundering footfalls! Literally! But since you want to show off your system, the first scene is easy to find. There is a mix of low bass and surround sound winging all around you, and I jumped when the bushes “next to me” rustled.
I do feel that the DTS:X soundtrack gets mixed a bit hot, with overheads much more noticeable than my other Atmos mixes. That said, it works for this movie. It is a real blockbuster and should get a soundtrack to match.
Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
There is a reason that the opening scene of Fury Road gets featured on the Dolby Atmos app for your Xbox/Windows devices or Atmos test discs. It opens with Max’s voice reverberating with bass and quickly gets drowned out by voices swirling overhead and around him. My wife commented that she felt like the voices were coming from inside her head – I consider that a massive compliment to the mixers.
But it doesn’t stop there. A small lizard zigs across the screen, with the soundtrack perfectly tracking the lizard’s location in front of me. But the chef’s kiss? When Max quickly gathers his gear and races off, only to have a series of dune buggies and off-road bikes zip overhead, making me duck and spill my drink! It is one of the best implementations of overheads that I have heard to date!
I struggled a bit here. I had difficulty choosing between so many good movies with outstanding LFE (low-frequency effects) tracks. But you don’t pay me to be all wishy-washy, so I made the hard choices!
I’m not going to lie; Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse almost made it into my all-around winner’s category. It has fantastic HDR and great surround mix, but the LFE track hits you like a sledgehammer from the opening screen and doesn’t let up. The Sony logo reveal hits with a booming bass note that begins to torture less capable subs.
But it doesn’t stop; punctuated bass notes thump you in the chest as the logos “glitch” until the beat finally drops and the music starts. My wife told me that this scene rattled every wine glass in her cabinet and that she was sure one would break.
Pacific Rim (2013)
Pacific Rim is still one of my daughter’s favorite movies to watch in the home theater. I would not be exaggerating if I said we had watched it 20+ times together, and it is the movie that she grabs when she wants to show off the home theater to her friends for the first time.
What makes it so great? Easy, Jaegers+Kaiju+fighting=big bass! Pick any scene where a Jaeger and Kaiju square off, and you will get thundering bass that will rattle your teeth. I can’t choose just one scene because each one is a bass smorgasbord! Just skim the disc until you see some action, and hold on!
HDR is a big deal to me. I went from a 75″ 4k panel that had mediocre (and that’s being generous) HDR performance to a 65″ OLED. For me, quality will always beat out quantity, and I think my picks show that!
Blade Runner (1982)
So when I got my OLED, the first thing I watched was Blade Runner in 4K UHD on disc. Aside from being one of my top ten favorite movies of all time, the remaster of this movie into 4K HDR has to be one of the best I have seen.
This movie screams for an HDR make-over. It’s a detective noir film backlit by neon-drenched cityscapes that jump off the screen at you. Set mainly in the shadows, the HDR works hard with your local dimming to create shadow detail.
The opening scene has become one of the best uses of HDR I have seen to date. It starts with a black background and white subtitles and then quickly moves to a flare of flame and the tiny pinpoints of light dotted across the screen. A vehicle zips across the screen and out of sight, and we see the cityscape reflected through an unknown eye. We finish with a slow pan up and zoom to a single room within a massive building dotted with lights. Cut to Holden standing in the haze of dimly lit room with a plume of smoke coming from his cigarette! Perfection!
Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
Ok, so let’s get this out of the way. Thor: Ragnarok has terrible sound mixing. The LFE and Atmos lack dynamics throughout the film, and I was wholly disappointed. But, the visuals? We can see where Disney put their focus. The movie drips with vibrant colors!
The entire design of the planet Sakaar emphasizes rich, saturated colors. Filled with deep yellows, reds, and greens, the director knew how to frame his shots to emphasize the contrast between colors.
My favorite scene? Easy! It’s the first meeting between Thor and The Hulk! It starts with Thor strutting out, his brilliant red cape trailing him. And quickly moves to bright plumes of green fireworks, heralding the entrance of our favorite angry hero! But my favorite part? When Thor summons his thunder and lightning, it arcs all around him in brilliant HDR before he gives the Hulk one heck of an uppercut!
I wanted to showcase a couple of movies I love for their pure fun and how loud they are in my home theater.
Top Gun (1986)
“I feel the need, the need for speed!” As a kid of the ’80s, I have watched Top Gun more times than I care to admit. I owned it on VHS, and it was a mainstay for a test movie for my 5.1 system in the ’90s.
My favorite scene is the opening. The camera’s slow pan across the carrier’s deck as the F-14 slowly moves towards the catapult. A very ’80s guitar rift quietly plays in the background, and then all of a sudden, a Tomcat goes to full afterburner, and we get launched into the Danger Zone!
What follows next is some of the best panning surround effects as jets scream across the screen. Backed by a pounding soundtrack, the bass is insane, and it is challenging to listen to this scene at full reference volume.
You either love or hate Nolan films. He adamantly refuses to use Atmos, and his mixes tend to be more about music and effects and less about dialogue. That said, Interstellar is a great movie to play on your system.
My scene of choice is the docking scene where Cooper has to match the spin of the space station after Dr. Mann’s shuttle explodes. There is a moment of pure silence, and then the soundtrack slowly starts to build until you have a thundering mess of audio chaos. Sustained low bass notes with prolonged organ passages can tear apart a less capable system. But if you have the right gear, you get a scene that will make the hair stand up on your arms and bring you to the edge of your seat. I get goosebumps from this scene.
A lot of the fun in home theaters is showing off great movies to your friends who don’t always understand your passions. I enjoyed seeing my friends duck when something flew overhead or jump when something happened off to the side of their seats. Heck, I sometimes find myself looking over my shoulder when watching a movie to see if someone was there!
Home theater has come a long way since my Kenwood system in the ’90s. But some things never change! I always had a slew of test VHS, DVD, and Laserdisc movies that were sure to wow.
These are my Top Ten show-off scenes. What are yours?
Editor’s Note: I call shenanigans on this whole list because A Quiet Place isn’t on it. If that isn’t one of the best movies for overhead effects, I don’t know what is. Clearly, Andrew is the the pocket of Big Hollywood.