While studios seem to have given up on physical media, niche indie labels are having huge success with loving restorations of cult titles.
Something interesting happened the other day. I reached out to Arrow Video to get a review copy of their upcoming Conan the Barbarian 4k release, The Conan Chronicles (which also features Conan the Destroyer). I was told their retail stock (on their end only, mind you) of the much-anticipated title had already sold out (don’t worry – more is on the way). To me, this is a very promising sign, with interesting companies like Arrow, Scream/Shout Factory, and Kino Lorber making really thoughtful, beautifully assembled 4K collector’s editions of cult hits on physical media that, despite being more niche than they were twenty or so years ago, are actually selling really well.
Studios have all but abandoned physical media, at least as far as library titles go. Some studios, like Paramount, still re-release their classics through labels like Paramount Presents, but for many companies, these titles are an afterthought, even for their biggest movies. Even Paramount offloaded the recent 4K special edition of Witness, a stone-cold classic, to Arrow. The James Bond film series, one of the most popular of all time, is currently streaming in 4K, but the physical releases have never happened, despite the masters being ready to go. That’s crazy, isn’t it?
Yet, with physical media no longer a priority for studios, independent labels have moved in and started to put together loving restorations of their films. Such is the case of Oliver Stone’s JFK, which remains one of Warner Bros’s most popular catalogue titles, but one they seemingly had no interest in pressing on 4K Disc. Their loss is Shout Factory’s gain, with them releasing both the director’s cut and theatrical version in beautifully restored versions.
But it’s not just classics. One of Arrow’s best-selling recent editions is Blackhat. This infamous Michael Mann flop grossed a princely $19 million (worldwide) but has found new life via this release, with many saying the director’s cut contained as an extra is far better than the version we got in theatres. Even a movie like William Friedkin’s Rampage, which never even got a legit theatrical release in the US, generates tremedous interest.
All this is an interesting look at the future of physical media (which we always keep track of here), as it seems increasingly like it may become a niche market for collectors – but a very healthy one. Movie fans are collectors, and if you give them a product that’s worth paying for, they’ll happily do so. These new 4K editions will probably cost more than they would were studios to release them. The day of the $10-15 collector’s edition is probably behind us. But, with editions that are treated like an event, with extras carefully crafted by fans, perhaps shelling out a little extra cash is a good way forward for the format. These indie labels are doing good work, and what’s exciting about the whole thing is that fans are very happy to support their efforts. Now, if only we can get someone to put out Cocoon or Strange Days!
What’s the best recent physical media release? Let us know in the comments!