Great DVDs picHow good is your home theatre? There’s a simple way to find out – crank up a really good movie and see how your system handles it.

But what movie?

No matter how many times you may watch Pretty Woman or Sex in the City, or even Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell, the sad truth is that none of them makes a home theatre stretch. To gauge how good your system is you have to make it work hard, and there are some ripper movies around that do just this.

If, on playing, they seem as dull and lifeless as music without Molly your system definitely needs an upgrade, but if they make you sit back and say “Whoa!” then lay in the popcorn, invite the neighbours and crank up the volume because you’ve got yourself some serious bragging rights to exploit.

Here are some movies we use to test systems, and most of them aren’t just great test movies, they’re also terrific movies. The DVDs are good, the Blu-rays are even better.


A couple of fantastic car chases and if your system can make the Peugeot lion, the Citroen chevrons, the BMW propeller and the Audi rings identifiable, especially during the chase down the dirt road, you have a top notch screen and disc player. The sound is also interesting in that the talk inside the cars was actually recorded in situ. With a poor system it becomes hard to understand.

The Fifth Element

Amazing movie with some amazing special effects, but the diva singing is fabulous. The way Bruce Willis handles a taxi is also pretty eye popping, as is Milla Jovovich.

Titan AE

It’s animated (with some big name voices) and not the best movie around, but the excursion into the ice fields is a solid workout for a sub.

Saving Private Ryan

The first 15 minutes of the Normandy landing provides fast vision and really challenging sound. Listen especially to accuracy and sharpness of the bullets both ricocheting and hitting their targets. Very exciting stuff.

Crimson Tide

When Captain Gene Hackman addresses his crew early in the movie there is a thunderstorm going on the background. This is so accurately recorded that you may even pause the action to make sure it’s still all calm outside your place.


This is the first and best of a trilogy of movies (the others are Naqoyqatsi and Powaqqatsi) that puts a series of remarkable images to the music of Philip Glass. If you’re not into Glass’s music they’re torture, but if you are all three movies are totally engaging and an acid test of your speakers’ and disc player’s ability to handle music.


Talking about music, this one blends it so well with effects that sometimes it’s difficult to tell where the effects end and the music starts. The sets are also rich and colourful, but Hanna is all about the remarkable and highly exciting soundtrack. The scene in the strip joint is the best sound, and the icy start will knock you out.


Talking about colours, this happy, harmless little movie set in India is a procession of rich and exotic colours, full on. If your screen has any colour bleed (where the finish of one colour and the start of another is poorly defined) this will show it up.

Pearl Harbour

There’s a scene just before the attack where all the Japanese aircraft, with their long stroke piston engines throbbing deeply, round a mountain and pass a woman hanging out her washing. If it doesn’t get your juices flowing your speakers need replacing.

Behind Enemy Lines

Some excellent sound and vision here where the F18 is trying to avoid a surface-to-air missile, and fabulous sound echoing and decaying when the lost pilot is moving through an abandoned factory.

True Lies

When the Harriers streak in below the helicopter to blow the bridge you should be on the edge of your seat, and from that moment to the end of the movie it’s all rich action and sound. We know one home audio consultant who has played this about a million times but has never seen the movie in full.


The final shootout on the airport tarmac is a magnificent piece of open air sound engineering.

Red Cliff

This has tremendous action and it’s a very engaging story magnificently shot, but the sound is the hero here, from the slightly off-key wooden flute to the swishing swords. If you hang on for the closing credits in their entirety your sound system is good.


The depth charges are muffled, yet nicely defined explosions coming through a wall of water. Goodness knows if a depth charge actually sounds like this. If it doesn’t it should.

Terminator Two, Judgement Day

Nine minutes and 28 seconds into the movie Schwarzenegger kick starts a Harley. If your subwoofer is good it will sound just like a Harley being kick started, and so the volume should be way up. Our True Lies audio consultant puts this on A-B repeat to test subs.

Vertical Limit

Not the world’s best movie – actually it’s not even close – but the scene where the helicopter delivers the rescue party to the side of the mountain is worth the price of the Blu-ray disc.


Only for car enthusiasts, this is the legendary nine-and-a-half minute movie of an epically fast drive through the streets of Paris, the camera mounted on the front of a Ferrari 275 GTB4 and the microphones all in the engine bay with the mighty V12. It must be played very loud.
Music videos

Putting on a concert disc as background to a dinner party is a nice idea. It provides music and the vision always generates conversation. We have some faves, including Roy Orbison’s Black and White Night and Concert for George, but Norah Jones DVDs have been so disappointing we’d never buy another one. Watch out for concert discs of old groups – they have often been cobbled together with dated vision and the quality can be crook.

Dianna Krall Live in Paris

A good concert CD that creates a real sense of intimacy.

The Police: Certifiable

This really captures the sound and atmosphere of a huge outdoor concert. Great vision.


Filmed around a small Spanish village 1984 with Julia Migenes and Placido Domingo, it’s an aural and visual spectacle, right down to a soprano who looks and behaves like a tempestuous gypsy, exactly as she should do.

The Eagles: Hell Freezes Over

You’d swear the opening guitar is coming from the centre channel speaker, but disconnect everything except the centre and all you’ll hear is a bongo and some echo. The recording has been so beautifully engineered that most of the work is done by the front right and left speakers, just as it should be with music.

Published February 2012