April is filled with great movies, new and old, coming to Blu-ray and 4K UHD. A five-film anthology from one of the greatest living directors arrives on physical media for the very first time, a bunch of Star Trek films get the 4K treatment, and Michelle Yeoh’s most dangerous stunt can now be admired knowing full well that she survives, makes a bunch more awesome movies, and wins an Oscar.
Here’s how our monthly Blu-ray and 4K curation works: Each month, in an effort to help you find your next favorite discs, we curate a list of our most anticipated releases. We haven’t had the opportunity to try these discs just yet, but if you want the formal thumbs-up, no worries — in the coming months we will begin our rolling list of the best Blu-rays and 4K UHD discs of the year. But each of these releases has potential and comes from a label we’ve enjoyed in the past.
Our most anticipated Blu-ray of April 2023
Small Axe (Blu-ray) – April 25
I’m convinced Steve McQueen (the living director, not the deceased actor) would be a household name if not for some atrocious studio marketing decisions. McQueen is a true multihyphenate, winning the Turner Prize and working as an official war artist in Iraq before making his first feature film. That film, 2008’s Hunger, premiered at Cannes and won McQueen the Caméra d’Or — making him the first British director to do so. He followed with Shame and 12 Years a Slave, the latter winning the Academy Award for Best Picture.
McQueen’s work only improved, but his films became paradoxically more commercial and less visible. Widows is one of the best thrillers of the past decade, is co-written by Gone Girl scribe Gillian Flynn, and has an absolutely bonkers ensemble cast of mega-celebrities: Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Colin Farrell, Brian Tyree Henry, Daniel Kaluuya… The list goes on. But the trailers were abysmal, and after a middling box office, it seemed to be all but abandoned by its distributor.
Small Axe is McQueen’s most ambitious project yet. In 2020, the director paired with BBC and Amazon Studios to create a five-film anthology about the experience of West Indian life in London from the 1960s through the 1980s. It’s romantic and exciting and inspiring and gutting and fun and maddening and an incomparable collision of feelings that are only possible within its epic 405-minute run time. I struggle to describe it. Unfortunately, so did Amazon when it debuted on the company’s streaming service.
Fortunately, now’s your chance to enjoy this underappreciated masterpiece. Speaking of underappreciated masterpieces stuck on Amazon that deserve the physical media treatment: How do we convince Criterion to do The Underground Railroad next?
The Criterion release of Small Axe includes new 2K masters, new conversations between McQueen and writer Paul Gilroy, a three-part documentary about the 1981 New Cross house fire, and more.
The big Blu-ray and 4K releases of April 2023
Flashdance (4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital) – April 11
Adrian Lyne is best known for his famous (and infamous) sexual thrillers, like 9½ Weeks, Fatal Attraction, and Unfaithful. But his first studio film is arguably the most fun and most joyfully sexy.
To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Paramount has given Flashdance the 4K treatment. If you haven’t seen Flashdance already, you’ve seen at least one of the countless parodies of its most iconic sequence. An 18-year-old woman splits her time as a welder by day and exotic dancer by night. She has one dream: to get into a dance conservatory. The melodramatic story would stumble if not for lead Jennifer Beals being unfuckingbelievably cool.
The two-disc set includes a handful of featurettes focusing on Lyne, the Flashdance aesthetic, and how the film inspired a cultural moment.
Midnight Run (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – April 4
A bounty hunter played by Robert De Niro has to schlep a mob-tied accountant across the country in five days, without getting stopped by hitmen and the FBI along the way. The premise is deceptively simple. When Midnight Run premiered in 1988, a number of critics panned the action-comedy as derivative genre fare. It was the misstep in director Martin Brest’s hot streak, sandwiched between ultra-hit Beverly Hills Cop and Oscar-winner Scent of a Woman.
Midnight Run has benefited from decades of distance from its contemporaries, which it towers above. Robert De Niro gives 110% to one of his silliest roles and the late Charles Grodin stands as a surprisingly confident counterpoint to his brutish scene partner — despite looking like a dad who lost his luggage en route to a corporate retreat.
With an abundance of top-notch action set pieces and some genuinely beautiful framing of American landscapes, the film should benefit from the UHD upgrade. The 4K Blu-ray from the reliable Shout Select label includes six interviews, including convos with De Niro and Grodin, along with a “vintage making-of featurette.”
Cowboy Bebop 25th Anniversary (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – April 4
Cowboy Bebop had a small cultural revival a couple of years ago when Netflix remade the iconic anime series as a live-action season of streaming TV. But reviews were, to be generous, mixed, the show got nixed, and the conversation around Cowboy Bebop fizzled out. Hopefully the 25th anniversary will remind longtime fans just how special this space Western really is. And for newcomers, great news: The show holds up astonishingly well. Unlike so much influential media, which can feel overly familiar following decades of ripoffs, Cowboy Bebop remains as fresh and daring as it was 25 years ago.
The Crunchyroll releases come in two flavors: limited and special editions. Both include all 26 episodes, plus hours of commentary, interviews, and featurettes. The limited edition includes a metallic box with switchable cover art, and a “never-before-seen 25th anniversary video.”
Wings of Disaster: The Birdemic Trilogy (Blu-ray) – April 4
That Birdemic: Shock and Terror survived the obscurity of so many low-budget horror films was a stroke of good luck. That writer and director James Nguyen could convert the first film’s cult status into a legitimate trilogy is a miracle. And that said trilogy would warrant a beautiful box set with roughly 13 hours of special features — that defies the power of words.
Alongside last month’s release of Violent Streets, an incomparable collection of Italian crime cinema, the Wings of Disaster collection establishes Severin as one of the best labels in physical media. Its work is thorough and void of irony, giving TLC to works that would otherwise be ignored or tossed into market with little care.
Star Trek: The Next Generation 4K Movie collection – April 4
Many of the classic Star Trek films are already available on 4K, but now is the first time ’90s kids will have the satisfaction of watching their era get the UHD upgrade: Star Trek: Generations, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Insurrection, and Star Trek: Nemesis.
The collection includes a treasure trove of bonus features, including commentaries, round tables, featurettes, and a mini-doc on Industrial Light and Magic. Personally, I’m most excited to check out text commentary from Michael and Denise Okuda.
The Bullet Train (Blu-ray) – April 24
This one’s a bit tricky. No, it’s not the Brad Pitt movie. And no, it won’t work on a Region-A Blu-ray player. But if you have the ability to watch Region-B Blu-rays (or have access to a universal Blu-ray player), this one should be high on your to-buy list.
The excellent U.K. label Eureka is bringing to Blu-ray a 2K restoration of the difficult-to-find 1975 action film. Though you probably haven’t heard of this Bullet Train, you’ve almost certainly watched the film it inspired: Speed. A bad dude plants a bomb on a train that will detonate if the train drops below 80 kilometers per hour. It’s up to a train conductor, played by the legendary Sonny Chiba, to save the day.
The release includes both the original Japanese and alternate dubbed international versions, new audio commentary, a bundle of interviews, and more. If not for the Region-B limitations, this would be my top pick of the month. As is, it’s a very good reason to figure out how to watch Blu-rays from around the world.
If you’re a hardcore 4K and Blu-ray person, this universal player splits the difference between cheap players and the ultra-expensive (diminishing returns) options.
Police Story 3: Supercop (4K UHD + Blu-ray) – April 25
If you’ve heard only one thing about Supercop, it’s probably the Quentin Tarantino quote. The director said Supercop has “the greatest stunts filmed in any movie, and that includes Buster Keaton.” And he’s right! But the quote doesn’t capture just how hard this film goes.
Oscar-winner Michelle Yeoh nearly died jumping from the roof of a speeding truck onto the windshield of a convertible. The danger wasn’t falling off the car (which Yeoh did) but the two cars that nearly ran her over. She performed the stunt multiple times, even after co-star Jackie Chan felt that she tried enough and should move on.
Yeoh has made so many killer action movies that it’s difficult to recommend just one. Supercop is as good as any place to start. Yeoh and Chan team up to beat the snot out of a bunch of bad dudes and give everything they have along the way — quite literally.
The Assassination Bureau (Blu-ray) – April 27
I had never heard of Assassination Bureau before reading about this release. Now I can’t wait to see it. Here’s the elevator pitch: a comic caper set against World War I that was shot in Technicolor by Geoffrey Unsworth, who had served as director of photography on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Seriously, just watch the original trailer.
How did I miss this? I guess label Arrow knows this is the question, considering the disc includes a featurette listed as “Right Film, Wrong Time, a 30-minute appreciation by critic, broadcaster and cultural historian Matthew Sweet.”