The best Blu-rays and DVDs of 2021

Looking for new discs to add to your growing film archive? Our annual poll rounds up the riches of 2021’s best DVD and Blu-ray releases, as chosen by film critics and specialist curators.

Maeve (1981)

It’s heartening to see that the appetite for Blu-ray and DVD releases remains undiminished, which surely can’t be accounted for purely by a nostalgic clinging to physical media on the part of older cinephiles. For all the enriching and pleasurable items that the streaming platforms have put before us, which have often been a lifeline during the pandemic, they tend not to offer enough coverage or proper curatorial contextualisation of the more niche byways of cinema history.

That said, one downside of the cornucopic outpouring from the boutique labels can be a sense of overload – how to find the time to enjoy all the archival extras that have been unearthed, sometimes including several accompanying audio commentaries? No matter – there are surely worse problems to face. Once again, let’s take this annual opportunity to salute the dedication, passion and knowledge of labels such as Second Run, Vinegar Syndrome, Powerhouse/Indicator, BFI, 101 Films, Arrow, Severin Films, Milestone, Criterion, Second Sight, Eureka, Flicker Alley and more. We’re looking forward to covering more of their excellent output in 2022. 

We asked a range of contributors and experts for their top five DVDs and Blu-rays of the year and their votes produced the top ten below.

Sight and Sound: the Winter 2021-22 issue

We count down the 50 best films of 2021. How many have you seen? Also inside: the best TV, books and discs of the year; interviews with Paul Thomas Anderson, Guillermo del Toro, Joanna Hogg and Paolo Sorrentino

Find out more

10. Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó

Second Run

Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó
Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós JancsóCourtesy of Second Run

The 120th birthday of Hungarian cinema was celebrated in fine style with these three masterpieces from the 1950s to the 70s, all beautifully restored and given the careful contextualisation we’ve come to expect from Second Run.






9. I Start Counting! 


I Start Counting!
I Start Counting! Courtesy of BFI

A lost masterpiece of late 60s British cinema starring Jenny Agutter and directed by the underrated David Greene – let us give thanks once again to the sterling work of the BFI Flipside label. 






8. Maeve


MaeveCourtesy of BFI

A hugely welcome release for what is now regarded as a historical milestone, the first feminist film made in Ireland. Our reviewer Trevor Johnston said of Maeve, it “still burns with a cool, ardent flame of inspiration”. 




7. Mandabi


Mandabi StudioCanal
Mandabi Courtesy of StudioCanal


A crucial work by the Senegalese master Ousmane Sembène was finally restored thanks to an intervention by Martin Scorsese. As our reviewer Kaleem Aftab put it in his review in the June 2021 issue, “Its clear-sighted urgency remains undimmed today.” 






6. Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942


Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942
Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942 Courtesy of BFI

An excellent BFI release of four Dietrich films in these years shows the star at a fascinating moment of transition in her career, tweaking her persona in order to make herself more palatable to the American public. 






5. 20th Century


20th Century dvd
20th Century Courtesy of Powerhouse/Indicator

Howard Hawks’s first screwball comedy – which he deemed “too crazy” – starred John Barrymore and Carole Lombard; here it’s given the 4K restoration treatment and comes packaged with some fine extras.






4. Columbia Noir


Columbia Noir DVD
Columbia Noir Courtesy of Powerhouse/Indicator

There were several votes for both the series and individual box-sets, which taken together put Indicator’s excavation of the studio’s noir output near the top of the poll. It’s a deeply enjoyable series which shows no sign of running out of steam. 





3. The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs


The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs
The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs Courtesy of Criterion

Another superb release by Criterion, gathering together all the films in a singular and quite brilliant oeuvre. Riggs used video to mix performance, poetry, music and documentary to loudly and proudly explore his identity as a gay Black man. 





2. Adoption

Second Run

Adoption DVD
AdoptionCourtesy of Second Run

Yet another winner from the estimable Second Run label, Adoption is a 1975 monochrome masterpiece (looking absolutely wonderful here) that explores the relationship of two women of different ages who are both, in their own quiet but forceful way, determined to resist patriarchal strictures. It’s directed by the brilliant, pioneering Hungarian Márta Mészáros – the film took the Golden Bear at Berlin in 1975, the first time it had ever been won by a woman. Extras include a new introduction, an archival interview with Mészáros and an excellent booklet essay by Carmen Gray providing background to the film and an outline of Mészáros’s career. 


1. Mädchen in Uniform


Mädchen in Uniform
Mädchen in Uniform Courtesy of BFI

Topping this year’s poll is this much-lauded and much-loved radical Weimar drama directed by Leontine Sagan in 1931, now regarded as a milestone of queer cinema and here contextualised superbly by the ever-brilliant BFI label by way of audio commentary, a video essay, episodes from a podcast on the film and shorts from the BFI National Archive. In her review of the film in the May 2021 issue, Phuong Le said, “Its call for revolutionary empathy is timeless. Beyond the constraints of historical circumstances, the radical, anti-authoritarian queerness of Mädchen in Uniform has lost none of its electrifying potency.”


How they voted

Adam Batty
Film critic

John Ford’s Straight Shooting and Hell Bent (Masters Of Cinema)
Johnny Guitar (Masters Of Cinema)
Light Sleeper (Indicator)
Major Dundee (Arrow Video)
Universal Noir 3 and 4 (Indicator)

Alex Barrett

Before Tonight Is Over (Second Run)
Flowers of Shanghai (Criterion)
Ingmar Bergman Vol. 1 (BFI)
Mandabi (StudioCanal)
The Woman One Longs For (Kino)

Amy Taubin
Film critic

Filibus (Milestone/Kino Lorber)
Ken Jacobs Collection: Volume 1 ( Kino Lorber)
Love and Basketball (Criterion)
Say Amen Somebody (Milestone/Kino Lorber)
The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs (Criterion)

Ben Nicholson
Film critic 

Beauty and the Beast (Second Run)
Columbia Noir #2 (Indicator)
Deep Cover (Criterion)
Lake Mungo (Second Sight)
Rouges Silences: Alain Mazars (Re:Voir)

Erika Balsom
Film critic and academic 

Adoption (Second Run)
Le Voyage à Lyon
The Fred Halsted Collection (Vinegar Syndrome)
The Ken Jacobs Collection (Kino Lorber)
The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs (Criterion)

Francesco Simeoni
Producer, Arrow

All the Haunts Be Ours: A Compendium of Folk Horror (Severin)
Basic Instinct (Studio Canal)
Columbia Noir (Powerhouse/Indicator)
Dead & Buried (Blue Underground)
Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea (Second Run)

Hayley Scanlon
Critic and translator 

A Coachman (Korean Film Archive)
Nobuhiko Obayashi’s Anti-War Trilogy (Third Window Films)
Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (Arrow)
The Snake Girl and the Silver-Haired Witch (Arrow)
Time and Tide (Eureka)

Imogen Smith
Film critic and curator 

After Life (Criterion)
Alias Nick Beal (Kino)
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (Kino)
The Bitter Stems (Flicker Alley/The Film Noir Foundation)
The Face Behind the Mask (Imprint)

James White
Head of restoration, Arrow 

Blood for Dracula (Severin)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Criterion)
Flesh for Frankenstein (Vinegar Syndrome)
Rancho Deluxe & Smile (Fun City)
Smile (Fun City)
Some Came Running (Warner Archive)
The Dungeon of Andy Milligan (Severin)
The Naked Spur (Warner Archive)
The Parallax View (Criterion)

Jason Wood
Artistic Director, HOME Manchester

Adoption (Second Run)
Mandabi (StudioCanal)
Martin Eden (New Wave)
Radio On (BFI)
The Roy Andersson Collection (Curzon)

Jonathan Rosenbaum
Film critic 

24 Frames (Potemkine Films)
Center Stage (Film Movement)
Citizen Kane (Criterion)
The Complete Films of Agnes Varda (Criterion)
Thunderbolt (Kino Lorber)

Kim Newman 
Film critic 

Fireball XL5 (Network)
Hammer Horror: Four Gothic Horror Films (ViaVision)
Maigret The Complete Series (Network)
The Eurocrypt of Christopher Lee Collection (Severin)
Yokai Monsters Collection (Arrow)

Matt Thrift
Film critic 

Cinematic Vengeance: 8 Kung Fu Classics by Director Joseph Kuo (Eureka)
Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó (Second Run)
Shawscope Volume One (Arrow)
The Red Shoes 4K (Criterion)
The Young Master (88 Films)

Naman Ramachandran
Critic and filmmaker 

Collaborations: The Cinema of Zhang Yimou and Gong Li (Imprint)
Dune (Arrow Video)
Flowers of Shanghai (Criterion)
Irreversible (Indicator)
Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942 (BFI)

Neil McGlone
Film critic and programmer 

Beauty and the Beast (Second Run)
Columbia Noir #3 (Indicator)
Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (Arrow Video)
The World of Wong Kar Wai (Criterion)

Pamela Hutchinson
Film critic 

Adoption (Second Run)
But I’m a Cheerleader! (Lionsgate)
Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
Maria Lassnig: Film Works (Austrian Film Museum)
Merrily We Go To Hell (Criterion)

Philip Concannon
Film critic 

Haut bas fragile + Secret Defense (Potemkine)
I Start Counting! (BFI)
La Roue (Pathe)
The Apostle (Imprint)
The Ascent (Criterion)

Philip Kemp
Film critic 

I Start Counting! (BFI)
Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
Salaam Bombay! (BFI)
Survivor Ballads: Three Films by Shohei Imamura (Arrow)
The Jewish Soul: Ten Classics of Yiddish Cinema (1935-49) (Kino Lorber)

The Ferroni Brigade
Film critic 

Baba Yaga (Le chat qui fume)
Henry Brandt, cinéaste et photographe (Cinémathèque suisse & Musée d’art et d’histoire, Neuchâtel)
Noční jazdci (Slovenský filmový ústav)
Opium (Edition Filmmuseum)
The Nundle [Nasty Habits Box Set + Foto Comics] (Severin Films)

Thomas Flew 
Editorial assistant, Sight and Sound

Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942 (BFI)
Maeve (BFI)
20th Century (Indicator)
The World of Wong Kar Wai (Criterion)

Trevor Johnson 
Film critic 

Columbia Noir (Indicator)
I Start Counting! (BFI)
Maeve (BFI)
Out of the Blue (BFI)
The Thing (Universal)

Chris Barwick
DVD and Blu-ray Producer, Second Run

Basic Instinct (Studio Canal)
Blood for Dracula (Severin)
The Damned (Criterion)
Eloy de la Iglesia’s Quinqui Collection (Severin)
Hammer Horror: Four Gothic Horror Films (ViaVision)
Karloff at Columbia (Eureka!)
The Last Man on Earth (Kino)
Major Dundee (Arrow Video)
The Parallax View (Criterion)
Santa Sangre (Severin)
True Romance (Arrow)
Viy (Masters of Cinema)
Years of Lead: Five Classic Italian Crime Thrillers 1973-1977 (Arrow)

Sam Wigley
News and features editor, BFI

Devi (Criterion)
Giants and Toys (Arrow)
The Lighthouse (Second Run)
Maeve (BFI)
Viy (Masters of Cinema)

Mehelli Modi
Founder, Second Run

István Szabó Collection (Hungarian National Film Institute)
The Cool Lakes of Death (Cult Epics)
Franco Noir: Two Films by Jess Franco (Severin)
Johnny Guitar (Masters Of Cinema)
Twentieth Century (Indicator)

Gareth Evans
Film critic 

Friendship’s Death (BFI)
Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó (Second Run)
The Lighthouse (Second Run)
Play for Today: Volume 2 (BFI)
The Whalebone Box (Anti-Worlds)

Kieron Corless
Associate Editor, Sight & Sound 

Adoption (Second Run)
Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs (Criterion)
Mandabi (StudioCanal)
Hungarian Masters: Three Films by Zoltán Fábri, István Gaál and Miklós Jancsó (Second Run)

Charlotte Whitehouse
Film critic 

Mädchen in Uniform (BFI)
Adoption (Second Run)
The Signifyin’ Works of Marlon Riggs (Criterion)
20th Century (Indicator)
Marlene Dietrich at Universal 1940-1942 (BFI)

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