Why Are Marvel’s Blu-Ray Releases So Mediocre?

These days, Marvel Studios make THE tentpole action flicks. With a combination of fun characters, good direction, solid stories, huge spectacle, and a formula that just works, they’ve created an ongoing, interwoven geek movie franchise that has every other studio scrambling to catch up.

Make no mistake, I’m an unabashed fan. I don’t pretend they are classic cinema — they’re just comic book movies — but they do something important: they consistently make me feel like I’m 12 again, only without all the self-loathing and zits. From the tense drama of The Winter Soldier to the charming adventure of Ant-Man to the hilarious space adventure of Guardians of the Galaxy, I love this stuff.

So do a LOT of people. Marvel movies are YUGE. Four of them have grossed over $1 billion worldwide each, and not a single one has drawn less than $500 million since 2011’s Thor (and even that one hit $450 million). Even the relatively obscure Doctor Strange recently surpassed $655 million. So people are clearly eager to spend their money on these flicks.

They’re not just moneymakers, either. Every single film they’ve done is ranked “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes, and only two (The Incredible Hulk and Thor: The Dark World) slip below 70%. More than half are over 80%. The same holds true at IMDB, where only Captain America: The First Avenger and The Incredible Hulk are rated lower than 7.0, and they are at 6.9 and 6.8, respectively.

Not just moneymakers, then, either. People actually think they’re pretty decent.

Plus they’re built on a foundation rich with pop culture history, coming from some of the most popular comics in the world. These characters stretch back 40, 50+ years – in Captain America’s case, 70 years – and have been beloved by multiple generations. They’re some of the most iconic characters in the world. For geeks, every movie is an Event.

Which makes me wonder why the home releases on Blu-Ray suck as badly as they do.

When my edition of Captain America: Civil War came in, I did as I usually do with a new home release and dove right into the extras. By this point, though, I lacked my usual fan’s excitement. I don’t expect much from Marvel home releases anymore. That the shallow offerings on this disc actually improved on past releases is faint praise indeed, because they’re little more than EPK (Electronic Press Kit) fluff.

Here’s the rundown:

  1. A 45-minute “making of,” among their longest so far, but one that doesn’t really provide any real “making of” material. It’s empty, uninformative trash that amounts to a lengthy commercial.
  2. Two short bits that sum up Cap and Tony’s story so far are about 4 minutes each and are pure Youtube hype fodder.
  3. A brief (and funny) gag reel.
  4. An advertisement for the then upcoming Doctor Strange.
  5. And a commentary track.

All of this came in a glorious, paper thin, super cheap plastic Blu-Ray case that would be crushed if you put a paperback book on it.

Deluxe Phase 1 set = overpriced trash

The recent release of Doctor Strange was much the same. The extras totaled up to about an hour, which seemed promising, but when you actually watch them you see that they’re the worst sort of filler. The behind the scenes shorts are the kind of content-less puffery you’d find on Entertainment Tonight. No actual insights into how the movie was made, no true looks behind the scenes, nothing of value whatsoever.

What gives?

I can go grab a Blu-Ray of critically slammed junk like The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies and it will be JAM-PACKED with hours and hours of extra stuff — and it’s not mere fluff. Those home releases are filled with robust “making of” material, behind the scenes, lore from Middle Earth, and lots more, all of it in very nice packaging. It’s worth a purchase even if you never watch the movie, because you get loads of good viewing just from the extras.

The Harry Potter series was just as huge as Marvel is now, and again, those DVD releases were fantastic. Tons of extra material made them a great value that extended and expanded your love for the franchise. Star Wars, ditto. The Alien series has absurdly good home releases. And on and on and on. They all gave you a good reason to want them on your shelf and they all provide a great bang for your buck.

Yet since Iron Man 2, the Marvel home releases have been low-effort cash-ins with little to actually recommend them aside from the movie itself – and sorry, as a fiend for quality home releases with good extra content, that just doesn’t cut it. There just isn’t much reason to purchase them.

On second thought, DON’T get it

They all follow the same basic formula: They’ll have one “main” extra feature which is usually a 20-minute hype-reel purporting to be a behind-the-scenes but which is actually a lengthy commercial for a movie you already own. Then they’ll be one or two small segments about some specific topic — Thor’s hammer or the movie’s music or something — usually about 5 minutes long, that tend to be Youtube fodder. You’ll also have a short gag reel, a preview for the next movie, and some deleted scenes. Finally, the director’s commentary, which are the most substantial extras on each disc and generally the only thing worth checking out.

Contrast this with other superhero movies from Marvel properties that have had fantastic home releases and it’s hard to not bee disappointed.

The Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies had great home releases, for example. The first one had multiple commentary tracks, a HBO “making of,” a full documentary on the character, and loads more. The second one was even more jam-packed, with a substantive feature-length making of documentary, loads of informative featurettes, two commentary tracks, and more.

Or look at the X-Men franchise from Fox. Their home releases have been robust and worth every penny. X2, for example, not only had two commentary tracks, an array of short features with actual substance, and lots of deleted scenes, it had a feature-length making of documentary that actually brought you behind the scenes on how the movie was made. The first was just as robust (and the 1.5 version even included an alternate cut of the movie). Later released got thinner, but the landmarks were all worthy purchases.

Even junk like the Fantastic Four movies (which I actually enjoyed) got nice, hefty home releases. The DVD edition of the first movie’s extended cut has two commentary tracks, multiple short features, and THREE informative documentaries on the making of the movie, the history of the Fantastic Four comic, and one on Jack Kirby, the latter of which is a great watch. The second movie also had good, chunky extra content.

And yet with Marvel you’re lucky if you get a decent commentary track, because everything else is going to be disposable.

A franchise this big, popular, and good deserves better home releases than this. I’d gladly pay an extra $10 for a deluxe release that came with plenty of extra content, provided it had substance, and I know I’m not alone in this. At the very least you’d think that the centerpieces of the MCU movies, the Avengers films, would get the deluxe treatment with extensive documentaries on the comic, the team, the comic creators, and so on.

Hell, comic book/superhero fans are natural collectors. It’s what we do. Throw extra stuff at the superhero community and they’re going to eat it up. It surely wouldn’t be a chore for Disney and Marvel Studios to create this extra material. They’re already filming behind the scenes footage, and cast members and directors already do tons of interviews – few studios are as good at media outreach as Marvel – so what’s stopping them from doing a few more in-depth interviews with technical staff, then getting some good editors to assemble it into documentaries that have actual substance?

Nothing, really, except maybe some penny-pinching bean counters.

Marvel fans deserve better than the low-effort home releases they’ve gotten. We’ve made it the highest grossing film franchise in history, thus far outpacing even the mighty Star Wars. Can you at least throw us a bone and put a little effort into these things?

‘Cause otherwise, there’s little reason to actually own them instead of watching them on streaming services.

49 Comments

  1. Héctor GuerraHéctor Guerra

    What other recent movies have worthwhile extras these days? The Hobbit trilogy is a special case. I think that the days of great making of features in discs are gone.

  2. Chris CampagnaChris Campagna

    Agreed. I’m almost always disappointed by the lack of any substantial content. Also, when is Disney going to embrace 4K? I mean they are still pushing the home 3D format, which is basically dead at this point. I realize that at some point they will surely see the dollar potential in selling the same titles again in a new format and will jump on, I just wonder how late to the party they plan on being.

  3. Edward SandersEdward Sanders

    I agree with everything you wrote!

  4. Chris KnightChris Knight

    There’s two reasons why Disney, Sony, Fox and Paramount do not include much – if any – “bonus” content with home releases these days.
    1. They did the research, and found that (most) consumers would pay $15 for a blu-ray, regardless of how much extra content was included. Geeks that hoard movie collections are not the vast majority of consumers (and there are studios that cater to them – Criterion and Shout Factory, for instance – that go above and beyond including additional content).
    2. Schwarzenegger. Yep. He refused to record a commentary track for Total Recall, without getting paid. And thus started the bidding wars for paying ludicrous amounts of money to actors/directors/etc. to assist in producing bonus content. It’s cost-prohibitive for most studios to pay for a service that most consumers will never use or care about.

    1. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      Especially in these days of streaming services, bonus content just isn’t considered by most people. Shame, too. For me, at least, that material is a major driving force in my purchases. The Alien Quadrilogy set, for example, is a FANTASTIC purchase. You can watch the movies almost anywhere, no need to actually have them on your shelf, but that extra material is stellar (and was all produced before the blurray era, of course).

    2. Victoria FreeVictoria Free

      I know this is true even just from talking to friends and yet it STILL saddens me because I LOVE a good extra…I wish they would at least put out special edition sets more often..

  5. Chris KnightChris Knight

    Just to add, the upcoming Rogue One blu-ray is virtually devoid of extra features. Compare that to every single home release of any star wars film since the laserdisc days. Disney simply does not care.

  6. Robert KnausRobert Knaus

    I haven’t delved regularly into special features on disc for a while now…there’s just too many movies and TV shows to keep up with to watch 15 hours’ worth of extra features on the latest Edgar Wright Blu-Ray. Plus, a lot of it tends to be bullshit anyways…how many different ways can you watch a pear-shaped ILM employee moving a mousepad around without it getting tedious? Nowadays I’ll peruse the deleted scenes menu, the gag reel, and maybe listen to the commentary if it’s by someone I like (Del Toro, Carpenter, Ridley Scott). No sense in wasting time with mediocre extras.

    1. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      That’s kind of my whole point. Pointless EPK features aren’t worth anyone’s time or money.

    2. Robert KnausRobert Knaus

      If it’s a retrospective documentary/commentary produced decades after the fact, and offers a blunt, truthful look at the production, then yeah, I’ll watch that (especially if it’s one of my favorite movies), but today’s EPK shit is worthless. If someone did a frank documentary on how Rogue One or Suicide Squad were taken away from the filmmakers and slashed to ribbons and re-assembled by panicky producers, then that would be FASCINATING to watch, but no studio would okay that for a contemporary film that they have yet to squeeze every last nickel out of. The making-of on the 2004 Flight Of The Phoenix remake is a rare exception…you see director John Moore clearly losing his shit on the set (“Did he not see the PLANE in the FUCKING SKY…?!”), and the cast members losing patience shooting their EPK soundbites.

  7. Damian PotestaDamian Potesta

    Disney never really embraced special features. Chris Knight I remember back on our old DVD FORUM days when the format was new how we use to talk about their lack of content. Remember when they listed the artwork on the disk as a special feature?

    1. Chris KnightChris Knight

      That’s not entirely true. For a few years, every single one of their DVDs were two disc sets, and their limited Treasures series is one of the finest examples of a studio going bananas with including as much content as they could possibly find. The problem is that not many people bought them.

    2. Damian PotestaDamian Potesta

      And I’ll add I personally don’t care too much about special features anymore. There isn’t a lot of mystery behind the movie making process anymore. Because of special features in the past as well as any number of other TV specials we all know how special effects work.

    3. Michael CarvalhoMichael Carvalho

      I’m very happy with all the extra content on the DR Syn The Scarecrow Of Romney Marsh Treasure edition. But unless it’s a movie that I’m crazy over, I rarely watch the EPK’s and such anymore.

    4. Robert KnausRobert Knaus

      Chris Knight I think that Lilo & Stitch was the first time that Disney cancelled a 2-disc set and just went with a bunch of fluffy, kid-friendly EPKs…they later released the full-length extras on a belated “Big Wave Edition” and — surprise! — it’s a blunt, truthful and enlightening dissection of the whole creative process. Shame NONE of it is on the Blu-Ray.

  8. Jacob P. SecrestJacob P. Secrest

    I just realized I’ve never once owned a Marvel Studios Blu-Ray. I think I might have Iron Man on DVD somewhere.

  9. Trevor GriffithsTrevor Griffiths

    Mediocre discs for mediocre movies. Sounds right to me.

    1. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Do you even listen to Stone Sour?

    2. Trevor GriffithsTrevor Griffiths

      Nope.

    3. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Thought so.

    4. Trevor GriffithsTrevor Griffiths

      Should I start?

    5. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Get off your flip phone.

    6. Trevor GriffithsTrevor Griffiths

      “Stone Sour is an American alternative metal band formed in Des Moines, Iowa in 1992”

    7. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Iowa is darker than any part of Calgary.

    8. Trevor GriffithsTrevor Griffiths

      Calgary is the sunniest city in Canada.

    9. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      I don’t really know if Stone Sour ever played in Calgary but I hope they did and it was partially cloudy when they started.

  10. Keith HowellKeith Howell

    The Steelbook boxes rock, though.

  11. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

    Anything involving Robert Downey Jr. other than Robert Downey Jr. is going to come off as mediocre. Iron Man is the new Superman. Millennials have spoken. Deuces. (Great blog either way, braj.)

    1. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      You liked your own post. What the hell is wrong with you?

    2. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      If you don’t support yourself, who will?

    3. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      Jesus will.

    4. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      See? Jesus just used my account to like my post

    5. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Robert Downey Jr. couldn’t play a short Jesus.

    6. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      That would be wrong, anyway. Jesus was 6’7″, and weighed about 330 pounds of pure muscle.

    7. Ryan FreemanRyan Freeman

      Don’t trigger me by putting labels on Jesus, Eric.

  12. Odis NewsomeOdis Newsome

    I’m fine with the releases. Then again, I have 4 kids (8 years old and younger), so I barely have time to watch the actual movies…much less any special features.

  13. Richard DicksonRichard Dickson

    Just like DVD extras killed off “watch movies get made!” theme park shows, the internet has killed off DVD/Blu-ray extras. I can hop on YouTube or Vimeo or any one of dozens of movie websites and see analysis, retrospectives, behind-the-scenes clips, etc. I don’t need to pay the extra cash for an extra disc to get it.

  14. Richard DicksonRichard Dickson

    And like was said, how many different times do we have to watch “Well it was just an incredible experience working with these people” and “We created this character completely in the computer, watch!” before it’s just a shrug?

  15. Frank SaxonFrank Saxon

    I blame the loss of the “Marvel One Shots”

  16. Tom McGrewTom McGrew

    Hey, why all the hate for the Five Armies? Easily the most “LOTR” -like of the Hobbit films and it has the least amount of bloat. And the extended edition feels the most substantial out of the 3.

    1. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      For me, this is why I didn’t appreciate the extended Five Armies (and when it comes to the Middle Earth movies, I’m generally all about more, more, more, more): http://ericsanjuan.com/the-hobbit-battle-of-five-armies/

    2. Tom McGrewTom McGrew

      All excellent points. Although I’d argue that the “good” extended bits are so good that it’s easy to overlook the other extraneous bits. Thorin’s funeral in particular may be the best scene in the entire Hobbit trilogy. And I can’t but think it was cut for the sole purpose of giving the extended version something substantial enough to sell seeing as how the theatrical version falls well short of the 3 hour sweet spot. It should have never been cut.

    3. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      I agree wholeheartedly. It’s a beautiful scene and I also suspect the main reason it was cut was so this EE had at least one substantial, “I have to own it” scene back in the movie. Tonally, it was as close to the LOTR movies as the Hobbit movies got.

    4. Eric San JuanEric San Juan

      I did marathon all six movies not too long ago, watching each of the movies in two parts — so, 12 nights overall — and The Hobbit movies watch much better that way. Feels more like a miniseries than a too-long adaptation. They flow into the LOTR movies pretty well, too. I could nitpicked them to bloody death if I wanted to, they certainly fell well short of LOTR, but I’ll take what we have, ’cause hey. More Middle Earth.

    5. James HansonJames Hanson

      I like those Hobbit movies.

    6. Shawn McLoughlinShawn McLoughlin

      I don’t like any Hobbitses. The only good one is a dead one. See also: Harry Potter

  17. Larry PhillipsLarry Phillips

    What is even more infuriating is that the price point hovers around top dollar for a long time on an essentially bare bones release. I don’t know what Amazon did to Disney, but buying a premium Disney release there is painful.

    It does seem to leave the door wide open for wave after wave of rereleases (“Now with a new hat!”). Although, curious that we haven’t seen the first wave yet. Maybe Disney is waiting for the clock to run out at Paramount and Universal. But yeah…everything you said.

    1. Robert KnausRobert Knaus

      It galls me when I go to Best Buy and I see a rack of Marvel movies “…at a great sale price!”, and the lowest-priced one is like Thor: The Dark World for $17.99, a Blu that was released over THREE YEARS AGO and doesn’t even offer a digital copy unless you spring for the 3D version. Meanwhile, every time a new DC / Fast & The Furious / X-Men movie drops, I see a display crammed with copies of all the previous movies for $7.99 and under, WITH digital copies, WITH DVD copies, and WITH movie cash tickets to see the latest installment of the franchise. Seriously…fuck YOU, Disney. greedy fucking rat bastards.

  18. James HansonJames Hanson

    I never ever thought we’d ever see an Avengers movie. And not only do we have one, we’re mad about the features.

    Which suck, even if they ever even happen.

Comments are closed.