The way things are looking due to the global coronavirus pandemic, we could all be spending a lot more time at home. If nothing else, that might mean more time to immerse yourself in movies and TV series. And if you're doing that, we think you really should be doing it in the best picture quality possible.
If you've bought a new TV in the past couple of years, the chances are it's a 4K TV, which means you have four times the number of pixels at your disposal compared to an HD TV. Fill those pixels with information, courtesy of some 4K content, and you're looking at a picture that should be more detailed, more dynamic and more impressive in a 'wow-that-looks-good' way.
We've rounded-up the best 4K movies and TV shows that are available to watch now, whether on streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video and Netflix, or, for the ultimate in picture (and sound), with a 4K Blu-ray player and our pick of the best 4K Blu-rays. Read on for our pixel-packed picks...
Best 4K movies
Best 4K movies
There's nothing like immersing yourself in two hours of cinematic escapism.
Modern TV series boast big budgets, big-name actors, and complex stories weaved over tens of episodes and multiple seasons, but films offer a complete, start-to-finish experience, ideal for an evening's entertainment.
As TV shows have become ever more complicated, with elongated episodes and endless character arcs, there's a lot to be said for a singular dose of story-telling.
Let's kick things off with a selection of our favourite 4K films – and how you can watch them.
Joaquin Phoenix quite rightly won the 2020 Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Joker. And this intense, enthralling film really is all about the lead's starring role. That said, there's some sublime cinematography and a haunting soundtrack – not to mention a whole heap to think about, once you've digested it in its entirety. The picture looks great and comes with Dolby Vision HDR.
X-Men: Dark Phoenix
Not everyone loved this captivating superhero spectacle, but it's visually stunning and comes with a great Dolby Atmos soundtrack. Although mastered in 2K, the upscaled 4K presentation is blessed with rich blacks and eye-catching whites that enhance the spirited cinematography as the X-Men face their most formidable and powerful foe yet.
Beautifully shot and with some spell-binding scenes that will captivate you as much as they test your system, Ad Astra is thoughtful and challenging, and far removed from the typical Hollywood blockbuster of the day.
High-octane, it isn't, but you can expect expansive shots of space, a great performance from Brad Pitt and a head-scratching storyline. It comes with HDR10 video, plus Dolby Atmos surround sound.
Now here's an interesting 4K Blu-ray release. Gemini Man may have received mixed reviews but as a visual spectacle it's not only a sight to behold but unique. It's delivered in 120 frames per second, which creates that super-smooth motion effect, which some people would rather you turned off. Here, where the film has been mad from start to finish in 120fps, we find it quite captivating, with only occasional moments when the illusion falters a touch.
The film itself sees double the Will Smith fun, as Will Smith battles CGI Will Smith across a variety of lavish, colourful locations. Expect ridiculous (but good fun) action scenes, the odd bit of iffy dialogue, and a surprisingly impenetrable plot. Sit back, relax and admire the view - just don't take it too seriously.
Uncut Gems is a thriller starring Adam Sandler as Howard Ratner, a jeweller and gambling addict in New York City's Diamond District, who must retrieve an expensive gem he purchased to pay off his debts. Strong reviews, it's been billed as "the most exciting film of the year", and a fittingly sparkling 4K picture make this a Netflix film to add to your watch list.
Spider-Man: Far From Home
This addition to the Spider-Man series proved to be a little different and a welcome breath of slightly fresher air in these superhero-packed times. A mix of teen rom-com and more standard Marvel fair, both Tom Holland and Samuel L. Jackson turn-in entertaining performances in a film that's much more fun than many recent capers. Expect the standard mix of bright colours and explosive surround sound from the Prime Video 4K HDR version.
Blade Runner 2049
The 4K Blu-ray disc is superb but you can also enjoy this update to Blade Runner via iTunes and Sky. 2049 was shot digitally with Arri Alexa XT cameras at 3.4K, receiving a 4K digital intermediate for its theatrical release. We'd lump it into the 'might as well be native 4K' category. It's an image that's high on clarity, with rich, textured colours and terrific black performance.
If you're a fan of the Deadpool character and the film's sense of humour, the 4K version of this second film is absolutely worth watching. The detail, contrast and colour levels receive a significant uptick compared with Full HD. And if you have compatible equipment, the Dolby Atmos track on the disc adds another dimension. You get 15 minutes extra and whole host of other special features on the 4K Blu-ray release, too.
Ghost in the Shell
Scarlett Johansson leads this visually stunning update of the Ghost in the Shell anime. Mamoru Oshii’s manga adaptation is one of the most celebrated animes ever made, going on to influence countless films and video games. The Hollywood adaptation is sort of, but not quite, a remake, with lots of borrowed bits and pieces from the Shell canon and the result is a perfectly entertaining film. It's 'remastered in UHD' for Sky Q and also features a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
Die Hard 30th Anniversary
One of the greatest action films of the 80s gets a good 4K presentation, which really grants the film a new lease of life. The 5.1 soundtrack is fine and has all the fireworks you'd expect, even if it would have been interesting to hear what an Atmos or DTS:X soundtrack could have achieved. If you love the film and love 4K, it's a must buy.
OK, so Us may not be as inventive an idea or as clearly realised as Jordan Peele's debut film, Get Out, but it still delivers jumps, twists, laughs and more than enough originality to keep you entertained. Available in 4K on Sky TV, or via Ultra HD Blu-ray, the film has a bright and bold colour palette, complete with inky dark blacks to show-off your screen. It's an upscaled 3840 x 2160p resolution image and delivers High Dynamic Range in the form of HDR10 and Dolby Vision, while there's also a Dolby Atmos soundtrack.
Us is available in UHD on Sky Q
A Star is Born
Who knew Bradley Cooper could sing? Who knew Stefani Germanotta aka Lady Gaga could act? Both deliver fine performances, accompanied by some brilliantly effective feel-good tunes and of course, the classic story (remade here for the fourth time). A powerful love story with Germanotta stealing the show in style.
A great test for your surround sound system, or even just in stereo, it comes with a 7.1-channel DTS-HD mix or Dolby Atmos, while there's HDR10 and Dolby Vision video.
A Star is Born is available in UHD on Sky Q
Best 4K TV shows
Best 4K TV shows
As has been well documented, the likes of Amazon and Netflix are more than matching the might of Hollywood when it comes to delivering era-defining content. Mainly focusing on TV shows, expect drama, action, sci-fi and comedy - often all in one show. And of course, the streaming services have been no slouches when it comes to the technology, so 4K, HDR and even Dolby Atmos can now be delivered directly to your TV. Here's our pick of the best 4K TV shows.
Better Call Saul
One of the many charms of Breaking Bad was the vivid nature of its characters, pivotal and peripheral. The spin-off series, Better Call Saul, tells the backstory of über-shallow attorney Saul Goodman. Now in its fifth season, the storytelling is fast, tight, dramatic and humorous throughout, and the picture quality – Better Call Saul is shot, scanned, mastered and edited in 4K – is lustrous and superbly detailed. As a demonstration of what 4K can do, you won’t find much better.
Locke & Key
Need something new for 2020? How about a supernatural horror drama? Locke & Key was developed by Carlton Cuse (Lost) and is based on the comic book series of the same name by Joe Hill (who just happens to be Stephen King's son) alongside Gabriel Rodriguez.
Locke & Key follows three siblings who, after the murder of their father, move to their ancestral home – a remote, taxidermy-filled mansion with particularly lovely floor tiles. The Lockes' dwelling, conveniently titled Key House, houses magical keys that whisper to them and offer bizarre capabilities but that's not all that's awry here – echoes in wells shouldn't be answering back, after all.
If you think you're ready to see a 10-year old boy put a key into a keyhole on the nape of his neck, watch on. Keep a pillow or fellow viewer close by for hiding purposes.
There's two seasons (20 episodes) of this white-knuckle thriller so far, and a third is on the way.
What should you know? Well, our central character is an FBI agent Emily Byrne (Stana Katic) and according to the authorities it's a tragic case, but whatever happened to her during the six years she was missing (which involved a terrifying tank) it changed her. The once-respected agent – declared dead in absentia while tracking a notorious serial killer – is now back with us, but violent and extremely dangerous. Or is she?
Byrne struggles to define herself as a mother and survivor of years of torture, trying to rebuild a relationship with a son who's being raised by her husband's new wife. She even enlists the help of a police detective to investigate her history, but that goes to dark places fairly quickly.
Watch it and, however much you want to, you won't be able to look away.
Jason Bateman and Laura Linney are excellent in this original drama about a white-collar family that slowly gets sucked into a life of guns, gangsters and people being electrocuted in boats, having decided to go from straight-lace accountants to money launderers for the Mexican cartel. As you do.
A mix of dark humour and dark goings-on make for a show with a good mix of entertainment and suspense and it’s easier on the brain than some of the notebook-at-the-ready, multi-stranded HBO dramas.
The third season begins at the end of March 2020, and the picture provides a good test of your TV’s black levels and contrast. There’s 5.1-channel sound, too.
A collaboration between Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, Good Omens stars Michael Sheen and David Tennant as an angel and a demon who work together to stop the apocalypse. The six hour-long episodes are a suitably zany, not to mention binge-worthy, 4K feast.
For All Mankind
One of the first TV shows produced for Apple TV, For All Mankind imagines an alternate history where the 'space race' continues, following the Soviet Union successfully completing the first manned Moon landing. It's a grower, that gets more exciting as the episodes progress and the story takes shape. At times nerve-wracking and almost thought-provoking, it represents a solid start for Apple TV.
This Amazon Original stars Orlando Bloom and Cara Delevingne. Now that we've got the bad news out of the way, here's the good news: it's actually very good. Set in a Victorian fantasy world where humans must live alongside mythical beasts, the action follows soldier-turned-detective Rycroft Philostrate (Bloom) as he hunts down a serial killer. Can he get to the bottom of the grisly killings? We couldn't possibly say – but you're in for a shadowy, noir-tinged treat.
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
The prequel to Jim Henson's iconic 1982 dark fantasy film features stunning set design, sophisticated puppetry on a grand scale and a stellar voice cast. The story centres on a magical world called Thra filled with dense forests and magical creatures. If you're looking for an immersive TV experience, this live action mash-up of CGI, puppet art and Dolby Atmos sound will keep you hooked for ten entrancing episodes.
Roughly 350 years into the future, technology has advanced to the point where, instead of dying, you can simply digitise and upload your consciousness into a brand new body (called a ‘sleeve’) – essentially you live on as an immortal .zip file. The decadent environs of the central characters contrast with the dystopia of the wider world, giving plenty of scope for dramatic visuals. Special effects splatter the screen throughout, ensuring no end of stimulation for your eyes. There are now two seasons to get your head around.
The first season of Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and Eric Kripke's humans vs superheroes series sucker-punched its way onto the video service last summer, and it instantly – and deservedly – found fanfare.
The Amazon Original, based on the eponymous comic by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson, sees a group of vigilantes (Karl Urban, Jack Quaid...) seek revenge on the most corrupt superheroes within the universe's corporate-owned Seven superhero team (Erin Moriarty, Antony Starr...).
One for Deadpool fans, The Boys triumphs through its refreshing blend of playful profanity, well-rounded characters and timely relevance.
Despite it being in its debut season infancy, Amazon has already secured an eight-episode second season for an as-yet-unknown release.
Blue Planet II
Something soothing for these troubling times? Blue Planet II is full of vivid coral reefs, bright and colourful fish, wondrous creatures that change colour, alien-like beasts that look creepy and fascinating at the same time – and they all look fantastic in sharp, clear and vibrant 4K HDR. A must-watch on Netflix or 4K Blu-ray disc.
Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet
An Apple TV exclusive, Mythic Quest is an American comedy show starring Rob McElhenney, who is perhaps best known for playing Mac in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The nine-episode series debuted in 2020 and has received largely positive reviews and, due to being set in a video game studio, will be extra on-point for anyone familiar with all the jokes and tropes of the gaming world.
The first of the Marvel-Netflix collaborations is a world away from the colourful, family-friendly superhero movies. Daredevil is dark – visually and tonally – and brutally violent in a way that’s both thrilling and shocking. The writing is mature, the characters are compelling and it looks gorgeous. Available in 4K HDR and with Dolby Vision, the dark, gloomy palette and incredible fight scenes look great.
If you don’t want to binge another US show and you’ve had your fill of Nordic Noir, you could do a lot worse than Dark, a moody Netflix Originals drama from Germany. Set in a small German town that appears to be half scary rainforest and half mysterious nuclear power plant, the story centres around a series of disappearances which become eerily familiar to some of the town’s older residents.
The story may be a slow-burner, but throw in dark caves and hidden tunnels, mad professors and mysterious contraptions (and in time, a whole host of slightly confusing character lines), and there’s every reason to race through both seasons.
If you prefer your gangsters gritty rather than glamorous, Gomorrah might just be for you. Set in Naples (and delivered in Italian with subtitles), this is a TV adaption of the Roberto Savianno book, which exposed life in the Camorra, one of the oldest crime syndicates in Italy, and proved accurate enough to leave the author fearing for his life. While the plot may be nothing out of the ordinary for the genre, the script, acting performances and overall pacing of the show have elevated the show into the upper echolons of 'must-watch' TV series. There are now four brilliant seasons to enjoy.
The Grand Tour
Armed with a bigger budget and more freedom than they had on the BBC, the former Top Gear trio have found a new home on Amazon. Now in its third series, The Grand Tour has had a refresh, with segments that didn't work being dropped, and others having returned. The tent even has a home base now. Production values remain as high as ever, with stunning shots of cars and landscapes looking even more gorgeous in 4K HDR.
This drama focuses on a New York drug kingpin desperately trying to go straight. Naturally, it doesn't turn out to be so easy. The story's familiar, but the slick production and surprising twists elevate Power above the typical gangster show. The hip-hop soundtrack will give your system a work out and the 4K picture is excellent. There are six seasons in total - and, due to its success, a whole host of spin-off shows on the way.
Le Mans: Racing is Everything
The Le Mans 24 Hours is the toughest, oldest and most elite endurance race in the world of motorsports. In this six-episode series, film crews get unprecedented behind-the-scenes access as they follow six of the biggest teams and their high-profile drivers. It's a fascinating insight into this intensely challenging race that often features accidents and fatalities. And of course, the actual race footage looks impressive in 4K.
The Man in the High Castle
What would have happened if the Axis powers had won the Second World War? Based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, this series is set in a 1960s USA under the control of Nazi Germany in the east, and the Japanese empire in the west.
Stranger Things ticks all the 1980s Spielberg-era film tropes, but writers/producers/directors Mike and Ross Duffer veer away from saccharine pastiche. Instead, the brothers deliver a well-written plot that’s as exciting and involving as it is filled with pop culture, sci-fi, horror and nods to 80s music. There are three seasons to enjoy - and fourth is on the way.