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"The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films, presents..."
The back cover of every Criterion release ever
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The Criterion Collection is a home video distributor of, in its own words, "important classic and contemporary films". Its first releases were LaserDiscs of Citizen Kane and King Kong (1933); it currently releases DVD and Blu-ray editions of films. The films the above description covers range from cult classics to internationally acknowledged masterpieces, and from the silent movie era to the present day; no genre or country of origin is overlooked.

Founded in 1984 by arthouse film distributor Janus Films, Criterion pioneered much of what is now taken for granted on DVD and Blu-ray releases: the use of letterboxing to preserve the correct Aspect Ratio of a film, audio commentaries (which they essentially created on the laserdisc of King Kong), director's cuts, and including supplemental materials. And when it comes to supplements, they have supplements — every trailer and TV spot that can be scrounged up, vintage and new documentaries, thick booklets of critical essays — even print copies of the source material if the film was an adaptation of a short story or novel. Criterion are also noted for the intense care they take to clean up the film prints and for the quality of their finished products. And their DVD and Blu-ray releases have become noted (particularly in The New '10s) for their unique cover art and sometimes packaging.note 

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Criterion licenses their titles from studios (with most titles technically sublicensed from Janus Films, which has the same ownership as Criterion), so the releases occasionally go out of print... taking their bonus features with them. Also note that Up Marketing applies to the collection, due in part to the relatively small audiences for many of these films; with rare exceptions, a single-disc title is $30 (U.S.)... and many, many Criterion releases are multi-disc sets.note  (And you thought the companies that made anime DVDs were bad....) Currently they also offer two sublines:

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  • Essential Art House: A budget line consisting of particularly famous Collection films without bonus features for $20 each.
  • Eclipse: Box sets that collect thematically-linked titles. Common themes inclue the more obscure work of particularly prolific major filmmakers (ex.: a set of early Ingmar Bergman titles) and the work of lesser-known but innovative ones. More specific sets include the four horror movies made by Japanese studio Shochiku in The '60s and a sampling of the output of England's Gainsborough Pictures, whose period piece Melodramas were among the country's most popular films in the 1940s. These collections allow a look into styles and eras of world cinema that often go neglected. Another Vanilla Edition line, but these movies would likely never see the light of The Present Day otherwise.

Beginning in The New '10s, Criterion became notable as one of the few distributors that continues to release non-Vanilla Edition discs of pre-1980s and/or foreign-language films to DVD, as the Great Recession resulted in many studio-based distributors severely cutting back on so-called "catalog" titles aside from those that fall under Small Reference Pools.

The Criterion Collection has released hundreds upon hundreds of films on DVD. Each film has a spine number, ostensibly to denote the order in which Criterion released it to the format. Updated versions of a Criterion release inherit the spine number from the previous version. For instance, Seven Samurai has a spine number of "2", denoting that it was the second DVD Criterion released (the first, for those keeping score at home, was The Grand Illusion). When Criterion issued a three-disc set for Seven Samurai in 2006, it supplanted that earlier (and now out of print) DVD from the late '90s. Blu-ray releases of these titles likewise inherit the spine number from their original DVD release.

Barring a few British releases, Criterion DVDs are Region 1 encoded (North America only) and their Blu-rays Region A (The Americas and most of Asia). Eureka Video's Masters of Cinema series, Arrow Films's Arrow Academy (classic and arthouse films) and Arrow Video (genre films and B Movies, focusing mostly on horror) series, and Powerhouse Films's Indicator series could be regarded as the UK equivalents. Turner Classic Movies is more or less the television equivalent and has aired many, many Criterion titles over the years; in 2016, they launched a joint venture with Criterion to create a subscription online streaming service called FilmStruck. Unfortunately, FilmStruck was shut down on November 29, 2018. But Criterion promptly announced a streaming service of their own, The Criterion Channel, which launched on April 8, 2019 and features a constantly updating library of features and shorts — including many that are not in the physical catalog — plus bonus content. A selection of Criterion titles is also available for streaming on HBO Max, Netflix, Hulu, and Kanopy.

Of course, like anything, Criterion is not exactly immune to criticism. The lack of focus for non-white and non-male directors — especially black ones — has long been the focus of scrutiny against the Collection since the 1990s (particularly in light of the fact that many black-directed films from Criterion's LaserDisc library were never reissued in their DVD and Blu-ray lines), which is especially seen as meshing poorly with Criterion's reputation as a near-definitive library of the most important films in cinema history. The fact that Criterion is oriented most strongly towards physical media, with many of their titles being locked to a physical format, also receives criticism from those who feel it erects an unnecessarily high barrier of entry, given the greater costs and setup requirements for them compared to digital streaming. Among videophile physical media enthusiasts, there is consternation that Criterion is dragging their feet on releasing 4K Ultra HD discs, particularly when some of their titles have received such releases from other home video labels outside of America. And of course, there are the folks who feel that Criterion sometimes loses focus by admitting more mainstream-friendly titles, which is a practice that goes all the way back to the LaserDisc era of their output. All these caveats notwithstanding, Criterion still maintains a high standing among cinephiles, and few will deny its massive legacy and influence as the de facto industry leader in the home media market.

The Criterion Collection includes Armageddon. No, really. We're not kidding. (It was the Collection's final LaserDisc release.)


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    Directors represented in The Criterion Collection who have their own pages: 

Films released in The Criterion Collection include:

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Alternative Title(s): Criterion Collection

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