10 Top Movies for Showing Off Your Dolby Atmos Speaker System
Movie soundtracks have evolved dramatically in nearly a century since music and sound effects first appeared in motion pictures, followed by synchronized dialogue and the emergence of “talkies” in the late 1920s. Mono became stereo, then three channels, all in front of the audience. Finally, the head-spinning, heart-pounding emergence of 5.1 surround sound debuted in the 1970s, followed by 7.1, leading us to the ultimate experience.
Immersive, “object-based surround sound”—specifically, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X—places speakers around the audience horizontally as well as overhead, creating a more convincing three-dimensional soundfield. Individual sound sources, such as spaceships, rain, voices and ambient effects, can be placed anywhere in the soundfield, fooling our brains into thinking we're in the middle of the action rather than simply watching it on the screen in front of us. It literally adds a new dimension of excitement and impact to watching movies!
Many Blu-ray and UHD Blu-ray titles are now available with a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. (Some have a DTS:X soundtrack, but Atmos is more common.) Of course, to get the most out of watching these movies, you need a home-speaker system equipped to unleash the immersive fun of object-based surround sound. If you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system, all you need to do is add some height effects speakers and make sure your AV receiver can decode Dolby Atmos and DTS:X and drive the extra speakers. For more on immersive sound, check out our blog, Dolby Atmos and DTS:X Take Immersive Audio to New Heights.
Once you have a home-theater system equipped with height speakers, you'll want to experience it to the fullest and show it off to your friends and family. But which movies have the best Dolby Atmos effects? This isn’t a ranking of the top 10, because it will always be subjective, but here are some favorites we love to demo for our SVS community during events:
Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame
The last two movies in the Avengers series are chock full of things flying around and overhead. In fact, you might find yourself ducking for cover! Even better, Alan Silvestri's superb musical score is artfully mixed throughout the soundfield, further contributing to the sonic fun.
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Many critics don't like the look of Ang Lee's high-frame-rate movie, but no one complains about its Dolby Atmos soundtrack. The soundstage really opens up during transitions from a small, intimate scene with most of the sound near the screen to the football stadium with crowd sounds all around. And in Iraq, the sound of bullets flying from one side of the room to the other will make you flinch.
Blade Runner 2049
As in the original Blade Runner, the rain almost never stops, which is conveyed very effectively by the overhead speakers. Flying cars zoom around, and there is lots of ambient sound within the densely packed city throughout the hemispherical soundfield. In addition, the score by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer—which harkens back to the original score by Vangelis—is beautifully mixed well into the room on all sides and above.
This charming animated feature is one of Pixar's best, and it takes full advantage of the overhead speakers, especially in the Land of the Dead. Watch out for the glowing Pepita, a fearsome protector spirit who flies all around the room, and people falling from their high perches.
Based on real events, this gripping movie tells the story of climbers attempting to reach the summit of Mt. Everest in 1996. The overhead speakers are used mostly for the howling storm raging around the climbers. The music score is also mixed into the surround and overhead speakers, as are some of the sound effects, such as cracking glacial ice and the rescue helicopter. Otherwise, the mix is fairly front-loaded, which makes the storm scenes all the more immersive—and terrifying—by comparison.
Ghost in the Shell
A live-action version of a classic anime, Ghost in the Shell fills its immersive soundfield throughout most of the movie with bullets whizzing, VTOL aircraft flying over, the hustle and bustle of big-city life, and many other sound effects. The Major's climactic battle with the spider tank is especially enveloping.
It's quite surprising that a movie set entirely in outer space has one of the most effective Dolby Atmos mixes available. The sound of debris flying all around the damaged space station, the direction from which the radio voices emanate as the camera angle changes, even the music—all are artfully steered throughout the room. The Atmos soundtrack is available only on the Diamond Luxe edition of the Blu-ray.
Turning Andy Weir's novel into a blockbuster movie provided plenty of opportunity to fill the Atmos soundfield. The opening storm scene is especially effective with wind, sand, and various objects being blown around—it really feels like you're in the middle of it all. There are plenty of other scenes in which the immersive sound is very effective, such as the blast off from the Martian surface.
Ready Player One
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of a novel by Ernest Cline splits its time between the dystopian real world and the utopian VR world of the OASIS. The virtual world has plenty of sounds coming from all around as the protagonists search for keys to inherit the creator's fortune. Meanwhile, the real world of Columbus, Ohio, includes tall, precarious stacks of trailer homes with lots of sounds coming from above the viewer.
The Atmos soundtrack of this chapter in the Spider-Man saga is wonderful. Spidey slings his webs all around the room, and the flying villain is often heard above and around the audience. And like many modern Atmos soundtracks, the music is mixed way into the room, engulfing moviegoers in the excellent score by Michael Giacchino and a variety of classic and newer rock songs.
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