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๐Ÿ’ฟ The Rise of Movie Boutique Labels

 


Since the 2010s, the rise of streaming has increased, physical media for video have declined, causing major film studios to stop releasing movies and shows that are older, niche, and underrated to DVD and Blu-ray because of financial reasons. That's were Boutique labels come in.


bou·tique

[bo͞oหˆtฤ“k]

NOUN

1. A small store selling fashionable clothes or accessories.

synonyms: store · retail store · outlet · retail outlet · reseller · cash and carry · 

2. A business or establishment that is small and sophisticated or fashionable:

"a boutique film" ·

ORIGIN

mid 18th century: from French, ‘small shop’, via Latin from Greek apothฤ“kฤ“ ‘storehouse’. Compare with bodega.


Boutique Labels are third-party licensee distributors that generally release culturally or artistically significant, obscure/rare, cult, mondo, foreign, older, or otherwise unconventional or uncommon films. They are usually released with the highest level of quality in mind, often include exclusive supplemental material and premium packaging.

The boutique labels restore them in HD or 4K and distributes them on DVD and Blu-ray as a niche business.


What niche? 

The serious collector niche, that wants to physically own a movie and hold it in their own hands.

Most of these boutique labels put a lot of effort and care to restore these films and release them physically to the public for the physical collector market that actually cares about movies. These movies are often restored in 2K or 4K, added bonus material, and have nice packaging. The most famous and oldest of the bunch is The Criterion Collection from Janus films, as they specialize "important classic and contemporary films."


Why don't the major mainstream studios, do this kind of love with their movies?

They do, but only the most popular ones like Star Wars and Jurassic Park, and they also release most of their film and TV catalogue on barebones Blu-ray and poor-quality DVD for the general market. Because the mainstream general market doesn't care about HD picture, surround sound, bonus content, or packaging. They just want to watch the movie one time and that's it. Most of the normies doesn't even know or comprehend, with their state of mind, what a Blu-ray is. 

 That is why the unpopular, older, and niche titles gets a basic barebones physical release or no re-release at all from mainstream studios. 


Another thing is the rise of streaming services because of its rental value, all digital, and ease of use. With popular movies constantly being moved on and off different streaming services, the availability of a favorite movie or TV show is more at risk than ever. Many films are not on streaming services, and some are not available to rent on Amazon or iTunes. 


With a huge library of impressive physical media, the anxiety of something leaving a streaming service or something not available at all can become a thing of the past. Here comes boutique Blu-rays. Blu-rays might not have the same enthusiastic fanbase behind it as vinyl, but plenty of boutique Blu-ray companies put in the time and effort to restore and celebrate films on this amazing disc format. Blu-ray is today's Laserdisc, high quality AVC video compression, crystal clear surround sound, advanced interactive content, and 3D capabilities.


Here's a list of these popular boutique labels, most of them are small and medium sized independent businesses as they compete each other for dominance for home video with great care and dedication. Sometimes, on rare occasions, if one boutique label loses a license to a movie and another boutique label acquires one, the previous boutique label will license their original bonus material to another boutique label. Another rare occasion, sometimes boutique labels will license scanned footage from a movie from another boutique label. Sometimes they'll release old 3D movies on Blu-ray 3D too.

 It is expected that a boutique release to have the best picture quality (in no way digitally molested) and original audio at the very least. 




The Criterion Collection is for fans of the classics

Based in New York, Criterion is the older and most respected of the boutique labels as it serves film and media scholars, cinephiles, and public and academic libraries. Criterion has helped to standardize certain aspects of home-video releases such as film restoration, the letterboxing format for widescreen films and the inclusion of large bonus features such as scholarly essays and commentary tracks. Since 1984, Criterion has produced and distributed more than 1,000 special editions of its films in VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, DVD, Blu-ray and Ultra HD Blu-ray formats and box sets pushing the limits to the highest quality standards from the best available source material and often include a lossles DTS soundtrack or an uncompressed PCM soundtrack. Their film library includes many Akira Kurosawa, Ingmar Bergman, and Wes Anderson films and a few mainstream films. They're also famous for its unique artistic covers and PS4-like Blu-ray cases to show more of the art.

Criterion has a sperate label called Eclipse, it is described by Criterion as "a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions. Titles from Eclipse are released exclusively on DVD.

When it comes to the Criterion you won't be disappointed on what they have to offer. Customer support is decent, and prices are expensive, typically $20 to $60, depending on the title. It is best to purchase them online instead retail places like Barnes & Noble. There catalogue currently available on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra HD Blu-ray in the United Staes and Canada; some titles are available in the United Kingdom. U.S. and Canada Blu-ray releases are mostly Region A, and in the U.K., Blu-ray releases are Region B.

Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release was Mulholland Drive, released on November 16, 2021.



Kino Lorber is for art house fans

Founded in 1977, based in New York City, Kino specializes in art house films, such as low-budget current films, world cinema, and classic films from earlier periods of silent cinema such as Metropolis, Nosferatu, The Last Laugh, and A Trip to the Moon. Additionally, unlike other boutique labels they release older and foreign television series, such as Scandinavian crime. And sometimes they'll release underrated mainstream movies, especially from MGM. Similar in many respects to The Criterion Collection, the home video releases by Kino are usually high-quality restored versions with substantial supplementary material and fairly straightforward packaging with nice slipcase vintage poster art. 

Prices range from $20 to $30, and their titles are not as niche as Criterion's, so there will be movie for anyone. With the best source material available, Kino will push the video and audio specs to the limits possible, but not all titles have loads of bonus material. There are some films like The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly from MGM and Color of Night from Disney, that the rightsholders only gave Kino an inferior master copy to work with. Which is not Kino's fault. But people should understand that boutique labels aren't personally responsible for those masters. They licensed those titles from the rightsholders, and it was either put them out with the masters they'd been supplied with or not release them at all. It's an unfortunate position that a lot of independent boutique labels find themselves in.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release was Hannibal on May 7, 2019.



Shout Factory has got the good stuff

Founded in 2002, based in Los Angles, Shout Factory releases a gamut of titles that differs wildly in genres and target audiences, including complete seasons of classic TV shows. But they really begin to compete with Kino and Criterion with their "Collector's Edition" series of classic, underrated, and underappreciated movies with brand-new restored transfers, as well as new artwork that usually resembles the painted Drew Struzan-style posters from the ’80s, with the nice reversible cover to showcase the original poster, and with lots of bonus material.

They release titles that major studios don't re-release anymore or give them a bare-bones release.

Shout also has a horror sub-label called Scream Factory that specializes in classic and cult horror films such as the Halloween series, The Howling, The Thing, Event Horizon, and Life Force.

Shout, in partnership with GKIDS, also releases classic anime movies and sometimes tv shows such as Studio Ghibli films and Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Shout factory has a more reasonable price than Criterion and Kino ranging from $15 to $30. With the best source material available, mostly remastered in 4K, Shout pushes the Blu-ray audio-visual technical specs to the limits, giving you one of the best movie experiences at home.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release was The Deer Hunter on May 26, 2020.



Arrow films is for fans of cult favorites

Founded in 1991, based in Hertfordshire, England, Arrow specializes in cult cinema, horror films, b-movies, and obscure content; these kinds of films were called "video nasties" in the U.K. Arrow originally released these movies exclusively in the United Kingdom until they expanded to the United States for the American market and accessing Arrow Video's physical disc collection has never been easier (and cheaper).

In many ways, Arrow can be considered the more genre-oriented brother of Criterion. Arrow is run by true enthusiasts who think beyond just the films they release. For some of us, packaging, artwork and extras beyond standard featurettes are a big part of the fun of collecting. Encodes and framing issues sometimes arise, but they do put the best effort with video & audio quality.

Arrow has U.K. based exclusives that aren't available in the U.S. due to licensing reasons, and they'll be more expensive to import and will often be Region-B locked.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release was Flash Gordon on August 18, 2020.



Vinegar Syndrome is for fans of the absurd and nasty.

Founded in 2012, based in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Most likely you will never recognize a single title available from Vinegar Syndrome, as compared to the Criterion Collection, their mission statement is to preserve and restore genre films as they have some of the most obscure cinema available on disc. Many of the films released by this niche label last time had a release on VHS or have ever had a release at all. Basically, recusing these movies and giving the public a chance to see these bizarre films, such as New York Ninja, that was shot in 1984 and it was restored and released in 2021. Prices range and vary from $20 to $50! Most titles are region free and most of the movies are not everyone's cup of tea.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release was Tammy and the T-Rex on January 28, 2020.



Severin Films will creep you out.

For fans of the disturbing and shocking, LA-based Severin Films focuses on the very niche subjects of Italian gialli, cannibal films, erotic thrillers, and '80s action films, sometimes they'll release weird children's films under the Severin Kids sub-label. Severin is a label for the desensitized crowd who find Arrow and Vinegar Syndrome too vanilla and is the most niche out of all of the boutique labels. Video and Audio quality can be sub-par sometimes, but the movies are not for everyone. Prices range from $20 to $45.


Their first two Ultra HD Blu-ray releases was The Day of the Beast and Perdita Durango on March 30, 2021.



Synapse Films has underrated gems.

Based in Romulus, Michigan, Synapse Films specializing in cult horror, science fiction and exploitation films. Similar to Vinegar Syndrome, they restore these films in 4K or 2K to the best quality possible and release them on high quality Blu-ray for the collector market. They often release them with the original audio track, include bonus material and sometimes a CD soundtrack. Prices usually range from $20 to $30, cheaper than Vinegar and Severin.



Blue Underground has movies that you never heard of.

The company has released a broad range of cult movies to disc, but leans toward European (particularly Italian), Asian and Brazilian horror and exploitation films. Blue Underground goes to great lengths to feature restored transfers from original vault elements (a process that occasionally leads to substantial delays with their releases, given the age and obscurity of some of the titles they select), and to include extensive extras (such as commentary tracks and new documentaries) whenever possible. Each title is released unedited and with a choice between the original audio track and usually a lossless 7.1 remix.

Prices range from $20 to $45


Their first two Ultra HD Blu-ray releases was Maniac and Zombie on May 26, 2020



Dark Force Entertaiment will scare you.

Based in LA, Dark Force Entertaiment specializes in highly collectible cult horror and action movies primarily on Blu-Ray and some DVD, remastered in 4K or 2K. They are an off shoot of Code Red, and they have an online store, Prices range from $15 to $30 and some of their movies are made in limited quantity. Sometimes they sell movies third-party labels like Vinegar Syndrome or the defunct Code Red. The majority of the releases are Region Free.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release will be Scream (1981) in October 2022




Classic Flix is old-school movie goers

Classic Flix is a home video label with a focus on restoring and releasing long neglected classic films & TV shows made before 1970 on Blu-ray and DVD. They are also known for restoring the old Little Rascals films from the 1930's. Prices range from $15 to $35.



Indicator is for fans of nice big box packaging

Indicator is a British Blu-ray and DVD label owned and operated by Powerhouse Films Ltd, London, England. Founded by industry veterans with a passion for physical media, Indicator aims to release four titles per month. Indicator editions will be expertly encoded using the finest available master materials, offer lovingly assembled extra features, carry new and improved English subtitles, and include accompanying booklets containing newly commissioned and contemporary writing.

Indicator releases can hurt the bank accounts of American film fans as they can be costly when it comes to importing their boxes to the U.S. but the packaging that comes with Indicator releases is something worth saving for. Indicator is famous for its big box sets, also widely known for its noir box sets. Similar to big box PC games from the 90's, each box set from Indicator comes with multiple Blu-ray movies and a wealth of extras including individual booklets. However, these releases are only released in the UK and are sometimes Region-B locked. (Most of the movies licensed from Sony can play on Region-A players). The British boutique label releases movies for fans of Golden Age Hollywood, featuring releases from the 1930s to the 1960s, and underrated movies from Sony's Columbia Pictures and Screen Gems. Indicator is a step above the rest of its other boutique competitors if the packaging is a deciding factor for a fan. They have reversible cover art and removable straps if you don't won't to see the annoying film rating system icons from the British movement. Also similar to the Criterion, the Blu-ray cases inside the big box uses PS4-like cases to show more of the artwork.

They're the most expensive of the boutiques, and depending on the licensed title, some are Region Free or Region-B. 



Warner Archive has care and commitment

Warner Bros is NOT, and should NOT be considered as a boutique, because they're a mainstream company but with the care and commitment that Warner Archive puts into its releases is just as good as the boutique labels. Releasing high-quality Blu-rays of their Golden Age of Hollywood films and classic cartoons, as well as television series.

The "Pressed" Blu-rays and DVDs are manufactured on-demand for the consumer and authorized distributors for online resale, rather than the traditional business model of pressing large batches of discs that ship to "brick and mortar" retailers. Warner Archive might not be anyone's favorite boutique Blu-ray company, but there is at least one release for everyone in their catalog. Their releases are safe, and their packaging is subpar, but it will not disappoint. However, the only downside is they barely offer any bonus material.  Prices range from $15 to $30.



Twilight Time is only a limited time.

Very similar to its gaming equivalent, Limited Run Games, as it specializes in releasing limited edition DVD and Blu-ray discs of classic films and they are only sold exclusively through their online store. Considering that Twilight Time only releases a small number of copies per title, most of which are movies with a small fan base, the high pricing makes sense. This is truly the definition of a boutique label; it’s where movie fans come to find titles they think might have been overlooked. 

For example, Freight Night film doesn’t really in the top horror film list, so, it makes sense for the original studio to not bother with a Blu-ray release. That’s when Twilight Time comes in and gives the small numbered but outspoken fans what they want.

However, in the beginning in January 2021, the new Twilight Time is owned and operated by Screen Archives Entertainment (SAE). The original Twilight Time ceased operations effective June 30, 2020, following the passing of co-founder Nick Redman in 2019. So far, the frequency of new releases has been intermittent and unpredictable. Its fate is unknown. 



88 Films is a lot.

Despite using weird confusing name, from Leicestershire, England, 88 Films specialize on forgotten cult horror and exploitation films from all over the word, including Chinese martial arts films from The Shaw Bros and Italians movies and produce bonus features and special packaging to enhance the experience of their products. They sell their Blu-ray releases in the U.K. and the U.S. Prices range from $10 to $25.


Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release will be Drive (1997) in August 2022



Discotek Media has underrated anime

A small business and sort-of a boutique label from Altamonte Springs, Florida, Discotek mostly focuses of older overlooked and forgotten Japanese anime and American animation. Discotek specialize in forgotten/vintage anime that the "big" labels (Sentai, Funimation, etc.) won't bother to re-license. They release their Blu-rays in either High Definition or Standard Definition with the best available source possible due to lost film negatives or it was permanently made in SD at the time. The SD picture on Blu-ray is 25% better than DVD as the Blu-ray offers more lightning, colors, more EPS on fewer discs, and more bitrate.

Prices range from $20 to $50!

Their first Ultra HD Blu-ray release will be Scream (1981) on November 26, 2019.




Fun City Editions is the new kid in the block.

Fun City Editions focuses on 2K and 4K restorations of movies mostly from the 1960s and 1970s. They do Blu-ray reissues of forgotten and overlooked maverick repertory cinema and music spanning an array of genres, artists and countries. Their quite new and their catalogue is limited. They sell their products through Amazon or Vinegar Syndrome's website.



Open Helm has public domain gems 

Open Helm is a unique boutique label that focuses on preservations of older public domain movies with the best source available and using artificial intelligence technology. They're released on Blu-ray with Dolby Digital. 


Article by Jane Doe, and A.E. Firestone

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