Looking for the best movies for surround sound? If you’ve only heard a movie on standard speakers before, you’re missing out on an integral part of the movie experience.
Here are some of the best films to see which take full advantage of surround sound.
Adrift is the gripping tale of a couple whose innocent sailing excursion turns towards disaster as they find themselves stranded far away, with no hope for rescue. The intelligent sound design emphasizes ambient noises to amplify the claustrophobia alongside the constant creaking of the ship’s hull.
Surround sound is always at its best when it makes you feel like you’re truly in the middle of events. However, unlike some action-focused films on this list, Adrift’s use of sound drastically amplifies the feelings of dread and makes the terror of isolation that much more powerful.
Avatar is unquestionably one of the most impressive visual spectacles ever put to film, every frame filled with color and detail in a way matched by few others, despite how long it’s been out. That said, it’s so easy to be immersed in the visual splendor that you overlook the audio component, especially on first viewing.
While Avatar’s plot is relatively straightforward, the sheer beauty and complexity of the film make it worth watching in the highest quality you can get. Avatar is one of the true heights of cinema on the spectacle level and rightly deserves its accolades in that area.
Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War is one of the top superhero movies ever made. Coming in at two and a half hours, it’s the first part of a major story climax that had fans following through numerous other films. Notably, its sound design amplifies the tense nature of the atmosphere as the near-unstoppable Thanos slams his way through an entire roster of heroes to reach his terrifying goal.
However, its most poignant moments come towards the movie’s end as things get increasingly worse for the heroes. It’s easy to make mistakes when creating a film with so much storytelling weight to live up to, but the sound design in Infinity War brings everything together.
Following the events of the Infinity War, Endgame progresses the story of the Infinity Stones and Thanos to bring it to its conclusion. Lost and hurt after the events of the previous film, Endgame touches on the human nature of its heroes and the personal circumstances they’ve all faced since Infinity War’s climax.
Endgame is also one of the most gripping movies put to screen. Although it has a few more pauses than its immediate predecessor (which barely had a minute to rest before the plot came charging in), Endgame still advances at a quick pace and juggles a truly monumental cast.
Although not nearly as well-known as some of the other films on this list, Bay Driver is a startlingly immersive film in surround sound. The plot follows a getaway driver named Baby, who links music to his incredible driving skills.
Unfortunately, when he’s brought in for what he thinks is one last job, the other members of the crew are far too unstable, and things rapidly escalate far beyond anything he thought he signed up for. The pumping music keeps the film’s pace, forming an integral part of the experience.
In one of Netflix’s most gripping original shows, Sanda Bullock stars as mother Malorie when she tries to bring her two children to safety and freedom. However, the danger is amplified because of a mysterious threat that causes everyone who sees it to kill themselves.
Visuals are tricky in Bird Box because what’s most dangerous is what you can’t see in the film. To balance this, the film makes exceptional use of audio to amplify Malorie’s terror and make every threat around her that much more frightening.
Blade Runner 2049
Blade Runner 2049 tells the story of the LAPD’s Officer K, whose discovery of a buried secret sends him on a mission to find the previous protagonist Rick Deckard and figure out what to do. Blade Runner 2049 is a gorgeous spectacle even without sound, but the audio pushes it to a new level.
Although it has plenty of action scenes, Blade Runner 2049 is a drama and mystery at heart, and the audio clues emphasize significant elements throughout the film. It’s gripping, exciting, and well worth the watch. That said, consider watching 1982’s Blade Runner first, or you may be a little lost.
It’s almost criminal to watch Bohemian Rhapsody without the best audio you can achieve, preferably Dolby Atmos. This documentary follows the band Queen, and especially singer Freddie Mercury, up until the time of a famous performance at Live Aid in 1985.
The surviving band members helped with the audio. As you might expect from one of the highest-selling bands in history, they understand sound, and the musical score is fantastic. If there are any regrets here, it’s that nobody can reproduce Freddie Mercury’s vocal talent, but Bohemian Rhapsody is as close as anyone can get.
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Although a little older than some other films on this list, don’t let that dissuade you. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is one of the best wuxia (fantastic Chinese martial arts) films ever made, with almost ballet-like elements that the movie brings together in the harmony that true mastery of martial arts provides.
This film also incorporates a lot of heart, as the relationships between the characters serve as a driving force for a deep look at life, love, and responsibility.
Christopher Nolan’s work appears several times on this list, which says something about his skill at making films. His 2017 film takes place in World War II when a mix of soldiers from Belgium, Britain, and France get surrounded by German forces and need to be evacuated. Moving 400,000 men is no easy feat, and Germany’s air superiority worsens everything.
As with other war films, sound is an integral part of the experience, even more than action. It sounds like weaponry is all around you, providing a deeper connection to the terror the soldiers felt in one of the most dangerous moments of an already-frightening war.
Godzilla vs. Kong
Kaiju (giant monster) films have a reputation for solid audio. Indeed, Godzilla’s roar is one of the most iconic noises in all of cinema, and that’s on full display in a movie that pits two of the greatest monsters against each other.
The audio adds weight to every blow in battle, but even beyond that, it emphasizes the sheer power and danger that such monsters represent. Every step in battle can send entire skyscrapers toppling, all backed by the tense inability of people to do much about the living forces of nature. This movie is all about spectacle, and it shows.
Sandra Bullock and George Clooney star in this sci-fi drama of two astronauts stranded in space. The audio emphasizes the sheer terror and danger of being trapped in such an environment because while there’s plenty of room in space, there’s ultimately nowhere to go.
Like Adrift, Gravity is excellent at capturing the sense of isolation when you’re far from any reasonable hope of rescue. It’s visually stunning, too, and worth watching on the largest screen you can get.
Hellboy follows the story of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a secret organization dedicated to fighting unnatural and otherworldly threats. A key player in their efforts is Hellboy, a literal demon prince of Hell who was summoned by the Nazis during World War II but raised by a kind professor after a rescue.
If that all sounds like the makings of a fun action flick, then you’re in the right place. The sound design here is excellent, adding weight to every blow and bullet that flies onscreen. The story has a 2019 reboot, but the older 2004 version is more enjoyable overall.
Another film by Christopher Nolan, Inception, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who uses dream-sharing technology to steal business secrets. However, when he’s given a job to redeem himself by planting an idea in someone’s mind, things start to go troublingly wrong as his past and fears start coming back to bite him.
Inception is a fan-favorite for its creative premise and complex, shifting world that takes a deep look into the subconscious. The sound design is just as important as the visuals, though, driving home its key thoughts about memory, dreams, and reality. The whoosh of a spinning top is particularly important, but you’ll have to watch the movie if you want to know why.
Christopher Nolan just doesn’t quit when it comes to amazing sound design. This 2014 film follows a group of astronauts as they’re sent out to try and ensure humanity’s survival in the face of disasters. Hans Zimmer contributed to the score here, driving home the dangerous and dark world the characters find themselves in.
Interstellar is also scientifically notable. Nolan’s team created entire CGI software sets to work with scientific equations and even provided new insights into topics like gravitational lensing. Ultimately, it took more than eight hundred terabytes of processing information for some of the visuals in the movie.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Set in a post-apocalyptic disaster zone, Fury Road continues the story of former cop and current drifter Max as he makes his way through Australia, haunted by the family and friends he failed to save in the past. He’s soon captured by a tribe called the War Boys, who intend to use him as a rare and valuable blood donor for one of their own.
However, Max soon finds that a few of the women who can still have children have escaped and ends up entangled in a violent world where disaster remains only a few moments away. The sound direction adds to all of the wild wasteland’s crashes, chaos, and terror, resulting in one of the most thrilling films released yet.
Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World
Set shortly into the 1800s, with Napoleon at war, Master and Commander tells the story of a British ship sent to catch a French vessel near South America. The aggressive captain and his friend, the ship’s surgeon, face a range of challenges as they try to complete their mission in time to make an impact on the war.
The audio is what makes the real difference for this film, as it features no prepackaged or stock sounds. From rain and wind to cannon fire and weapons clashing, Richard King’s skill is at the forefront and makes for a gripping, immersive experience like few others.
Miami Vice (2006)
Based on an older TV drama, Miami Vice follows a team of police investigators as they try to deal with drugs being trafficked into the southern parts of Florida. However, protagonist Ricardo Tubbs finds himself awkwardly entangled with the wife of one of the drug traffickers, and their identities and emotions soon begin to escalate out of control.
The bass sounds are particularly good in this movie, with deep noises and pops rippling through a room when you have at least a 5.1 audio setup. The Blu-ray version of this movie is what proper audio in a movie sounds like, and the tense emotions just amplify things even more.
Real Steel is set in the near future, featuring Hugh Jackman in the leading role at a time when robots have entirely taken over the sport of boxing. Although the film features mechanical competitors, it’s also a nostalgic look at humanity and what it means to find a partner in a sport. The audio design helps emphasize every hit in every match.
Resident Evil: Apocalypse
Resident Evil: Apocalypse doesn’t have the best plot in films, and it’s hard to recommend on those grounds. However, its sound design is shockingly on-point, with a pulsing soundtrack and tense explosions that lend extra weight to the movie’s horror and action sequences. This is a movie to watch for the experience, not the story, so bring some popcorn.
The 2014 remake retains the story of Alex Murphy, a husband and police officer who’s injured in the course of his duty and rebuilt into a mechanical protector. However, OmniCorp’s push to advance robotics and (more importantly) increase profits has overlooked the man inside the machine, and even the subtle sounds are brought to life in each scene.
Saving Private Ryan
Starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon at their best, Saving Private Ryan tells the story of a team of soldiers going to retrieve a stranded paratrooper. However, its opening scenes are some of the most viscerally realistic combat scenes ever put to film, and it was one of the first to use Dolby’s Digital Surround Sound technology.
Despite its age, the sound mixing in this film is phenomenal, significantly adding to the movie’s intense combat scenes. It’s no exaggeration to say that this film features some of the best sound work ever, so if you want the best movies for surround sound, this is one to put near the top of your watch list.
Superhero movies are nothing new these days, but Shazam! departs from the traditional formula when child Billy Batson finds himself with the ability to transform into an older superhero. He’s entirely unprepared for what happens next. The excellent sound design here makes every use of his magical powers pop, adding to an already entertaining experience.
Spider-Man: Homecoming continues Peter Parker’s adventures in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as part of a collaboration with Sony Pictures. Younger than the other heroes he admires, he nevertheless finds himself swept up in events, all backed by an excellent soundtrack that emphasizes Spider-Man’s agility as he bounces around the screen.
Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse
Homecoming may be an excellent superhero movie, but Sony’s Into The Spider-Verse is perhaps the ultimate comic book movie, and that’s a vital distinction. Protagonist Miles Morales finds himself dealing with a range of Spider-People from different realities.
The audio design here emphasizes the comic aspects of the movie, driving home some of the most inventive cinematography we’ve seen in many years.
Suicide Squad (not to be confused with its 2021 sequel, The Suicide Squad) tells the story of a gang of villains conscripted to save the world… at least if they want to save themselves. Although panned for some elements of absurdity, its sound work takes full advantage of the opportunities of filmmaking to bring its actions to life.
The Dark Knight
Another entry from Christopher Nolan, The Dark Knight, is part of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and adds Heath Ledger in one of his last iconic roles. The sound work adds to the tense psychological warfare as Ledger’s Joker tries to prove to Batman that the world is just crazy and his actions are meaningless.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
The Hobbit trilogy follows the work of Peter Jackson’s earlier efforts on The Lord of the Rings, expanding the prequel story into an epic worthy of being the inspiration for an entire genre of storytelling. It’s also one of the first movies ever made with Dolby’s Atmos surround sound system, which was good enough to get it an Oscar nomination.
The Social Network
The Social Network is a film detailing the rise of Facebook, including the competing worldviews of several people who claimed to be key founders. Its audio captures subtle elements of the story, ranging from the tight use of bass to incredible accuracy for outdoor ambiance. It’s a nearly-seamless track and worth studying.
Tron: Legacy marks the return of a famous work of sci-fi featuring Sam Flynn as he tries to find his father, who has disappeared into a digital world called the Grid. The irony is that everything within is the result of humanity’s programming efforts, while the spectacular soundtrack helps add a feeling of vastness to the enclosed digital realm.
Wall-E is one of Pixar’s boldest and most creative efforts yet, in part because nearly half the movie features no dialogue whatsoever. Despite the lack of chatter, the film’s excellent visual design and immersive audio help explain the plot and characters in ways practically anyone can understand. It’s a rare and impressive feat in movie design.
Top Movies For Surround Sound, Final Thoughts
The best movies for surround sound are some of the most spectacular movies ever put to film. While most lean towards action, you can find far more introspective films on the list above, and they’re all worth watching with the best sound system you can get. Just make sure to configure the audio correctly before you start watching.