Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Top 10 Criterion DVD Covers

In addition to restoring and preserving the best among classic and contemporary films, The Criterion Collection has made an art out of the DVD cover.  Bleak or busy, hand drawn or still photo, there’s no mistaking the eye-catching beauty of a Criterion.

Seeing a film doesn't necessarily make you fully appreciate a Criterion cover, but it does help define what some of the more obscure covers were attempting to encapsulate in a single image. For that reason, I've made two lists: my favorite Criterion covers of film’s I've seen, and films I have yet to watch.

One other rule: only one cover per director, or else this list would be devoted entirely to Ingmar Bergman films. Enjoy.

10 Favorite Covers of Films I’ve Seen:
Modern Times (1936)
The face of one, if not the, most iconic characters in film history with a few crude mechanical graphics, all resting on a flawless white background. Only Chaplin could make an image like this work.  Equally humorous and breathtaking. Also see: Chaplin's The Great Dictator

Rashomon (1950)
This image mirrors the theme of its film perfectly.  Like the differing stories told by the characters in Rashomon, the film’s main centerpiece is hazy and broken, yet somehow still stands tall. Also see: Kurosawa's Ikiru

Night and Fog (1955)
While I’m all about still photos from a film being utilized on its DVD cover, I’m extremely thankful that Criterion chose this faded, washed-out image to represent one of the most graphic films I’ve ever seen.  Once you’ve seen Night and Fog, you realize how much justice this cover does for the film. Also see: Resnais' Hiroshima mon amour

Paths of Glory (1957)
Christ, just look at that face. If you’ve never seen Kubrick’s Paths of Glory, this cover should immediately implore you to discover its origins.  Having seen the film, you’ll fully understand how appropriate this image is. Also see: Kubirck's The Killing

Breathless (1960)
This text-only cover conveys the influence of its film better than any Criterion I’ve seen.  Like Godard’s classic, this cover is audacious and unapologetic.  You’re jarred by what you see, and you damn sure won’t ever forget it. Also see: Godard's Contempt

Scenes from a Marriage (1973)
I could go any which way with Bergman.  There’s Max von Sydow’s face emerging out of the darkness for The Seventh Seal’s Blu-Ray, Alexander’s perplexed, curious face looking above, the Magician staring stoically, and on and on.  But for me, no Criterion cover sums up a Bergman film better than Scenes from a Marriage.  Bleak, raw, and to the point.  Beautiful in its simplicity. 

Salò (1975)
Whether you’ve forced yourself through it or not, we all know about Salò.  Criterion doesn’t mince words with this one; they want to make damn sure you know what you’re getting yourself into. The future is bleak.  Be afraid, be very afraid.

Days of Heaven (1978)
It’s tough to slap a cover on one of the best-looking films ever made, but this image says it all. It’s beautiful yet oddly concise.  The house (and what’s in it) is the ultimate goal. Only the characters can lose sight of what that goal is. Also see: Malick's The Thin Red Line

Yi Yi (2000)
Perfect example of how a DVD cover can elevate a film.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of Edward Yang’s sprawling family epic, but damn if this cover isn’t perfect.  Also, if you’ve seen the film, you’ll appreciate how this image conveys one of the movie's best inside jokes.

Hunger (2008)
In 2008, I heard very little about Hunger; just what filtered from the film festival circuit.  It came and went in theaters quickly before silently landing OnDemand in 2009.  I caught it one very late, very hazy night and sat utterly enthralled. Months later, I stumbled across this DVD in a Barnes & Nobel and didn’t think twice about buying it. By long and far my very favorite Criterion DVD cover.

5 Favorite Covers of Films I’ve Haven’t Seen
Pigs, Pimps & Prostitutes (1960s)
I’ve heard about the films of Shohei Imamura, but I have yet to see any of his work.  I discovered this cover while researching this post, which spawned my immediate interesting in seeing the three films.  

The Face of Another (1966)
I’ve never heard of this film, quite frankly.  But because of this image, I’m undeniably drawn to it.

Man Who Fell To Earth (1976)
Although I’ve never gotten around to watching this, this cover definitely has my interest piqued.

Missing (1982)
This just looks dangerous.  If it’s anything like Costa-Gavaras’ masterful Z, then I’m sure this will be worth checking out.

Secret Honor (1984)
To be fair, I’ve actually seen Secret Honor, I just don’t remember it all that well.  This cover (which I saw for the first time a few days ago) makes me want to revisit it.

Honorable Mentions
Straw Dogs (1971)

F for Fake (1973)

Z (1969)

Grey Gardens (1975)

Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975)

Naked (1993)

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1997)

The Ice Storm (1997)

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Fish Tank (2009)


  1. I particularly like the cover designs for Insignificance and The Great Dictator.

  2. I hadn't seen the cover for Insignificance until just now. Wow. I love finding new ones.

  3. Great post and brilliant picks! I absolutely love all these covers. If you don't mind, I might do my own version of this post on my site. I'll be sure to give credit to you; these choices are almost perfect and I'll be damned if I don't agree with every single one.

  4. Hey man have at it. I had a total blast doing it, and I imagine you will too. Glad you like my choices!

  5. I've spent way more time than I should looking at The Thin Red Line cover.

  6. Honestly, The Thin Red Line cover is better. But for historical, sentimental reasons, I thought Days of Heaven was more suitable.

  7. Weird, I bought Days of Heaven today! As a gift. Great cover art, wonder if Malick personally supervised the cover, wouldn't be surprised ( :

    Straw Dogs is also good, in a different, creepy way, I always think Dustin looks unrecognizable in that picture, must be the glasses + b/w that does it.

    I kind of did a similar thing recently, just with a list of albums covers, the most anticipated music of fall 2011

  8. wow just from the 3 criterions i own i knew they made a special effort with the artwork but these covers are actually works of art.

    i'm starting to judge whether to watch movies i don't know too much about by if they've been given criterion releases recently.

  9. @moviesandsongs, oh I bet Malick supervised that cover. Probably took him four years to decide on it. The Straw Dogs cover, to me, is perfect. The second I saw it, I had to see the movie right away. I didn’t really care for that flick, but the cover made me watch it, which I guess is the whole point.

    Post a link to your album cover list here, I wanna see it!

    @Toby, hahah love it, perfect criteria for deciding what movie to watch. It’s funny, I’ve gone out on a limb a few times and bought Criterions that I hadn’t seen before, watched them, and not liked them (i.e., Videodrome). Yet, my movie collection looks far more prestigious with all those fancy Criterion covers. Definitely works of art.

    Thanks to all for commenting!

  10. Great post, I do agree that sometimes a good cover definately makes you watch or buy a movie! I have to recognize I don't know much about a lot of the movies you posted, but some of them got my attention just by the cover, so I will check them out!

  11. Honestly, I recommend most on this list. You can do without Salo, and I suppose without Yi Yi, but the other eight on the initial list of 10 are great. Bergman is my favorite film director. I cannot recommend his films enough.

    Thanks for reading!

  12. I like the BLOW OUT & ACE IN THE HOLE covers.

    Great list man.

  13. Oh yeah, both of those are great. Just looked up the Blow Out cover right now, is that new? What a great great film that is... probably De Palma's best.

  14. I prefer the minimalistic ones like HOUSE and BLACK MOON

  15. whoa House is freaky and Black Moon was nifty... good choices!

  16. Missing is an awesome film! I'm sure you are going to appreciate it.

  17. My fav CC cover includes House,El Norte,Double life of Veronique,The bad sleep well,etc.I think I'm gonna write about my top 10 list in my blog soon!!

  18. @David Oh great choices. I'd be interested in seeing your post! Thanks for stopping by.

  19. @Alex Withrow

    Here is my top 10 CC cover:,I'd love to hear your comments!!

  20. @David Awesome! I will take a look later on tonight. Thanks for the link!

  21. None of my picks are on this list:

    + Maurice Pialat's A Nos Amours
    + Robert Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar
    + Herk Harvey's Carnival of Souls
    + Derek Jarman's Jubilee
    + Jean-Luc Godard's Masculin Feminin
    + David Cronenberg's Videodrome
    + Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring

  22. Secret Honor was very very boring. One of the longest hour and a halves I have ever experienced.

    1. I really appreciate that film, but I completely understand where you're coming from.