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Best movies to test surround sound

  • 7 min read

Anybody can watch a movie, but not everybody has the opportunity to escape reality and immerse themselves in the story that they are watching. 

Bring the sensation of the cinema into your home by getting the most out of your surround sound by experiencing scenes that will arouse your curiosity and intrigue for the film that you are watching. 

Before you begin watching the movies with your surround sound, make sure you setup both of the rear speakers, the soundbar, and the front speakers in the correct positions so that you will be exposed to the complete experience. 

What are the best movies to watch in 5.1 surround sound?

Sci-Fi

Interstellar

Interstellar

One of the most touching movies that you should watch is Interstellar. The audio composition in this movie is designed to give you a complete transcendence while you are watching the film. 

To experience the 360 degree audio, you must have a surround sound setup that will allow you to recreate the immersive watching experience similar to watching this in an IMAX cinema or theater. 

The experience should be hair-raising, spiritual, and ultimately remarkable. 

You will have to try not to cry or become emotional while you are watching this masterpiece. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016)

Star Wars - The Force Awakens

While it's easy to point to the most action-heavy sections of a film as a great workout for your speakers and AV receiver, it’s often the quieter moments that can give you just as much information on how subtle, evocative and dynamic your system can be.

The scene where we’re first introduced to Rey in The Force Awakens is completely devoid of any loud noises or even dialogue. It’s all about space and silence conveying the immense, vast emptiness of the cavernous ruins of the star destroyer should elicit a sense of awe.

Your system should also be able to convey the gentle shift in atmosphere as Rey emerges out into the desert plains of her home planet, the solid, scraping clunk of metal as she loads up her speedster, and the delicate, agile strands of Rey’s Theme. Handled bluntly, it loses that sense of wonder and adventure.

The Matrix (1999)

The Matrix

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Keanu Reeves makes a second appearance on this list with the Wachowski's seminal film. The Matrix gets a Dolby Atmos soundtrack for its 4K Blu-ray release, and it's a belter.

Dan Davis's atonal orchestral score should fill the surrounds, and consequently your room, with an expansive quality that's an excellent, expressive accompaniment to the action on screen.

But it's in the third act when the action ramps up that the fun happens: the moment when Neo and Trinity call for guns ("lots of guns") should fill the room while the iconic Bullet Time sequences should pan through your surround speakers so well that you'll want to reach for the rewind button. Bass needs to be a big and arresting presence but also clean and tightly controlled.

It's a demanding workout for your cinema system. When rendered right, it sounds magnificent.

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max - Fury Road

This two-hour chase opera might sound a mess on a lesser system, but it's not supposed to be a wall of noise. You’ll need a mighty powerful system to really feel the thunderous roar of the souped-up engines - one that can convey the scale of the desert wasteland, the wind storms and the jagged, rusty monstrous cars.

Junkie XL’s soundtrack is orchestral and furious, with angry drums egging the chase on while the strings and electronic beats drive the on-screen action. You’ll need a system that’s precise and articulate enough to keep the tension of the music, the noise of the cars and the explosions all running alongside one another.

Each gunshot, engine rev and grunted Tom Hardy dialogue needs to be distinguishable. But the best part is the distorted guitar riffs that suddenly flare up whenever the camera cuts to the Doof Warrior – the red jumpsuit-wearing guitarist who’s attached to his insane rig on bungee ropes and plays a double-necked guitar that shoots flames. Yes, really.

Star Trek (2009)

Star Trek - The Future Begins

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We’ve seen it a gazillion times by now, but the scene where Bones keeps injecting Kirk with vaccines, the reveal of the USS Enterprise and the ship going into warp speed remains one of the best and funniest moments of JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek.

It’s also a magnificent test for your home cinema system. You should be able to feel the height and movement of the ships that fly over the Starfleet students as they bustle about in the hanger; the change in scale and atmosphere when Bones and Kirk move to a smaller room; hear the little beeping, blinking noises inside the Enterprise; and the deadpan humour in Captain Pike’s gravelly voice.

The moment of truth comes when Michael Giacchino’s stirring score fills the entire room and reaches a beautiful flourish when you first see the Enterprise. The soaring music should end with blaring horns and a moment of awe as the pristine starship is finally revealed. And when it hits warp speed, your system should be delivering that gut-punching, precise sound effect with layers of deep, taut bass.

If your spine is not tingling after that lot, it's time to find some new home cinema gear.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner

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Thanks to its Ultra HD Blu-ray release, Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi flick gets the Atmos treatment – a presence that can be felt right from the off, with its impressive sense of heft, depth and dynamism.

Crowd scenes, like in chapter 17, hustle and bustle with effects showcasing pinpoint accuracy when it comes to placement within the soundfield. It’s also one of the better uses of overhead channels with the rain – and it rains quite a bit in Blade Runner – adding a sense of verticality that a 7.1 track couldn’t aspire to.

Vangelis’ enigmatic score gets a wonderful outing and, when combined with the effects, offers a great example of the immersion that Atmos can bring.

TRON: Legacy

Tron Legacy

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The audio team behind Tron: Legacy wanted to create a virtual world that sounded real to the audience, but would still maintain the computerized influence. The sound direction was led by Daft Punk, with the audio team tasked to create ‘interesting sounds’ on top of its foundations. 

Watch the scene where it is the racers first time on the grid.

Avatar

Avatar

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At the time of its release, Avatar became known for introducing the world to futuristic sounds that would draw the audience into an adventurous experience. Christopher Boyesis the mastermind behind the sound design for Avatar and several other box office hits such as Titanic (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001), The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) and King Kong (2005). 

The sound design involved providing the audience with a ‘palette of sounds’, consisting of hundreds of sounds throughout the film. 

One of the most notable scenes to experience in surround sound is the landing that leads to the Thanator chase. 

Action/Romance

House of Flying Daggers

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

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Perhaps better known for it’s stunning, groundbreaking visual style, House of Flying Daggers also features a terrific sound mix that is sure to put your surround system to the test. 

In this scene we have a drum-laden soundtrack which requires forceful, crisp low frequencies. 

However, the scene also shows off the full range of precision motion tracking as slow motion beans bounce around the room with clanging urgency. Later on, the metallic pings give way to a more natural sound aesthetic in the bamboo forest. This masterpiece demands surround sound to be experienced fully.

Thriller

John Wick (2014)

John Wick

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John Wick is the best thing Keanu Reeves has done since The Matrix. In fact, the retired-but-not-anymore hitman is probably cooler than Neo in every way: he has better suits, better gun-fights and better one-liners.

And the disc is a wicked test for your home cinema system. Take chapter 7, the club scene, where Wick brutalises a queue of henchman while chasing a towelled Alfie Allen through crowds of merrymakers. 

There's no huge surround effects but your speaker package will still need a balletic poise, agility and huge reserves of muscle to handle the exquisitely precise choreography. The underlying track, Le Castle Vania by LED Spirals, should lead with a compelling sense of purpose and then be clearly and neatly punctuated by every hit and point-blank shot to the face without anything missing a beat.

Even your centre has work to do with moments of dialogue. Well, we say dialogue – it's more like groans and tortured death rattles. But it is centre channel business nonetheless. They really shouldn't have killed his dog.

War/Drama

Saving Private Ryan

Saving Private Ryan

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The Omaha Beach Landing sequence in Saving Private Ryan is another iconic movie scene which warrants watching on a good surround system. Normandy veterans hailed the realism of the scene with some needing to leave theaters because the realism was too painful for them to bear. 

Spielberg himself is quoted as saying “Saving Private Ryan was never meant to be thrilling, it was never meant to be an adventure. It was meant to be a recreation, kind of a documentation of the closest I could get to the experiences of those who fought there on June 6th.” Alongside outstanding, heart wrenching visuals the scene has a soundscape which buoys the realism of the scene. 

Listen for authentic gunfire from M1 Garands, M1 Carbines, Browning automatic rifles, and Thompson machine guns. Larger ordinance like mortars and landmines explode all around you. Soldiers fight to take the beach amidst crashing waves and fight to stay afloat in the churning sea. 

Orders are barked out, barely audible in the chaos. The scene is over 20 minutes long but has hours worth of detail. 

Animation/Family

Wall-E

Wall-E

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It’s always a treat to watch Pixar movies on a good surround system. Though frequently lauded for their pioneering animations, Pixar movies rely heavily on music, sound effects, and voice acting to help convey their often emotionally charged messages. 

In truth, we could highlight most scenes from most Pixar movies as pioneers of sound. However, I want to focus on one of my favorites from 2008’s Wall-E. 

In this scene protagonists Wall-E and Eve flirtatiously fly around the outside of humanity’s lifeboat “The Axiom” with several cuts to the inside of the ship where humans go about their daily life ignorant of the machine around them. 

Listen for the perfectly recorded sound of Wall-E’s fire extinguisher intertwined with Eve’s mechanical whirring and take note of the wide soundstage. You hear them move from left to right, from up to down. 

Propulsion engines burst as they fly by. Inside the ship, take note of the bevy of background chatter and ship audio announcements mixed behind some light conversation. All of this is enveloped by Thomas Newman’s indelible scoring which includes not just a regular symphony orchestra but also harps, synths, and unique percussion. 

These scenes should serve as a good starting point to test out your surround sound. As more movies are released, we’ll continue to add to this list. 

We’d also love to hear any recommendations that you have. So please leave any recommendations in the comments below. 

Thanks for reading. 

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