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Best movies to test surround sound

  • 13 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?

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Sci-Fi

Gravity

Inception

Ready Player One

Interstellar

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2016)

The Matrix (1999)

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Star Trek (2009)

Blade Runner 2049

TRON: Legacy

Avatar

Musical

Bohemian Rhapsody

La La Land

Les Misérables

Action/Romance

Godzilla vs Kong

The Avengers: Infinity War

Black Panther

Baby Driver

The Dark Knight

Ford v Ferrari

House of Flying Daggers

Thriller

Bird Box

John Wick (2014)

War/Drama

1917

Unbroken

Dunkirk

Saving Private Ryan

Animation/Family

Wall-E

Coco

Sci-Fi

Gravity

Gravity

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Watching this sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney is an incredibly tense experience, and it’s made all the better with a good surround sound system. 

Alfonso Cuaron’s space exploration masterpiece manages to capture the eerie emptiness of space, both in visuals and in masterful sound mixing that manages to build suspense even in the quietest moments. The effect is jarring and a little creepy, making for an excellent immersive watch. 

Inception

Inception 

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Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller, Inception, has earned plenty of accolades for its cerebral plot and stunning graphics. Now it deserves recognition for another one of its groundbreaking features: its sound editing! 

Inception has won several awards for its groundbreaking use of sound, including the 2010 Oscars for both Best Achievement In Sound Editing and Best Achievement In Sound Mixing. The excellent sound effects complement the movie’s ethereal cinematography well and really add to the atmospheric tension of this blockbuster. 

Ready Player One

Ready Player One

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Ready Player One is one of Steven Spielberg’s latest ventures. Set in 2045, the characters race through a thrilling treasure hunt through a digital world to win an immense fortune. As such, the virtual world created in the movie is chock-full of sci-fi, fantastical sequences, and action, making it a great option for testing your surround sound system. 

Pay special attention to the audio during the first race in the movie, which features tons of localized sound effects that’ll have you feeling like you’re right there in the middle of the action.

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. 

Musical

Bohemian Rhapsody

Bohemian Rhapsody

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One of the most immersive audio experiences many of us will ever have in real life is to be in the middle of a concert, which is why the biographical film Bohemian Rhapsody is a wonderful pick for testing out your surround sound system. 

Following the life and career of Queen frontman Freddie Mercury, the film is serenaded from start to finish with a powerful soundtrack and ends with the crescendo of arguably one of the greatest rousing rock anthems of our time. Listening to the final concert scene on a surround sound system will place you right there in the arena during one of the most iconic performances of Freddie’s life (and music history!). 

La La Land

La la land 

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If you’re looking for a more lighthearted film to test out your audio system, check out La La Land, the popular 2016 musical starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. It features a delightful soundtrack and original score that has won it several awards. It might not feature any of the louder explosions or sci-fi sound effects that push some of these other picks to the top, but it’s still a fun and romantic musical endeavor that you can make the most of when using a good surround sound system. 

Les Misérables 

Les Misérables

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Les Misérables is another musical, albeit of a darker and grittier nature. Based on the historical novel by Victor Hugo, the film features powerful performances and incredible music, and it even won the Academy Award for Best Sound Editing in 2013. Its excellent score and musical accomplishments are especially immersive when screened on a home system with surround sound and will have you feeling like you’ve traveled back in time to 19th century France. 

Action/Romance 

Godzilla vs. Kong

Godzilla vs Kong

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When you put two of the most enormous and fearsome mythical monsters of our age face to face, you know you’re going to get some excellent house-shaking sound sequences! 

Godzilla vs. Kong has a fairly straightforward plot that is largely explained in the title, but it’s a fun watch with plenty of explosions, clashing, and roaring to test out your surround sound system while these two fantastical beasts slug it out. 

The Avengers: Infinity War 

Avengers: Infinity War

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The penultimate film of Marvel’s The Avengers franchise is a rising climax to the epic tale of superheroes duking it out against a supervillain intent on wiping out half of the universe. As such, it’s full to the brim with plenty of audio features that’ll sound great on surround sound.

It has a little bit of everything a sound enthusiast loves, from explosive fighting sequences, outer space adventures, high-tech weaponry, a kitschy 80’s soundtrack, and everything in between. When you’re done with Infinity War, you can move on the Endgame, the last Avengers film that features plenty of the same. 

Black Panther

Black Panther

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Another fan-favorite superhero film, Black Panther follows superhero T’Challa as he travels back to his homeland Wakanda and defends it from a villainous usurper intent on taking his crown. Really, any of the Marvel superhero films are good picks for testing out your surround sound since they all come with special effects and fighting sequences galore, but Black Panther is an especially great watch because of its immersive setting and award-winning soundtrack. 

Baby Driver

Baby Driver

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Following the plights of a music-loving, getaway-driving prodigy trying to escape from his life of crime, Baby Driver is a fast-paced action movie that combines screeching cars with a powerful soundtrack that makes it an excellent film for testing your surround sound’s chops. Pay attention to your sound system from the get-go: the opening scene is particularly delightful. 

The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight

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The Dark Knight is arguably the best Batman film ever created, and part of its success is due to its electrifying sound editing and mixing. In fact, one of its many accolades is the 2009 Oscar for Best Sound Editing! 

With its combination of gritty cinematography, gripping plot, and superior audio, The Dark Knight is a must-watch no matter what kind of home theater system you have, but it’s especially excellent if you have a surround sound system. 

Ford v Ferrari

Ford v Ferrari

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When you have a movie that’s entirely based on powerful cars, you want it to have the powerful sound quality to match. Ford v. Ferrari masterfully captures the songs of roaring engines and squealing tires, and watching this sports drama on a home system with surround sound will have you feeling like you’re right there on the racetrack. 

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

Bird Box 

Bird Box

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Netflix’s popular post-apocalyptic thriller Bird Box made waves when it was first released in 2018. It follows Sandra Bullock as Marjorie, a mother who has to blindly protect her children as they race for safety from creatures that are fatal when viewed. As such, it’s very much a horror film that depends largely on sound rather than visuals to portray the family’s creeping sense of dread and fear.

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

1917 

1917

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This World War I epic, which was released in 2019, is a highly immersive watch that does a thorough job capturing the tension of trench warfare in the first person. It has all the booms, whizzing bullets, and cracking gunshots that you expect from a war flick as you test out your speakers. 

When combined with the gripping war scenes and stunning visual cinematography, it’s a powerful film that hits hard in more ways than one. 

Unbroken

Unbroken

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Unbroken is a jarring war film that follows the real-life story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star turned American hero as he joins the Air Force during World War II, survives a crash and drifts in a raft for 47 days, and lives as a prisoner in a Japanese POW camp. 

The story itself is incredible, and the film does a great job of portraying the horrors and desperation of Louie’s predicament. The surround sound audio is especially immersive during the war scenes: look out for the bombing scenes and air raids. 

Dunkirk

Dunkirk

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Christopher Nolan’s World War II film follows the evacuation of 330,000 Allied forces trapped on the beach of Dunkirk. Spectacularly, the film conveys the entire intense and emotional mission with almost no dialogue! That means that watchers have to rely on the cinematography and sound, and the filmmakers definitely delivered. 

Dunkirk is the highest-grossing World War II film and went on to win the Academy Awards for Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, making it a real immersive treat to test your surround sound capabilities.

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.