By Gerald Lynch
Become wrapped up in sound with our top Atmos movies
Dolby Atmos is one of the most exciting additions you can bring to your home cinema arsenal. What started life as a high-end public cinema sound system can now be easily replicated at home thanks to the best Dolby Atmos speakers and Atmos-enabled soundbars, and receiver systems.
So what exactly is Dolby Atmos? A new way of mixing film, TV and gaming audio, it’s an object-based sound technology, meaning that individual onscreen characters, items and even soundtrack instruments can be assigned their own audio. This then lets sound engineers position and move audio precisely around a viewer and, if you’ve overhead speakers or speakers that can bounce audio off your ceiling, it can feel like things aren’t only happening infront, to the sides and behind you, but above you, too.
A killer sound system always needs some pristine content with which to best showcase its potential –and these are the best Dolby Atmos movies and soundtracks you can experience today.
Dolby Atmos movies: our top picks
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Mad Max: Fury Road
There’s been no better action film in the last ten years – perhaps even ever –than Mad Max: Fury Road. George Miller’s long-awaited return to his influential post-apocalyptic Australian wasteland was the most frenetic, inventive and outright crazy any big-budget film of recent times has been.
It’s a simple concept at its heart – an extended car chase to escape the film’s big bad, Immortan Joe. But Miller packs every frame with bizarre detail, breathtaking action and a furious vision of a decimated future world. From the badass road warrior Furiosa to the flame-throwing guitar-shredding war boy hanging off the edge of a tank-like truck, there’s just nothing like it.
And very little sounds like it, too, thanks to Dolby Atmos – the growl of car engines, the boom of explosions, the scream of a gunshot. With Atmos’s wraparound sound, it’s an assault on the senses.
Netflix’s most wonderful original film yet? We’d say so.
A semi-autobiographical film from auteur director Alfonso Cuarón, it deservedly won three Oscars for its depiction of Mexico City life in the early 1970s. Cuarón’s use of Atmos technology convincingly grounds you in its domestic drama – and builds to a dramatic crescendo of sound for the film’s climax.
The fact that it streams with its sublime Dolby Atmos soundtrack (and in 4K HDR, no less) on Netflix seals the deal as one of our favorite Atmos movies.
Ghost in the Shell
While the 2017 live-action interpretation of the Ghost in the Shell wasn’t without its controversy – not least because of the decision to cast Scarlett Johansson in the role of a character traditionally Asian in heritage – it does have some stunning neon-tinged sci-fi visuals to gawp at.
It’s also one of the most impressive Dolby Atmos mixes available to test a system with. With its many high-octane action sequences and futuristic gizmos to gawp at, there’s plenty of detail to really bring the sound effects and score to life. There’s nothing like slow-mo shattering glass to bring out the best from your Dolby Atmos speakers.
The first of a one-two Atmos punch from director Denis Villeneuve on our list is this hyper- tense war-on-drugs thriller, Sicario. With a fantastic cast at the top of their game (Emily Blunt, Jon Bernthal, Josh Brolin and a steely-cool Benicio Del Toro), Sicario paints the FBI struggle against Mexico’s cartels as a shadowy, morally moribund crusade.
The late Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score builds the tension like a tightly wound spring, in a film that leaves you on the edge of your seat throughout. Being enveloped in its Dolby Atmos mix only adds to the effect.
Blade Runner 2049
The second Villeneuve film on our list, and perhaps an even better showcase of the might of Dolby Atmos. That a sequel to Blade Runner, one of the most influential sci-fi films of all time, was ever made is one thing –that it ended up being close to surpassing its predecessor was revelatory. Villeneuve takes the complex and ambiguous original story of the first film and takes it in exciting new directions as replicant Ryan Gosling tracks the first film’s long-missing Harrison Ford.
With music by the legendary Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, the Dolby Atmos mix is an imposing mixture of sci-fi cityscape sounds, and that booming signature Zimmer scoring.
There hasn’t been better use of a soundtrack in recent years than Baby Driver. Director Edgar Wright uses some top-notch tunes to determine the timing and pacing of his edits in this rip-roaring heist flick, making for one of the most unique action films you’re likely to see –and hear. Its car chases, complimented by the height of Dolby Atmos speaker mixes, make for a thrilling watch.
Starring Ryan Gosling as first man on the Moon in-training Neil Armstrong, First Man was unfairly overlooked by audiences upon its release. It’s a real shame it hasn’t been seen more widely, as it deserved the critical acclaim it garnered. Gosling, playing against screen wife Claire Foy, gives an intimate portrayal of the domestic toil his life-or-death training resulted in. Here, the Dolby Atmos mix is one of tonal extremes – the quiet worry of the home giving way to the rattling interior of the spacecraft and the roar of its engines.
If you’ve seen Us, you’ll never be able to forget Lupita Nyong'o’s terrifying vocal tics. A strange and unsettling film, not without its comedic moments, Us asks its audience, what would you do if you came face to face with your own twisted doppelganger?
With jump scares aplenty and that old-faithful of the horror genre, a creepy carnival, Us’s super Michael Abels score and clever use of pop music make it a great addition to your Dolby Atmos collection.
From one horror film to another, It is Stephen King, the maestro of the morbid’s, best known work. Though it’d been adapted for television before, its big-screen adaptation masterfully balanced the coming-of-age drama of its teenage protagonists with the manic menace of the murderous clown Pennywise.
Dolby Atmos is a perfect match for a horror film, and It is no exception. As Pennywise weaves terrifying visions for the children, so too does Atmos leave you sweating as creepy sounds and the startling score swell.
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
That an animated spin-off movie would prove to be one of, if not the best Spider-Man film since the early Tobey Maguire days was an unexpected and welcome joy. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, married the comics’ goofy glee with an art style that dazzled, with every frame a technicolor marvel to look at.
With its multiple Spider-people and psychedelic palette, Spiderverse’s stomping soundtrack and high-flying web-swinging make for a great reason to add some verticality to the Atmos mix.
Where to find Dolby Atmos content
It’s increasingly easy to find Dolby Atmos-mixed TV and movies, thanks to the ever-adapting power of TV streaming services. Most of the big-budget Netflix originals offer Dolby Atmos sound mixes along with their 4K HDR visuals, and the same goes for Amazon Prime and Disney Plus. In most cases, you can surface the Atmos-enabled content just by searching for ‘Dolby Atmos’. Apple’s iTunes and Vudu also offer Atmos content.
If you’re a Sky Q TV subscriber in the UK there’s a growing list of movies in its on-demand library that includes Dolby Atmos sound mixes, though note that its 4K platform still doesn’t serve HDR visuals, which complement Atmos nicely. For the superlative experience, we’re still going to recommend, where available, physical 4K Blu-ray discs – paired with a capable player, they still offer the highest, most-consistent visual quality, and if a film has an Atmos mix, it’s almost guaranteed to feature on the disc version.
- Best 4K Blu-ray movies: our favourite Atmos-ready discs
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Gerald is Editor-in-Chief of iMore.com. Previously he was the Executive Editor for TechRadar, taking care of the site's home cinema, gaming, smart home, entertainment and audio output. He loves gaming, but don't expect him to play with you unless your console is hooked up to a 4K HDR screen and a 7.1 surround system. Before TechRadar, Gerald was Editor of Gizmodo UK. He is also the author of 'Get Technology: Upgrade Your Future', published by Aurum Press.