The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection, Inc. (or simply Criterion) is an American home video distribution company which focuses on licensing "important classic and contemporary films" and selling them to film aficionados. Criterion is noted for helping to standardize a number of new ideas, such as the letterbox format for widescreen films, adding bonus features, commentary tracks, doing film restoration, and releasing special editions for home video.
|Privately held company|
|Industry||Motion picture video production|
|Headquarters||New York City, New York, U.S.|
|United Kingdom (Europe)|
United States, Canada (North America)
|Jonathan B. Turell (CEO)|
Peter Becker (President)
Blu-ray Discs (2008–present)
VOD (select titles) (2008–present)
|Owner||The Voyager Company (1985–97)|
Number of employees
|Divisions||Eclipse from the Criterion Collection|
Essential Art House
The Criterion Collection company was founded in 1984 by Robert Stein, Aleen Stein, and Joe Medjuck, who later were joined by Roger Smith. In 1985, the Steins, William Becker, and Jonathan B. Turell founded the Voyager Company, to publish educational multimedia CD-ROMs (1989–2000), during which time the Criterion Collection became a subordinate division of the Voyager Company. In March 1994, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH bought 20% of Voyager for US$6.7 million; the 4 founders each retained a 20% owner's share.
In 1997, the Voyager Company was dissolved (Aleen Stein founded the Organa LLC CD-ROM publishing company), and Holtzbrinck Publishers sold the “Voyager” brand name, 42 CD-ROM titles, the Voyager web site, and associated assets, to Learn Technologies Interactive, LLC (LTI). Robert Stein sold 42 Voyager titles to LTI from his Voyager–Criterion company share. The remaining 3 partners, Aleen Stein, William Becker (President) and Jonathan Turell (CEO) owned the Criterion Collection company, which has a business partnership with Janus Films, and had one with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) until 2005, when Image Entertainment bought HVE. On November 4, 2013, it was announced that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment would handle distribution.
Home Vision EntertainmentEdit
In 1986, Charles Benton founded Home Vision Entertainment (HVE), the home-video division of Public Media Inc. (PMI), which he had previously founded in 1968. The HVE company sold, advertised, marketed, and distributed Criterion Collection DVDs, and also sold its own HVE brand of DVDs (co-produced with Criterion), including The Merchant Ivory Collection, and the Classic Collection, a joint venture between Home Vision Entertainment and Janus Films. The latter enterprise published HVE imprint films, for which Janus Films owned the video rights, but which were unavailable from the Criterion Collection; however, Criterion published the Classic Collection films. In 2005, Image Entertainment bought HVE, thus it became the exclusive distributor of Criterion Collection products until 2013.
Online ventures and marketingEdit
The Criterion Collection began to provide video-on-demand (VOD) in partnership with MUBI (formerly The Auteurs) in 2008. In February 2011, Criterion began switching its VOD offerings exclusively to Hulu Plus. In November 2016, FilmStruck, a film streaming service from Turner Classic Movies, succeeded Hulu as the exclusive streaming service for the Criterion Collection. Some Criterion films were streamed by Kanopy. On October 26, 2018, Warner Bros. Digital Networks and Turner announced that FilmStruck would be shutting down on November 29. Criterion stated in a blog post that they were "trying to find ways we can bring our library and original content back to the digital space as soon as possible." On November 16, 2018, Criterion announced that they would be launching The Criterion Channel as a standalone service in Spring 2019 in partnership with WarnerMedia (the owners of FilmStruck), beginning in the United States and Canada, then hopefully elsewhere. They also announced that the service will also be available through WarnerMedia's upcoming steaming platform when it launches in Q4 2019.
Criterion also maintains a YouTube channel with which it markets its films. One notable feature is the "Three Reasons" playlist it has produced in which the company overlays in a few words or phrases three reasons that the film is worth watching or has entered the Criterion catalogue. In response YouTube users offer their own "Three Reasons" to promote nominations. No "Three Reasons" video has been released by Criterion since June 30, 2015.
British film magazine Sight & Sound revealed in their April 2016 issue that Criterion would be expanding its releases to the United Kingdom. The first six titles were released on April 18, 2016.
Contributions and influenceEdit
The Criterion Collection video company pioneered the correct aspect ratio letterboxing presentation of movies, as well as commentary soundtracks, multi-disc sets, special editions, and definitive versions. These ideas and the special features introduced by the Criterion Collection have been highly influential, and have become industry-wide standards for premium home video releases.
With its eighth laserdisc release, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Criterion introduced the letterbox format, which added black bars to the top and bottom of the 4:3 standard television set in order to preserve the original aspect ratio of the film. Thereafter, Criterion made letterboxing the standard presentation for all its releases of films shot in widescreen aspect ratios.
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The Criterion Collection's second catalog title, King Kong (1933), was the debut of the scene-specific audio commentary contained in a separate analog channel of the laserdisc. It featured US film historian Ronald Haver reporting about the production, cast, screenplay, production design and special effects. He also is the commentator for the laserdisc editions of Casablanca (1942), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and The Wizard of Oz (1939). Typically, the chapter-indexed commentaries are exclusive to the Criterion releases and their initial DVD reissues; they became collector's items when the original-owner studios re-issued titles previously licensed to Criterion (with newly produced commentary tracks or not).
The Criterion Collection began in 1984 with the releases of Citizen Kane (1941) and King Kong (1933) on laserdisc, the latter's source negatives courtesy of the Library of Congress. The company later became known for pioneering the “special edition” DVD concept, containing bonus materials (trailers, commentaries, documentaries, alternate endings, deleted scenes, et cetera), "a film school in a box", as it were, the success of which established the special edition version in the DVD business. In 2006, taking advantage of better film-transfer and film-restoration technologies, Criterion published improved-image versions, with bonus materials, of early catalog titles such as Amarcord (1973), Brazil (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954).
Originally, the Criterion company released art, genre, and mainstream movies on laserdisc such as Halloween (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Armageddon (1998) and The Rock (1996). Increasingly, the Criterion Collection has also focused on releasing world cinema, mainstream cinema classics, and critically successful obscure movies. Using the best available source materials, the company produced technologically improved and cleaner versions. For example, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), M (1931), Children of Paradise (1945), The Third Man (1949), Seven Samurai (1954) and Amarcord (1973) discs contain film-cleaning and film-restoration demonstrations, comparing the restored and un-restored images.
Some previously licensed Criterion Collection titles, such as The Harder They Come (1972), are now commercially unavailable as new product, and are only available in resale (used) form. Titles such as RoboCop (1987), Hard Boiled (1992), The Killer (1989), and Ran (1985), became unavailable when their publishing licenses expired, or when Criterion published improved versions, such as Beauty and the Beast (1946), M (1931), The Wages of Fear (1953), and Seven Samurai (1954). As of September 2018, 188 of the 954 titles (19%) from the List of Criterion Collection Laserdisc releases have been re-released.
Another example is the film Charade (1963), which had become a public-domain property for lacking the legally required copyright notice. The Criterion company produced a digitally cleaned edition under license from Universal Pictures for the initial edition, and for the later anamorphic widescreen re-release edition of the film.
Periodically, Criterion does release material on DVD/Blu-ray licensed from the studios they previously dealt with, for example Sony, Fox, MGM/UA, Disney, and Universal; these new releases are generally done on a case-by-case basis.
Laserdisc and DVDEdit
The Criterion Collection began publishing laserdiscs on December 1, 1984 with its release of Citizen Kane. In 1998, Criterion began publishing DVDs as well. On March 16, 1999, Criterion issued its final laserdisc release, Michael Bay's Armageddon. As with its laserdiscs, Criterion's early DVD editions of widescreen films were presented in the letterbox format, but Criterion did not enhance its discs for 16:9 monitors until mid-1999 with its release of Insomnia (1997), catalog number 47.
On November 25, 2008, on its website, Criterion began offering video-on-demand (VOD) downloading services, for US$5.00 per select movie, marking the beginning of a cross-promotional VOD service from the Criterion and The Auteurs websites. In early 2011, many Criterion titles also became available through the Hulu Plus premium subscription service. In November 2016, FilmStruck, a film streaming service from Turner Classic Movies, succeeded Hulu as the exclusive streaming service for the Criterion Collection. FilmStruck was discontinued on November 29, 2018. Since then, Criterion has launched The Criterion Channel, making its library available to Canadian and U.S. subscribers.
Criterion began publishing on Blu-ray Disc in December 2008. Unlike its DVD releases, which are a mixture of NTSC-standard Region 0 (region-free) and Region 1 DVDs, Criterion Collection Blu-ray Discs are Region A locked.
Eclipse is a line started in 2007 separate from The Criterion Collection. It is described by Criterion as "a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable editions". They are sold in multi-DVD sets only.
The retail list prices for Criterion Collection releases typically range from US$30 to US$40 for one-disc and two-discs sets, respectively, while boxed sets typically range from US$80 to US$200. Twice-yearly sales at 50% off full price are held both at the Criterion website and at the Barnes & Noble website and stores.
Janus Films' "Essential Art House" collection consists of Janus-owned Criterion films without many special features, as lower-cost alternatives to individual purchases of regular Criterion titles.
Demand for out-of-print Criterion Collection releases has spawned the business of counterfeit (bootleg) copies, often advertised as a Criterion Collection "Asian" edition to disguise their bootleg nature. The company's website instructs buyers to shop carefully, advises about identifying bootleg merchandise, and notes that the Criterion Collection never published Asian editions of its film catalog.
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