The 10 Best Movies for Testing a New Surround Sound System

Best Surround Sound Movies

The 10 Best Movies for Testing a New Surround Sound System

Key Points

  • Dolby Atmos is the latest surround sound technology that adds a height channel for a more realistic viewing experience.
  • Movies like Mad Max: Fury Road, Arrival, and Dunkirk make great use of a new surround sound system.
  • Denis Villeneuve’s films, including Blade Runner 2049 and Dune, are known for their exceptional sound design.
  • Elvis and Avatar: The Way of Water are 2022 films that feature great sound design, perfect for testing a new surround sound system.

What do you get when you take a 4K UHD TV with HDR and add in a Dolby Atmos-enabled surround sound system? The perfect home theater setup, that’s what. What better way to test a new surround sound system with a great movie? Alas, with so many options to stream on your favorite streaming services and even more to pick from on Blu-ray or 4K disc, it can be hard to know what movie is best to test out your new surround sound system. We’ve assembled together ten excellent picks from the last decade for you to unlock the full potential of your new speakers.

Woman watching TV in her living room.
There’s no better way to test out a new surround sound system than with a good movie.


What’s In a New Surround Sound System?

The latest and greatest in surround sound technology boils down to two words: Dolby Atmos. This revolutionary new surround sound system standard adds a brand-new layer to existing 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound setups by incorporating a height channel. These height channels are either installed in the ceiling or reflected off of the ceiling by special angled speakers facing upward. The purpose is to add an element of overhead sound.

From helicopters circling above the characters on-screen to loud noises coming from upstairs neighbors to crows cawing from up above, Dolby Atmos’s 3D sound creates a more realistic-sounding viewing experience than ever before. It drastically improves video games, movies, and television shows alike. Whatever you use your surround sound system for, Dolby Atmos can help make it even more enjoyable.

Possible configurations include a 5.1.2 or 7.1.2 setup with two Dolby Atoms-enabled speakers. You can also take things a step further with a 5.1.4 or 7.1.4 system with four Dolby Atmos speakers. Some have even gone as far as a 9.1.2 system with two front wide speakers added to their existing 7.1.2 Dolby Atmos setup. No matter what specific setup you choose, these ten movies will show off all your new surround system can do.

10. Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Mad Max: Fury Road is a spectacle of both sight and sound.

George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road was enveloped in a cloud of doubt ahead of its release. The director hadn’t done a live-action film since Babe: Pig in the City (1998), and he hadn’t done a Mad Max film since Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Even the most devoted fans of his were curious how the film would turn out. As it turned out, all of this questioning was for nothing. Mad Max: Fury Road is a loud, action-packed thrill ride. In other words, it will absolutely make the best of your new surround sound system.

9. Arrival (2016)

The sound design of Arrival‘s aliens is practically made for your new surround sound system.

Denis Villeneuve’s science fiction movies continue to push the limits of what a modern sci-fi blockbuster can look (and sound) like. Arrival‘s release kicked off a string of exceptional mainstream science fiction releases from the filmmaker. From its score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson to its Academy Award win for Best Sound Editing, Arrival makes great use of a new surround sound system. You’ll want to turn your speakers up as loud as you can handle them for this one. That way, you can hear all the little auditory details.

8. La La Land (2016)

Take one listen to La La Land‘s opening scene and it’s obvious how great it sounds.

Following the release of his film Whiplash (2014), all eyes were turned to director Damien Chazelle. How would he follow up such a heart-pounding, speaker-rattling ride? With a full-fledged musical, of course. La La Land is a throwback to the look of Old Hollywood Technicolor musicals with a thoroughly modern jazzy soundtrack to boot. Watching this, Justin Hurwitz’s music combined with songwriting from Benj Pasek and Justin Paul will have your new surround sound system sounding better than ever.

7. Dunkirk (2017)

Dunkirk is an unrivaled experience with a new surround sound system.

Christopher Nolan initially gained world renown for his Dark Knight trilogy. That said, his work in the years that followed The Dark Knight Rises (2012) has been infinitely more interesting. Dunkirk is one of the most prime examples of this. Its eye-catching practical effects with immersive cinematography from Hoyte van Hoytema aren’t the only appeal, either. Its Hans Zimmer score combined with its Oscar-nominated sound editing and mixing will make you thankful you didn’t spare any expense with your new surround sound system.

6. Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

No one does sci-fi sound like Denis Villeneuve — just listen to Blade Runner 2049 for proof.

There’s a reason you see multiple Denis Villeneuve movies on this list. The guy just knows sound. Each new film proves this even better than his last. Like George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, many wondered how Villeneuve could pull off a follow-up to such a classic. (In this case, Ridley Scott’s 1982 film Blade Runner.) Upon release, all doubt dissipated. Blade Runner 2049 delivers an excellent score by Benjamin Wallfisch & Hans Zimmer. Combine this with next-level sound editing and mixing, it’s an auditory experience you (and your new surround sound system) won’t soon forget.

5. The Shape of Water (2017)

Few recent blockbusters have looked (or sounded) as beautiful as The Shape of Water.

Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy films are a real standout among the 21st century’s studio output. The Shape of Water is the best of del Toro’s recent bunch. (And not just for all its Oscar wins, either.) It’s a beautiful, fantastical love story that has to be seen — and heard — to be believed. You can never really go wrong with an Alexandre Desplat score, but del Toro takes it a step further with some extraordinary mixing and editing to match. Sally Hawkins’s character is mute, meaning that all other sounds get amplified to compensate. It’s perfect for your new surround sound system.

4. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019)

The beauty of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in its visuals as well as its sound.

With a Quentin Tarantino movie, you know you’re going to be treated to a remarkable soundtrack. The tracks often come right out of Tarantino’s own personal record collection, too. His latest (and, if his word is to be believed, penultimate) film is no exception. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood uses great music from the final days of Old Hollywood’s Golden Era to set the stage for a unique take on one of the movie industry’s most shocking tragedies. All in all, it’s one of the top picks for testing your new surround sound system.

3. Dune (2021)

Dune is Denis Villeneuve’s best-sounding movie to date.

This is the last Denis Villeneuve movie on the list — we promise. This adaptation of Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi novel had previously been dubbed unfilmable. However, Dune successfully brings the story of the Atreides family and son Paul’s rise to power to the big screen. Your new surround sound system will enjoy another great Hans Zimmer score, not to mention the sounds of life on (and underneath) the surface of the titular desert planet. With such great audio coming out of your speaker, it’s a good thing you won’t have to worry about summoning a sandworm.

2. Elvis (2022)

Baz Lurhmann’s take on Elvis is a thrill both visually and aurally.

Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis is the kind of biopic only the Moulin Rouge! (2001) filmmaker could have made. Elvis tells the story of Elvis Presley’s rise and fall through the eyes of a dying Colonel Tom Parker. It deserves to be played as loudly as possible. From an assortment of Presley’s greatest hits to catchy mashups of his songs melded with other pop successes, Lurhmann certainly knows how to make a movie sound as good as it looks. It’s a roller coaster ride of a film. Your new surround sound system will make it feel even more thrilling.

1. Avatar: The Way of Water (2022)

Avatar: The Way of Water delivers in every way, especially with a new surround sound system.

Of all these films, the best for testing a new surround sound system has to be Avatar: The Way of Water. Anxiously awaited for over a decade, the sequel to 2009’s record-breaking Avatar takes everything awesome about the first film and extrapolates it tenfold. While the main focus is on the stunning visuals, the audio deserves its fair share of attention too. James Cameron regular Simon Franglen returns to score this one, and it’s made all the better by some fantastic sound effects throughout this epic second installment.

Frequently Asked Questions

What's the benefit of a new surround sound system for movies?

A new surround sound system offers a more immersive audio experience for watching movies and TV. Whether you have a 5.1 or 7.1 system, your home theater setup makes the most of your strategically placed speakers to create a three-dimensional soundstage. The resulting viewing experience makes you feel like you’re right in the heart of the film.

How many audio channels do you need for a good movie experience?

A 5.1-channel system, which includes five speakers and a subwoofer, is the standard setup for a great movie-watching experience. The “5” represents the three front speakers and two rear speakers. The “1” represents the subwoofer for low-frequency effects. This particular setup ensures a comprehensive range of sound, from dialogue to sound effects and beyond.

Do all new movies support Dolby Atmos?

Most modern movies are produced with optimal surround quality in mind. This often — but not always — includes Dolby Atmos support. Some films are only mixed in formats like Dolby Digital or DTS and not full-fledged Dolby Atmos. Nevertheless, with a good sound system, you’ll still get to enjoy high-quality sound effects, music, and dialogue alike.

What does a subwoofer do in a new surround sound system?

The subwoofer is a key component of a surround sound system. It broadcasts low-frequency sounds (more commonly known as the bass). From explosions to deep rumbles to musical scores, the subwoofer adds both depth and resonance to the sound profile.

Is Dolby Atmos necessary for a new surround sound system?

Dolby Atmos is a great new audio technology standard that introduces overhead sound effects to the mix. This helps create an even more immersive experience called 3D sound. While it’s not an absolute necessity, Dolby Atmos does significantly enhance the surround sound experience by adding these height channels.

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