The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection
The Criterion Collection
Type Private
Industry Motion picture video production
Founded 1984
Headquarters New York City, New York, United States[1]
Key people Jonathan B. Turell (CEO)[1]
Products Laserdiscs (1984–98)
DVDs (1998–present)
Blu-ray Discs (2008–present)
VOD (select titles) (2008–present)
Revenue US$6.1 million (2007)[1]
Owner(s) The Voyager Company
Employees 40[1]
Parent Janus Films
Divisions Eclipse from the Criterion Collection
Essential Art House

The Criterion Collection (est. 1984) is a video-distribution company selling "important classic and contemporary films" to film aficionados.[2] The Criterion series is noted for helping to standardize the letterbox format for home video, bonus features, and special editions. Criterion is also known for taking great lengths to restore and clean all films released on their label.



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,[disambiguation needed ] and Jonathan B. Turell founded the Voyager Company,[3] to publish educational multimedia CD-ROMs (1989–2000),[3][4] during which time, The Criterion Collection became a subordinate division of the Voyager Company. In March 1994, Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH bought 20 percent of Voyager for US$ 6.7 million; the founders each retained a 20 percent owner’s share.[3] 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).[5] Robert Stein sold 42 Voyager titles to LTI for his Voyager–Criterion company share. The remaining partners, Aleen Stein, William Becker (President) and Jonathan Turell (CEO) owned The Criterion Collection company,[5] which has a business partnership with Janus Films, and had one with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) until 2005, when Image Entertainment bought HVE.[6]

Home Vision Entertainment

In 1986, Charles Benton founded Home Vision Entertainment (HVE), the home-video division of Public Media Inc. (PMI), which he founded in 1968. The HVE company sold, advertised, marketed, and distributed Criterion Collection DVDs, and sold its own HVE-brand of DVDs (co-produced with Criterion), including The Merchant Ivory Collection,[7] 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, unavailable from the Criterion Collection; however, Criterion published Classic Collection fims. In 2005, Image Entertainment bought HVE, thus it became the exclusive distributor of Criterion Collection products.

Online ventures

Criterion began to provide video-on-demand in partnership with MUBI (formerly The Auteurs) in 2008. In February 2011, Criterion began switching its VOD offerings exclusively to Hulu Plus.[8]

Contributions and influence

Commercially, The Criterion Collection video company pioneered the correct aspect ratio letterboxing presentation of movies, commentary soundtracks, multi-disc sets, special editions, and definitive versions.


Letterboxing is the widescreen, cinema aspect ratio presentation of a movie on a television set screen. Although initially disliked by some viewers — as it did not fill the entire 4:3 TV screen — it became the standard videographic presentation of the image frame as intended by the director and the cinematographer. This change restored the original aspect ratio, from the cropped (25–50 percent) images fitting the 4:3 aspect ratio of the standard television set. In 1987, The Criterion Collection laserdisc of Blade Runner (1982) proved to be the seminal home video disc that established the letterbox aspect ratio as the home video presentation standard.[9][10]

Commentary soundtracks

The Criterion Collection's second catalogue title, King Kong (1933), was the debut of the scene-specific audio commentary contained in a discrete analogue 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 Casablanca (1942), Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941), Singin' in the Rain (1952), and The Wizard of Oz (1939) laserdiscs. Typically, the chapter-indexed commentaries are exclusive to the Criterion releases, and the initial DVD reissues; they became collector’s items when the original-owner studios re-issued titles (with commentary tracks or not) licensed to Criterion.

Special editions

The Criterion Collection began in 1984 with the releases of Citizen Kane (1941) and King Kong (1933) on laserdisc. The company later became notable 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,[11] 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 catalogue titles such as Amarcord (1973), Brazil (1985), and Seven Samurai (1954).


Some licensed Criterion Collection titles, such as Rebecca (1940), are commercially unavailable but are for sale at auction on-line. Titles such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), RoboCop (1987), Hard-Boiled (1992), The Killer (1989), and Ran (1985), become unavailable when their publishing licenses expire or when Criterion publishes improved versions, such as Beauty and the Beast (1946), M (1931), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Wages of Fear (1954). As of August 2009, 87 of the 373 titles (23 percent) constituting the list of Criterion Collection laserdisc releases, have been released.

The film Charade (1963), was a public-domain property for lacking the legally required copyright notice—usually a license to sell low-quality DVD products —yet the Criterion company produced a digitally cleaned edition under license from Universal Pictures for the initial edition and for the 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, such as Sony, Fox, MGM/UA, and Universal, generally on a case-by-case basis. Recently[when?], Criterion struck new deals with Westchester Films (which is home to some films that had previously been with Castle Hill Productions) and the estate of Charlie Chaplin (as Janus Films had struck a new deal with the Chaplin company and worldwide distribution agent MK2 for the re-issue rights to the Chaplin library).

Film restoration

Originally, the Criterion company released art, genre, and mainstream movies on laserdisc—Halloween (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Armageddon (1998), and The Rock (1996)—yet currently the Criterion Collection mostly sells World cinema, mainstream cinema classics, and critically successful obscure movies. Using the best available source materials, the company produces technologically improved versions, thus, The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), M (1931), and the Children of Paradise (1945) discs contain film-cleaning and film-restoration demonstrations, comparing the restored and un-restored images; not every film-distribution company approved of the comparison exercise—the Toho Company took exception to the restoration demonstration in Criterion's first DVD release of Seven Samurai (1954); the re-issued version does not contain it.


Laserdisc and DVD

A Criterion Collection logotype: Blu-ray Criterion label, dates from the first movies released on 16 December 2008.

The Criterion Collection company was a Laserdisc pioneer, and continued to publish in that format until 1998, when it switched to DVD. This made it a late arrival to the DVD format, publishing titles about a year after the format became commercially established. The early widescreen DVD editions were letterboxed, like the laserdisc versions, but were not enhanced for 16x9 monitors. The first anamorphic widescreen release was Insomnia (1997), catalogue number 47.[12] In 1998, the company discontinued selling laserdiscs,[12] nevertheless, bonus materials from a few Criterion laserdiscs have appeared on other companies’ DVDs; the MGM special edition of Raging Bull (1980), for example, contains the Criterion-recorded director's commentary.

Video-on-demand services

On 25 November 2008, on its web site, The Criterion Collection began offering video-on-demand (VOD) downloading services, for US$5.00 per select movie, marking the start of cross-promotional VOD services from Criterion and The Auteurs web sites.[13] In Early 2011, the Criterion Collection also became available through the Hulu Plus premium service.[14]

High definition format

The Criterion company published high-definition video format discs only after the high-definition disc-format war ended; it published its first Blu-ray Disc titles in December 2008.[15] Unlike its DVD releases, a mixture of NTSC-standard Region 0 (region-free) and Region 1 DVDs, Criterion Collection Blu-ray Discs are Region A.

Product pricing

In 2006, the prices for Criterion Collection movies on DVD ranged from 30 to 40 US dollars for one-disc and two-discs sets, respectively. Movies below that price range tend to be Walt Disney-produced or -distributed products, such as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and Chasing Amy (1997). Criterion also sold the French Holocaust short documentary Night and Fog (1955) for US$14.95, below the company’s usual price range.[16] In 2004, the company released The Criterion Collection Gift Set 2004, a special 282-disc set for US$5,000, sold exclusively through online retailer, although it was not the (then) entire Criterion Collection cinémathèque. Recently[when?], Criterion DVDs (including two disc editions) have been roughly ten dollars cheaper than their Blu-ray counterparts.

Janus Films' "Essential Art House" collection consists of Janus-owned Criterion movies without special features, and are also cheaper alternatives.

Given their rarity, the great aficionado demand for out-of-print Criterion Collection DVDs spawned the business of counterfeit (bootleg) copies, often advertised as a Criterion Collection Asian edition to disguise their bootleg nature.[12] The company’s Web site instructs buyers to shop carefully, advises about identifying bootleg merchandise, and notes that the Criterion Collection never published Asian editions of its movie catalogue.

Lists of Criterion releases

See also


  1. ^ a b c d The Criterion Collection Inc. from Hoover's
  2. ^ "Criterion Mission Statement". Retrieved 2009-03-30. 
  3. ^ a b c Virshup, Amy (July 1996). "The Teachings of Bob Stein". Wired. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  4. ^ Brockman, John. "Bob Stein: The Radical". Digerati. Edge Foundation. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  5. ^ a b "Aleen Stein". Organa Online. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  6. ^ "History". About Home Vision. Home Vision Entertainment. Archived from the original on 2002-06-27. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  7. ^ Hasan, Mark Richard (September 2004). "DVD Review". Music From the Movies. Archived from the original on 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  8. ^ Lawler, Ryan (February 15, 2011). "As Netflix Goes After TV Fans, Hulu Chases Movie Buffs". The New York Times (New York: The New York Times Company). ISSN 0362-4331. OCLC 1645522. Retrieved March 30, 2011. ""Hulu is looking to court movie buffs to its subscription Plus offering, announcing Tuesday that it has acquired streaming rights for hundreds of classic films from The Criterion Collection.... Hulu Plus will soon be the only place old movie buffs will be able to catch Criterion titles."" 
  9. ^ Gardner, Eriq (February 2002). "Open Wide: Why The Sopranos and ER put those black bands across your screen". Slate. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  10. ^ Korpi, Michael (September 1999). "The Playing Field: The Frame in Film and Television". Baylor University. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  11. ^ Ulaby, Neda (June 2004). "Criterion DVD Collection". NPR. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  12. ^ a b c "FAQS". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Janis, Jason (June 2003). "Night and Fog: the Criterion Collection". DVD Talk. Retrieved 2007-08-22. 

External links

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