The Criterion Collection, Inc. (or simply Criterion) is an American home video distribution company that focuses on licensing "important classic and contemporary films". Criterion serves film and media scholars, cinephiles, as well as public and academic libraries. Criterion has helped to standardize characteristics of home video such as film restoration, using the Letterboxing format for widescreen films, and adding bonus features as well as scholarly essays and commentary tracks. Criterion has produced and distributed more than 1,000 special editions of its films in VHS, Betamax, LaserDisc, DVD, and Blu-ray formats and box sets. These films and their special features are also available via an online streaming service that the company operates.
The 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 four 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 three 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 Entertainment
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 marketing
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, wholly owned and operated by the Criterion Collection, beginning in the United States and Canada, then hopefully elsewhere. Some of the VOD service's offerings are also available through HBO Max, WarnerMedia's streaming platform as of May 27, 2020 .
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 influence
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 (1956), 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.
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 is also 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 restored 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 (e.g., Universal and Terry Gilliam's 1985 film Brazil); these new releases are generally done on a case-by-case basis.
LaserDisc, VHS, Betamax and DVD
The original "Criterion" logo
The Criterion Collection began publishing LaserDiscs on December 1, 1984 with its release of Citizen Kane. Three of their early titles (spine #003–005) were also issued on VHS and at least the last of them also appeared on Betamax. These were Criterion's only releases on those formats. 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 anamorphically enhance its discs for 16:9 monitors until mid-1999 with its release of Insomnia (1997), catalog number 47.
Criterion was slow to expand into high-definition releases, partly due to the HD format wars between Blu-ray and HD DVD. Once Blu-ray had emerged as the industry-standard high-definition home video format, Criterion expanded into releasing Blu-ray editions of select films from its collection, beginning with the Blu-ray release of Wong Kar-wai's Chungking Express (#453; currently out of print) on December 16, 2008. In late 2013, Criterion announced that with the November release of the Zatoichi boxset (spine #679), all their releases would be in dual format (DVD and Blu-ray packaged together) rather than individual releases. This decision also applied to most upgrade re-releases introduced after November 2013. After customer feedback revealed some reluctance to this approach, All That Jazz (#724) became the last chronological spine number released as a dual format edition, and the decision was reversed to release separate discs for titles in and after September 2014.
Despite the emergence of Blu-ray as the industry-standard high-definition format, Janus/Criterion remain committed to supporting the DVD format. Not only are all their new Blu-ray releases accompanied by a standard-definition DVD version, but revised and upgraded releases are also released on both formats (barring the brief foray into dual-format releases). Moreover, the company's stand-alone line of Eclipse releases are currently only made available in the standard DVD format.
Aside from the core catalog, the company has also released films through its Essential Art House, Eclipse, and Merchant Ivory Collection lines, as well as a few releases outside of any product line. Many of these releases have also been collected and sold in various box sets.
In April 2016 for the first time in its history, Criterion announced it would begin releasing their catalogue outside of the U.S. (earlier international Criterion titles like the Japanese LaserDisc of Blade Runner were licensed to other companies). In partnership with Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, releases began to be distributed with the launch of six titles in the UK during the month.
Video on demand services
The company has also expanded into online distribution, through online video on demand rental services, first in partnership with MUBI (formerly known as The Auteurs), then Hulu. Criterion's Hulu Plus subscription channel also offered titles for streaming as-yet unreleased on DVD/Blu-ray, including dozens of the Janus-owned films produced by London Films. In November 2016, Criterion ended its deal with Hulu, and partnered with Turner Classic Movies to launch a dedicated streaming service called FilmStruck. After two years, TCM parent company WarnerMedia restructured its streaming offerings, and it was announced that the future online home for Criterion's films would be a dedicated channel. The Criterion Channel launched on April 8, 2019 and offers subscribers access to both 'complete' releases from the collection, specially-produced supplementary programming and other films controlled by Janus/Voyager, alongside limited engagements of select films from other companies, particularly Warner/TCM. Criterion Collection content is also accessible via the library VOD service Kanopy.
A Criterion Collection logotype: Blu-ray Criterion label, dates from the first movies released on December 16, 2008.
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 in North America or Region B locked in the United Kingdom (with the exception of Roma, which is region-free in both territories).
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".
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