The Criterion Collection

The Criterion Collection
Privately held company
Industry Motion picture video production
Founded 1984
Headquarters New York City, New York, U.S.[1]
Key people
Jonathan B. Turell (CEO)[1]
Peter Becker (President)[2]
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 The Voyager Company (1985–97)
Number of employees
Parent Janus Films
Divisions Eclipse from the Criterion Collection
Essential Art House

The Criterion Collection (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.[3] Criterion is noted for helping to standardize the letterbox format for widescreen films, bonus features, commentary tracks, and special editions for home video.


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,[4] to publish educational multimedia CD-ROMs (1989–2000),[4][5] 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 4 founders each retained a 20 percent owner’s share.[4]

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).[6] 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,[6] which has a business partnership with Janus Films, and had one with Home Vision Entertainment (HVE) until 2005, when Image Entertainment bought HVE.[7] On November 4, 2013, it was announced that Sony Pictures Home Entertainment will now handle distribution.[8]

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,[9] 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.

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.[10] In Q3 2016, FilmStruck, a film streaming service from Turner Classic Movies, will succeed Hulu as the exclusive streaming service for the Criterion Collection.[11]

Criterion also maintain 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, presumably, why the film is worth watching or has made it into the Criterion catalogue.[12] In response, other users in YouTube have used the "Three Reasons" format to promote their own nominations.[13][14] As of July 2016, no new "Three Reasons" video has been released by Criterion since June 30, 2015.[15]

On March 4, 2016, British film magazine Sight & Sound revealed in their April 2016 issue that Criterion will be expanding its releases to the United Kingdom, releasing the first five titles on April 18, 2016.[16][17]

Contributions and influence

Commercially, 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 de facto 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.[18] Thereafter, Criterion made letterboxing the standard presentation for all its releases of films shot in widescreen aspect ratios.[19]

Commentary soundtracks

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 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 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).

Special editions

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.[20] 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,[21] 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).

Film restoration

Originally, the Criterion company released art, genre, and mainstream movies on laserdisc. For example, Halloween (1978), Ghostbusters (1984), Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992), Armageddon (1998), and The Rock (1996). Increasingly, the Criterion Collection has 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), and the Children of Paradise (1945) discs contain film-cleaning and film-restoration demonstrations, comparing the restored and un-restored images.


Some previously licensed Criterion Collection titles, such as Rebecca (1940), are now commercially unavailable as new product, and are only available in resale (used) form. Titles such as The Silence of the Lambs (1991), 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), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Wages of Fear (1954). As of May 2014, 188 of the 384 titles (49 percent) constituting the List of Criterion Collection Laserdisc releases, have been re-released.[22]

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 DVD

The original "Criterion" logo

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.[23] 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.[24]

Video-on-demand services

On November 25, 2008, on its web site, 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 web sites.[25] In early 2011, many Criterion titles also became available through the Hulu Plus premium subscription service.[26] In November 2016, FilmStruck, a film streaming service from Turner Classic Movies, succeeded Hulu as the exclusive streaming service for the Criterion Collection.[11]

High definition format

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.[27] 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".[28] They are sold in multi-DVD sets only.

Product pricing

The retail list prices for Criterion Collection releases typically range from US$30 to US$40 for one-disc and two-discs sets, respectively. Criterion typically releases shorter films, for example Night and Fog (1955), below the company’s usual price range.[29]

Janus Films' "Essential Art House" collection consists of Janus-owned Criterion movies 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.[24] 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 catalog.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 The Criterion Collection Inc. from Hoover's
  2. Bachman, Justin (16 April 2014). "How Hulu Found a Subscriber Lure in Obscure Films". Bloomberg Business. Bloomberg L.P. Retrieved 29 July 2015.
  3. "Criterion Mission Statement". Retrieved March 30, 2009.
  4. 1 2 3 Virshup, Amy (July 1996). "The Teachings of Bob Stein". Wired. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  5. Brockman, John. "Bob Stein: The Radical". Digerati. Edge Foundation. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  6. 1 2 "Aleen Stein". Organa Online. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  7. "History". About Home Vision. Home Vision Entertainment. Archived from the original on June 27, 2002. Retrieved August 17, 2007.
  8. "Sony Inks Distribution, Admin Deal With Criterion".
  9. Hasan, Mark Richard (September 2004). "DVD Review". Music From the Movies. Archived from the original on June 8, 2007. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  10. 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.
  11. 1 2 Kleeman, Sophie. "21 Classic Movies Getting Yanked From Hulu Soon". Gizmodo.
  12. Three Reasons. YouTube.
  13. Three Reason: Punishment Park
  14. Three Reason: The Devils
  15. "criterioncollection Videos". YouTube. YouTube. Retrieved 13 July 2016.
  16. Webmaster (4 March 2016). "Criterion to Begin Releasing on Blu-ray in the UK". Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  17. Gallagher, Ryan (4 March 2016). "The Criterion Collection is Expanding to the UK on April 18". CriterionCast. CriterionCast LLC. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  18. The Criterion Collection. "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". Archived from the original on September 5, 2004. Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  19. The Criterion Collection. "FAQ". Retrieved November 28, 2011.
  20. Entertainment Tonight: Criterion LaserDiscs - 1985. January 11, 2009 via YouTube.
  21. Ulaby, Neda (June 2004). "Criterion DVD Collection". NPR. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  22. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  23. "Criterion Collection Laserdiscs".
  24. 1 2 "FAQS". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
  25. "Films – Online – The Criterion Collection". Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  26. "The Criterion Collection". Hulu. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  27. "Films – Blu-ray – The Criterion Collection". April 14, 1912. Retrieved March 29, 2012.
  28. "Criterion help". Retrieved May 21, 2012.
  29. Janis, Jason (June 2003). "Night and Fog: the Criterion Collection". DVD Talk. Retrieved August 22, 2007.
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