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Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

So you went and got yourself a fancy new Dolby Atmos surround sound setup, and you want to see what it can do. Or maybe you want to show it off to your friends and family, but need the perfect scene to really drive it home. You have more options than you might think.

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In particular, you might be surprised how many different types of surround effects can really help that system shine—it isn’t all about distinct effects coming from one specific speaker (though it sometimes can be). Here are some of my favorite flicks that showcase the range of what surround sound—and in particular, Dolby Atmos with its height channels—can do. (I highly recommend watching these on 4K UHD Blu-ray, if you can—it has better picture and audio quality than just about any streaming service—but we’ve included streaming too, where applicable.)

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The Matrix

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

The Matrix has been a go-to surround sound demo since it came out in 1999, and that continues with the latest UHD Blu-ray. Warner Brothers spared no expense on the remaster, using the original film to bring this movie to 4K, including a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack that, even 20 years later, is perfect for showing off your new surround sound system. Bullets whiz past your head, rain and thunder crash from above you, and the movie’s trademark buzzing electrical noise fully envelops you when you have a proper setup. Even if you’ve seen this movie 1,000 times, it’s worth watching again in all its 4K, HDR glory.

Scene to watch: Why are you reading this? You already know which scene to watch. The lobby shootout starting at Chapter 29 is still the demo scene to end all demo scenes when it comes to surround sound. Here’s the thing, though: don’t stop when the firefight is over. Some of the best moments, especially for Dolby Atmos, come afterward. When the elevator explodes, you’ll hear it throughout the room on your Atmos system—and then you’ll hear the sprinklers go off above you, too. When Neo does his famous bullet-time-backwards-lean move, you hear every bullet fly by your ears. And when the crew shoots up the agents’ office with the helicopter-mounted chaingun, you can hear the slow-motion WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP of the blades above Neo’s head in your height channels. This is Atmos done superbly—not too gimmicky, and not too subtle.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Mad Max: Fury Road

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

Mad Max: Fury Road—a movie that shouldn’t even exist—is basically a two-hour car chase that never downshifts, and it has a soundtrack to match. Every speaker in your setup will get its due, with bullets flying, chains whipping, and engines roaring, and your subwoofer will get one of the best workouts it’s ever gotten. From the whirling intensity of the sandstorm to the quiet echoes of the war boys’ cave, this movie makes healthy use of Dolby Atmos in all its forms.

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Scene to watch: The introductory scene leading up to the main titles is a perfect demo of Fury Road’s surround capabilities. The movie begins with Max, narrating his plight as the opening credits roll, his voice echoing through the room and the voice of his “ghosts” surprising you from the rear channels. You get a brief moment of silence until the war boys’ car flies over your head, flexing your sound system’s Atmos muscles. When he wakes up in the cave, you can hear the echo-y snipping of the war boys’ scissors and the clanging of chains come from above you, before the movie kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Gravity

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

I know everyone was talking about Gravity like seven years ago, but I just saw it, and frankly, I’m glad I waited. I’m sure this is a decently suspenseful flick on a stereo system, but trust me: Dolby Atmos is the main reason to watch this film. The sound design is absolutely MASTERFUL, and the way sound follows you around the room as the characters spin freely in space is unlike anything I’ve ever heard in a movie. I walked away from the room with my jaw dragging on the floor, all thanks to the 3D presentation of the Atmos soundtrack. (Note: Gravity is the only movie on this list that isn’t available on 4K Blu-ray; instead, you have to buy the Special “Diamond Luxe” Edition of the 1080p Blu-ray disc to get the Atmos soundtrack, which is rare and expensive. If you need this movie on disc, make sure it has that Atmos logo on the back of the case; if it just says Dolby Digital, you won’t be getting the full Atmos treatment. Otherwise, you can stream the Atmos version on iTunes.)

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Scene to watch: There’s so much you can say about the way this movie uses sound design to tell the story, but for the sake of an easy demo scene, I say go with Chapter 5. The first few minutes of this scene are a perfect demonstration of how Atmos excels even in silence, with subtle echoes coming from all sides to make you feel like you’re really in the quiet, abandoned ISS. Then, as the alarm goes off and the explosion rages inside the chamber, the camera spins freely in the zero-gravity environment, allowing the sounds of fire to spin around the room with it.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Blade Runner 2049

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

If you’ve seen Blade Runner 2049, you know it’s not a particularly rambunctious movie. In fact, some would call it downright slow and quiet. But the few scenes that crank the volume—particularly with the movie’s score—really use Atmos to its potential. It doesn’t happen often, which lends serious weight to those scenes, enveloping—even suffocating you—with sound, without being a cacophony of noise. (And there are a few good overhead effects and echo-y rooms thrown in for good measure, too.)

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Scene to watch: Similar to Gravity, this is not the kind of movie I’d use one scene to demonstrate, since it’s more about the use of sound throughout the film. The main titles alone are phenomenal—even the Sony logo rings with sound from every speaker. If you don’t want to sit through the full two hours and forty minutes, watch the opening scene, as Officer K’s ship flies over the synthetic farms and the musical score fills your listening room. Then, skip to chapter 15 to watch the final scene, which gives your overheads plenty of use as rain falls from the sky, the score builds, and flying cars explode in midair, before the waves start crashing over the downed vehicle and Luv meets K in their final showdown.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Probably Any Star Wars Movie

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

Disney gets a bad rap among home theater enthusiasts for its sound mixes, and I do find that the later Star Wars and Marvel movies do lack in dynamic range compared to other films. You’ll have to crank the volume a little higher, but the fact of the matter is, anything with spaceships and laser guns is going to make use of all your speakers, and Star Wars movies are a great choice. (Not a Star Wars fan? The latest Star Trek movies work well too.)

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Scene to watch: Rey and Finn’s escape from Jakku in The Force Awakens has a little bit of everything. Beginning at Chapter 17, you get some laser blasts zooming past your head, explosions rocking the scene on all sides, and some ships flying above to give your overheads a chance to shine. The fun continues as Tie Fighters chase the Falcon through the desert, including a great little moment where BB-8 shoots out some cables to keep from bouncing around—you’ll hear those cables attach to the ceiling above you. Then, for a change of pace, skip back to Chapter 7—Rey’s brief scrap session in the downed Star Destroyer showcases what good surround can really do in terms of echo-y atmosphere in a quiet scene. It only lasts a few moments, but it’s great nonetheless.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Pacific Rim

Illustration for article titled Show off Your Dolby Atmos Surround Sound With These Room-Rumbling Films

Sometimes, surround sound lends a feeling of directionality to an object on screen: a bullet streaks by your head on the right, or a spaceship flies overhead. In other cases, it adds ambiance: rainfall fills your periphery, or wind swirls around you in a storm. Pacific Rim is a little less subtle. Every sky-high fight scene in this movie an audial onslaught that hits you from all sides, at all times. Every single speaker in your system gets a near-constant workout, then you’ll understand what that “3D bubble” of Atmos really means—and you’ll know whether your speakers are truly up to the task of driving big sound. (Not all speakers will be.) I was never a huge fan of this movie, but after watching it in my 5.1.4 system, it’s now one of my favorite Atmos showcases.

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Scene to watch: The second Kaiju fight, starting five minutes into Chapter 8 and going through Chapter 10, is a 25-minute testament to what a good speaker system can do. When the Jaegers drop into the ocean, you hear the water rush all around you. When the helicopters fly by, you hear them whiz over your head and to the rear speakers. And when Otachi slams Gipsy Danger through a building and onto the street, you feel it reverberate through the entire room. Hope you’ve got a powerful subwoofer.

Available in Dolby Atmos on:

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Other Honorable Mentions

I could make a near-endless list of great surround sound demos, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll say the above are my top choices. Here are a few honorary mentions I’ve found to have some fun effects to listen for:

  • Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle: Whenever one of the characters respawns, you hear a “ding” noise come from straight above as they fall from the sky. I’d go as far to say it’s one of the clearest, most distinct Atmos effects I’ve heard—I instinctively looked up at the ceiling every time it happened.
  • Baby Driver: The opening chase scene is fantastic, and the title credits afterward are almost as good. The music—basically its own character in the movie—comes from all around you, and as the sounds of the city swirl back and forth, you get a real sense you’re following Baby through his world.
  • Ready Player One: I have to admit that I’m not a fan of this movie, but the King Kong race is still an Atmos-filled delight, with bass-heavy sound that comes at you from all sides.
  • The Transformers movies: Despite being a nonsensical mess, Revenge of the Fallen still has one of my favorite giant robot fight scenes in Chapter 9. At one point, as the camera pans around Sam on the ground, you hear Megatron’s voice come from above through the height channels, which is just awesome.
  • Thor: Ragnarok: Every time Thor throws his hammer, you hear it in your surround speakers. Every time he summons thunder, you hear it in your overheads. And when the Hulk jumps over Thor in the arena ... well, you get the idea.
  • Birds of Prey: This movie is like if Looney Tunes were an ultra-violent crime movie, which makes for lots of fun sound effects as the camera pans around the action—including some overhead Atmos usage, like when Harley destroys the chemical plant.
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I could probably list tons more, and there are surely plenty of great Atmos movies I haven’t even had a chance to see yet. Let us know your favorites in the comments!


Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and all-around tech nerd. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn't get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

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