I recently watched VHS Massacre: Cult Films and the Decline of Physical Media; an entertaining documentary that delves into the loss of hard copy films in favor of streaming services. Having been a teenager in the ‘80s, the film struck a chord as I’d witnessed the rise of VHS tapes first hand and was an avid collector myself. By the ‘90s, I had a custom VHS shelf that took up the better portion of my basement wall.
At the turn of the Millennia, those clunky tapes began to die off as digital media entered the scene. The sleeker DVD with its sharper picture, longer life, and added “bonus features” was a welcomed innovation as my VHS wall began to crumble. Although I wasted no time transferring to the new format, the concept of “home video” was no longer a novelty and I never approached DVD collecting with the same fervor I did with VHS tapes. By the time Blu-rays arrived, I’d only make sporadic purchases; more often renting from my local video store (yep, I still have one of those) or borrowing from friends. Of course, the majority of my entertainment was like the rest of the masses, logging onto Netflix, HULU, or Amazon Prime. Just this past year you could count my Blu-ray collection on two hands.
Then, this past January, I stumbled upon Steelbooks; Blu-ray/DVDs released in a special metal casing that’s been around for years but somehow evaded my attention. Ironically, I discovered them while searching for two obscure titles from my VHS days – DEMONS and Popcorn. Both titles were given the royal Steelbook treatment thanks to Synapse Films and I decided to put in a few extra hours of overtime and treat myself to them. As soon as those gems arrived, I spent several moments admiring their tin beauty.
My friends, I tell you, that vibrant artwork popped on those metal cases in ways the plastic ones never could. I’d been keeping all my DVD/Blu-Rays in Binders (I even did a blog about it seven years ago) but, after ogling these new Steelbooks, felt the urge to display my movies once more. Synapse made it even more fun by adding a movie ticket with Demons and a bloodstained invitation to Sally’s party with Demons 2!
I suddenly realized how much I missed having my movies out where I could see them. It wasn’t long before I discovered even more amazing releases and my eyes metaphorically rolled over white as the long-dormant movie collector inside began to rouse. This post is dedicated to any readers out there who may be new to Steelbooks or (like me in 2017) have no idea what they even are. I’m going to share photos from my collection along with some of the hobby’s pros and cons.
So let’s begin…
PRO – Steelbooks can be both artistic and beautiful
I have a definite soft spot for packaging which is why one of the few companies I did support these past years was SHOUT! Factory. They often commission original artwork for their releases with the latest Return of the Living Dead, The FOG, Night of the Demons, The Howling, Halloween III, and Pumpkinhead being my favorites.
By the same token, Steelbooks often feature their own unique styles such as Mondo, Pop Art, lenticular, or embossed. Here are some of tthe favorites from my own collection…
You often have numerous versions to choose from
When you add in-store exclusives such as Best Buy or Target, you’ll often get numerous versions of your favorite films. I like having choices and it pretty much guarantees that no two Steelbook collections are the same.
PRO – Steelbooks are highly collectible
Steelbooks are produced in limited qualities, thus making them much more appealing to collectors. As someone who attends numerous fan conventions each year, I’m now rejoicing at having something signable that won’t require wall space. In fact, I’m looking forward to getting a few signed at C2E2 next month (NOTE: this post was written before C2E2 and have all been signed since. These photos are the pre-signed shots I took in my lightbox prior to the event).
And now for the cons…
CON – The Price
This is definitely the number one negative. Scarcity is a double-edged sword and Steelbooks can be a lot pricier than regular Blu-rays depending on what you’re looking for. I have purchased a few as cheap as $7.99 which is the equivalent of the plastic-cased, Blu-ray bargain bin at Walmart so keep your eyes out for bargains.
CON – Harder for US Collectors to get the good stuff
For some reason, many of the best Steelbooks are produced in Europe. I read this was due to Europeans being more avid collectors than we are here in the States but I’m not sure how true that is. Be mindful of Region Codes when purchasing from International sellers. If you’re using a North American Blu-ray player you’ll want either Region A or Region Free DVD/Blu-rays. This Yankee, however, did willingly buy a Region B Halloween III Steelbook after falling in love with its lenticular cover. I figure I’ve always got that SHOUT! Factory version to watch whenever I’m in the mood.
PRO – Salvation of Physical Media
Steelbooks are not only helping to keep physical media alive but also holding online giants such as Amazon at bay thanks to those aforementioned exclusives. I’ve visited Best Buy and Target more times these past three months than I have for the last five years! Just be advised – these things move FAST. When Coco arrived a while back, I found myself buying the last one at my local Best Buy the very same day it was released! At least with THOR: Ragnarok I was wise enough to pre-order it via their website so a copy was waiting for me at the customer service desk when I arrived.
CON – Must handle with care!
Just because they’re “steel” shouldn’t imply durability. In fact, they can be very delicate and should be handled with the utmost care. They dent and scratch very easily so be sure to inspect them (run your fingers over the case to feel for unintentional indentations) before purchasing. I’ve also found dents hidden under the wrapping so be sure to inspect them again when you get home and hang on to that receipt! When buying off the Best Buy website, always choose the “pick up at the store option” if you can. I had three Steelbooks delivered from them that looked as if they’d been used as frisbees. Fortunately, I was able to return them without any issues but you can’t exchange anything that isn’t on hand and most of what’s listed on their website is not. I ended up getting a gift card and turning to eBay for replacements.
To help protect my Steelbooks, I use plastic sleeves which also aren’t cheap – like six for $9.99. If anyone knows any good wholesalers, please comment! There are two different types of protector sleeves I’m aware of: one that covers the entire Steelbook and another that leaves an opening for the spine. Mine are all protected and I’m looking forward to displaying then when I move into my new place.
CON – Doesn’t add anything extra to the Disc itself
Be aware that with Steelbooks, it’s all about the packaging and the discs inside have no additional material. And that’s why when it comes to this media, you must always judge it by the cover!
Hopefully, this helped you gain a better understanding of Steelbooks and why I just love them! Unless I win the Lottery I don’t foresee another wall of these like my VHS tapes in my future. I do know that the ones I will display will make an impression and highlight my favorite films as the works of art we fans always knew they should be.
3 thoughts on “Why You Should Judge a Steelbook by it’s Cover”
Ha, I have the Tremors, and Logan steelbooks, but that Vertigo is amazing. You have a nice collection. I’ve been a big steelbook collector for the last 5 years or so. I especially love boutique label steelbooks (and amaray cases of course). Most of my boutique steels are Shout Factory, I’d say at least 15. I’m also an Arrow fan, unfortunately they don’t have as many steelbook. I see a Svengoolie advertisement, I’m a big fan, going back to the 80s. I used to live in NW Indiana, now Iive close to Chicago, in the burbs, that reminds me of one of my favorite Shout Dante releases. 😉
Hi, Ed, and thanks for the comment. You and I are clearly of like mind. I love Arrow, too, and would love them to do more Steelbooks. Did you see the one they did for “Carrie” last year? It’s absolutely gorgeous though, unfortunately, Region B only I believe. I love the boutique releases as well and just received a box from Vinegar Syndrome which is another company I really like. It’s ironic that for all the things I keep hearing about the “death of physical media” every month new and amazing releases are offered. If only I had an unlimited amount of ca$h to match.
Thanks again for reaching out…from one Svengoolie fan to another!
I have not bought a region free player yet (really need to get one, would love the Atrow Shivers) so I only own region A Arrow, although some Umbrella states region B, but it will also play on region A (like my The Blob 1988) Thankfully 4K is region free, I have the Synapse Suspiria 4K, and I’m really…. really looking forward to the Second Sight Dawn of the Dead 4K set. I own two Vinegar Syndrome releases: There’s Nothing Out Threre amaray, and Hell Comes to Frogtown with special slipcover (love it!) I also own quite a few Criterion blu-rays, and one lonely DVD lol. I do love the Arrow LEs, my favorite is my Donnie Darko 4 disc, and also the recent Robocop (also found the Robocop steelbook at Best Buy for $20, and I couldn’t resist, I rarely double dip). I wish I had bought the Arrow Deep Red LE (unfortunately I’ve only recently gotten into Giallo, and Arrow, my first Arrow was 12 Monkeys). I do have the Waxwork Deep Red 3 LP record set, I love the artwork. Other than Criterion, the whole boutique label thing is relatively new to me, it started with the Shout They Live steelbook. On a side note, I’ve been cleaning up from the Best Buy Disney/Pixar/Marvel sales, mostly 4Ks, and a few blu-rays, all for only $10-$15 (two signature series blu-rays). I also bought the steelbook blu-rays of It (1990), and Goonies, also the Gremlins 4K steelbook was only $18 so I couldn’t resist. I have seen some amazing looking German steelbooks, I’m on a Facebook VHS, DVD, blu-ray collectors group, and members sometimes post pics of their awesome looking region B/German steelbooks. I’m also a big Blade Runner collector, have it on: VHS theatrical, widescreen VHS directors cut (was into widescreen VHS before DVD came out), DVD briefcase set, 4 disc Blu-ray set with prototype Spinner, 5 disc HD DVD set (yes I have HD DVD, and 4 players lol), 5 disc Blu-ray set. I’m thinking about starting to collect for The Thing, I have the: DVD, DVD, and Shout steelbook (of course, duh) with lithograph, would love to get the Arrow set, because of the artwork. I slso love my Big Trouble In Little China steelbook, oversized slipcover set with 45 rpm record. 😉