Top 10 Classic Movies Not Available On DVD

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According to some knowledgeable people, A History of Violence is the last movie a major studio pressed onto the VHS format. The reason is simple: VHS is a mostly dead format and most people prefer DVDs nowadays. Seeing a demand for them,  many major studios have been pushing out as much of their catalog onto DVD, with new movies making it onto the medium every week. But, as of 2012, a full 50 percent of movies put on VHS have not made it onto DVD.

A lot of these movies that were unreleased were pretty good, some were classics and others were not really as bad as people claim they were. Here are ten of the better ones:

10. Let it Be

Let it Be is a Beatles documentary that has footage of their final public appearance, the famous rooftop concert on top of Apple Corps studios. That alone would make it worthwhile for any Beatles fan, but the movie also shows a lot of the band’s inner turmoil with choosing the music for that album. This movie was filmed at a time when none of the Beatles got along, and it shows all of that and more. It is a brutally honest and rare glimpse into the last time all of the Beatles recorded an album together.

This documentary is not on DVD because the current Apple Corps president is actively preventing the release of it. He claims that it would tarnish the image of the Beatles if this documentary were ever shown again.

9. Ishtar

An exercise in directorial hubris, Ishtar was filmed on location in Morocco when it was not really needed. Ishtar stars Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman as lounge singers who dream of becoming a Simon and Garfunkel style duet. Their manager/agent finds them a gig in Morocco so they can entertain service men and women stationed there. Somehow, they get themselves involved in a plot to take over the neighboring country of Ishtar.

This movie is not on DVD in the United States because it is considered an embarrassment to the actors, the filmmakers, and the studio. Another example of a situation where the studio would rather forget a movie exists. The cited reason is because of the flop nature of the movie, even though other monumental flops were released on DVD.  If you want, you can get an import copy of the movie from Europe, but do not look for a domestic version of this movie.

8. A Man Called Sarge

A Man Called Sarge is a self-aware genre parody of war movies, in the same vein as Naked Gun, Airplane, and Blazing Saddles. The main plot of the movie involves Sarge, a man cut from the same mold as John Wayne. He and his band of French Foreign Legion deserters start traveling East from Morocco because that’s where the fighting is. Along the way, they meet an unhinged French spy, a school teacher that has a thing for Sarge, and a British infantry unit. While they did not single handedly stop the war, the group certainly helped in this movie.

What is holding this one back is the rights issues. In order to get this one made, the producers sold the rights of this movie to a lot of companies, and each one has a legitimate claim to it. For an official DVD release to happen, the rights holders will need to agree or someone needs to buy out anyone that has a claim to it.

7. Matters of the Heart

A made for TV movie from 1990, Matters of the Heart is a story of following one’s dream over family responsibility. Steven Harper is an accomplished piano player and wants to pursue a career in music. His father, on the other hand, wants him to work in the paint shop. Steve discovers that a reclusive musician and composer named Hadley Norman lives in his town. Through his kindness, he convinces her to mentor him in music.

The reason for this movie not getting a DVD release is simply that it’s been forgotten by a lot of people. It is kind of odd considering that other, less deserving TV movies have gotten DVD releases. To say this movie does not deserve a DVD release because it was a TV movie is to overlook all of the other made for TV movies that did.

6 Meet the Applegates

A pro-environmental dark comedy, Meet the Applegates is about a group of hyper intelligent bugs sent to suburban America to destroy a nuclear power plant. The four members of the family are supposed to learn how to adapt to the American way of life, but they are quickly corrupted by it and become parodies of American stereotypes.

The reason for this being not released is that the company that originally made it, media home entertainment, went out of business soon after it was released in 1991 and the rights for it are up in the air. There was a VHS release in 1997 and that was the last time this movie made it onto home formats. It does get played from time to time on the pay movie channels like Cinemax and HBO.

5. Song of the South

Based on a series of stories by Joel Chandler Harris, Song of the South is the black eye of the Disney Studios, even though Walt Disney himself had nothing but the best of intentions for this movie. The story is about a young man named Johnny going to live on his grandmother’s plantation for a time. While he’s there, he meets Uncle Remus and listens to his stories about Brer Rabbit and his animal friends.

Disney has no plans on releasing the movie in the United States for one simple reason: it does not need the controversy. Being one of the biggest companies in the world, Disney is one giant controversy magnet. While it could weather the criticism rather easily, it chooses not to. Instead, while not denying this movie exists, it chooses to let it remain unreleased for the time being. If you want to see this movie legally, you can order a Japanese import DVD. Song of the South is in the public domain over there and import copies are released from time to time.

4. Terror in the Aisles

Seen as something of a rebuttal to the famous Women in Danger Siskel and Ebert special, Terror in the Aisles is a retrospective of Horror movies from the golden age to 1983. Set in a movie house and narrated and hosted by Donald Pleasance and  Nancy Allen, Terror is one long clipshow of the more successful and well made horror movies up to 1983. It even shows an uncut interview with Alfred Hitchcock on creating suspense.

Unlike other movies on this list, you can see this movie on DVD, just not in any official capacity. It exists as an extra on the Halloween II Blu-Ray edition. There isn’t an official DVD release because it would be too expensive. While the film and VHS versions are legally clear, and that is highly debatable, Universal would have to negotiate a new contract with all of the studios to get new DVD rights to use it. It was more cost effective to make it an extra on another product and worry about being sued later.

3. No Holds Barred

By all accounts, this movie is a failure. The script is a blatant Rocky 2 ripoff at parts, and an incomprehensible mess in other parts. It barely made its money back. The wrestling is laughable and barely there. But for some reason, it is impossible to be mad at this movie. There is an honest sincerity about the movie that deflects the anger leveled at it. The actors are trying to give a good performance. The director is doing his best with a limited script.

In this movie, Hulk Hogan plays Rip, a wrestler known for being a thug in the ring, but deep down he has a soft side. Thanks to some shady dealings with a rival wrestling promoter, he is forced into a match against Zeus, the champion of some underground fighting sensation called No Holds Barred, by the promoter of the other organization.

The current rights owner, World Wrestling Entertainment, would rather pretend that this movie does not exist. The owner of the company sees it as something of an embarrassment because it was not the mega hit that was promised. The movie barely doubled its money and that was only because of some sketchy business practices to do that.

2. Johnny Guitar

Johnny Guitar is an iconic western that has been placed on the national registry of films for being culturally significant. The character Johnny Guitar is a reformed gunslinger that returns to his home town after giving up the outlaw life. He rekindles a relationship with his childhood sweetheart Vienna and things are happy for them until the bank is robbed. A rival of Vienna, Emma Small, immediately accuses Johnny of the robbery. The climax of the movie has Vienna and Emma square off in a showdown, something that is almost nonexistent in westerns.

There is absolutely no reason for his movie not to be on DVD in the United States. There are no copyright issues holding up the release of it. There is not a rights issue with the titular song as well, which is just as famous as the movie itself. It probably deserves to be on DVD more than any other movie because of its historic and cultural significance.

1. Looking For Mr. Goodbar

The first significant movie for Richard Gere, Tom Berenger, and Diane Keaton, Looking for Mr Goodbar is often overshadowed by Annie Hall, which was released that same year. This movie is the polar opposite of Annie Hall. Annie is uplifting, while Goodbar is depressing. Diane Keaton plays Theresa Dunn, a former college student who is left adrift when her college professor ends their long standing affair. Like many young people going through a crisis, she hits the club scene real hard, and gets herself into one disastrous relationship after another. The movie ends with the death of Theresa and it offers no closure beyond that.

The reason for this movie not being on DVD, it seems, is that it is mostly forgotten by everyone. This is a shame because the movie was a mega hit, making over 4 times its budget. It is also a critically acclaimed, winning numerous awards, including a few Golden Globes. Maybe it is not on DVD because of the downer ending, but more likely the studio has not gotten to it yet.

YouTube Playlist Top 10 Movies Not On DVD

For more footage (and sometimes, the whole movie), check out our YouTube playlist. Let us know in the comments if there’s a movie you think we should add to our playlist:

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by Joseph Furguson


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55 Comments

  1. So Diane Keaton made her first significant movie five years after ‘The Godfather’, four years after ‘Sleeper’, three years after ‘The Godfather: Part Two’ and two years after ‘Love and Death’?

    • First time she was critically acclaimed in a movie, so yes first time. Her roles in earlier movies, while good were not critical darlings.

      You really should stop getting upset over trivia.

  2. Are you sure these are “classics”? Song of the South and Looking for Mr. Goodbar I can grant that status to, but the rest are more like…. just “movies”.

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for the response.

      I’m fairly certain that the classic label can be applied to atleast 6 movies on the list..I would not call Ishtar or No Holds Barred classics, but the rest of them, have been called classic movies by a lot of people.

      • I saw Ishtar when it came out. I would call it a classic, as in classically bad. Of course at the time my girlfriend and I saw it we didn’t care for it, but it certainly wasn’t the worse movie we’d ever seen. I think the inflated budget and horrible financial losses make this movie infamous. The movie itself has some merits, it just wasn’t a good movie.

        • I remember laughing at Ishtar in one or two parts but overall it is a pretty bad film. It is bad, but not Battlefield Earth bad.

        • Lost Horizon (1973). It was issued in Japan on laserdisc in the 1980’s. The scenes that were cut were placed back into the film where they had been cut from and NOT included as a bonus material.

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for the response.

      What you have is probably a region free or a region 2 disc. There are no region 1 versions of the DVD. The information I had at the time pointed to it not being on DVD. I’ll endeavor to fact check a little harder next time.

      • WTF is it with these “region 1” or “region 2” etc DVDs? The movie companies make it as difficult as possible to watch their DVDs if you buy them legally, and then they cry about piracy? Well hello: if I’ve got choice 1: Buy a legal DVD which I cannot watch because it’s the wrong region, and choice 2: download a torrent for free of the same film from which someone kindly has removed the region codes. Which one would I prefer? Hmmm… difficult choice….

        • Joseph Furguson on

          Thank you for the response.

          I have an All region player. I did that because I like buying a lot of DVDs at the Goodwills in San Diego. I did that because, apparently, the DVD I was getting were Asian and my player at the time, ptiched fits playing them.

  3. William Murphy on

    Porgy and Bess is film that may be in the same category as Song of the South because of the racial aspect. However, that does not negate the value of the music or the fact that several big name African American stars were in the movie. The version I have is in need of restoration as far as the color is concerned but it is an example of a real classic being ignored.

  4. How about the original version of “Wuthering Heights” w/Olivier, Niven & Oberon?
    I believe it was released on DVD in the US (Region: 1) for a short time, but now it’s only available on Region Free Asian imports.
    Anyone lucky enough to purchase the DVD while it was distributed in the US, can get a pretty penny for it, should they choose to sell. It’s #1 on my Wish/Watch Lists. 🙂

    PS – Please excuse any typos/spelling errors. I’m using my cell at the moment.

  5. “Ishtar stars Ned Beatty and Dustin Hoffman”???
    If it had been NED Beatty it might have been forgiven.

  6. i was going to say “the wraith” which hasnt been released on dvd despite years of begging the gods but in researching my comment i see it was released in 2010. so with that………off to amazon my friends!

  7. I love song of the south.
    Uncle Remus has a simple yet honest and logical truth to life.
    I would love my uncle to have this feeling for life.

  8. FromWisconsin on

    Ishtar is literally one of the worst movies ever made. I am not alone in that belief. Where is Gleaming the Cube on this list? Wrong, all wrong!!

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for replying.

      Ishtar is not the worst movie ever made. It is nothing more than a bad movie that became famous because of idiotic direction, feuding actors, long delays, and insane press coverage.

      Off the top of my head, I can think of 5 movies worse than this:

      Dr. T and the Women
      Mad Dog Time
      Night of Horror
      Gigli
      The Postman

      As for why no Gleaming the Cube, I am only limited to 10 slots. If I included every movie that I found while researching this, I could easily make a hundred top ten lists devoted solely to unreleased movies. And that is the ones I’ve discovered on my own. I was just made aware of several other movies that I did not come across.

  9. Marvin Atienza on

    The film “Ishtar” starred Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty NOT Ned Beatty. I think Ned Beatty was the actor who played “Otis” (Lex Luthor’s sidekick) in “Superman”.

    • Thank you for the response.

      Actually, I’m not stretching any definition of classic. The list consists of the following:

      2 Critically acclaimed documentaries
      2 beloved comedies.
      2 movies that are not as bad as people call them
      2 Critically acclaimed movies
      1 film on the national registry of films for cultural significance, the same list that movies like Citizen Kane, Cool Hand Luke, ET, and Fantasia are on.
      1 movie that its producer decide to hide away.

      • David Fullam on

        Ishtar, No Holds Barred, Terror in the Aisles? Really? Stuff like that cannot stand next to Let it Be, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, or even some of the weaker films on the list.

        • Joseph Furguson on

          Yes really. Terror in the aisle got accolades for being a fair look at horror movies.

          Ishtar and No Holds Barred should be on DVD. Classically bad is still classic.

  10. “It is a brutally honest and rare glimpse into the last time all of the Beatles recorded an album together.”
    Actually they recorded another album, Abbey Road, after the Let It Be sessions. The album was released after Abbey Road was though.

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for the response.

      Not everyone is as invested in Beatles history as you. It makes no difference which one was technically recorded first. What matters to most people, including the places where I got my information, is release date. Let it Be is the last album released, so it was right for me to assume that it was the last recorded.

      You are technically correct, but history says otherwise.

      • Well actually in the context of your paragraph for The Beatles it matters a lot. You suggest that Let It Be is a glimpse into the life of the band disintegrating and you insinuate that it was the end of the band – that after the rooftop show they all went their separate ways and never did anything more as The Beatles, which is simply not the case.
        Also, by your logic, the last Beatles album is technically Anthology 3 as it was released years after any of their other studio work, but I digress.
        History, I think you will find, is in agreement with me here, so stop trying to blame your poor research on others.

  11. Good list but I have “Song Of The South” on DVD. Bought it on line somewhere a few years ago.
    I saw “Song Of The South” in a movie thester when I was a young boy (I’m 70 now). I loved Uncle Remus as a child and thought he was the wisest man in the world. I never saw anything racist about it.

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for responding.

      I have a copy on DVD too. Mine is a Japanese import copy I picked up at a convention some time ago.

      The thing is, my version is not an official copy made with the permission of Disney. Disney has nothing to do with the copies we have. They do know that they exist, but chooses not to pursue the cases.

  12. BTW, you do all know what “Region Free” or “Region 0” means in a DVD? It means exactly what it sounds like, i.e. the DVD is region free, so you can play it with any DVD player. Like, for instance, you, Joseph, said there’s no region 1 DVD of a film, but there is a region free DVD… well, duh… the region free DVD would work just fine even if you only had a region 1 DVD player. You did say you’ve got an all region player, but a region free DVD is a DVD that you can play with any player, in case you didn’t know.

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thanks for the response.

      This really does sound like you are trying to sound superior for some reason. I think that it would be obvious that I know the difference between region zero, region 1-6, and region all players.

      And I do not apologize for thinking there are no other places in the world. This list was written from a region 1 perspective and none of the movies on it are currently available in region 1.

      • I apologize, I wasn’t trying to sound superior, I loved your list. I was just wondering why you would need a region 1 DVD, if a region free DVD is available. A “region free” DVD is playable on a region 1 DVD player. I wasn’t talking about DVD players, but the DVDs themselves. I’m sorry if you thought I was being schmuck. I loved the list and your choice of movies.

  13. I read somewhere that the classic “My Fair Lady” would have been lost to the ages if it had not undergone a massive restoration several years ago.

  14. I remember Meet the Applegates being very heavily promoted at my local video store as a kid (1991-1992 sounds about right)., so it must have had some kind of VHS release at that time. I wanted to see it really bad, but it was rated R…le sigh

    But, uh, isn’t this list called 10 “classic” movies not on DVD? I’ve only heard of three of these movies (Meet the Applegates, Ishtar, and Song of the South).
    They released Song of the South in the theaters in the 80s…I know, cus I saw it. Don’t see how 30 years could make such a difference that they wouldn’t want to release it now.

    And, you’d think in light of “The Room”. they wouldn’t mind releasing Ishtar at some point…I <3 awesomely bad movies 🙂

    • Joseph Furguson on

      Thank you for the response.

      You’re right. Disney should not care about it at this point. It is one of the biggest corporations in the world and they could handle any controversy this would drum up.

      • Right! It’s not even that bad, especially if taken in context.

        They can base rides in Disneyland on the movie, but god forbid they release it.

        Any controversy would be largely manufactured.

        • Joseph Furguson on

          My pet theory was that in 1986, Disney already produced a few million VHS tapes, plush toys of Br’eer Rabbit, Br’eer Bear, and the other characters, T-Shirts, posters, you name it. They had these things and were ready to send them all over the place, until a Disney executive took his family to see the limited release in either Atlanta or Los Angeles and got disturbed by it. What he or she probably thought was the movie was a 75 minute version of Splash Mountain and not something that could be seen as offensive.

          And for the last 25 years, they’ve been sitting on this unusable product. Or they’ve sent it overseas where they do not overreact as much as we do. Disney did take it out of foreign circulation in 2001, so it’s possible.

  15. I feel like two movies that i would like to be on dvd is electric dreams.It was a movie about a computer and a man love for his next door neighbor it was made by virgin films and is non existant on a dvd format. i also would love for titticut follies on dvd. It was banned due to the graphic nature and depilation of abuse of mental health patients after watching it i was horrified i think that everyone who is in healthcare should watch

  16. Let It Be is on DVD – I have a copy I bought from our local Video Ezy Sale about 8 – 12 months ago.

    Also, though a tad aggressive – the lad above (Barry) is quite correct: Abbey Road WAS recorded after Let It Be but released first – they officially broke up after that. MInd you they didn’t so much record Abbey TOGETHER as much as they all did their bit and it was ‘engineered’ from that; I believe that, officially (and unofficially) the whole four were never in the studio at the same time while recording Abbey Rd – John and Paul refused, for the most part, to be in the studio at the same time – – – unless it was absolutely necessary.

    This kind of stuff – and I am not denigrating the research, – IS important to Beatles lovers; just as your movies are to you. Good list; many I’d never heard of

    • Sorry for being aggressive. I was merely pointing out a mistake on the part of the author and rather than being thanked for it I was told that I was wrong for doing so. Silly of me to think that a website about facts would want to have their facts straight, but there you go. That annoyed me a bit I suppose.
      As for Abbey Road being ‘engineered’ and Lennon and McCartney avoiding each other I don’t know how much truth there is to that to be honest.
      I know that the a lot of the songs are cobbled together, such as with the medley, but I’ve seen pics from the Abbey Road sessions of the two them together AND smiling. Either way it’s still a great album.

  17. Looking for Mr. Goodbar kept me out of singles bars. I saw it when I was about 16. I have never been in a singles bar because of this movie. Diane Keaton’s character is so pathetic, lost, misguided, and confused.

  18. I’ve always wondered about ” A Delicate Sound of Thunder”, the exceptional Pink Floyd concert film. I have an old copy on VHS, but have NEVER found it on DVD. Shame. Enjoyable film.

  19. According to a Shout! Factory representative, that distributor attempted to license Goodbar from Paramount, but the music rights cost were alleged to be beyond their means. It also should be noted that the film was and still is controversial in its subject matter–particularly to women and gay-rights groups. Richard Gere supposedly did not want any clips from this film shown in a retrospective of his career, and Keaton in a 2007 interview was rather “coy” about talking about the film. I think this is another film that is being held-up not because people have forgotten about it, because certain people don’t want it released on DVD.

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