22 Movies Almost Impossible to Watch on DVD or Streaming in 2023 (and How to Maybe Watch Them Anyway)Reading Time: 9 minutes
Equus, sure, that makes sense. But why can’t I watch True Lies or The Abyss?
Casual movie watchers might might assume pretty much everything is available on streaming these days; or at the very least, easy to find on DVD or Blu-ray. Sadly, that’s not the case…not even close.
A ton of films—from obscure cult releases, to nostalgic favorites, and even big-budget blockbusters—are enormously inconvenient to watch in 2023. The streaming era has trained us to believe watching a movie at home is a seamless process, and yet for any number of reasons, from rights issues to indifference, these 20 movies can’t be found on streaming, nor are they in print on physical media (at least in North America).
Some of these films are available on DVD if you’re willing to pay for an imported copy, but since many of those discs are likely to be locked to on play on machines sold in a particular part of the world, that’s not always helpful. Be extra cautious when buying imports and used copies, lest you wind up with a dud you still can’t watch.
It’s RuPaul’s world, and we’re just living in it. So how come it’s so hard to come by the drag queen supermodel’s first film? Made for pretty much no money way back in 1987, the original Starbooty was Ru & co’s answer to the blaxploitation era, while the 2007 remake (Starrbooty, with an extra ‘r’), released just a couple of years before Drag Race started, covered some of the same territory with slightly larger budget. Neither is readily available, with the original film (technically a trilogy of short films that add up to about an hour) available on DVD from only one website; DVDs of the reboot are entirely out of print.
Where to watch? Bettyjack.com, the website for Funtone Records, sells DVDs of the original trilogy for $25 (Funtone is a trademark of Starbooty‘s producer); the out-of-print DVDs of the 2007 film go for upward of $50 on eBay.
David Lynch’s most recent film hasn’t been readily available since it was released in 2007, and that’s three hours of Laura Dern looking frightened and sad the the world’s been deprived of (I saw it in a theater, and while Dern is brilliant, I couldn’t describe the plot in any detail beyond that if my life were on the line). The movie was shot on fairly low-resolution digital video (it’s since been upgraded a bit), which might have something to do with the lack of availability, but it still seems odd that a movie from a major filmmaker has been locked away.
Where to watch? Good news, for this movie and this movie only: The Criterion Collection is putting out a Blu-ray at the end of March, even if there’s no word on a streaming release.
Kevin Smith’s masterful satire of organized religion was met with protests upon its release, though that isn’t why it’s unavailable. Turns out the films rights are personally owned by Bob and Harvey Weinstein, and they don’t seem to have any interest in doing anything with them, nor does Smith want to pay Weinstein a dime to get them back. On Harvey Weinstein, Smith said: ‘My movie about angels is owned by the devil himself.’
Where to watch? The out of print DVDs are at least relatively easy to find, with prices starting around $20, but you’re shit monster out of luck when it comes to streaming.
Larry Clark and Harmony Korine’s portrait of teenage depravity circa 1995 is simultaneously lurid and moralizing, but the controversy surrounding it made it a box office success. It also introduced the world to Chloë Sevigny, and yet it’s nevertheless hard to come by in 2023.
Where to watch? The out of print DVDs go for $15–20, and there’s an all-region European Blu-ray that’ll probably set you back around $30. No streamer has it though.
One of New Queer Cinema pioneer Gregg Araki’s most famous early films received mixed reviews, but the violent, Natural Born Killers-esque neo-noir is nevertheless a significant movie in the development of queer filmmaking in the ’90s. It even includes name actors like Rose McGowan, Parker Posey, and Margaret Cho.
Where to watch? You’ll have to hunt down out-of-print DVDs, and they ain’t cheap: used copies don’t go for less than $40-50. The first part of his Teenage Apocalypse trilogy, Totally Fucked Up, is available for streaming on Kanopy.
Watched through modern eyes, True Lies has its problematic aspects, both in terms of what’s onscreen (stock Arab characters and general underlying misogyny) and what was reportedly going on behind the camera. Still! It was a hit film with major stars from director James Cameron, who currently holds three spots in the list of the top ten grossing movies of all time. There’s also a TV series reboot coming in about a month to CBS and Paramount+, so it’s a little mysterious that the original is so hard to come by.
Where to watch? All-region DVDs and Blu-rays go for around $25, just make sure to verify that they’ll play on North American/Region A players.
Staying on the Cameron beat: The Abyss may be slightly less beloved than other films of the director’s oeuvre, but far, far, far worse and much less financially successful movies are readily available on DVD and streaming. In The Abyss we have a groundbreaking technical achievement with an impressive, all-star cast, and an early but emotional trip under the water, the cinematic space where Cameron lives now. Reportedly the roadblock is Cameron himself; he’s apparently been too busy planning to the bottom of the ocean or the forests of Pandora to approve a new 4K remaster.
Where to watch? A ‘Special Edition’ DVD from a couple decades ago will cost you between $30-50. Cameron has been suggesting for years that an upgrade is on the way, but still we wait.
He might not be in James Cameron territory in terms of global box office, but the late George A. Romero remains a popular and significant director, known particularly for making smart, socially conscious horror films. And yet here’s his unstreamable emotional vampire epic, the director’s personal favorite of his own films and his first collaboration with effects wizard Tom Savini, pre-dating their collaboration on Dawn of the Dead.
Where to watch? Out-of-print North American DVDs will run you around $100; DVDs from other regions go for much cheaper, but probably won’t work for you without an all-region player.
This pretty great take on the filming of F.W. Murnau’s 1922 Nosferatu sees John Malkovich as the director with a stellar Willem Dafoe as that silent film’s lead Max Shreck. It works equally well as satire and horror, and Dafoe earned an Academy Award nomination for his spot-on performance.
Where to watch? Out-of-print North American DVDs go for $40 and up, though you can save some money of you can find a VCR and buy an old VHS tape.
Michael Caine and Laurence Olivier both received Oscar nominations for this film, two-hander mystery thriller, as did director Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This was the All About Eve director’s final film, and it earned rave reviews—even with that pedigree, however, it’s still tough to find.
Where to watch? 1998 and 2002 North American releases are out of print, and don’t go for less than $40. Releases from other regions are cheaper, if you have the right player. It also shows up in full on YouTube if you’re not too picky about picture quality.
Sidney Lumet directed Richard Burton and Peter Firth in a reasonably good adaptation of the play about a psychiatrist treating a teenager whose interest in horses goes beyond the typical. Burton and Firth both received Oscar nominations, as did Peter Shaffer for the Adapted Screenplay. Yet despite the recent buzz about Daniel Radcliffe baring all in the West End revival, the original movie languishes.
Where to watch? DVDs can be had for around $20.
Diane Keaton stars in this blockbuster as a teacher who cruises at night looking for rough sex with random guys. Her obsessive need for thrills puts her in increasing danger, particularly from Richard Gere. It all gets a little nuts before the end, but Diane Keaton is great.
Where to watch? An all-region Australian import that should play on a North American player, will cost around $20. Because of music rights, there’s never been an official American release in any format.
Al Pacino’s breakthrough (his second film appearance) came with this admittedly dark drama about the love story between a heroin addict and the woman who loves him, and whom he inadvertently gets hooked.
Where to watch? The 2016 Twilight Time Blu-ray is out of print, with sellers charging around $50 (it’s a pretty good release, for what it’s worth); a Portuguese Blu-ray release is readily available, but probably won’t run on your North American player.
Taking place over nearly a decade, Longtime Companion was the first mainstream film to deal with the AIDS crisis in America throughout the 1980s (the movie’s director died of complications from HIV/AIDS just a few years later). Aside from being groundbreaking, it’s a nicely staged, moving drama with an impressive cast.
Where to watch? Prices vary wildly, but North American DVDs start at around $40. An Asian import version, allegedly all-region, sells for much less.
Another early gay classic (even if it is excessively soapy), Making Love stars Kate Jackson, Michael Ontkean, and Harry Hamlin as a married woman, her husband, and the man who comes between them. It’s a good movie, if not a great one, and deserves to be available.
Where to watch? Here, too, prices vary wildly, with the 2006 DVD release selling for anywhere from $15 for used copies to $70 or more for sealed ones.
A crossover hit for director John Woo, Hard Boiled stars Chow Yun-fat as an undercover cop trying to avenge his dead partner—the plot’s not overly complicated, but we came for Woo’s signature blend of martial arts and over-the-top gunplay, and Hard Boiled delivers with the best of the director’s films.
Where to watch? An all-region Blu-ray release from Spain should pay on most U.S. players. Prices for the out-of-print U.S. releases average around $50.
The story of a vengeful prisoner and a sushi chef caught in a web of conspiracy and violence, Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy has been wildly influential, not least for its action cinematography (whenever you see a single-take fight scene down a hallway, that’s a reference back to Park’s film). Though Korean cinema (especially horror) had a real moment in the U.S. in the mid-aughts, most of those releases have dropped out of circulation—and Spike Lee’s English language remake hardly seems to have increased demand for the original.
Where to watch? A 2022 4K import from Arrow Video is probably your best bet, it should play on your North American player. Personally, I’m hoping for a Criterion boxed set of the entire Vengeance trilogy.
Though it received several Academy Award nominations, mostly by virtue of its acting talent, the beautiful and expensive Raintree County is, in many ways, an overstuffed bore. Those production values alone make the movie worth watching, though, and any movie that teams Elizabeth Taylor, Montgomery Clift (who very nearly died in a car accident during production), Eva Marie Saint, and Lee Marvin is worth a look. If it’s not quite a great movie, it’s a fascinating failure and a piece of Hollywood history.
Where to watch? A 2014 Australian release, widely available at reasonable prices, should play on a North American player.
Julie Taymor, best known, perhaps, for her lush stage production of The Lion King, had her motion picture directorial debut with this similarly stylish Shakespeare adaptation that veers between camp and tragedy with surprising adeptness. Anthony Hopkins, Jessica Lange, and Alan Cumming star.
Where to watch? A 2014 Australian release, widely available at reasonable prices, should play on a North American player.
The first film in director Deepa Mehta’s Elements trilogy, Fire was wildly controversial on its release as one of the first mainstream Indian films to spotlight a lesbian relationship. Mehta is a major director who’s broken ground with each of her films, and Fire is a sensuous and compelling romantic drama in its own right.
Where to watch? Copies of the 1998 Region-1 DVD release are out there, and sometimes even at reasonable prices.
It’s a weird, fascinating, somewhat garish novelty that doesn’t entirely work, but Frankenstein Unbound is more than interesting enough to earn a watch…if you could. Based on the novel of the same name by Brian Aldiss (who also wrote the story that inspired Spielberg’s A.I.) it brought co-writer Roger Corman back to the director’s chair after two decades, and remains his last (or, at least, most recent) effort. John Hurt, Raul Julia, Bridget Fonda, and Jason Patric star in a story about a scientist (Hurt) of the future working on a weapon so destructive that, he hopes, it will end all war. As happens with these things, it instead sends him int the past…where he meets a certain Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Julia), himself working on a slightly ill-conceived project.
Where to watch? An out-of-print 2006 DVD release will set you back $20-30. You might be able to find it on YouTube as well.
Having received mixed reviews, director Otto Preminger’s adaptation of Porgy & Bess disappeared fairly quickly following its initial release, the sad fate of many movies of the era with all- or mostly-black casts, especially ones that failed to achieve blockbuster status. Reportedly producer Samuel Goldwyn only had the rights to the underlying story and music for 15 years, after which point the distributor would have to renegotiate a deal with the estate of producer George Gershwin. But Gershwin reportedly hated the movie, which didn’t make enough of a splash to justify the extra expense. Still, the cast alone is enough to make you wish you could see it for yourself: Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis, Jr., Pearl Bailey, Diahann Carroll, Brock Peters, Nichelle Nichols, —these are some of the most talented, iconic entertainers of the 20th century, and it’s a shame that we can’t easily see them gathered on screen together.
Where to watch? Copies of an all-region DVD release from 2002 run to $100; a more recent release from Crescent Media is much cheaper, but the quality is pretty poor. It can also be found on YouTube, though, again, with poor picture quality.
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