It's usually pretty easy to track down most big Hollywood releases and major TV shows on DVD, or on Netflix. But what about those works that aren't popular enough for mass production, such as old TV movies, pilots that never made it to air, or lost films that only a die-hard film fan could appreciate?
A few years ago, there was no hope of ever seeing these titles - but now studios have discovered manufactured-on-demand (MOD) technology, and you won't believe what's available. With MOD, the studios produce a copy of a DVD only after it's ordered. If a movie doesn't sell, all it's lost is the cost of producing the box art and the master. That means studios can offer even the most obscure movies at a reasonable price.
Looking for a lost gem? Check out these sources for rare DVDs.
1. Warner Archive
Warner Archive is the king of MOD. Every week, the studio releases three to 10 new titles, usually a mix of cartoons, specials, and movies from different eras. You'll find full seasons of rare Hanna-Barbera cartoons such as The Herculoids, Frankenstein Jr. and the Impossibles, and Mister T, along with popular favorites such as The Jetsons and Yogi Bear.
Warner Archive also carries a wide selection of mysteries, westerns, and thrillers from the '30s through the '80s and 50 silent films including the works of Lon Chaney.
Where Warner Archive truly excels is in its collection of TV movies. The original Don't be Afraid of the Dark, the suspenseful Dying Room Only, the creepy Bad Ronald - if you grew up in the '70s, you'll want to buy every DVD in the set. Warner Archive is also the only place you'll find the complete collection of Irwin Allen TV disaster movies such as Fire, Flood, and The Night the Bridge Fell Down.
Other excellent finds include Gene Roddenberry's post-Star Trek pilot Planet Earth, The Complete Girl from U.N.C.L.E., and Legends of the Superheroes, a live-action Batman special that is so bad it's great.
There are currently 1,075 titles in the archive, and overall, the quality is good to very good. A few movies have been remastered, but many arrive with pops, scratches, and faded colors. Accept this as part of the experience and enjoy.
2. MGM Limited Edition Collection
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment and MGM have teamed up for their own line of manufactured-on-demand titles, which are available only through Amazon. As stated in the title, the options here are limited, and unfortunately there have been a large number of quality complaints. After an initial run, MGM switched to a new manufacturer, and complaints have slowed. So why take a chance? Because these are movies you'll never get your hands on otherwise.
Top choices here include Johnny Cool, which has a young Elizabeth Montgomery playing the tough, sexy girlfriend of mobster Henry Silva. The Black Sleep is a bad horror movie with an amazing cast including Basil Rathbone, Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and John Carradine. How about a rock-and-roll wrestling comedy from '80s icon Hal Needham? Body Slam stars Dirk Benedict (The A-Team), Tanya Roberts (Charlie's Angels), and wrestlers Lou Albano and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
3. Universal Vault Series
Universal also runs a small MOD program through Amazon with around 120 titles pulled from every era of production. Rare gems include the movie version of I Dream of Jeannie called The Brass Bottle. Witty thriller The List of Adrian Messenger has Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas, and Frank Sinatra all performing in disguise, and Katherine Ross gets in too deep when she and her husband play a few Games.