Guts and Glory: 10 Great Comic Book Movies on Blu-ray

When an older and quite esteemed film expert asked me not long ago what my favorite genre was, I was honestly flummoxed. Pixar isn’t a genre, and I’ve just seen too many lame science-fiction flicks. Looking back over a life of film fandom and the past decade in particular, I finally came up with an eyebrow-raising response: comic book movies.

When done right, the adapted adventures of a beloved hero, superhero, or even an anti-hero can capture the concentrated “Wow!” once exclusive to the graphic novel format and yield some legendary go-to scenes. And the wonders of modern digital effects (and enormous budgets) have sparked the ambition of writers and directors, surely pushing the envelope of awesomeness.

So, in light of this unprecedented era for comic book movies on Blu-ray, we take a look back at 10 specific examples of why we love them so much.

10: The Batmobile Is a Convertible
(The Dark Knight, 2008) In the midst of a thrilling car chase wherein The Batman (Christian Bale) is out to stop the Joker (Heath Ledger) from assassinating Gotham City District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), the pursuit costs the Caped Crusader his ride in a brutal crash, sidelining him while innocent lives are still in danger. Although far from a Boy Scout, Bats is prepared for a remarkable range of emergencies, and this time he’s able to eject the front half of the Batmobile as a fast, funky, heavily armed motorcycle. Atop this batpod, he continues his war on crime in jaw-dropping fashion, blowing up automobiles and even flipping an 18-wheeler lengthwise, at the expense of just a grappling hook and a few lampposts.

The lesson here? When you’re a loner dressed as a flying mouse and you put yourself in harm’s way every night, it pays to have a few surprises in store.

9: Just Plain Wrong (Kick-Ass, 2010)
High-schooler Dave (Aaron Johnson) is in over his head as the naïve, scuba-suit-clad vigilante Kick-Ass, about to meet his end at the hands of an angry drug dealer and his posse. But 11-year-old Hit-Girl (rising star Chloë Grace Moretz) bursts onto the scene, drops the C-word, and proceeds to tear through every criminal in the room, with the theme from Hanna-Barbera’s The Banana Splits playing behind her. She uses a variety of edge weapons with the skill of a much older killer, taking no prisoners and pausing only to flash an “Ain’t-it-cool?” smile. The R-rated Kick-Ass courted its share of controversy for Hit-Girl’s behavior, but it is based on a comic book after all: Where’s your sense of humor?

8: Meet the Spartans (300, 2006)
Like the consummate bad-asses they surely were, the Spartan soldiers of 300 like to boast and brag about what consummate bad-asses they are. But when it comes time for these 25-dozen men in leather Speedos to prove it, against hundreds of thousands of invading Persians, will they live up to their own hype? With shield, sword, and spear, these purest of warriors combine fortitude, bravery, ruthless precision, and a lifetime of preparation into an orgy of blood that leaves the marauding enemy as little more than a pile of mincemeat. (That word is literal here, not a cliché.) The Spartans’ first skirmish against an overconfident, promptly mortified foe sets the stage for a wildly embellished take on the Battle of Thermopylae in one of the most gleefully over-the-top movies of the new millennium.

7: Coin Toss (X-Men: First Class, 2011)
Deranged Nazi scientist Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) would become the tormentor of a gifted young metal manipulator named Erik Lehnsherr, beginning by murdering the boy’s mother before his eyes. With the help of Professor Xavier, a grown-up Erik (Michael Fassbender) has found Shaw after spending his entire adult life searching, and he seizes the briefest of windows to exact his revenge. As the Cuban Missile Crisis comes to a head a few feet away, he recalls the moment from their first encounter, this time sending a swastika-emblazoned ducat slowly through the air to where it will do the most good. Without giving away too much, Shaw’s last sensation on Earth is a splitting headache.

6: Say Hello to Marv (Sin City, 2005)
Tougher-than-leather lug Marv (a transformed Mickey Rourke) awakes next to a dead hooker, with a squad of Basin City’s finest outside the door, ready to haul him in, dead or alive. Good luck with that: A sociopath with a heart of gold, Marv bucks authority like it’s not even there, armed with nothing more than his wits and his mitts. The eruption of unbridled violence that accompanies his escape lets us know who to root for, and that the bad guys he’s up against—formidable though they may be—won’t stand a chance. It’s a classic introduction to the cornerstone character of Frank Miller’s crime noir Sin City saga.

5: A Real American Hero (Captain America: The First Avenger, 2011)
One of the keys to appreciating the scientifically enhanced super-soldier Captain America is to make the audience love him while he’s still a 98-pound weakling. Without his mighty shield, without any superpowers, without so much as a costume other than the olive drab one the U.S. Army gave him, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) proves that he may lack muscles but certainly not heart. As part of a training exercise, he dives onto what he thinks is a live grenade, expecting it will kill him but save others. He survives, of course, silencing his harshest critics and paving the way for a career defined by extraordinary courage.

4: “I Am Iron Man” (Iron Man, 2008)
After two hours of innovative derring-do, how can the makers of Iron Man possibly top themselves? Star Robert Downey Jr.’s manic, charismatic interpretation of billionaire-playboy-turned-do-gooder Tony Stark gave a cold suit of metal a radiant heart and elevated an admitted B-lister from the mighty Marvel stable to a summer box-office titan. But just when we think the lovably egotistical Mr. Stark has learned to play nice and committed his last selfish act, he violates a government directive, going off script and doing something we’ve never seen a superhero do before: He reveals his secret identity to the entire world, before a packed house of reporters and live TV cameras. Superman always tells the truth, too, but with Tony’s bold defiance, we knew in an instant that the business of saving the world had forever changed.

3: Spider-Man Catches a Train (Spider-Man 2, 2004)
In one of the most spectacular action sequences ever put on film, Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire) confronts Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), a heartless new foe gifted with four bonus mechanical arms. Their fight above Manhattan eventually lands them on top of a moving elevated train, and Doc Ock disables the brakes and sends the train hurtling toward certain doom as the tracks are about to end. Spidey, recently reminded of his duty to help others, tries and fails more than once to stop the runaway train, until ultimately he gives all he has in order to rescue the terrified passengers. The scene is exciting and original, but it also does what great action sequences should do: define our hero’s character while also advancing the plot.

2: Double Jeopardy (Superman, 1978)
Newly arrived in Metropolis, farmboy/reporter Clark Kent (the incomparable Christopher Reeve) has already saved the life of co-worker Lois Lane (Margot Kidder) from a trigger-happy mugger and exposed a nursing home scandal. But when Lois’ helicopter spins out of control off the roof of the Daily Planet building, his alter-ego Superman’s public debut requires him to rescue the plummeting reporter and the helicopter, which threatens to crush her and make quite the mess on the crowded street below. Without a second to spare, how can he possibly do both? Well, he has two Super hands, doesn’t he? Dubbed the “Double Jeopardy” scene by the film’s creators, this coming-out moment for the Man of Steel gave him a chance to demonstrate several of his skills in grand style: flight, super-strength, and the poise to always use them with a heavy dose of boyish charm.

1: Hulk Makes Loki His Bitch (The Avengers, 2012)
Even with decades of comic book history, a long-running TV series, and two feature films, Hollywood showed no real understanding of the memorable mayhem that the rampaging Hulk (a performance-captured Mark Ruffalo) could unleash. For example, did you know he could pick up the Norse God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) by the leg and beat him repeatedly into the ground as if he were nothing more than a rag doll? Well, writer/director Joss Whedon figured it out, giving us a moment of such epic implication, crowds the world over burst into spontaneous cheers of adulation. Of course, it helps that Loki is a total weasel, but more important, The Avengers managed to give us a movie-stealing Green Goliath with genuine personality despite his limited vocabulary. And among this blockbuster’s many feats, that’s the most amazing.