6. Batman Returns (1992)
The movie: Following Batman's enormous success, Tim Burton and Michael Keaton were brought back for a sequel. Looking back now, in this age of micromanaged studios, it's phenomenal how much freedom Warner Bros. granted Burton. What he turned over wasn't a retread of the original. Nope, it was a movie that outraged parents and it's not hard to see why. It replaces a family-friendly plot of good vs. evil with a far more devious story.
If the 1989 film hinted at Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale's bedroom antics, then Returns positively oozes sexuality through Michelle Pfeiffer's turn as Catwoman. And then there's the Penguin, played by Danny DeVito, a savage, sewer-dwelling villain out to sabotage Wayne and the entire city of Gotham for his suffering. Much like the first movie, the bad guys outshine Batman easily, which is perhaps why those parents were so miffed. Who wants to see a superhero film where the villains look cooler? Everyone it would seem - despite how iffy the result turns out to be.
Best superhero moment: Bruce Wayne coolly rebuffs Catwoman's advances and somehow transforms it into a bit of a fight scene too.
5. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
The movie: Put The Winter Soldier next to the first Captain America movie and they couldn't appear more different. But there is one aspect shared by both films: they mix together several genres to tell a better story. There's no throwbacks to WWII in this sequel, instead Anthony and Joe Russo throw it back to the '70s-era of paranoia. Heck, Robert Redford's even in it.
Caught up with all the goings-on since he was trapped in ice for decades, Cap's back with a new haircut and a mission to kick-ass in the 21st century. Dropping the sepia-tones of the first flick for a harsher look suits its modernised story. And while the second Avengers movie opened last year - with a bigger budget - that sequel doesn't come close to touching the action highs of Cap's second film. The Nick Fury car sequence, the introduction of The Winter Soldier, and the big one...
Best superhero moment: ... when Steve Rogers takes out an entire elevator full of Hydra agents. "Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?" he calmly asks before wiping the floor with them.
4. The Avengers (2012)
The movie: What happens when you take one superhero, then add another, and another and so on? Come on, you know this... yes! You get a team! This has been happening for decades in the panels of comic books, and in 2012 Marvel orchestrated the impossible with The Avengers.
Nobody expected it to work. Bringing together Earth's mightiest heroes into one movie after several of them had launched their own solo movies was a massive risk. There's too many characters to assign dialogue and plots to fuse together. How's this all gonna pan out? Simple. Through Joss Whedon's creative wizardry. How he created the best superhero ensemble movie without compromising any of the characters is astonishing. Every member of the team slots in without it feeling clunky. The action sequences fly by at breakneck speeds, there's erratic jump cuts. Overall, it's pretty damn busy. But it works. The Avengers fuse together into a slick machine ready to dispense justice like no other onscreen team before.
Best superhero moment: Cap and Thor are locked in battle, but that doesn't stop Tony's one-liners when he meets Thor for the first time. "Doth your mother know you stole her drapes?"
3. X-2 (2003)
The movie: Bryan Singer's second X-Men movie still stands as one of the greatest superhero movies committed to celluloid. In every sense it outdoes the previous outing, an orchestra of superb action and brilliantly-drawn characters. Upping the number of spectacle set-pieces to showcase the power of the mutants is the main reason the sequel has aged so well. Its opening sequence featuring the cunning Nightcrawler as he infiltrates the White House was talked about then and it's still relished today.
It's Wolverine who continues to lead the story, as Singer takes the mutton-chopped mutant farther than before by delivering an explosive moment where he exerts his "berserker rage." Buried beneath all of the badassery however, is a big, beating heart that yearns for inclusion. Scenes between Bobby and his parents as he steps forward to tell them he is Iceman are just utterly-heartbreaking.
Best superhero moment: Stryker's men don't stand a chance against Wolvie's brute force, as he takes out every single one of them who dare threaten Professor X's school.
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The movie: The groundwork was laid for Civil War throughout the first dozen films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Cap strived to be a do-gooder, ensuring freedom, justice and the American way. Tony's desire? To crack wise in times of crisis and fashion killer AIs. Their opposing views bring a massive dose of grit and heart to Civil War.
Sure, it's still a Marvel movie. There's lols and silliness galore, but it's not at the expense of what's really a very moving story. The Avengers are divided when legislation is introduced that forces all superheroes to work under government supervision. Cap's against it, Tony's for it. Pretty much all the major MCU players make an appearance, and the Russo brothers handle this ambitious juggle with skill. You want show-stopping action sequences, morality plottings, and the best ever introduction of a superhero? Civil War's got it all.
Best superhero moment: Cap and Tony AND Winter Soldier all engage in one of the bloodiest tussles in the MCU.
1. The Dark Knight (2008)
The movie: It's not often that a superhero film - that's also based on a beloved comic book character - improves the genre and meets the desires of fans. Then came the middle chapter in Christopher Nolan's Bat trilogy. Forget the dark, monochrome setting of its predecessor or the brash pomp of the Schumacher movies. This sequel splits its time between day and night, letting Bruce Wayne's tale of big-bucks vigilantism stroll out into the sunlight. It's a rarity in superhero cinema in many regards, but most of all for its decidedly chewy moral grapplings. Isn't some of what the Joker says kinda understandable? Does Bruce Wayne have a leg to stand on, especially when people he cares for are dropping like flies?
Those who bemoaned the casting of Heath Ledger as The Joker couldn't quibble in the end, because watching his manic, unnerving performance is like watching a man who was born to play this very role. It's his Joker, with garish makeup and enigmatic platitudes, who steals the show from Bale. There's been several attempts to faithfully recreate Batman's story on the big screen, but never has it been achieved with such brazen disregard for the rules.
Best superhero moment: Batman's decision to save The Joker at the last second with his grappling hook. He really did deserve to plunge to his death, but turns out Bruce learned something after all.