5. Avengers: Infinity War
The movie: After 10 years, Infinity War isn’t so much the 19th instalment of the MCU as the climatic end to 18 movies worth of storytelling. And with so many heroes and threads all finally coming together this does not mess around, playing like a three hour finale to the decade; full of fights, conflicts and team ups, while treating its cast with an almost Game of Thrones sense of brutality.
Thanos is the real star, though, bringing together the Infinity Stones to impose his genocidal plans on the universe. Josh Brolin turns in a laudable performance, via CGi magic, to create an imposing and human presence - evil and unstoppable but bringing the film alive with every callous footstep. Elsewhere, both the script and the cast do an admirable job of managing an incredible headcount and numerous plot threads, as almost the entire MCU tries to stop the mad titan. It’s one long climax from start to finish, and slogs a little through its final act, but the scale and ambition of Infinity War is a daring achievement nonetheless.
Best superhero moment: It’s not exactly a great beat for the home team but the aftermath of Thanos’ efforts is brilliantly executed to maximise the uncertainty and horror of what unfolds.
4. Spider-Man 2 (2004)
The movie: Of the two franchises dedicated to the webhead it's the middle chapter in Sam Raimi's trilogy that sums up everything we love about Spider-Man. Raimi strikes a perfect balance between Spidey's acrobatics, his inner struggle to become a hero and his romance with Mary Jane. It's a lot to juggle, and yet, every component is given a committed amount of time and each character gets a true arc from start to finish.
Peter Parker's day-to-day misery is quashed by his burgeoning friendship with Doctor Octavius. Of all the friend-to-foe betrayals Parker suffers, it's this film that serves up the best of all, mainly because Raimi has zero desire (then, at least) to overstuff the movie with a gazillion villains. When done right, one bad guy will suffice. Alfred Molina's switch from mentor to antagonist as Dr. Octavius is the franchise's best baddie to date.
Best superhero moment: Peter and Dr. Ock come to blows in the trilogy's best fight sequence: on a speeding train.
3. 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?"
2. Captain America: Civil War (2016)
The movie: The groundwork was laid for Captain America: 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.