It is their humble beginnings, or their tragic origin stories? Their pursuit of justice, or just the kickass costumes? We're all suckers for a good superhero movie and that age-old stand off of Good versus Evil. Bitten by a radioactive spider? Check. Tragically orphaned millionaire? Check. Somehow, superhero movies just seem to have it all.
In the forty years since Superman first showed us that he was faster than a speeding bullet, superhero movies have grown steadily more packed with caped crusaders, alien do-gooders, and mutants all battling against a tide of bigger and badder villains. And these extraordinary tales aren't just comic book adaptations; plenty of inventive filmmakers have cooked up their own stories to stand alongside the likes of Batman, Spider-Man, Superman, and The Avengers.
We can't lie - it's a hard task to narrow down the cream of the crop. But lucky for you, we've done it for you.
25. Chronicle (2012)
The movie: Superheroes and found footage are so ridiculously popular at the moment, it's a wonder that this idea didn't take root sooner. Years before Josh Trank bungled Fantastic Four he bashed out a solid - and rather scary - coming-of-age superhero story, told through the handheld lens of three high school friends (Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan).
The use of handicams and smartphones to capture the experiences of the trio, who stumble across an alien artefact and come away "changed", works because it puts you directly into their shoes. What would you do if you were suddenly blessed with extraordinary abilities? Get up to the craziest shit possible and record it! Which is what this bunch do until self-appointed gang leader Andrew takes things a little too far. "With great power comes great responsibility," a wise man once said. An ignored mantra that guides this film toward an unexpected conclusion.
Best superhero moment: The three all decide to go flying in the clouds, and take a football with them for a quick kickabout.
24. Super (2010)
The movie: Bang on about Deadpool's R-rated rule-breaking all you like, but make no mistake: it was James Gunn's black-as-night superhero comedy that paved the way for Wade Wilson's shenanigans. Super relishes the blood-splattered realism of everyday heroism and the bittersweet consequences of doing good, for an unusual take on what it means to be a superhero.
Thrown into a scenario where his girlfriend is at the whim of a drug lord, it's up to Frank Darbo (Rainn Wilson) to set things right. So he does what anyone would in that situation - he transforms himself into a superhero. "The Crimson Bolt" might not boast the showy tech of other crime-fightin' do-gooders, but it's his unstoppable desire for justice that he wields as the ultimate weapon. Together with his sidekick, the self-dubbed "Boltie", they make it their mission to take down the bad guys.
Best superhero moment: Frank's so-bad-it's-good one-liner he delivers after each victory - "Shut up crime!"
23. The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
The movie: Christopher Nolan floored it with the closing chapter of his Batman trilogy. Does it possess the finesse of The Dark Knight? No, but that's the entire point. Getting loaded up on a continuous stream of action set pieces somewhat mirrors Bruce Wayne's shaky emotional state: he's reached breaking point. Enough is enough.
Bigger and brasher than its predecessor, Rises repurposes the cerebral superhero movie into a streamlined actioner. Sure, there's no shortage of subtext - seeing as Gotham falls at the hands of a masked madman. But that's where the moralising stays, in the shadows, letting Batman's final stand emerge like a caged fighter going out strong. Scenes between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle throw a bone to fans, a nice counter to Bane's bombastic villainy, which is pure comic book gold.
Best superhero moment: After ages stuck in The Pit, Bruce Wayne eventually claws his way out. Seriously. Talk about upper body strength.
22. X-Men (2000)
The movie: How do you launch a franchise with a seemingly endless back catalogue of characters? You could go all in and make a behemoth ensemble movie. But as an introduction? Nah, it's too risky. That's why Bryan Singer singled out Logan, aka Wolverine, to lead the first X-Men movie. It's through his experiences that we're introduced to the world of mutants.
Beginning with Magneto's brutal origin - later explored in First Class - the first X-Men film sets out a clear benchmark of understanding. Mutants aren't that far removed from us because they are us. Magneto is hellbent on destruction because he's suffered. Wolverine gets bloodied up cage fighting as a way to leash his pain. 16 years later it's a little rough around the edges and shows signs of age, but, it's still got that something. There's humor, action, and one underlying theme that spans right into last year's Apocalypse: that universal symptom of feeling alienated from the rest of the world.
Best superhero moment: The X-Men split into two camps to thoroughly conquer their foes: Jean, Scott and Storm take out Toad (with combat and awful one-liners) while Wolvie goes at it with Mystique.
21. Unbreakable (2000)
The movie: Imagine the surprised looks on people's faces after seeing M. Night Shyamalan's first post-Sixth Sense movie. Audiences gearing up for a similar ghostly tale were instead given a glimpse into the director's life-long passion: superheroes.
A self-confessed comic book fan, Shyamalan decided the worries of fan service and rights issues were not worth the hassle when he could create something original. The story takes a subtle approach to the life of a superhero, with security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) suddenly coming to grips with his abilities and dealing with the shady Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). It's a refreshing, minimalist film that's gone on to gain a cult following for its simplicity. There's no spandex to be seen, and no moral ranting about responsibility to the people - this is how the real superheroes do it.
Best superhero moment: David's son piles a load of extra weight onto his dumbbells without his dad knowing. David lifts it anyway.
20. Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
The movie: Guillermo Del Toro cut his superhero teeth with Blade II, shimmied successfully into Hellboy and then brought out the big guns for its sequel, The Golden Army. Literally.
This is what it feels like to watch a director who's confident with the material. There's no pandering to what came before out of a misguided desire to create a carbon copy of the original. Del Toro crams this deliciously bonkers sequel with everything that worked so well in the first outing. Quippy one-liners, well-rounded supporting characters, insane steampunk props, it's all here in abundance. Even a puzzling, overly-complicated plot still doesn't detract from its brilliance.
Ron Perlman is on top-form as Hellboy, and his supporting cast of Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor are given their fair share of bad-ass dialogue. This might be the closest we ever get to Del Toro's designs on Justice League Dark.
Best superhero moment: Hellboy, champ that he is, takes on the entire golden army - an ancient race of killing machines.
19. X-Men: First Class (2011)
The movie: What were the chances of Fox successfully wiping the slate clean after the double-whammy blow of The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine? Against all odds, First Class revitalised the X-Men brand after years of stagnation. Bringing in Matthew Vaughn, with his sharp eye for visuals and great grasp of comic book material, made all the difference to this 60s-set mutant origin tale.
No longer bound by the need to have Hugh Jackman's Wolverine guide the story, the film carves its own niche. A star-studded cast led by A-listers Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy lent the film a more widespread appeal. It's more than a comic spin-off, this kickstarted a whole new era for the X-Men, birthing a deranged timeline and giving us a fun political actioner.
Best superhero moment: The gang of new, young X-Men hang out at the CIA's secret Division X. What are a bunch of teens to do? No, not that. They show off their powers.
18. Spider-Man (2002)
The movie: The late '90s and early '00s saw the superhero movie begin to creep back into the conversation. We'd had Blade and X-Men, and they couldn't be more different; one drips with darkness, the other grins with glee. That space in between was waiting for something, someone to swing in.... and then came Spider-Man, the first proper live-action movie based on the Marvel character.
Tobey Maguire fits Peter Parker with a child-like wonder yet turns on a hardened edge when needs be, and Kirsten Dunst makes us love Mary Jane while taking our mind off where the hell Gwen Stacy is. In retrospect it still stands up as one hell of a franchise-starter. Plenty of action sequences, a superb hero vs. villain arc, and oh, you know, a truly great take on Spidey's origin.
Best superhero moment: Mere seconds away from being pulverised by the Green Goblin, Peter gets a second wind when Osborn threatens MJ.
17. Kick-Ass (2010)
The movie: Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar's collaboration brought about much controversy at the time of release. Not because it's full of violence and bad language - which it undoubtedly is - but because 12-year old Chloe Moretz was dishing out both.
It's subversive to the point of making you wince. The idea of a self-made superhero, one who possesses no actual abilities, is turned into an amusing, dark-as-hell escapade. Aaron-Taylor Johnson's teenager embraces his love of comics and lets them spill into the real world by becoming Kick-Ass. Going up against wealthy foes who wipe the floor with him time and time again, leads him to join forces with Hit-Girl (Moretz) who wields a katana like a seasoned pro. It's also the only film to make Nicolas Cage's quirkiness the least batshit thing onscreen.
Best superhero moment: Kick-Ass visits Rasul, a low-life drug dealer who's been harassing the girl he likes, and does what you think he does. Yep, kicks his ass. With a little help from Hit-Girl.
16. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)
The movie: Guardians of the Galaxy rewrote the rules of Marvel's Cinematic Universe. Superhero movies can be silly and irreverent without damaging their soul. And boy, does Guardians have a lot of that. From the opening scene right up until the final moments, all you feel is heart, most of which comes from writer-director James Gunn's love for the material.
And his cast. And his crew. OK, so everyone involved in this hilarious space opera loved going to work. The great thing is, it shows. Every single element of this whacked-out story of misfit superheroes joining together to fight evil works in harmony. You've got the throwback soundtrack, spot-on casting, and just enough fan service to prevent it tipping into oblivion. If you like your superheroes without the swagger, this is for you.
Best superhero moment: Peter Quill's insistence that people call him Star-Lord - which no-one ever takes seriously.