16. 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.
15. 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 cagefighting 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.
14. 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.
13. Batman (1989)
The movie: It's amazing that Batman ever got made considering the 25,000 letters of objection the studio received when Michael Keaton was cast, along with Jack Nicholson having late start times and an insane box-office percentage inked into his contract. But it did.
Tim Burton's singular vision for a dark, brooding superhero is an off-kilter mix. It's a nostalgic trip into eighties cinema that dresses Bruce Wayne in chunky-knit sweaters, then seconds later becomes a riotous gangster film from the 1940s, complete with the overblown pap-pap of pistols. While Burton himself confessed to not being completely happy with the finished product, describing it as more a phenomenon than a good movie, he did gift the movie world with one of the nuttiest performances ever: Nicholson's Joker.
What's crackers about his take on the Clown Prince of Crime is that Burton actually gives him an origin. In the comics, part of the Joker's mystique is that his real name is never revealed. Here? Damn, it's only ruddy Batman that creates his cackling alter-ego.
Best superhero moment: The first time Batman appears on a misty Gotham rooftop, in his suit, doing what he does best: catching crooks.
12. The Incredibles (2004)
The movie: Pixar's most beloved film turned to classic comic books for inspiration, plucking tons of recognisable moments from their golden era to tell the tale of what happens after you hang up the suit.
It's a testament to director Brad Bird just how much detail is crammed into the movie. On the one hand, it's a solid animated flick that boasts loads of awesome action sequences youngsters will love. But it goes both ways - there's a lot for adults to savour here. Beneath the lycra outfits and caricature villains is a heart-warming tale that's all about the importance of family. Sure, it riffs on Bond at every opportunity, and jabs at the vagaries of getting old, but it does something that most live-action superhero films never dare venture into: the realm of retirement.
Best superhero moment: Frozone can't lay his hands on his super suit and loses his - ahem - cool.
11. X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
The movie: After taking a break from the X-Men franchise Bryan Singer returned to helm Days of Future Past. He had to really, didn't he? What began in 2011's soft reboot First Class could only be continued by the man who started it all.
Singer used one of the most well-loved comic storylines as inspiration. A complex, time-travelling tale that stretches across history wasn't just a terrific story, it was an opportunity for Singer to make it up to the fans for leaving the franchise after X-2. By having different teams of characters dotted all over the timeline, it left the door open for popular X-Men to return, as well as introducing a slew of new mutants in a dizzying tangle of plots.
It seemed like a big challenge that could have resulted in another dud. There's many speaking parts and various story threads all tied together to the X-Men continuity. But that's the wonder of time travel - there's no such thing as can't.
Best superhero moment: Magneto and Mystique take to the streets for a super-public fight. A blast to watch but yeah... probably not the best idea when you're keeping mutant life on the DL.
10. 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.
9. Batman Begins (2005)
The movie: Before Christian Bale took up the cowl we hadn't seen a decent Batman movie in years. The thought of another one in the vein of Batman & Robin was hard to stomach, which is why Batman Begins came at the perfect time. The superhero genre was a laughing stock, still reeling from the after-effects of Joel Schumacher's sequels. Christopher Nolan blew everyone's socks off by telling folks this is how you make a movie about The Dark Knight.
Well, that's what he decided, by approaching the comics without wanting to create another frivolous spectacle. The world had seen enough of that; it was time for Batman to get serious. And damn, did he get serious. This was the first time that a superhero movie was so downbeat. Bruce Wayne's not a happy-go-lucky chap, he's a troubled, tormented protector desperate to make a difference. In terms of comic book loyalty? Nolan gets an A.
Best superhero moment: Eager to escape the cops, Batman shoots into his handily-parked Tumbler and makes his getaway.
8. Superman: The Movie (1978)
The movie: While Richard Donner's Superman live-action movie isn't the first feature to bring Krypton's favorite son to the big screen. But it is, to quote Tina Turner, simply the best. Origin films are now branded with that tag from the day they're announced, but Superman never set out to just explain Kal-El's past. The focus here is on story, and the breathtaking spectacle of the movie - IT'S A GUY WHO FLIES! - manages to overpower Margot Kidder's performance.
Out of hundreds of hopefuls, Christopher Reeve snagged the lead role, and it's now impossible to imagine anyone else outdoing his iconic version of Clark Kent. He brings hope, humanity and an all-around goodness to Superman, which makes it a lot easier to stomach some of the cheesier elements of Donner's movie.
Best superhero moment: It's a small one but one that had an everlasting effect on the genre: when Superman first takes flight.
7. Iron Man (2008)
The movie: Iron Man laid the foundation for a multi-billion dollar franchise. The first movie in Marvel's Cinematic Universe, was by definition, a gamble. We're not talking a small loss, either. If the film hadn't rocketed to the top of the box office, Marvel Studios faced bankruptcy and loss of The Avengers rights. It's an achievement that this blockbuster movie based on a character that, let's face it, no-one outside of the comic book fandom really knew, turned out to be such a hit.
It was Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark that blew people away; he's smart and funny without being patronising. You root for him to succeed and get a weird sensation in your tummy when he steps into the Mark II suit for the first time. That sense of superhero fun and flat-out action that director Jon Favreau brings to the movie? It's his vision that laid a blueprint of sorts, to steer the future of the franchise.
Best superhero moment: Tony emerges from the cave, decked out in his Iron Man Mk I suit.