Superhero movies are like are jelly beans. Everybody has their favourite flavour, but some are just better than others (sorry, salted caramel lovers). Sure, we can debate the subtextual merits of Justice League and Fantastic Four, but can they really hold a candle to the Dark Knights and Civil Wars of this world? It's a stretch at best.
With that in mind, you might well disagree with some of our selections for the 25 best superhero movies of all time, but hopefully you can find at least a handful of choice personal faves. There's every kind of power-fuelled flick you can imagine in the following list, from indie darlings to era-defining blockbusters, and all of them are cinematic feasts for the senses, and great examples of why this strange new genre continues to proliferate.
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 gang decide to go flying in the clouds, and take a football with them for a quick kickabout.
24. X2 (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.
23. Superman: The Movie (1978)
The movie: 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.
22. 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.
21. The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
The movie: Who is Batman? Tortured vigilante? Courageous hero? Wanted criminal? Maybe, says The Lego Batman Movie, maybe he's a just a privileged douchebag who's desperate to be loved? As well as being a laugh out loud slapstick comedy rendered in gorgeous Lego visuals and crammed with DC Easter eggs and visual jokes, The Lego Batman Movie is one of the best character studies of the Dark Knight out there.
Directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller (of 21 Jump Street fame) take Bruce Wayne's isolated soul and wring that out for brilliantly perceptive comedic and emotional effect, creating a fantastic superhero movie in the process. The fact that everyone's made out of Danish plastic is just a bonus.
Best superhero moment: Seeing what Bats gets up to when he's not crime-fighting, which mainly involves heating up lobster thermidor in the microwave.
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. Thor: Ragnarok (2017)
The movie: After Kenneth Brannagh's Shakespearean origin story and Alan Taylor's po-faced sequel, it's fair to say that Thor was begging for a clean break. Thank goodness, then, for Taika Waititi, who brings his quirky comedic sensibilities as a director (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople) and liberally applies it to the intergalactic canvas of everyone's favourite Asgardian.
Thor: Ragnarok might not be the most important MCU movie, story-wise, but it is one of the funniest, with the likes of Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, and Jeff Goldblum all clearly having a blast playing off the fast and loose script to bless us with killer lines and cracking jokes. It's all dripping in dazzlingly outlandish visuals too, as the new setting of Sakaar allows Waititi to go crazy with set design and fantastical CGI that wouldn't look out of place in a comic book-induced fever dream.
Best superhero moment: Hulk vs. Ragnarok, and that's all I'll say about that.
18. 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.
17. 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.
16. Wonder Woman (2017)
The movie: I know what you're thinking: another origin story? Really? But believe me when I tell you, this is a whole new take on the superhero cliche, and it's for a character whose origin we haven't seen in a movie before.
Growing up on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, Princess Diana (no, this is a different one) discovers American pilot Steve Trevor after he crashes offshore. After learning about the horrors of the World War, and believing Zeus' son Ares responsible for the conflict, Diana takes it upon herself to go and resolve the fight. As you do.
It may have wallowed in development hell for a while, but we reckon Wonder Woman delivers "the hope-charged blast of purely likeable entertainment that superhero movies might just need", and the chemistry bubbling between Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor is delicious. Plus Gal Gadot rocks that tiara like a champ. What else do you need?
Best superhero moment: Wonder Woman's finale is paradoxically the best and worst thing about the movie, but that scene is all kinds of amazing… and Wonder Woman wouldn't be Wonder Woman without it.