Richard Donner's Superman may not have been the first feature to bring Krypton's favourite son to the big screen, but it remains, despite Zac Snyder's best effort, the best. While Superman may be an origin story, the movie does not simply explain Kal-El's past. It instead tells a spectacular story about a heroic man who falls in love and saves the day from a terrifying villain (Gene Hackman on wonderfully camp form).
Christopher Reeve brings hope and humanity to Superman, making some of the cheesier elements of Donner's movie slightly easier to stomach. There has not been a better Clark Kent since.
Best superhero moment: As awe-inspiring today as it was in 1978: when Superman first takes flight.
Matthew Vaughn and Mark Millar's collaboration caused controversy when initially released. Not purely because of the abundance of blood-splattered violence and bad language, but because 12-year old Chloe Moretz was dishing out both. Kick-Ass is subversive to the point of making you wince.
The movie sees Aaron-Taylor Johnson's teenager embrace his love of comics by becoming the real-life superhero Kick-Ass. Going up against a wealthy foe who defeats him time and time again, the vigilante ends up joining forces with Hit-Girl (Moretz) and Nicolas Cage's Big Daddy. And when Cage's quirkiness is the least batshit thing onscreen, you know you're onto a winning movie.
Best superhero moment: Kick-Ass visits Rasul, a low-life drug dealer who's been harassing the girl he likes, and kicks ass. With a little help from Hit-Girl, of course.
13. Batman Returns
Arguably one of the best Christmas movies of all time, Batman Returns is a Tim Burton masterpiece. Michael Keaton’s on swaggering form as a returning Batman, Michelle Pfieffer steals every scene as Catwoman, and Danny De Vito’s grotesque Penguin makes for one of the best comic book villains ever put to screen. All three actors are at the peak of their powers, operating in tandem with one of the most unique visionaries of the 20th Century. Pure heroic heaven.
Often overlooked when it comes to ranking Bats’ best on-screen efforts, Batman Returns is dark without being dingy; gritty without being grimy – and Batman without the Bat-Nipples. What’s not to like?
Best superhero moment: When the Bat-Signal lights up Wayne Manor, with Bruce Wayne looking on. He is Batman.
12. Wonder Woman
We know what you're thinking: another origin story? Really? Yet, despite Wonder Woman being such a well-known character, Patty Jenkins' movie makes for a wonderfully fresh take on the hero's royal beginnings.
Growing up on the Amazonian island of Themyscira, Princess Diana's monotonous life is interrupted by an American pilot, Steve Trevor, who crashes offshore. After learning about the horrors of the First World War, and believing Zeus's son Ares responsible for the conflict, Diana takes it upon herself to resolve the fight. Wonder Woman delivers a hope-charged blast of purely enjoyable entertainment, with delicious chemistry bubbling between Gal Gadot's Diana and Chris Pine’s Steve.
Best superhero moment: Wonder Woman charging across No Man's Land, deflecting bullets with her shield. Few images are quite as powerful.
11. Avengers: Endgame
If Avengers: Infinity War was Marvel's Empire Strikes Back, then Avengers: Endgame makes for the studio's Return of the Jedi: not quite as serious as the movie that came before, but covers up identifiable faults with jaw-dropping action and a sense of fun.
Endgame's stuffed three-hour runtime somehow feels breezy, with the movie being a mixture of both intimate and epic. The writers are deviously clever, paying homage to the other MCU movies while never losing sight of what's at stake. While some Marvel fans may not be best pleased by how the adventure ends following the almost unconquerable climax of Infinity War, there's one thing that's certain; we'll be talking about Endgame for years to come.
Best superhero moment: Captain America to Falcon: "Try it on."
A self-confessed comic book fan, director M. Night Shyamalan, master of the twist, decided not to adapt an already established superhero story and instead created something entirely original.
Unbreakable makes for a remarkably subtle character study compared to some of the bigger-budget superhero flicks on this list, telling the tale of security guard David Dunn (Bruce Willis) who has to come to grips with his abilities, all while dealing with the shady Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson). There's no spandex; no moral ranting about responsibility, just a look at what having superpowers may actually look like.
Best superhero moment: David's son adds extra weight onto his father's dumbbells without Dad knowing. David lifts it anyway.
With everyone so desperate for the mutants to arrive in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, fans often forget just how great those early X-Men movies are. X2 easily takes the top spot. Not only are the eponymous heroes going up against Magneto (playing with astonishing villainy by Ian McKellen), but also Brian Cox's Stryker. Mixed with a quasi-origins story for Wolverine (Hugh Jackman at his best) and some very distressing scenes in Stryker's base, you have superhero royalty right here.
Did we also mention the amazing cast? As well as the aforementioned names, there's Patrick Stewart, Halle Berry, James Marsden and Famke Janssen appearing as the definite movie versions of Professor X, Storm, Cyclops and Jean Grey.
Best superhero moment: Before Quicksilver stole scenes in the X-Men franchise, there was Nightcrawler. And watching the demon making his way through the White House remains a terrifying stand out moment.
For a minute, just forget about Nolan's Batman trilogy. Sure, we can thank the Inception filmmaker for injecting modern superhero movies with a sense of realism, but Tim Burton's take on the Caped Crusader had an equally huge impact on Hollywood. Following the success of Beetlejuice, Burton and Michael Keaton decided their next joint venture would be a retelling of a campy comic book hero on the big screen. Note: campy – not because of the source material, but because the previous Bats adaptation was Adam West's gadget-loving, spandex-wearing light knight.
When Burton's version arrived, then, everyone was surprised at just how dark (literally and figuratively) a superhero movie could be. Anchored by Keaton's stoic performance and lifted my Jack Nicholson's iconic Joker, Batman holds its own against the CGI-heavy blockbusters of today and remains one of the best superhero movies of all time.
Best superhero moment: "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" One of cinema's greatest quotes.
7. Avengers: Infinity War
Infinity War marks the climactic end to 18 movies worth of storytelling. Dozens of Marvel heroes finally unite together for a thrilling finale that miraculously feels like an ending (despite a sequel being a known extension of the story upon release). The Russo Brothers cram the running time with stunning fights, conflicts, and team-ups, all while giving the villain Thanos a thoroughly convincing back story. And the Purple Titan's the real star, bringing all the loose plot strands together. Josh Brolin offers a laudable performance as the CGI being, helping create a character who is truly terrifying.
Elsewhere, both the script and the cast do an admirable job of managing an incredible headcount, as almost the entire MCU tries to stop Thanos. The scale and ambition of Infinity War is a daring achievement, and that ending... oh, that ending haunted Marvel fans for an entire year before Endgame finally landed.
Best superhero moment: "You should have gone for the head" *Snap*
6. Spider-Man 2
Sam Raimi's second Spider-Man strikes a perfect balance between aerial acrobatics, action set pieces, Spidey's inner struggle to become a hero, and his romance with Mary Jane. There are a lot of pieces to juggle and yet every component works in tandem to create a near-perfect Spider-Man story.
There's a great villain in Doctor Octavius, played by Alfred Molina, whose turn from mentor to antagonist makes for a heartbreaking story. Sure, some of the effects are dated, but Spider-Man 2 remains one of the best superhero movies to date.
Best superhero moment: Peter and Dr. Ock come to blows in the trilogy's best fight sequence: on a speeding train.