The following list is a purely idiosyncratic creation of yours truly. Healthy, respectful dissent is welcome and encouraged.
6. Alan Silvestri, Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
For an old-school, patriotic hero like Cap, Silvestri worked up an old-school, patriotic anthem. The march theme prominently features the rat-a-tat of martial drums -- appropriate for a guy's who's first and foremost a soldier -- and a swelling brass fanfare.
5. Danny Elfman, Spider-Man (2002)
Elfman had already created one indelible heroic theme (see #3 below), and had already worked with director Sam Raimi on the score for Darkman when he got this plum assignment. His interpretation has a great jittery nervous energy befitting a guy who bounces and swings through New York, yet still feels operatically heroic.
4. Michael Giacchino, The Incredibles (2004)
Maybe it's just a wee bit of a cheat including Pixar's feature, since it doesn't have comic-book bona fides. But Giacchino's jazzy, terrifically evocative score paid homage to the big sound of John Barry's 1960s James Bond themes, the urgent piano and emphatic horns combining espionage and adventure.
3. Danny Elfman, Batman (1989)
The era of the modern comic-book blockbuster was born with Tim Burton's interpretation of the Dark Knight, and Elfman's theme set the tone for what was to come. Instead of a bright and soaring melody, he provided something gothic and brooding, laying a foundation for the darker-edged side of superheroes.
2. John Williams, Superman (1978)
"You will believe a man can fly" went the tagline, and just as Williams' astonishing gifts helped send E.T. and Star Wars X-wing fighters into the sky, so he did with the Man of Steel. His iconic anthem was revived by Bryan Singer for Superman Returns, providing a perfect sense-memory connection between the new film and its legacy continuing the early ones.
1. James Horner, The Rocketeer (1991)
The number of times this music has failed to give me chills is exactly zero. The movie itself was a disappointment at the box office, but its nostalgic sense of wonder was captured in Horner's glorious opening theme, from the tinkling piano evoking something simple and innocent to the swelling strings that sent the jet-pack-wearing young test pilot skyward. If pure, unapologetic heroism -- the emotion that keeps bringing people back to comic-book heroes -- has a sound, this is it.