We’ve been living in the age of superhero movies for more than a decade now, and based on the packed schedule provided by both Marvel and DC, there’s a lot of fuel left in the tank before things start to slow down. The success of these movies can be attributed to one major factor: the fans. Fans of superheroes and comic books are a dedicated, passionate bunch. Some collect memorabilia, others are walking comic book encyclopedias, and then there are those who will actually go out and make their own independent, non-commercial films featuring their favorite superheroes (and supervillains).
Nevertheless, the majority of works by fans, no matter how dedicated, end up looking clunky and poorly edited together – especially when compared to their big budget Hollywood counterparts. That being said, every so often a fan-film comes along that takes everyone by surprise. Either the cinematography is great or the acting is good or the storyline is brilliantly written… and, if we’re really lucky, it’s all three of those things combined. I’ve always liked watching fan-films because they’re able to do things that wouldn’t make it into a Hollywood script for numerous reasons. With that in mind, check out these 12 awesome short films made by the fans, for the fans, featuring some of your favorite comic book characters.
12. Punisher: Dirty Laundry
It may seem unnecessary now that Netflix’s Daredevil has done The Punisher all the justice in the world, thanks in part to Jon Bernthal’s amazing performance, but there was a time not too long ago when fans wondered if we’d ever get a decent Punisher film that wasn’t a complete mess. Cue Adi Shankar’s “Bootleg Universe”. Directed by Phil Joanou, Dirty Laundry sees Thomas Jane reprising the role of The Punisher, but this time he isn’t bound by studio interference or poorly-written scripts. In just under 10 minutes, Dirty Laundry manages to give us what two hours of a big budget studio production couldn’t; a violent, hard-hitting, no-nonsense Frank Castle who unleashes all forms of hell on those who piss him off.
Oh, and keep an eye out for Ron Perlman as well.
11. Deadpool and Domino vs Joker and Harley Quinn
“Bat In The Sun” is known for its “Superhero Beatdown” series, in which two popular characters are pitted against each other in live-action short-films. They’ve produced some amazing fights over the years, but this tag-team rivalry involving Deadpool and Domino taking on The Joker and Harley Quinn is my absolute favorite. Like I said, fan-films are able to do what Hollywood studios can’t, and in this case it’s breaking the barrier between Marvel and DC. While Harley Quinn is spot-on and Domino is a badass, it’s The Joker and Deadpool who steal the show. Keep in mind that this was released a year before Ryan Reynolds played Deadpool in an actual movie, which makes it all the more impressive.
10. The Shadow
I wasn’t sure about adding this to the list, but something about it seemed oddly atmospheric and even nostalgic at times. This fan-film attempts to modernize The Shadow, a character from an era when radio dramas were a big deal. Fun fact, Orson Welles voiced The Shadow in said radio dramas. The pacing is slow in this fan-made short, and the action is sporadic at best, but the visuals aren’t amateurish and neither is the story. In a weird way, The Shadow reminds me of those casual, episodic TV shows from the mid-90s… a time before the cinematic superhero boom, and I think achieving a retro vibe like that deserves a lot of praise.
9. The Joker Blogs
Joker fan-films are a dime a dozen, especially since Heath Ledger redefined the character with his groundbreaking performance in The Dark Knight. The Joker Blogs may not be the best short-films out there, but their consistency in storytelling and character development is admirable. There are issues with lighting and acting all over, and I can’t say that this is the best fan portrayal of The Joker there is, but it’s fun to watch the story unfold via these “vlogs” of The Joker during his time at Arkham Asylum. It’s a creative concept and one that the team is clearly very passionate about.
8. Judge Minty
It’s a shame that we’ll probably never get a sequel to the criminally-underrated Dredd (2012), but at least we can count on resourceful fans to give us their take on the residents of Mega-City One. After a lapse in judgment that almost ends his life, Judge William Minty is given a choice to either retire from active duty or leave Mega-City One and take the law to the lawless by entering the Cursed Earth. It’s a fun albeit gritty story that focuses on someone other than Judge Dredd, which is interesting. Also worth noting are the visuals and cinematography, both of which are above and beyond most other fan-films.
7. Spawn: The Recall
Hey look, a Spawn film that’s actually good! Spawn: The Recall is the story of a former witch and her son, who try to run their lives away from the darkness. All that changes one fateful day, when the witch’s past has seemingly caught up to her inside a supermarket. The fact that John Leguizamo is nowhere in sight already makes The Recall better than the 1997 feature length disaster. With some cool sound design and pretty decent visuals, this Spawn short is definitely something fans will want to check out.
6. Batman: Dead End
No fan-film list is complete without arguably the most popular piece of fan-made footage out there… Batman: Dead End. Released in 2003 (that’s before YouTube, mind you) at the San Diego Comic-Con, Dead End went on to achieve cult status among fans and even some celebrities. Kevin Smith, director of Clerks, called it the truest Batman film ever made at the time! Made with only $30,000 by Sandy Collora, Batman: Dead End sees Gotham’s vigilante chasing after The Joker, masterfully played by Andrew Koenig, before our hero is cornered by not one but two of the most popular sci-fi monsters in cinema history! I won’t spoil the surprise if you haven’t seen it, but let’s just say that things go from zero to extraterrestrial in a heartbeat.
5. Wonder Woman
This Wonder Woman short is more like a big budget ad than a short-film, but it’s still awesome. What I like most is how we get a glimpse of the Amazon princess in her homeland of Themyscira as well as shots of her kicking ass in a modern day urban landscape. Add to that a well-composed soundtrack and visuals that are worthy of an entire TV series, and you have yourself the best Wonder Woman fan film to date. Gal Gadot may be our definitive Diana Prince, but it’s always fun to see alternative takes on the character, especially if she’s wearing her more traditional costume, mainly because the colors alone create a stark contrast between this and Zack Snyder’s less saturated, bleaker visual style.
4. Static Shock: Blackout
It’s nice to see fans tackling the less popular superheroes in their fan-films. Static Shock starts out in the same “handheld footage” vein as the film Chronicle, and then continues as an average short depicting the origins of the electrifying superhero. Some of the acting is iffy, and the color correction seems inconsistent as scenes change, but the editing is almost professional and the writing is definitely way above average. I could really see a polished version of this being pitched as a pilot for a Static Shock TV show.
3. The Flying Man
The Flying Man isn’t about any of the superheroes we know, but it’s one of the best superhero-centric shorts I’ve come across. Apparently there’s a new phenomenon in town deemed “The Flying Man”, and he’s rumored to be a vigilante who brutally murders folks that have committed serious crimes. The Flying Man has, by far, some of the best editing, color correction, acting, sound, and dialogue of all the films on this list. It also doesn’t go overboard with the visuals, keeping things simple as far as possible while telling a genuinely gripping story of a mysterious man who can fly.
2. Aquaman: The Cast Of The Angler
Here’s a gem that predates all other fan-films. Aquaman: The Cast of The Angler was made by film students Thomas Farr and Jeff Klein in 1984 for $10,000, and with the permission of DC Comics. Now that’s impressive! The short, a mix of still-image animation and live-action footage, went on to win Best Fantasy Film from the Los Angeles Film Teachers Association and Best Picture at the CSUN Film Showcase. The short was then pirated and circulated at comic conventions as a TV show pilot in the mid-90’s. Needless to say, this film was way ahead of its time. It’s very reminiscent of the campy Batman show starring Adam West, and the fact that it has real scratches from being shot on film only adds to the short’s vintage allure.
1. The Amazing SpiderDad
Fan-films often tend to be dark and gritty, partly due to the fact that violence and gore isn’t monitored on the internet, and that’s why this fan-made Spider-Man short by Mike Wilson is such a joy to watch. Made as a tribute to his son Jayden who is no longer with us, SpiderDad is a fun look at the life of an average working father who also fights crime as… the amazing SpiderDad! The effects are great, the music is lighthearted and almost Bilbo-esque, and the cause is particularly noble; the film is a fundraiser for Naomi House, a charity organization.
While it’s always interesting to see how far fans can push their heroes in terms of more mature themes, watching Mike Wilson play SpiderDad with so much enthusiasm and happiness is almost like a breath of fresh air. Plus, the suit is pretty cool too. Way to go, Mike!