Fan films may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a creative way for zealots of the source material to express their unbridled love on a larger platform. Most of them are stuffed to the brim with bad acting and low budget special effects, but some are surprisingly well-made and deserving of attention. These films are generally free, too, so there’s no buyer’s remorse after watching a stinker—which, let’s face it, is a common occurrence with Hollywood films.
Fan films don’t have a beefy budget to utilize, so strong characters and faithful representations are regularly the focus. It’s not a bad thing, either, as relying too heavily on an inflated budget can create such tire fires as Michael Bay’s Transformers films. If you’re willing to give them a shot and overlook certain shortcomings, such as consistent acting, fan films can be a rather addictive venture if you’re scouring YouTube. There are literally hundreds upon hundreds to absorb if you’re willing to invest the time, and most of them look to rectify botched opportunities from Hollywood.
With that in mind, if you’re new to fan films, let this be your guide to exploring some of the better ones available on YouTube. Some you’ll hate, some you’ll love, but it’s a good start in exploring what can be an overwhelming catalogue of mixed successes. Most of these are specific to video games and comic books because let’s be honest, those films are routinely mishandled by Hollywood. But that’s enough chatter. Read on and be sure to share your thoughts in the comment section.
15 Pac-Man: The Movie
A Pac-Man film works on paper. Maybe not in live-action format, but as an animated movie it would almost certainly generate interest. The minds behind Pac-Man: The Movie explored this idea with a brief fan film that has generated 1.8 million views on YouTube. That’s not too shabby for a low budget project. While they opted to implement live-action into the short film, it works here as the acting certainly isn’t bad. But it’s the production value that really makes this shine as the intro effectively presents Pac-Man as a secret government project. It’s a simple premise, but one that breathes life into an aged icon.
14 Gremlins 2 “Film Break”
This project, which has amassed over 700,000 views, is a creative masterpiece if you’re familiar with the cult classic Gremlins series. The creator essentially utilized impressive special effects and meticulously imported it into well-known films, such as The Exorcist, and made it seem as though its characters are reacting to the pint-sized creatures. Having them invade a movie from 1953, The Beast of 20,000 Fathoms, is both impressive and absolutely hilarious. They even find their place with the likes of Batman and Indiana Jones. So yeah, it’s worth a viewing. While this isn’t a fan film in the traditional sense, the creator’s masterful use of special effects deserves praise.
13 Batman: Dead End
Batman: Dead End is… unconventional. But that’s not a criticism; you just need to understand that you’re not watching a re-enactment of a classic scene from the comic books. This is Batman vs. The Joker vs. Alien vs. Predator. Yeah, that’s right. Batman and a Predator battle for minutes and it’s as glorious as one would imagine. The first three minutes of the fan film are perhaps the strongest, however, as Batman and Joker exchange some seriously impressive performances before the latter is torn from the screen, much to the dismay of the viewers. Still, it’s worth your time and deserves more love.
12 Metal Gear Solid Philanthropy
Let’s get the negative out of the way first: the actor who portrays Otacon is… not a very good actor. Most of the acting, in fact, is pretty suspect. That said, the special effects are impressive for a low budget fan film, and the action is enjoyable across the board. The costume work, in particular, is faithful to the source material, with Solid Snake donning the iconic bandana. When Snake finally meets face-to-face with a Metal Gear, viewers are treated with a tense battle that cleverly makes use of different camera angles to make up for its low budget. If the acting had been better, it would have been the perfect fan film really.
11 The Punisher: No Mercy
The Punisher: No Mercy, while casting an imperfect Frank Castle, boasts the blood and violence any avid fan of the series is accustomed to. The fight scenes are well-choreographed and the acting is as good as some of the TV series you can find on television. But really, when watching a Punisher film, it’s all about violence, a gritty tone, and one badass lead. While the actor portraying Castle lacks the aesthetic of the anti-hero on account of being bald, his gruff voice and gun-wielding, fisticuff ways are well represented here. With well over 200,000 views, fans of the Punisher are clearly enjoying the take on the Marvel character.
10 Left 4 Dead: Impulse 76
Left 4 Dead: impulse 76 is the total package: it’s faithful to the video game series’ gritty and graphic tone (well, at least at first), the effects are top notch, the acting is solid, and the production value really pulls everything together in one impressive package. Best of all, you can watch it for free on YouTube right this instant. Well over two million people have shown their support for the project, and with good reason. While the second half gets a little convoluted when the likes of Master Chief enter the fold, you have to admire the amount of work that went into this fan film.
9 The Lord of the Rings: Born of Hope
This fan film is true to the genre’s name, running at 71 minutes and freely available for viewing on YouTube. While it lacks the special effects synonymous with the series, it navigates around a low budget with assured directing as the story and characters inject life into the project. It’s believable, it blends into the lore, and it honestly makes you forget you’re watching a fan film on YouTube. It’s really a testament to how far a good script can take a film, not the size of its budget. Some of the locations and make-up work will have you believe you’ve stepped into J.R.R. Tolkien’s world once more.
8 The Confined: Silent Hill
Silent Hill is renowned for its creepy atmosphere and terrifying creatures. While the first film did it justice in some respects, like including Pyramid Head, it ultimately resulted in being a mixed bag. The Confined: Silent Hill hits all the right marks in terms of creepy, spine-chilling moments, and wastes no time doing so. It only runs for three minutes, but it’s ample time to present a brief narrative driven by atmospheric music and a creative use of make-up. The ending is abrupt and sobering, enough to at least garner a reaction out of you, which is exactly how anything Silent Hill-related should end.
7 Half-Life: Enter the Freeman
Half-Life is one of the forefathers of modern first-person shooters, reinventing the wheel with tight mechanics and a strong narrative. It deserves a place on the big screen for those who are foolish enough to dismiss it as another video game, and perhaps one day that’ll happen, but for now YouTube is a decent platform for fans to flex their creative muscles. Enter Half-Life: Enter the Freeman. The production value is impressive, the acting is great, and the setting and tone match the Half-Life lore perfectly. If you’re a fan of the series and haven’t yet given this project a shot, do yourself a favour and invest some time into this one.
6 Spider-Man: Eclipse
Spider-Man: Eclipse presents a gritty, realistic take on the web slinger. It opens with Spider-Man hanging from the ceiling with an assortment of blood-coated torture tools by his side. His mask is removed, too, wasting no time in elevating the stakes of his predicament. When he finally dons the full suit, it looks suitably handmade seeing how, you know, Peter Parker is supposed to be a student with limited finances. The action highlights Spider-Man’s agility and quick reflexes and even makes sure to fire off a couple of quips as the wall crawler disposes of his foes. With the series experiencing yet another reboot on the big screen, maybe the producers should take notes on this fan film.
5 Escape from City 17
Escape from City 17 is another fan film derived from the Half-Life universe. Much like Half-Life: Enter the Freeman, Escape from City 17 boasts some impressive special effects that naturally blend into the locations, which also possess that Half-Life feel. The acting can be uneven at times but make no mistake, this is the best Half-Life fan film out there, and there are some good ones floating around YouTube. What makes it so special is the use of a green screen, which really sells the futuristic aesthetic found in Half-Life. Like many of the fan films on this list, it’s pretty easy to forget you’re not watching a budgeted Hollywood flick.
4 Skyrim: Into the Void
Skyrim: Into the Void is a nerd’s dream. It captures the essence of one of gaming’s greatest games and includes dark elves, the Dark Brotherhood and other nerdy easter eggs from the Elder Scrolls franchise. While having the protagonist battle against a storm cloud in the opening minutes is underwhelming, things start to pick up when the dark elves arrive. Having the lead blast away one of his foes with a shout is cool to see on screen, especially in a location familiar to fans of the game. The magic effects are top notch, too, considering the limited budget they likely had to work with.
3 Fallout: Nuka Break
Fallout: Nuka Break is dear to this Fallout fanboy’s heart. While I would have preferred the comedic elements to be removed in favour of a darker tone, it’s difficult not to appreciate the amount of work that went into this project. It pays homage to the series through some excellent use of make-up and creating characters that would fit into the eccentric post-apocalypse that is Fallout. The series is presented episodically, with the first season running for a total of 45 minutes or so. If you’re a Fallout fan, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be watching this one right now.
2 The Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum
The Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum is one of the best fan films you’ll likely ever watch. It’s remarkable how the actors mimic their big screen counterparts, and even the orcs look exceptional given the lack of a sizeable budget. The action is tense, the soundtrack is spot on, the acting is top notch and it will take about 40 minutes of your time. Honestly, the special effects make you forget this is a fan film, which is really the ultimate compliment one could make for a project created out of unbridled love for the source material.
1 The Punisher: Dirty Laundry
While The Punisher didn’t receive glowing reviews from critics, many fans of the comic books praised Thomas Jane for his portrayal of Frank Castle. Enter The Punisher: Dirty Laundry, a fan film that had Jane reprise his role and kick serious ass for its 10-minute run time. It’s bloody, action-packed and even has a cameo from Ron Perlman. I mean, what’s not to love here? The production value is fantastic, the acting predictably great, and the ending fits the Punisher mold. It’s brutal, no holds barred action that Punisher fans have come to expect. It’s not as ridiculous as the Punisher: War Zone, which is a good thing. If only Jane would don the skull again for a full movie.