As one of the most fascinating characters in comic book history, Batman has been getting the film treatment since just after his first appearance, with serial adaptations produced as early as the 1940s. The Dark Knight has captivated audiences ever since, with a slew of full-length, live-action films and an almost countless collection of animated features. But Batman's cinematic presence isn't just relegated to the silver screen. In fact, some of his most compelling on-screen portrayals have been made not in Hollywood, but in the very street-level foundations in which the character was born.
It's fair to say that Batman has one of the few fandoms in existence die-hard enough to put together its own collection of videos in homage of the Dark Knight. Some are just simple, fun things to watch, like Bat Dad, while others are full-on, budgeted productions to showcase their own interpretations of the world's greatest detective. We at CBR have seen many, and these are a few that made us wish they ran much longer than their short run times.
10 Batman: Dead End (2003)
This short has been lauded by many Dark Knight fans since it initially released over 10 years ago. It features Batman chasing after a newly-escaped Joker in a torrential storm. Once he finally catches up to the Clown Prince of Crime, they have a somewhat reflective conversation on the reason Joker is crazy and does what he does (he blames Batman). Batman vows to put Joker back in Arkham Asylum, right as a hidden Xenomorph snatches up the clown and yanks him out of sight. The short then turns into a brawl between Batman and the alien, until Predator shows up and wades into the fisticuffs.
While it seems like something completely out of left field, “Dead End” showcases a lot of awesome great elements, both visual and narrative. The film nails Batman's look, exemplified in a great shot of the Dark Knight’s cape splayed out after a landing before sliding up into his classic silhouette as he stands. This scene alone is so spot on, it feels ripped right out of the animated series itself. Not only that, the fight choreography is great. The blows appear to have heft behind them, just as each of the costumes resonate with Hollywood-quality gravity. Despite an atypical caped crusader crossover, “Batman: Dead End” is a surprisingly fun ride.
9 Batman: The Bloody Valentine (2015)
There are certainly many efforts made on behalf of establishing subtext behind the Joker and Batman’s relationship in the comics. “Batman: The Bloody Valentine” does this in a short film that truly feels famed within one of the arch-nemeses' classic encounters. Several hostages are shown being held by goons at the docks, until finally, Joker shows up, clad in his signature purple suit and hefting a crowbar in a twisted nod to Fred Astaire. Batman arrives and punches up a few of the goons while the hostages run in a panic. Joker then seals the encounter by executing one of his prisoners and giving a crazed laugh.
While “Bloody Valentine” doesn’t seem like much on paper, where it excels is its style. It overlays the violence between Joker and Batman with a rendition of “When I Fall in Love” by Nat King Cole, sung by the clown himself. The track provides an incredibly eerie feel that puts a unique spin on the whole film. The production quality is also impressive, with the Joker (Nicholas Anscombe) wearing makeup far more extensive than a smattering of white paint. Batman (Joe Galiina) himself looks physically imposing while throwing punches in his iconic suit. For a relatively quick video, “Batman: The Bloody Valentine” makes quite an impression.
8 Deathstroke: Arkham Assassin (2014)
Let’s face it, there’s simply no shortage of Joker in the fan film world; so much so, in fact, that you’d be hard-pressed to find different Batman villains anywhere in Batman's cinematic fan space. Enter “Deathstroke: Arkham Assassin,” which not only includes the one-eyed katana-wielding mercenary, but also features Black Mask. The short film falls into continuity with the "Batman: Arkham Origins" video game, where Deathstroke is drawn to Gotham by a bounty placed on Batman's head by Black Mask. To prove his worth, Deathstroke bets Black Mask he can take out all of his goons in just a few minutes. What follows is a flurry of fun and deliciously gory action.
Besides the voices of Black Mask and Deathstroke ringing a little tinny, “Arkham Assassin” is a great punch-up to watch. The action relies more on martial arts, but doesn’t fail to include a few flashy gadgets. This is also bolstered by some strong effects, including a rather impressive scene of the assassin deploying high-tech smoke bombs. At times, the fighting gets comically violent with a few goons’ heads exploding in a dazzling display, but it works well since the short is based around Deathstroke essentially showing off. We can only hope that Deathstroke is half as badass in the upcoming Batman film as he is in “Arkham Assassin.”
7 Red Hood: The Fallen (2015)
Jason Todd is an odd fan favorite, with a fame that stems mostly from being brutally murdered by the Joker in the comics. “Red Hood: The Fallen” shows off a slightly different take on Todd’s rebirth as a vigilante, showcasing it as a full-on vengeful return to Gotham. The short focuses on Red Hood violently taking on small time gangsters, cutting his way through small fish to topple the infamous crime boss Carmine Falcone.
What’s interesting about “Red Hood: The Fallen” is its self-contained story that goes further than just having Todd punch up baddies. It gives him more motivation than just blind rage and shows him working against crime in and out of his costume. The cinematography is top notch, with a few genuinely high quality scenes -- like a particularly gripping rain sequence -- ringing true to its comic book origins. The actors bring their A-game as well, and despite a few slipping accents, “Red Hood: The Fallen” sets the bar for fan-made films set in the Batman universe.
6 The Dark Knight Legacy (2013)
It's hard to deny that the Nolan Batman films changed the perception of the character across the board. While some fans are glad it’s over, there are plenty that still wonder what was planned for John Blake after he was given the keys to the Batcave in "The Dark Knight Rises." "Dark Knight Legacy" shows a collection of Gotham’s underworld mainstays gathered to plan the next wave of discontent for the city now that Batman is gone. Red Hood crashes this party with his signature violent tendencies, leaving mayhem and destruction in his wake. Two police officers respond on the scene and run into John Blake as his new persona: Nightwing.
“Dark Knight Legacy” shows quality in its brief quantity. It features Penguin and Scarface at the meeting of crime bosses, with relevant costumes and makeup to boot. It also makes a few new origins of its own. Red Hood throws acid on the face of another boss named Roman Sionis as a reminder to keep out of crime; a different take on the creation of Black Mask. Even though Blake’s character is a bit of a throwaway in the short, Red Hood’s menacing chat with the remaining survivors of his onslaught is great to watch. Unfortunately, there won’t be any follow ups to this short due to an apparent cease-and-desist from Warner Bros., but “Dark Knight Legacy” is a great taste of what could have followed in the Nolanverse.
5 The Laughing Man (2016)
All right, we all know that the Dark Knight can get a little... dark, but fan film “The Laughing Man” takes this to a new level. This short is heavily inspired by Scott Snyder’s “Death of the Family” and made waves when it was released in August this year. “Laughing Man” is a twisted take on Harley Quinn and Joker’s origins. In it, the two suffer as a pair of abused patients at an asylum called “Wormwood," until they team up to get revenge on Dr. Hawtin, the man they deem responsible for a majority of their pain. Besides being incredibly unsafe for work, the fan short exudes the disturbing imagery of Snyder’s work very well.
The film has a lot going for it aside from its overall feel of dread and creepiness. The makeup is well done and audio is heavily focused upon to make a genuinely off-kilter experience. Joker isn’t mired in overdone voice impressions or hair dye jobs. Instead the character is focused on portraying absolute madness in a cold and calculating way. Even better is that the filmmakers had Joker undergo the same twisted acts he did in Snyder’s run: namely "losing" his own face. “Laughing Man” is undoubtedly disturbing, but it is also commendable in its commitment to pulling from more recent source material while putting on its own inimitable spin.
4 Batman: Puppet Master (2012)
"Puppet Master" is another dive into the Nolanverse, this time following the events of "The Dark Knight." The fan film introduces Edward Nygma as an FBI agent in negotiations with Arnold Wesker, the Ventriloquist. Nygma is looking into the murky details surrounding Harvey Dent's death and plans to draw out the Batman by releasing Victor Zsasz from Arkham Asylum. He asks for Wesker's help in getting Harvey Dent's gun out of evidence in exchange for a mysterious suitcase. Once Batman recaptures Zsasz, he confronts Nygma and very nearly gets his identity revealed before getting into a scrap with Wesker's henchmen.
Granted, the fights in "Puppet Master" are a little stiff, but this feels very much like an entry between the films. The costume is dead-on from its movie iteration, and Nygma and Wesker are villains perfectly suited for the Nolanverse style. The dialogue exchange between Edward and Batman is suitably tense, while Wesker's panicked demeanor is incredibly reminiscent of his animated series appearances. The short ends with Wesker reunited with his Scarface doll and a deal from Nygma: rule over Gotham in exchange for the Batman. Given the overall quality of "Puppet Master," it honestly feels like a legitimate direction the last film of the trilogy could have taken.
3 Batman: City of Scars (2010)
"City of Scars" has been lauded by many as one of the best Batman fan films currently available, and for good reason. Set in Gotham well into Batman's heyday, the film examines the collateral damage of the caped crusaders' rogues gallery and Bruce's mission to save the city without killing. In the short, Joker escapes from Arkham Asylum and kidnaps a senator and his son. Batman interrogates Harley Quinn for information, pays Scarface a visit for a lead, and finally tracks down the Joker to a fair. The two engage in a climactic chase before coming to a head, with Batman attempting to rescue the senator's son before Joker does more harm to an innocent on his watch.
What's really commendable about "City of Scars" is its focus on Bruce Wayne and his crisis of faith when it comes to the decisions he's made as a vigilante. The villains aren't meant as outright enemies to punch, but examples of the madness in Gotham that he tries to fight. The short also does justice in showing an aging Batman, as Bruce appears to be well into the latter run of his stint in the cowl. He also strikes a very imposing figure in the film, rocking a grey-style costume similar to the old cartoons, but with much more physical menace. If you're in the mood for an introspective look at Batman, "City of Scars" will certainly do the trick.
2 Batgirl: Spoiled (2012)
Who says every Batman fan film has to be oppressively dark? "Batgirl: Spoiled" follows the adventures of Stephanie Brown as she kicks off her career as a caped vigilante. In the short, Batgirl is tracking an illegal arms deal involving the Penguin when she breaks off to pursue a couple of car thieves. Despite Oracle's advice to be cautious, Batgirl foolhardily rushes into a gang hideout and knocks around a few thugs before getting overpowered. Surprisingly, it's Catwoman and Harley Quinn who show up to her rescue.
"Batgirl: Spoiled" is refreshing in its focus on a less typical "Batman" character. Stephanie is portrayed brilliantly by Marisha Ray. She's both strong and funny, but stubborn as well, especially when trying to see eye-to-eye with Oracle or Bruce. Her interactions with both characters feel genuine, as the dialogue is some of the best you'll find in a fan short. Unfortunately, the brakes were put on "Batgirl: Spoiled" due to an apparent take-down notice by Warner Bros. That's a shame since the short was planned to be fleshed out into a full web series. Even though there are only twenty minutes of content, this fan film will have you wishing there was a full-length feature (or a TV series) for Stephanie Brown.
1 Batman vs. Darth Vader (2014)
Even though Batman has been known for his forays into darkness, the character himself was never completely free of fun team ups or crossovers. "Batman vs. Darth Vader" comes as an entry into the "Super Power Beat Down" series of videos, and truly commits to having a quality punch-up between two epic characters. In the short, Batman is tracking Superman's distress signal to the outer reaches of space where he finds the Death Star. On board, Darth Vader intercepts Batman on his rescue mission and the two engage in a blockbuster battle for the ages.
Where "Super Power Beat Down" excels in this matchup is in the effort to not make the fight so one-sided. Whereas Darth Vader can just use the Force to overpower Batman, the short has Batman use an EMP to disable Vader's breathing apparatus. This makes Vader divert his concentration to sustain his lungs, weakening him enough for Batman to have a chance. We're not gonna lie, it is pretty cool to see the Dark Knight whip out a freaking lightsaber in the middle of everything. The gadgets look great, the effects are top notch and the costumes are solid. "Batman vs. Darth Vader" may be silly in concept, but it is top notch in the way it presents this dream match.
Did we miss one of your favorite Batman fan-made shorts? Any other shorts we should take a look at? Let us know!