Hollywood and its various studios have produced a plethora of films based on comic books and video games — some outstanding, some good, and some, well… With so many iterations of multiple franchises already produced, and seemingly one bad interpretation for every decent one, the characters themselves tend to lose the soul that makes them so popular and intriguing in the first place.
With little funds, but a lot of heart, numerous filmmakers — who just so happen to be fans first — have dedicated themselves to providing other fans with genuine content that stays true to the characters and story they’re paying tribute to. Whether it’s a web series or fan film, sometimes when a property is in the hands of a true and dedicated fan, the results can be extraordinary. Here are 15 such examples.
SPOILER WARNING: Some of the following entries may contain spoilers for the mentioned film.
Considering it’s the opening week of “Logan,” what better way to kick off this list than with “Wolverine,” a fan film created by SoKrispyMedia in 2013 in anticipation of “The Wolverine.” While this seven minute film isn’t too plot heavy (it’s basically just Wolverine being attacked by, and then killing off a bunch of, masked gunmen at a construction site), it’s a lot of fun.
The filmmakers here aren't trying to tell a complex story about Logan and how his past is coming back to haunt him — they leave that to Fox. So, why does this fan film make the list? Look, sometimes you just need to see Wolverine clawing his way through bullets and flesh. “Wolverine” has solid choreography, and is very detailed (he even has a farmer’s tan when he rips off his tank top). Plus, the Sentinel mention and easter egg at the end help to enhance the idea of Wolverine belonging to a larger world. So, if you’re planning to see “Logan” this week, do yourself a favor and check out “Wolverine” first; it’ll surely pump you up!
14 NIGHTWING: THE SERIES
Sure, we may see a Nightwing film within the next few years, as Warner Brothers and DC have added the popular character to its upcoming slate of comic book movies; but do we really need one? If the DC films to date are any indication, Dick Grayson’s solo outing might not be something to get our hopes up about. Besides, with the ambitious and heartfelt web series “Nightwing: The Series” already floating around online, why even bother?
The first season, which takes place over five episodes created by production company Ismahawk, explores the titular hero’s origin story, as he distances himself from Batman following an argument between the two, and moves to Bludhaven to make a heroic name for himself. Appearances from the Joker and Barbara Gordon help make this series feel like it’s part of something bigger, while the inclusion of Deathstroke as the “big bad” ensures some amazing fight sequences. Nightwing is a character who truly deserves the live-action treatment, and with “Nightwing: The Series,” fans get a great interpretation.
13 DARTH MAUL: APPRENTICE
Darth Maul is a character who could have been so cool, had he been introduced in a "Star Wars" movie that actually felt like "Star Wars.” Some might even argue that Darth Maul’s scenes (which mainly involved fighting) were the best of “Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.” Unfortunately, in the movies, the character never really had a chance to evolve after being cut down (though both "Clone Wars" and "Rebels" have gone to great lengths to rehab Maul in animation). Luckily, in T7Productions fan film, “Darth Maul: Apprentice,” the Sith Lord certainly has his moment in the sun.
What is certainly an homage to a villain who got the short end of the stick, “Darth Maul: Apprentice” sees the Sith and his double-ended Light Saber battling a group of Jedi for almost the entire 17 minute film. The choreography for the fight sequences rivals that of any “Star Wars” canonical film, and the short itself is action-packed, fast-paced and visually stunning. While it doesn’t have much of a plot, it almost doesn’t need one, as simply watching Darth Maul obliterate Jedi after Jedi is exceedingly entertaining in and of itself.
12 THE DEATH AND RETURN OF SUPERMAN
The next entry on this list is a unique one, in that, while it is technically considered a fan film, it is so much more. Screenwriter and director Max Landis hilariously (and vulgarly) narrates “The Death and Return of Superman,” a short film that spoofs the popular '90s comic storyline that the very title of the film refers to.
With a slew of famous actors involved (Morgan Krantz as Superman, Elijah Wood as Cyborg Superman, Elden Henson as Doomsday and Mandy Moore as Lois Lane), the fan film sheds light on why Superman really isn’t all that special. At the very beginning, Landis notes that a bunch of DC executives must have been sitting around a table trying to figure out how to make Superman relevant again — as the comic book industry had already been introduced to so many other characters who were relatable due to their humanity and real-life problems. One executive looks at the camera menacingly and says, “We gotta kill him.” And thus is the beginning of a laugh-out-loud, 17-minute look at the Man of Steel’s push to become pertinent in comic book world that’s left him behind.
11 BATMAN: DEAD END
In a not-so-typical adaptation, three iconic characters come face to face in a dark alley (no, this is not the beginning of a joke) and proceed to fight to the death. Created by Sandy Collora, starring Clark Bertram, and premiering at San Diego Comic Con in 2003, “Batman: Dead End” is a cross-franchise fan film that pits Batman against two creatures he’s fought before, but only in Dark Horse Comics: Alien and Predator.
When Batman goes on the hunt for an escaped Joker, he is confronted by two alien lifeforms and must fight for his life. This is the basis for the eight minute “Batman: Dead End” and it is awesome! The film has garnered a wide variety of praise, including from actor/director Kevin Smith, who’s said of “Dead End” that it’s “possibly the truest, best Batman movie ever made.” It has action; it has Batman; it has Predators (yes, multiple); and it has Aliens (yes, multiple). What more could you want?
10 SUPER POWER BEAT DOWN
Who would win in a fight between Batman or Darth Vader? What about Spider-Man or Darth Maul? The White Ranger or Scorpion? You’ve probably found yourself asking similar questions at some point or another in regards to your favorite characters who aren’t ever pitted against one another for various legal and publication reasons. Well, with Bat in the Sun’s “Super Power Beat Down,” not only do you get a web series of individual episodes in which good guys face off against bad guys, but heroes fight heroes and villains battle villains.
Now 20 episodes in and counting, "SPBD," by creator Aaron Schoenke, provides fans with a “what if” scenario in each episode of “Beat Down.” Once announced on social media who will take part in the next fight, fans get to cast their votes on who they think will win. Based on the majority vote, Schoenke and crew will film a live-action (and sometimes animated) 5-10 minute video in which two popular characters typically fight to the death. Oftentimes, an alternate ending is filmed, particularly if the vote is extremely close. If you haven’t checked out this web series yet, you should make it a priority, and then cast your vote for the next match-up.
9 MORTAL KOMBAT: LEGACY
“Mortal Kombat: Legacy,” is the second, full-length web series on the list, and is based on the popular video game franchise. While the '90s produced not only two live-action “Mortal Kombat” films, but a cartoon adaptation as well, none were too well-received. In 2011, the first of two seasons of “Mortal Kombat: Legacy” premiered on Machinima. Based on the the short film “Mortal Kombat: Rebirth” from filmmaker, Kevin Tancharoen, “Legacy” (also from Tancharoen), provides the back-stories for many key players in the franchise’s lore, and serves as a preliminary set-up for a tournament in either web-series or movie format.
Unfortunately, since the second season aired in the Fall of 2013, a third season has not been officially announced, nor has the planned film adaptation moved forward; however, the first two seasons are a must watch. They effectively serve as a prequel to the original game, and are high quality, well-scripted, professionally choreographed episodes that can be viewed as two films in their own right.
When thinking of “Power Rangers” — the martial arts show about super-powered teenagers who protect the world from alien monsters — the first words that come to one’s mind would not necessarily be “dark” and “gritty." However, those are certainly the best two words to describe “Power/Rangers," Adi Shankar’s highly controversial 14-minute, adult-oriented take on the popular children’s television show.
Starring Katee Sackhoff as Kimberly (the Pink Ranger), and James Van Der Beek as Rocky (the second Red Ranger), “Power/Rangers” is a 2015 fan film that takes the mythology and conventions of “Power Rangers,” a show that’s been around for over 20 years, and completely twists it about to provide audiences with a much more realistic future for the heroes. This story is filled with violence, betrayal, drugs, nudity and death. It also begs the question: as child soldiers (because that’s what the Rangers really are), what bright future could they possibly have?
7 DEATHSTROKE: ARKHAM ASSASSIN
Created by Chris White and Larry White at GoingNowhereShow, “Deathstroke: Arkham Assassin” is meant to be a precursor for the video game, “Batman: Arkham Origins.” When the villain, Black Mask, places a bounty on the Dark Knight's head, the assassin Deathstroke infiltrates Black Mask's base of operations to offer a physical (and killer) demonstration of his skills.
“Deathstroke: Arkham Assassin” is an exciting short fan film that gives a brief — but amazing — eight minute look at the popular mercenary who’s given many characters from DC comics a run for their money. The stylistic violence provides both fast-paced and slow-motion fight sequences, in artistically bloody fashion. Not only does the short offer fans an excellent live-action adaptation of Deathstroke, but it teases an equally compelling performance of the Black Mask, who hasn’t had too many opportunities to shine on screen. The only problem with the “Deathstroke: Arkham Assassin” is that by the end, you’ll be craving more.
6 JUDGE MINTY
Judge Dredd, the most famous of the Judges from the 2000AD comics, has already received two feature films; one starring Sylvester Stallone, and a more recent adaptation with Karl Urban. Unfortunately, the character hasn’t made enough of an impact to garner a franchise. However, Dredd is not the only Judge with a great story, and director Steven Sterlacchini realized this when he brought Judge Minty to life in 2013.
“Judge Minty,” starring Edmund Dehn, is a short fan film that tells the story of Minty, an aging Judge in Mega City. While out on patrol, he’s involved in a shootout, but is subsequently shot himself. Forced into retirement for lack of judgement and impaired reaction time, Minty chooses to take the “Long Walk” — a journey to The Cursed Earth — in order to bring law to an area that is free of law. In “Judge Minty,” there’s a certain beauty in the way the film captures the desolate and bleak landscapes of this post-apocalyptic world. Sure, it’s a fan film about a minor “Judge Dredd” character, but it’s expertly crafted, and a major artistic success.
5 TRUTH IN JOURNALISM
Arguably one of Spider-Man’s greatest villains is the symbiotic Venom. Likewise, one of the most popular and well-known versions of Venom is when the sentient costume is connected with its host, journalist Eddie Brock. In “Truth in Journalism,” another short by Adi Shankar and directed by Joe Lynch, Brock is played by actor Ryan Kwanten. As an homage to the 1992 Belgian film, “Man Bites Dog,” “Truth in Journalism” sees a French film crew following Eddie Brock on his daily investigations. As things turn sour in their working relationship, Brock reveals himself to be the frightening villain, Venom, and things do not go so pleasantly for the filmographers.
This black comedy is a unique blend of documentary-style filmmaking with the mythology of an iconic pop culture antagonist. The presence of Venom is short, but very sweet (and terrifying), and the conceited nature of Eddie Brock is expertly performed by Kwanten. This fan film has everything one would want (and more) from a popular character like Venom: humor, horror and heart.
4 PUNISHER: DIRTY LAUNDRY
Back in 2004, Thomas Jane starred in “The Punisher,” a film that garnered fairly mixed reviews; however, many fans will agree that even though the story itself was lackluster, Jane played a convincing Frank Castle. Fast forward eight years to 2012 — a few short years before Marvel and Netflix would introduce the world to the newest live-action Punisher played by Jon Bernthal — Jane reprised his role as the anti-hero for a fan film called “The Punisher: Dirty Laundry.”
Produced by Adi Shankar, written by Chad St. John and directed by Phil Joanou, “Dirty Laundry” sees Frank Castle on his way to a laundromat in a very bad neighborhood. In just a short 10 minutes, Jane is able to convincingly portray Castle as a conflicted man caught between the desire for a normal life, and the need to punish. This film, however, is not for the faint of heart, as it is extremely violent and bloody — just as you’d expect from the Punisher.
“Troops” is a hilarious mockumentary fan film based on the "Star Wars" universe, and in particular, an everyday glimpse at Storm Troopers on the job. Created by Kevin Rubio, Shant Jordan and Patrick Perez, “Troops" first premiered at San Diego Comic Con in the summer of 1997, and to this day, is considered to be one of the greatest fan films of all time.
A play on the television show “Cops,” — including the opening song, “Bad Boys” — viewers are introduced to Captain Jyanix Bach (certainly sounds like a “Star Wars” name), a Storm Trooper who has to police the galaxy. With cameos from a variety of "Star Wars" characters and races, as well as excellent costumes, the short has the feel of the popular franchise. At the same time, it is something completely new, poking fun at one of the most iconic — and ill-fated — villainous groups in “Star Wars” canon.
2 BATMAN: CITY OF SCARS
Another entry from Bat in the Sun, though created in 2010, before their popular “Super Power Beat Down” series, “Batman: City of Scars” is a 30-minute fan film written and directed by Aaron Schoenke, and starring Kevin Porter as the caped crusader. The film posits that Batman and the Joker have been enemies for years. Schoenke focuses his story on the Joker’s escape from Arkham Asylum, his subsequent destructive rampage through Gotham City and Batman’s journey to once again capture the clown prince.
What makes this film so engrossing is Batman’s odyssey through introspection. “City of Scars" is a philosophical and psychological look at the relationship between Batman and the Joker. As Batman is a hero who vows not to kill, the story asks the highly debatable question: would Gotham have been better off if its hero had killed the villain years before. Porter makes an excellent and menacing Batman, with one of the best live-action costume iterations to ever grace a screen. This is one Batman story that should not be missed. Thankfully, it produced a great follow up film in “Batman: Seeds of Arkham."
1 STREET FIGHTER: ASSASSIN’S FIST
“Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist,” is a web series that proves that the love for a franchise is much more valuable than using and abusing said franchise in order to make money. Originally premiering online as a short fan film called “Street Fighter: Legacy,” the creators of the project, Joey Ansah and Christian Howard, were eventually given full approval by Capcom — the very company that brought Street Fighter to life — to create a web series that would become the official backstory of such favorites as Ryu, Ken and Akuma.
Airing in the Spring of 2014, the result is a true passion project in the form of 12 mini-episodes, which, when viewed together, become a beautifully-crafted, well-written full-length movie. A follow-up to the series called “Street Fighter: Resurrection” was produced as a tie-in to the “Street Fighter V” video game, and a third series called “Street Fighter: World Warrior” is currently in the beginning stages of development. While “Assassin’s Fist” is not available online anymore, it can be purchased on DVD. If you haven’t had the pleasure of watching it yet, you need treat yourself to an amazing martial arts experience based on a beloved franchise.
What has been your favorite fan-made movie or series? Let us know in the comments!