This year alone will see five major studios' comic book movies released (Deadpool, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Captain America: Civil War, X-Men: Apocalypse, and Suicide Squad), ushering in an era that will see several HUGE comic-based movies being released each year from Fox, Marvel, and Warner Brothers. Eventually, Sony will get back in the game with Venom and films based off of the Valiant Entertainment line. Hell, we may FINALLY be getting the Goon movie!
But still, sometimes, fans just need to get their fix for live-action updates to their favorite comic/cartoon/video game/etc, and it's not something the studios will touch. Or, even worse, it's something they'll touch and cock it up. What's the solution for this scenario?
There have been a legion of fan films released featuring some of nerd culture's favorite intellectual property, some good, some bad, some actually banned by studios. Thankfully, we've culled a giant list of these films to bring your our Top 10, where you may recognize some of them, but turn a fresh pair of eyes towards others.
10 - Spawn: the Recall
This film strips away the lackluster CGI and cheesy attempts at horror to bring the audience a moody, legitimately creepy version of Todd MacFarlane's demonic anti-hero. The movie actually holds back on the Spawn appearances, so that when he does show up it's a spooky (and threatening) treat.
This is a Christopher Nolan-type interpretation of the insane fighting game series, where nearly every character has a real-world grounding and motivations. The fight scenes are brutal, and seeing sci fi staples Jeri Ryan and Michael Jai White makes this even better. You be the judge on whether the nearly 8-minute fan film is better than the....questionable...theatrical releases.
Before there was a glimmer of hope that Ryan Reynolds' true-to-the-comics Deadpool movie would come to be, there was this fan movie based in part off the post-Joe Kelly DP, complete with giant yellow caption boxes. There are some genuinely fun moments in this movie, and you can tell that every member involved really enjoyed putting this together. The fights are fast-paced, the lead delightfully insane, and Domino makes an appearance. There's a nice bonus scene after the credits, too.
Made as a student film project for the American Film Institute, this bad boy was made in 2002 with a shoe string budget and a dream. This short, funny, violent tribute to the Main Man (as he should be, not the intergalactic metrosexual) is based off of the comic of the same name, and hits a lot of the beats that the gloriously-90's comic lays out. The portrayal of Lobo by Andrew Bryniarski is absolutely spot on, not just in the appearance, but also in the performance.
Before Gal Gadot strapped on her tiara, Nina Bergman kicked some Nazi ass in this fantastic interpretation of Wonder Woman's earlier adventures during the second World War. The production quality is stellar, the action scenes expertly shot, the musical accompaniment is fucking righteous, and it's cool to see appearances by Peter Stormare and Timothy V Murphy as villains. Absolutely wonderful.
This is a really cool version of everyone's favorite wall-crawler. In this film, Spider-Man is beaten to a pulp, but still snarky and unceasing. The actor shows incredible physicality in the role, with moves all done naturally with only the webbing CG'd. I love the suit in this, which seems more likely to have been put together by Peter Parker than any of the live-action films so far.
4 - Voltron: The End
This tense, powerfully simple fan film features Timothy Omundson as Red Lion captain Lance McClain. The scene is set after an enormous space battle that sees Voltron defeated and the Voltron Lion Force decimated. Lance, the sole survivor of the attack, must send a message to the Galaxy Alliance notifying them of impending doom. This is a brutal film that shows no happy ending, and the subtle, gripping, simple story resonates long after the brief film ends.
3 - Fight the Foot
This film strikes a cord that the Michael Bay techno-fart-versions can't even come close to: it's reminiscent of seeing the Turtles take to the big screen for the very first time in 1990. This film utilizes low lighting, close-quarters action, practical effects, and an April O'Neill who can act. It's tense, frenetic, and makes your insides ache that Platinum Dunes insists on overdosing the TMNT franchise on CGI and slow-mo.
2 - Power/Rangers
Producer Adi Shankar has made some fantastic comic book films on the big screen (Dredd) and the small screen (Dirty Laundry and Truth in Journalism), but his Power Rangers reboot stands head and shoulders above the rest. This is a dark future look at the fates of the original Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, where Tommy is a fugitive and Rocky serves the Machine Empire. This film uses a powerful performance by James Van Der Beek as Rocky, and also stars nerd culture queen Katee Sackhoff as Kimberly. The fight sequences are uncanny and unrelenting, the costumes are amazing, and the CGI used enhances the film - makes it seem more believable - instead of bogging it down.
1 - Batman: Dead End
This will always hold a spot in my heart for opening my eyes to what a passionate and talented fan can do with intellectual properties that a major studio can't.
This film features what just might be the best on-film representation of Batman's costume: practical, dynamic, and streamlined. The utility belt carries actual weapons, the boots are armored, and the cowl is a perfect representation of the comic book. The Predators look insanely good, the Xenomorphs are menacing, and the late Andrew "Boner" Koenig gives as stellar a performance as the Joker as Clark Bartram does as the Caped Crusader.
Director Sandy Collora made this film two years before Batman Begins was released, and the interpretation of Batman he so lovingly cultivated, especially when contrasted to Joel Schumacher's hot liquid shame, drove fans out of their minds with euphoria.
The story behind the pinnacle of fan films is just as interesting as the film itself, with a behind the scenes video longer than the actual movie, and a documentary about Collora that is alternatingly triumphant and depressing (I remember being in college and reading how Collora was offered the job of directing a Shazam movie....which he declined...).
The funniest part about this film is that it STILL stands the test of time. The very best.