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Fan films better than big budget blockbusters

Passion, dedication, and barely enough money to buy a used sofa on Craigslist: these are the things fan films are made of. And sometimes, these underfunded projects achieve something greater than mere appreciation—they achieve the greatness we don't see often enough of out of the big-screen Hollywood versions of our favorite properties. Let's take a moment to recognize and honor the hard work and extreme talent that went into these superb fan films. 

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Batman Versus The Terminator

In this animated short, we're not only seeing a Frank Miller-inspired older version of Batman. We're seeing Miller's tough-as-nails Bats mowing down T-800 skeletons in his tank-like Batmobile in the post-apocalyptic, machine controlled earth James Cameron created for the first two Terminator movies. It's a simple story: human resistance fighters try to survive out in the wilds of the wasteland. When all hope is lost and death is certain, they're rescued by the one man crazy enough to fight murder-bots while dressed as a bat, and the end result is five minutes of fan film glory.

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Death Scene Springtrap

In the Five Nights At Freddy's games, players control a newly hired security guard at a children's entertainment restaurant (think Chuck E. Cheese—where a kid can be a kid). It's a quiet night and everything's going normally, until the creepy animatronic animal characters come to life and begin slowly making their way toward the guard station to…well, it's probably better left unsaid. This fan film features highly polished professional level of computer animation. It's not even a minute and a half long and yet it still manages to capture every detail about the game series—and most of the time, it does it all better.

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Spawn: The Recall

In 1997, the grungy Heaven-vs-Hell story of the popular Spawn comics was given a big-screen adaption—and it was a disaster. No one's come close to finishing a Spawn movie since—that is, until the fan film Spawn: The Recall. In it, a child and his mother come face-to-face with Spawn himself, who has a dire message that must be delivered. Spawn is a complicated character to get right, visually. The most difficult part is his seemingly endless, supernaturally flowing cape, which can fill a room with its flowing ripples of tattered red. The Recall not only nails the cape, it sets the bar for how to tell a Spawn story on film.

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Our RoboCop Remake

Fan films are usually original stories written to emulate or feel as close to the source material as possible. Our RoboCop Remake (which you can watch in full here) takes it a step further: it's an attempt to recreate and/or reimagine every scene in the original RoboCop. Dozens of Los Angeles-area comedians and sketch groups selected one scene from the original film as their own to do with whatever they pleased. In the end, all of their stylistically different work was stitched together to form one manic, crazy, silly, gross, and utterly unique RoboCop.

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Dirty Laundry

The second season of Netflix's Daredevil gave us the gritty and tonally perfect onscreen version of Marvel's vengeful vigilante the Punisher. But before that, actors Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane, and Ray Stevenson brought the character to life—with varying degrees of success in a trio of generally disappointing films. Whatever letdown we felt while watching Jane's take on the Punisher, however, he more than made up for by starring in a well-made (and totally unofficial) short fan film called Dirty Laundry. All of Frank Castle's rage and capacity for lethal violence is unleashed when a normal day of laundry is interrupted by a local street gang. It's brutal, it's bloody, and in 10 minutes it did what three official Punisher movies couldn't: make him fun to watch.

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TIE Fighter

If you're able to look beyond the absence of a John Williams score, you'll find that TIE Fighter is one of the best Star Wars fan films ever made, which is saying a lot considering "Star Wars" is basically a genre of fan film unto itself. It melds classic franchise iconography with the slick speedlines and ultra-smooth cell Japanese anime of the 1980s. That combo may sound odd at first, but by the end you'll be wishing TIE Fighter had been multiple seasons long.

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Truth In Journalism

It's not just super-famous main characters that get the fan film treatment—occasionally even side characters and villains are afforded the honor. From the same people who brought us Dirty Laundry comes Truth in Journalism, a Man Bites Dog-inspired look at Eddie Brock, Peter Parker's rival at the Daily Bugle and the man who will eventually succumb to the addictive call of the inky black alien symbiote known as Venom. It's bold, it's different, and it's a comic book story that might change the way you think comic book adaptations should be handled.

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Spider-Man: Eclipse

Spider-Man has been caught. He's battered, he's beaten. He needs to escape. But if he does, will there be something much worse than his captors waiting for him on the outside? That's Spider-Man: Eclipse, a low-budget fan film with a nifty wool Spider-Man costume giving Peter Parker a rugged, do-it-your-self feel. Their resources were sparse, but the filmmakers totally nailed the web effects and did a fine job of showing off Spidey's signature agility. It complements Truth In Journalism very well.

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Batman: Dead End

Batman: Dead End packs a ton into eight minutes. It's a lot more than a showdown between Batman and Joker. Just when their fight is about to reach its peak, a new fighter enters the match: a Xenomorph, a.k.a. the alien from the Alien movies. When the Xenomorph has Batman pinned down…well, someone else shows up. And then some others. It's the mashup battle royale that nerds everywhere have been dreaming of for years. It doesn't really make much sense, but somehow, impossibly, it works.

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Rebel Scum

Who says fan films have to be big epic battles between main characters—or should even feature any familiar characters at all? Rebel Scum, a Star Wars fan film, includes familiar iconography, but not a single recognizable character. The Force doesn't make an appearance. No Han, Luke, or Leia. It is simply the story of a rebel pilot who crash lands his snowspeeder on an icy planet and will make it back to his family by any means necessary. There's hardly a word spoken throughout its nine-minute runtime, but every look and action say more than a page of dialogue ever could.

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Severus Snape and the Marauders

Severus Snape and the Marauders could have coasted on its Harry Potter pedigree, but no: its strongest assets are its writing and a terrific cast. That being said, the movie definitely jumps up a notch once the special effects start whizzing around. Set in 1978, this 25-minute film tells the story of James Potter (Harry's dad), Sirus Black, Peter Pettigrew, and Remus Lupin, as they attempt to bully a young Severus Snape after he tries to meet Lily Potter (Harry's mom) in a bar. The short perfectly captures Snape's inner rage, and his inner conflict as a man who walks the thin line between good and evil. If you're not choking up a little by the end, you just aren't human.

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Troops

If there were a fan film hall of fame, Troops would be a unanimous first ballot inductee. It's an episode of COPS set in the Star Wars universe, starring dimwitted, bumbling Stormtroopers on Tatooine. It's groundbreaking for its use of impressive low-budget CG effect,s but what makes it especially great is how ahead of its time it was for 1997, long before the now-ubiquitous mockumentary style popularized by Rickey Gervais' The Office turned into a trend. All fan films owe Troops a Wookiee life debt.

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Dragon Ball Z: Light of Hope

Dragon Ball Z is a tricky property to make into a fan film—the action scenes feature superhuman, lightning-fast martial arts and anime-style energy blasts, and translating it all to live action requires a skilled hand. Hollywood gave it a shot with its 2009 Dragon Ball movie, but it failed miserably. Yet with a significantly shorter running time than the movie, Light of Hope perfectly captures everything fans love about the anime series—especially the fight scenes. If you've ever wondered what a DBZ fight would look like in real life, look no further.

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Power/Rangers

Part fan film remake and part parody of dark, gritty adult-oriented reboots of what are, ostensibly, shows made for children, Power/Rangers takes the beloved sci-fi action-adventure franchise and, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, tells the dark tale of how the members of the now-disbanded team have all spiraled downward in their post-Ranger lives. Drugs, sex, murder, power—if you didn't know any better, you'd think you were watching a combination of Voltron and Breaking Bad. It has a lot more money behind it than most fan films, and definitely more star power, too. James van der Beek and Battlestar Galactica's Katee Sackhoff star, and prolific music video director Joseph Kahn is behind the lens shooting it all. It's well-directed, well-written, and it has a lot of fun being way, way too serious.

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Star Wars: Uncut

Casey Pugh was a Star Wars fan like any other until he came up a wild idea: a crowdsourced shot-for-shot remake of A New Hope. He set up a website where fans could claim 15-second segments of the film, then go off and make their own 15-second fan films. Once uploaded, other fans could vote for their favorite 15-second segments. Thousands of people participated, and in the end, all the scenes were pieced together into one film. One second you're watching Han, Luke, and Obi-Wan as Legos on the Millennium Falcon, and 15 seconds later it's a bunch of kids in their backyards with broom handles for lightsabers. Every 15 seconds you're hit with a fresh take on a movie that's a classic from beginning to end, and it all adds up to one of the best fan films ever made.