Comic books and Hollywood are usually a big button for insta-cash in the entertainment business. Creative differences can sometimes take effect, while others are more faithful adaptations, but as long as a product is made for the people and they love it – it’s good for both sides. Sometimes, however, a serious blunder of typical film producer money grab schemes becomes a bit too obvious of the business than an actual art of the product.
There are too many safety routes, people to please, and with this day and age, a huge concern to have connected universes of every character having to make big commercials of themselves than a story in a film for the sake of marketing and selling the brand. That’s when some of us forget what the comic book world used to be: a fun world where it was about making something you’re able to enjoy without the need of executive appeal and critic consensus to affect our opinions so badly.
It’s times like these I feel independent films are the future of this genre as they at least try something different. There is much more of a deeper connection to the material at hand and what we do and see with it than a room full of businessmen making the most out of the fiscal year with the names of pretty faces having to define an iconic character into dollar bills.
As someone who just so happens to be making a fan film myself, there is a special love for the independent stuff to me that has me think the future of unique films, ideas and the art itself, especially of intellectual properties, may end up relying on us, the very people.
The internet has shown itself to become the leading path to sharing a vision, and with a great amount of work put into the vision, we can have people appreciate it all the more with something that actually has soul in it again.
So as a way of representing my special love for the independent, I have decided to contribute a Top 5 Fan Films Based On Comics. For this list, I’ll be applying my own personal choices for independent live-action fan films based on comic book intellectual properties, including other media interpretations if need be.
Crossovers and animated ones will be dismissed as that will likely be another list of its own one day. Let’s start revitalizing those geek hearts of ours and begin:
5. “Tell Gordon Hello” by Morgan Rodner (2012) [Joker]
The Dark Knight is considered by many as The Godfather of comic book films, and it is mostly thanks to the Oscar winning performance of the late Heath Ledger. His interpretation of The Joker strayed very far from the typical charisma and cracking jokes to merely just cracking…well, skulls.
Even after the tragic passing almost a decade ago and the refusal of Christopher Nolan wishing to use him again out of respect, the unique and disturbing portrayal lives on in pop culture and the geek community as not only one of the greatest versions of the Joker, but also one of the greatest villains to grace the cinematic screen.
The fan film mind, Tell Gordon Hello, actually is one of the few examples of a continuation of this character done right. It is difficult enough to pull off the spirit of what Ledger constructed, but in 8 mere minutes and a very minimal set, we see the maddening words and actions of the clown as he takes care of a rat in his gang that works to a certain Commissioner.
The interrogation takes place and we see it unfold the way we would only imagine Joker would take care of it, which certainly doesn’t involve any happy ending.
Paul Louis Harrell, the man behind this impression of the Joker, really did his homework on mimicking the Clown Prince of Crime. Aside from some excessive licking of what could have well been serious aftertaste of Thanksgiving dinner, we see a spark of what made the Joker so uncomfortably fascinating to watch, with many of the mannerisms down to a tee and the voice coming to an eerie replication of the original.
If there ever was a potential where this adaptation of the Joker can ever be represented again without Heath Ledger, this project really shows a glimmer of hope that it can certainly be possible.
A simple story revisiting the world of scars and make-up, if you are homesick for a return of Nolan’s world and The Joker’s chaos, this fan film is definitely worth viewing.
4. “The Recall” by Michael Paris (2014) [Spawn]
Spawn has not had a graceful first impression with its first official film back in the 90s, with the only redeeming quality being the fantastic practical effects (and not so much the CGI at the time…).
However, the rich lore and the fandom behind the comics and even the nostalgic love of the HBO animated series (the one that rivaled Batman: The Animated Series as the big boy’s cartoon show and left on a horrendous cliffhanger) shows that a new live-action film is still in high interest for the community (third on my list next to Hellboy 3 and Dredd 2).
The closest we’ll reach for the time being is a little gem known as The Recall, a story of a mother and son bearing the bloodline of witches, separated in the grocery store, only to discover something more disturbing surrounds them.
I’ll be the one to say the acting isn’t the most convincing, with The Witch feeling somewhat blank in the conflict of having lost a child and having the fear of supernatural forces take what she loves. However, the voice work seems to shine a bit more than the actors themselves.
Violator actually has a menacing and hoarse voice that latches creepily with his playful tone, and while Spawn sounds a tad bit menacing with a Dr. Claw voice compared to how I usually hear him, his tone is very fearless and powerful and much of what I have in mind for Spawn to be represented in the live-action world. Certainly not Michael Nicolosi nor Keith David, but they make the film all the more interesting.
The real treat, however, is the stunning use of visuals. Aside from some hiccups such as the inferno-like appearance of The Witch, the mix of it all is a captivating eye grabber. From the supernatural imagery with great camera work to the cryptic ambiance, the transitions in environment are very vivid and we see some real effects work with the detail of Spawn himself and haunting horrors that surround the areas.
For a very limited budget, it really pulls it off pretty good, and it only shows this is an age where special effects can really make the best of what Spawn represents in the comics.
To me, it is a very visual experience that just has an amazing opportunity for expanding further. Will we ever see anything further from The Recall? Who knows. What I am certain of is I can have hope of a Spawn reboot following the same soul and beauty I witnessed here.
3. “Truth In Journalism” by Joe Lynch (2013) [Venom]
Need to relieve yourself to the idea that there is a better film incarnation of Eddie Brock and Venom than what became of Sam Rami‘s Spider-Man 3? Look no further than the peculiarly-made Bootleg Universe‘s Truth In Journalism.
What we’re given here is a very avant garde found footage film not seen often, if at all in the superhero media; a grainy mockumentary with French subtitles that reflects the style of Man Bites Dog. It follows a foreign film crew wanting to share Eddie Brock’s story on what journalism and scoops are all about in his world of work. The path they take getting to know the reporter gets more dire and drastic and we start to initiate in our minds there is much more wrong with the picture than we believe, black alien goop included.
Ryan Kwanten, whom you may recognize best as Jason Stackhouse in True Blood, has an absolute blast playing Eddie. There is a charisma to his speech and body language that you can’t help but feel somewhat uncomfortable being close with. His snark and very persistence in what he does comes off a something especially suspicious in him.
Even though we know the result of his character based off of comics before, you can’t help but be curious of the footstep that his unveiling as the journey adds up more to what goes on here than just getting to the destination. Kwanten really made it his own and shows much more versatility in this demented person than any other live-action portrayal yet.
Let’s also not forget the most memorable use of Glenn Frey‘s “You Belong To The City” that just goes from a nervous giggle material to a horror show of the monster he possesses.
One of the most fun parts are the subtle Easter eggs that you can likely catch from at least a second viewing (and thankfully not as in-your-face and necessary to future films like MCU has been doing), such as the presence of the symbiote with Eddie’s quick wardrobe change or noticing labels of the Daily Bugle in the newspaper.
There is a real build in the world they make for a very unhinged spin-off of Spider-man, and the only regret is they didn’t offer more of this world.
Can you imagine the kind of world this version of Lizard may share with this with videos of his experiments, or security footage capturing Spider-man in action?
There is such a potential for more, but even as an independent work, it really does set itself as its own thing, and a very enjoyable one at that.
**The original on Youtube is still available, but a copyright strike for audio made the whole video muted. Saving the trouble and posting the vimeo version here**
2. “Judge Minty” by Steven Sterlacchini (2013) [Judge Dredd]
A very secluded character in the comics, Judge Bill Minty is fleshed out as an independent character in his film. It follows the same set-up of Minty no longer fit for Judge duties, and his choice between teaching at the academy and the long walk has him decide the latter, deciding to give law to the lawless. However, his philosophy of the youth and heart of crime has been impacting him, and what becomes of it from the experience of the Cursed Earth unfolds itself closer and closer. Fighting off savage gangs, mutants, beasts, and the very embodiment of anarchy, Minty makes his final moments worthwhile with doing what any lawman would do.
Edmund Dehn played the titular character astoundingly for the very little referential material available. He has a more empathetic outlook on the lives of others compared to most Judges, and the growth of his beliefs become easily conflicted when he starts fighting for his life in the dangerous ruins of the Cursed Earth. He thinks about his actions unlike Dredd, and to that, we have a real human experience with a Judge that isn’t the very embodiment of law like Dredd is.
Can poisoned minds still be helped rather than executing them? Is it too late in the world he lives? It’s a kill or be killed world, and we see how much change it can make to someone who still thinks of a future for the criminals he thinks are still human.
There is an astounding quality to the film. The exemplary sound effects of the futuristic world of Dredd, a simple yet progressive plot, and the use of the environments is just visually stunning. Mega City One and its surveillance shows the immersive world of the world of Judges, and the Cursed Earth radiating with ruined landscapes that feels like straight out of a Fallout game.
The fact I adore the new Dredd film hurts for me to say this, but the structure of Mega City One was one of the more lacking parts of it, and there is a greater richness in the fan film for how the aesthetic is made of the city.
Much longer than the rest on the list, the film is definitely worth every minute regardless. However, despite all the top-notch quality and the amount of love for Dredd and a good story, there is one film that comes to mind. Think it’s very obvious which fan film is the one in everyone’s mind…
1. “Dirty Laundry” by Phil Joanou (2012) [The Punisher]
A very favorable representation of a beloved character, a film that puts the original Hollywood one to shame, and not to mention a progressive film to revolutionize the world of the fan film community as a whole, the only fitting number 1 spot on this list is the infamous Bootleg Universe‘s Punisher fan film, Dirty Laundry.
After creative differences and a reboot serving into a new Punisher film with Punisher: War Zone, Thomas Jane of the original 2004 Punisher movie walked out with an unlikely turn of events whether he would ever play the iconic skull-crested vigilante ever again, especially in the world of company copyright and contracts. Fortunately, Adi Shankar, a man no stranger to the fan film subgenre, produced this dream to a reality with the creation of a short story called Dirty Laundry.
Much like the other produced work of Truth In Journalism, this one actually plays along the awesome surprise of not knowing what you are watching until the very end, the very impression of seeing a familiar face pass by on the bus and realizing it’s a longtime friend until it’s your stop to leave.
It really leaves you appreciating it as a film first, then a Punisher property second.
What follows is the story of Frank Castle in a bad neighborhood doing his mundane task of taking care of some clothes at a Laundromat when the acts of evil and tyranny of gangsters are present.
However, Frank seems much different than how we’re used to seeing him, perhaps with his reign on crime much more surrendered.
Whether retired or just weak of the thought, we see a sense of hopelessness in this older Frank Castle, dimming light in his eyes, and it wasn’t until talking to Big Mike (Ron Perlman, the Patron Saint of Badassery) he regains a sense of fight again.
What follows is a wait for action to come, but once it does, it is well worth it, as well as one of the most amazing reveals ever. There is no other way to describe the turn of events in the film aside from watching it all yourself.
When ranking the best Punisher portrayals in the article I wrote before, Thomas Jane stuck out so well, and this film was certainly a benefactor of what I saw in him to gain that spot. I saw him as an aged Punisher who saw little reason to continue punishment after the little change he saw into the world. Perhaps coming to terms having witnessed the evil still exists no matter how many bullets and knives and lines he had to cross to see it come back full force.
Jane stood with a mystifying presence, shadowed eyes through majority of the film adding wonderful visual, with us in the audience knowing he’s seen enough but waiting in painstaking moments as to what he will actually do or if the moment will strike.
In a versatile world of fan film adaptations, Dirty Laundry stands out as a real surprise in the events of its making, and as a love letter to the fans with no corporate control, it truly represents what an independent creation and a solid heart can make for what you’re making. And to that, Dirty Laundry has earned its crown at #1.
Agree with my list? Have any other fan films to consider in place? What are your personal favorites and why? Do let us know in the comments below!