Fan films set in the Batman universe are a jumbled bag of rough pebbles and shining gems, with some stellar examples using strong performances, agile camera work, atmospheric music and moody lighting to extend the Bat mythos. Over the years, we've seen our share of amazing amateur shorts set in the domain of the Dark Knight that all provide a creative outlet for the faithful to show enthusiasm for the character created by Bob Kane with Bill Finger over 75 years ago.
Gritty, low-budget, street-level efforts, unconstrained by studio budgets and meddling executives can sometimes rise above mediocrity and transcend into a worthy spot within the canon as other more uninspired efforts sink quickly into anonymous mediocrity by having Mom and Dad join the cast.
This inclusive ranking will only include completed shorts, not trailers for fan films or peripheral salutes -- so stop that whining or one of these poorly-paid costumed crusaders might give you a grapnel gun to the groin!
Wrangle this collection of 17 non-profit unofficial Batman fan films from across the entire creative (and monetary) spectrum spanning 15 years and tell us which ones you love the most.
BATMAN: ABSOLUTION (2015)
This is the longest of all our fan films, timing out at over 47 minutes. NSFW and very violent so use discretion as to where you watch. Could have used some judicious editing but a worthy effort nevertheless with a 26-year-old Bruce Wayne battling injustice in Gotham against The Riddler and Victor Zsasz (one of my all-time least favorite Bat villains) while trying to solve the mystery of a string of possible suicides. Suffers in the technical department with flat, bland camerawork and sub-par acting but shows a genuine love of the character. With more attention to a musical score and cut down to half the length, this entry might have moved up.
BATMAN: THE SHATTERED COWL (2015)
A true amateur job and an overlong runtime at 25 minutes but it does demonstrate what ingenuity and effort can do with a shoestring budget and limited props and equipment. Chooses Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin for its main villain and despite some bad camera placement and rough dubbing it shows heart and spirit, which is what the fan film revolution and community embraces best. The skill level here is not exemplary at all but for a first-time effort it makes our list for what it represents.
THE DARK KNIGHT: LEGACY (2013)
A promising starts from director Brett Register falls somewhat flat in the finale with John Blake (Robin) helping future Batgirl Stephanie Brown. Features Penguin and Scarface lording over a gathering of crime bosses when Red Hood crashes the party, dousing Roman Sionis with acid. This was hit with a cease-and-desist order from Warner Bros. after playing on Machinima for its Indiegogo fundraising to make into a continuing web series.
LEGENDS: THE DARK KNIGHT (2013)
Director, writer, stuntman and armorer Christopher James Cramer delves into an Elseworlds-type short with his take on Medieval Batman. Scores major points due to it not having a Joker in it (though you do get Harley Quinn) and being produced for no money and as a one-day shoot. I can barely mow my lawn in one day! Not everyone has access to pro actors, fancy cameras and lighting equipment so I salute this 24-hour no-budget superhero romp in the forest.
BATMAN V SUPERMAN: BEFORE DAWN (2016)
Here's an entry from Argentina by director Enrique Salvador Toso. Though the title is somewhat misleading, this micro-movie delivers some stark cinematography and tells a quick story without uttering a single word of dialogue as the Dark Knight interrupts an illegal transaction between a Lex Luthor courier and criminals with an expensive box of Kryptonite. Effective blend of editing, sound and music. Batman bathed in the green glow of the precious element is particularly cool.
THE BATMAN - A FAN FILM (2013)
Directed by James Chick, this fan film comes in at a brisk four minutes but packs a decent punch. Batman makes his rounds during a typical night on the soiled streets of Gotham City. Contains an imposing Batwing vehicle and a slick Wayne Industries tactical suit . Keeps the story simple and self-contained without drawing out the limited drama. The bad Bale impersonation could have been dropped, though, in exchange for something a bit more original.
BATMAN: PUPPET MASTER (2012)
I'm always astounded by some of the incredible talent out there beyond Hollywood's pearly gates and it's refreshing to see what someone can do on a limited budget employing some creative camerawork and lighting. Director Bryan Nest assembles an awesome cast in his good-looking Batman tribute film. Set right after the death of Harvey Dent, the fugitive Batman hunts down the real killer, leading him on a path to the psychotic Victor Zsasz and The Ventriloquist. Gotham's latest little crime lord, Scarface, links up with detective Edward Nygma to try to bring Batman to justice. A sub-par Batman (mimicking Bale) brings this one down the list; otherwise it's a decent addition to the collection.
BATMAN EVOLUTION (2014)
Come on, we had to have a Batman '66 fan film in here, modernized with dub-step dance music, of course. This awesome effort is directed by Peter Cornwell and stars Eric Gable as Batman, Joel Hebner as Black Mask and Mark Erman as Robin with the mad stunt team 87Eleven portraying henchmen. The dorky '60s Bat gets drenched in black latex and emerges as the gravel-voiced 21st century Dark Knight we all know and love today. Cracked the Top 10. Bravo!
BATMAN: PATIENT ZERO (2016)
Directed by Andrew Ackler, this features Batman taking a psyche-tainted tour of Arkham Asylum and being haunted by demons real and imagined in the forms of The Riddler, Scarecrow, Harley Quinn and The Joker. A hearty round of applause for the quality of sound and use of music to elevate this film above merely a mediocre affair. See this one out to the end because the Shutter Island-like twist is a cool creative decision and I bumped it up a couple notches just for that alone! Everything you'd want in a micro-budget attempt.
DEMON IN THE DARK: BATMAN VS THE SECRET SIX (2016)
This dynamic 16-minute offering from director Letia Clouston is filled with some splashy CGI effects and has Batman battling a rampaging Giganta, a Green Lantern and Black Adam showdown in Times Square, and a funny bit in the closing credits showing the origins of Kitten-Man. Love the comic-booky tonal balance in this short and the fantastic score by Andries de Haan. Narrowly misses a Top Five slot!
BATMAN: THE BLOODY VALENTINE (2015)
Produced for Valentine's Day, here's a twisted take on the touching love affair between Batman and The Joker, with the grinning lunatic singing a sweet rendition of Nat King Cole's "When I Fall In Love." Directed by Harry and George Kirby, this features Nicholas Anscombe playing the Joker with a freakish Fred Astaire style with Joe Galina's solid Batman saving most of the hostages before the loony lullaby ends. Memorable and addictive -- you'll want to watch it a couple times! Highlights a lot of what's missing from recent Hollywood Bat-films.
THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS - AN EPIC FAN FILM (2016)
Monumental for showing what $2500 can accomplish when you set your geeky mind to it. Filmmaker Wyatt Weed dons the directorial cap and Bat cowl for this low budget gem filmed over the course of 17 months and based on the first issue of Frank Miller's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns as a retired Dark Knight seeks shelter from the Gotham heat wave and the demons that haunt him after Robin's death. Some issues with slow pacing in points but extraordinary attention to color and detail for a micro-production. This is the second longest of the fan films, clocking in at over 45 minutes but it's highly worth the watch. Carlos Antonio León's Joker at the end is chilling!
THE BATMAN CHRONICLES (2014)
A three-part short showcasing a young Bruce Wayne as he struggles with Gotham corruption and "faces off against a maniacal new menace hell bent on taking over Gotham." Directed by professional editor Joseph Petruccio and funded by an $18K Indiegogo campaign. The director's brother Daniel Petruccio plays an awesome, thoughtful Batman, looking like a young Rufus Sewell as he dons the classic old-school costume and gives the character some charismatic depth. A killer cast including Anthony Misiano (The Joker), Gregory Adair (James Gordon) and Matt Fitzgerald (Alfred Pennyworth). Grab some popcorn and enjoy!
BATMAN: CITY OF SCARS (2011)
An impressive earlier, effort by Batman vs Darth Vader's Aaron Schoenke, showcasing Kevin Porter's excellent Batman in a 30-minute meditation on the psychological makeup of Batman's tortured past and the reverberations it causes in the present. I love Paul Molnar's haunting Joker (my second favorite), muttering to himself as he loads his trick "BANG" gun and constructs his booby trap devices in his lair and choosing a favorable frozen confection from the ice cream truck where he's keeping a hostage. Inventive, absorbing, atmospheric and very entertaining.
BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM (2007)
Based on the legendary graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, this tribute short is utterly fantastic, with a superb visionary style and nightmarish Tim Burton quality that required me to shuffle around my Top 5. Directed by Spanish filmmaker Miguel Mesa and set to the classic Danny Elfman score from Batman Returns, it has such a unique, theatre of the macabre quality that I'm totally blown away. Why have I never seen this?! I want this made into a feature NOW!
BATMAN: DEAD END (2003)
Delivered with style and grace by filmmaker Sandy Collora, this has been one of the best fan efforts for nearly 15 years and is still on the top of the hill. It boasts a brutal Batman (Clark Bartram) confronting an escaped Joker (Andrew Koenig) during a rooftop deluge. The late Koenig makes a beautifully deranged Clown Prince of Crime. Joker rants in typical fashion but gets an unexpected surprise in the frightening form of a hungry alien xenomorph. The Dark Knight grapples with the creature until another familiar face shows up ... a prowling Predator! A Kevin Smith and Alex Ross favorite. Still perfect and a monumental achievement made for $30K that ushered in the modern age of fan films.
BATMAN VS DARTH VADER (2014)
I've watched this badass beauty a dozen times and it keeps getting better! I'd pay serious money to go see a Vader vs Batman feature if a crossover universe could be constructed in this or any other parallel universe. Made as part of the online Superhero Beat Down series and directed by City of Scars' Aaron Schoenke, it features the best Batman in fan filmdom, Kevin Porter, with an epic Star Wars crossover that will blow you away. Pro-caliber SFX, music, editing and lighting. Give this dude a movie! Place your bets on who will win before you press play.