The world has been rife with fan films – amateur riffs on Batman and so forth – even before the advent of YouTube. The following nine features take this idea to the next level. They are not spoofs, documentaries, or "making of" dramatizations (e.g., The Disaster Artist, Hitchcock). They are, for want of a better word, tribute films: each is explicitly about a specific film made by someone else. And they are surprisingly few, which is odd, given modern filmmakers' fondness for intertextuality, metafiction, and plain old homages. Maybe it's just a copyright issue.
- Fanboys. Has any franchise inspired more fan films than Star Wars? The tributes began as early as 1978 with the parody Hardware Wars. Then came Troops in 1997, then George Lucas in Love, then countless YouTube shorts. Fanboys was the first Star Wars fan feature: set in 1998, it's about a few geeks hoping to sneak into Lucasfilm so that their cancer-stricken friend can preview the hotly-anticipated Episode I before he dies. (What a letdown that must have been!) Originally slated for release in 2007, Fanboys was shelved for two years as distributor Harvey Weinstein demanded the cancer stuff be cut and replaced with raunchy humor. After reshoots and test screenings, the filmmakers mostly won out, but a typically spiteful Weinstein gave Fanboys a minimal release and it bombed.
- Son of Rambow. This feel-good movie concerns two British lads who, in the early 1980s, fall in love with First Blood and set out to make a sequel starring themselves. It's possible that Son of Rambow itself was inspired less by the Rambo franchise and more by Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, a shot-for-shot remake of Raiders made by a group of teenagers in the 1980s.
- Spirit of the Beehive. In an entirely different vein, this 1973 Spanish drama is only kind of about its young heroine's obsession with the 1931 classic Frankenstein, and more about Spain's bitter transition into Franco's dictatorship. (The film is set in 1940, right after Franco won the civil war.) Yet Frankenstein itself maintains a quiet presence throughout the story.
- Play It Again, Sam. Woody Allen is no stranger to metafiction, as seen in this 1972 comedy – written by and starring Allen, but directed by Herbert Ross – in which his nebbishy character obsesses over Casablanca and fantasizes that Humphrey Bogart is giving him dating advice.
- The Man with Bogart's Face. Eight years after Play It Again, Sam, this curio was a vehicle for a most unlikely star: professional Humphrey Bogart impersonator Robert Sacchi. With his character a private detective named "Sam Marlowe", this mystery is an obvious homage to The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, both of which it openly references. Sacchi's resemblance to Bogie is remarkable. The film, alas, is not.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. This 2015 indie stars Rinko Kikuchi as the title character, a loner so convinced that the Coen Brothers' Fargo is real that she flies from Tokyo to Minneapolis in order to dig up the millions of dollars that Steve Buscemi's character supposedly buried in the snow. Although Kumiko sounds suspiciously twee, it was inspired by a true and tragic story, or at least the urban legend surrounding same.
- Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2. After the pioneering found footage chiller The Blair Witch Project conquered the box office in 1999, a sequel was inevitable. But instead of simply churning out more found footage, Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was shot like a traditional horror movie – one whose characters are fans of The Blair Witch Project. Though profitable, Book of Shadows was one of the biggest turkeys of 2000. (For what it's worth, 2016's Blair Witch was a non-meta sequel to the 1999 original.)
- The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence). It didn't work for Blair Witch 2, but that didn't stop Dutch schlockmeister Tom Six from attempting the same trick, referencing his own 2009 gross-out movie The Human Centipede (First Sequence) for his even grosser 2011 sequel, in which a British weirdo becomes so obsessed with First Sequence that he creates his own "human centipede", sewing ten victims together, anus to mouth, anus to mouth.
Simple Women. The new kid on the block, this 2019 feature leans on Hal Hartley's 1992 indie Simple Men to the degree that Simple Men actress Elina Löwensohn stars as herself – or a fictionalized version of herself – as an Italian director (presumably a stand-in for Simple Women's own director Chiara Malta) fixates on her. Runner-up in the chic Euro arthouse division: Irma Vep (1996), a personal favorite of mine, in which Hong Kong superstar Maggie Cheung plays herself as a bickering French film crew (led by Jean-Pierre Léaud) tries to shoot a remake, starring Cheung, of the silent classic Les Vampires.