As this summer taught us, Hollywood blockbusters have gotten painfully repetitive. Though some are excellent (Guardians of the Galaxy), attempts to raise the tentpole ever higher have stifled creativity and smothered spontaneity.

No wonder all the buzz lately about the 8-minute fan flick, Spawn: The Recall. The short film community doesn’t have Weinsteins to appease, enormous production costs to recoup or wide audiences to dumb things down for.

Short films like this stay original and true to themselves. So if you want one eye-opening experience after another in well under the time it takes to watch friggin’ Transformers: Age of Extinction (96 minutes vs. 165), check out the following selections. Best part? None will set you back 14 bucks.


1. Alive in Joburg (~6 minutes)
If you dug District 9, you’ll want to see the stellar, docu-style short film that inspired the full-length feature’s creation and put South Africa’s Neill Blomkamp on the map.

2. Portal: No Escape (~7 min.)
In the spirit of the first person puzzle-platformer, this short film makes use of the insanely cool portal gun. But unlike the 2007 game, No Escape features nonstop action that will keep you glued to the screen. You’re either going to love it or you’re going to love it.

 


3. Please (~15 min.)
A young Gerard Butler spearheads this dramatic short as a troubled writer who desperately tries to get his family back and his work published. Unexpected turn doesn’t begin to describe what happens.

 


4. The Life and Death of a Pumpkin (~5 min.)
This is a downright bizarre piece of genius that takes the lighthearted activity of carving a jack-o-lantern for your Halloween display and transports it to a deeply disturbing yet hilarious place.

 


5. Batman: Dead End (~8 min.)
Tucked neatly between the George Clooney bomb and the outstanding Christian Bale era is this comic book, superhero and sci-fi nerd’s wet dream. Let’s just say it features some very special and unexpected guests.

 


6. Kiwi (~3 min.)
Despite its aging CG, Kiwi is an enduringly sweet, thought-provoking and emotional story that can’t help but hit you in the feels department. This takes the top spot as best cartoon-y short over anything Pixar has released.

 


7. Mama (~3 min.)
Guillermo del Toro directs this terrifying short that served to inspire the titular 2013 film. Whatever you do, just don’t let mama in.

 


8. The Black Hole (~3 min.)
What would happen if you discovered a black hole that let you pass through physical matter? This short about a bored office drone explores the possibilities—and the drawbacks.

 


9. Vienna Waits For You (~26 min.)
This pseudo-horror flick follows a woman who moves into an old Viennese apartment that wants her to stay… forever. Unique visual effects, excellent acting and an engrossing story netted Vienna a bevy of festival awards.

 


10. Time Travel Lover (~10 min.)
In this short comedy, a guy and girl are about to hook up, but just before it happens they’re visited by a guest from the future who tells them exactly what will happen during their relationship. Easily the best time travel-themed comedy since Hot Tub Time Machine.

 


11. ABE (~8 min.)
ABE is a robot that loves deeply but cannot find a woman to reciprocate his love. So he finds out exactly what it takes to “fix” them. This one gets 5 out of 5 demented ’bots for its visual effects.

 


12. Most Shocking Second a Day (~2 min.)
Wow. Just wow. This powerful collection of micro-clips plays through one year in a little girl’s life for more than just entertainment purposes. Gripping from start to finish.