It doesn’t matter who you are, or what your favourite movie genre is, you will have seen – and probably loved – a Tim Burton movie.
Since first joining Disney as an animator in the early eighties, Burton has been a prominent name in Hollywood for over 35 years, amassing Academy Award nominations, breaking the billion dollar revenue mark with a single movie, and creating a style that is often imitated but has never been duplicated.
To celebrate Burton’s 59th birthday, we rank his entire directorial back catalog, from his very worst to his very best movie. It was no easy task, and no – The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t one of them.
18. Planet of the Apes (2001)
The original 1968 Planet of the Apes was easily one of the greatest sci-fi adventure movies of all time, and an absolute highlight of its star Charlton Heston’s career. The 2001 remake on the other hand, was the absolute worst thing Tim Burton ever made, and not even having Helena Bonham Carter as the hottest monkey ever committed to film could save it.
17. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Alice in Wonderland always seemed like the ideal choice for a Tim Burton movie. Everything from the characters, to the mythology, to the colourful backdrops, seemed perfect for the Burbank auteur. Sadly though, no one mentioned any of this to Burton – who turned the fantastical worlds of Lewis Carrol into a mundane, incoherent mess.
16. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
A lot of Burton’s more recent work is accused of being all hype and very little substance. He’s become so enamored by his own legend that he’s forgotten what made him such a great filmmaker. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but for anyone who subscribes to this way of thinking, they only need to point to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children as proof.
Miss Peregrine is a fun film, and worth a watch, but it just doesn’t feel much like a Tim Burton movie, at least not one that he’s given 100% of his talent to. Shoehorning Samuel Jackson into the villain role is also a mistake that Hollywood really needs to stop making. Unless he’s playing a guy named Mr. Glass that is.
15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Despite the original 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory being an absolute classic, there’s no denying its protagonist is a child hating, creepy old man. Whether it’s author Roald Dahl’s magic touch, or just that standards of creepiness were just much lower in those days, the film still worked and is as fresh today as it was 46 years ago.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Tim Burton’s 2005 remake, in which Johnny Depp takes on the iconic role. Instead of being “creepy weird” like Gene Wilder, Depp’s Willy Wonka is the kind of creepy that parents wouldn’t let stand near their kids, let alone send them to their doom in his bizarre child catching factory.
14. Dark Shadows (2012)
As far as I know, we never had the original Dark Shadows TV show here in the UK (c’mon internet, tell me I’m wrong), so a lot of us were going in cold when it was announced as Burton’s next movie. As a result, for a first time viewer the film came across really well. It was funny, sexy, and in keeping with Burton’s extensive back catalog. Sure, it wasn’t a patch on his early stuff, but let’s be honest, nothing is ever likely to be that good again.
Many of those fortunate enough to watch the show the first time round though felt differently. They complained that Burton wasted far too much time on the story arc of Barnabas Collins, and none of the other ‘good stuff’ that made the show so memorable. Well, if you ask me (and it is my list after all), having a Vampire turn up out of the blue is by far the single most interesting focal point of the entire TV series, and the only logical thread for a Tim Burton movie.
13. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Burton’s 1996 ode to the classic B-movie alien invasion flicks, which was also based on the world famous trading cards, is an example of a movie doing exactly what it says on the tin. Mars Attacks! is a case of style over substance, but by God it’s so much fun that we can forgive its many, many flaws.
12. Corpse Bride (2005)
It’s a common misconception that Burton directed The Nightmare Before Christmas, but for those who bothered to read the credits, Burton only acted as a producer, outside of a writer credit for his original short story/poem. Therefore, anticipation was high for Burton’s first official foray into the world of stop-motion animation. Perhaps a little too high.
Try as you might, it’s hard to find anything nice written about the film on the internet. It lacks the catchy tunes of NBX, and its almost necrophilia inspired theme was probably a bit much for the average family watching at home. The animation style – which was handled by the always incredible LAIKA – was a huge improvement on that of the more popular Christmas movie though, and opened the door for films like Coraline.
11. Big Eyes (2014)
Big Eyes is probably a better film than many on this list, however its so unlike a Tim Burton movie that it simply can’t be listed any higher than this spot. If you don’t like that, feel free to write your own list. We still love you though.
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
A Tim Burton musical starring Johnny Depp and the single worst English accent since Keanu Reeves in Dracula. Oddly though, Sweeny Todd really works despite all this, and is a rare opportunity to see the dark side of Burton without it being watered down by whimsy.
9. Frankenweenie (2012)
When my sister and I were kids, we had a pet goldfish. We named it Trevor, because it was orange like our neighbor Trevor’s hair. It lived for ages, and then one day it died. Rather than flush it, my dad revived it by rubbing neat whiskey on its lips. It was a Christmas miracle, except it wasn’t Christmas. For years after that, I figured you could revive anyone or anything using the same method – I have yet to attempt it.
What has any of this to do with Frankenweenie? Well, if you’ve seen the 2012 Disney/Burton collaboration you’ll see the link immediately. It’s a film about a science geek, who brings his beloved wiener dog back from the dead as part of a school project.
Based on his 1984 short movie of the same name, Frankenweenie is an homage to all the cool stuff Burton loved as a kid – monster movies, Gothic horror, and black and white matinee movies. It suffered at the box office thanks to Hotel Transylvania, but is a far superior movie in every way, and Burton’s greatest animated endeavor with the exception of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
8. Batman (1989)
NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA BATMAN!
Although I loved Tim Burton’s spin on the Batman story, I could never get past how he looked down his nose at Kevin Smith when Smith asked him what his favourite Batman story had been, as if reading the actual comics was beneath him. But, if you can get over the fact that Burton saw this iconic comic book characters first true big screen outing as nothing more than a simple paycheck, then you’ll agree it’s one of his best. Oh, and Jack Nicholson as Joker? Outstanding.
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Burton can thank costume designer Colleen Atwood, and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki for this gorgeous on-screen effort. Washington Irving’s classic novel was an obvious choice for Tim Burton to adapt, but for once it wasn’t a let down.
Sleepy Hollow is gloriously violent, has some truly great scares, and has that quintessential Burton stamp all over it. When it was released, almost 20 years ago (how old do well feel now?), it was one of my all time favourite Burton movies. Time has not been kind to it in many ways, but Sleepy Hollow is still one of his 10 best films, and easily his third best collaboration with Johnny Depp.
6. Batman Returns (1992)
NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA BATMAN SEQUEL!
You may disagree, but for this writer, Batman Returns is way more fun than Batman, and feels much closer to the source material than the 1989 original.
5. Big Fish (2003)
When Big Fish landed in cinemas back in 2003, I was not amused. In those days, Burton was my favourite filmmaker, and the idea of a film that to 20 year old me didn’t have that Burton-esque feel was unforgivable. I’ve smartened up since then, and 34 year old me realizes it’s one of his very best, and also one of his most personal.
4. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
The decision to include Burton’s debut so highly on the list may come as a surprise to some, but for many of us it is his most important movie. The simple plot, childlike characters and the unique aesthetic were the building blocks for what became known as the “Burton-esque” style, and as such should be the measuring stick for every film he wrote, directed or produced in the years that followed. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is the blueprint for everything Burton has done since.
3. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Believe me when I tell you, I agonized over my top 3 Tim Burton movies. Having Edward Scissorhands (one of my personal all time favourite movies) at number 3 will probably surprise many people, and piss off many more, and even as I write this I’m second guessing myself.
Edward Scissorhands has always been one of my favourite movies. It’s visually very impressive, and packs a real punch in the feels. Should it be ranked higher? Perhaps. But on this occasion my number 2 choice just pipped it to the post.
2. Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice may not be a superior film to Edward Scissorhands in many people’s eyes, but for me it was the first film that truly allowed Tim Burton to express himself. It’s overflowing with everything we love about Burton’s style, from his cartoonish sense of humor, to his morbid fascinations with death, to his beautifully warped aesthetic.
Beetlejuice is also the definitive performance in the career of its star, Michael Keaton. Sure, lots of folk will name Batman when asked what their favourite Keaton movie role is/was, but they are wrong. As the notorious bio-exorcist, and ghost with the most, Keaton was let of the leash and gave his ultimate performance.
1. Ed Wood (1994)
Ed Wood, Burton’s flawless biopic of the so-called worst film director in history, is without a doubt his finest hour. Not only is it a loving recreation of the life of a man whose output is panned even today (somewhat fashionably), and then died in squalor and obscurity. It is also a love letter to the man who without a doubt made Burton’s own career possible.
Edward Scissorhands, Mars Attacks!, Frankenweenie would have been right up Wood’s street, yet if he had suggested them to his peers he would have been laughed out of Hollywood. Less than a decade after Wood’s death though, Burton comes along making movies of the same ilk as Wood and he is heralded as the hottest new talent on the scene. It’s all just a matter of timing, and it took a relatively low budget, black and white movie to prove Edward D. Wood Jr was simply way ahead of his.
How did we do? How would you rank the films of Tim Burton? Is Planet of the Apes his finest hour? Was Edward Scissorhands sentimental tripe? Have your say in the comments below, and don’t forget to let us know on Facebook and Twitter.