So, you’ve been to the movies. You’ve seen Tim Burton’s Big Eyes. You’ve read our review. You’ve talked about it with friends, family members, and confused random passerby’s. You’ve had a few weeks to think about it, and you still aren’t sure how it stands against Burton’s other films.
Well, we’re here to help. Tim Burton may be a peculiar fellow, but his 17 features to date aren’t beyond a good, sturdy list. So, here they are, the feature films of Tim Burton ranked. Remember: all films by the director are measured against each other, not the whole of cinema.
These films don’t necessarily fail as works of art, but they do fail as the works of Tim Burton. Either the Burton tropes are absent, or they actually work against the film.
17) Alice in Wonderland
The anti-logic of Alice and the bizarreness of Burton. Sounded like the perfect match, right? In reality, the director opted for a more structured narrative, creating what was essentially his Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings. The result was weaker than most modern fantasy films and most journeys into Wonderland – sorry, Underland.
16) Dark Shadows
Apparently, Mr. Burton is a big fan of the classic paranormal soap opera. “Apparently,” because rather than loving tribute, Burton’s Shadows is a joyless parody of the original. Mix clichéd, uninspired comedy with Johnny Depp’s usually reliable everymisfit persona turned into an awkward clown, and you have what looks like a middle finger to a decades-long franchise.
15) Planet of the Apes
Maybe Burton should stop adapting things he watched as a child. The 2001 remake of a classic in sci-fi cinema has no style, no ambition, and no reason to exist. So divorced from the original in tone and theme, the attempts it makes at referencing the old film, are just reminders of something better. It’s what you put in to make the Lost in Space movie seem entertaining by comparison.
14) Mars Attacks!
A movie can have a great ensemble cast (Pam Grier, Pierce Brosnan, Martin Short, Jack Nicholson in a dual role), a general sense of fun, and a director doing an homage to things he loves (sci-fi B movies, and violent trading cards), but will still fall apart due to bad pacing, a general lack of direction, and terrible CGI (even by 1996 standards).
13) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
This remake/re-adaptation has some heart, to be sure. But nothing is added that wasn’t already in the 1971 film version – save for a completely unnecessary backstory for the man-child owner of the titular factory. Yeah, candy might not be more than sugary fluff, but sometimes it’s nice when films are.
The films in this set aren’t not necessarily worse than Burton’s most Burton-y pictures, but they aren’t as easily identifiable as Burton’s work. Whether it’s an atypical (for Burton) cast or a direction that veers outside of Burton’s personal “sweet spot,” these are movies that are well-served by having Burton in the director’s chair, but could have suffered someone else to sit there, too.
It’s funny to know Burton isn’t a comic book fan, considering his background as an artist and how colorful and exaggerated his best characters are (though said colors tend to be black, white, blue, and red). The man must be given credit for making the public take superheroes a little more seriously (even if it indirectly led to the ghetto of superhero films in the nineties), but Batman’s style owes more to the source material than the director (despite some liberties taken).
11) Big Fish
The singsongy, lifted-from-the-text narration doesn’t completely suit Burton – similar voice-over was kept thankfully to a minimum in Edward Scissorhands – nor does the saccharine tone cut only occasionally with moments of darkness. But the premise – a man telling stories his father told – allows for some jaunts into the oddball fantasy Burton excels at.
10) Big Eyes
Understand, this is a highly competent biopic (with some very special over-the-top and understated performances by Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, respectively). However, you’d be hard pressed to find much of the director’s signature scrawled across the picture. Even the more than serviceable cast (which includes character veterans like Jon Polito and Danny Houston) is barren of Burton repertory players.
9) Sweeney Todd
Now here we have Burton adapting something he loves, and doing it right. A success partly because it sticks close to the original play, and partly because Burton’s impulse to cast his friends – including a more than up to par Helen Bonham Carter, and an untrained but strangely suitable singer in Johnny Depp – pays off rather well.
8) Corpse Bride
After being falsely credited by fans as the director of The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick directed, Burton came up with the story), maybe Burton wanted to show everyone he could direct a stop-motion animation feature himself (he did a short, Vincent, pre-fame). While nothing bad, the end result retreads many concepts, images, and even the Danny Elfman songs feel very much like Nightmare-lite.
7) Sleepy Hollow
So this is what would happen if Tim Burton was making horror films in the UK, in the late fifties, sixties, or early seventies. A touching – not to mention campy and bloody as hell – tribute to Hammer’s horror films and all of their ilk, Sleepy Hollow at times trades logic for visceral pleasures – somewhat appropriate considering its reference sources.
6) Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure
Burton’s big-screen debut has moments of the surreal and dark off-the-wall sensibilities that would be at the forefront of his later films. However, it’s the anarchic humor of Paul Reubens’ beloved man-boy-or-whatever character that dominates this quest for a stolen bicycle.
The Full Burtons
These films are not only quality pictures, they’re packed full of Burton’s signature style – dark aesthetics, outsider protagonists, macabre humor, Dutch angles – and frequent collaborators – Johnny Depp, Danny Elfman, John August, Colleen Atwood, horror actors from bygone eras. These are the films only Tim Burton could make.
5) Batman Returns
Batman is Tim Burton’s adaptation of Batman; Batman Returns is Tim Burton’s Batman. The story of three misfits – a homicidal Batman, a deranged Catwoman, and a disgusting Penguin – battling for supremacy is one of the most unique comic book films – aesthetics-wise, story-wise, and character-wise. Probably because the director had the gumption to make it his own.
With this piece of stop-motion, Burton deftly escapes the shadow of Nightmare Before Christmas. Kind of ironic that to do so he had to go and remake one of his own short films. In any case, like Sleepy Hollow, Frankenweenie pays sweet homage to past horror films but manages to come out feeling like its own entity.
3) Ed Wood
This story of the world’s worst director is not one hundred percent accurate, but when it’s being told by a fan it doesn’t need to be. Every frame just gushes love for Edward D. Wood, Jr. and the terrible, terrible movies he made. This is the biopic only someone with an affinity for fake monsters and aging vampires could make.
2) Edward Scissorhands
After watching Johnny Depp in the title role of a wild-haired weirdo who is forced to live in the normal world, it’s completely natural to wonder if it’s Depp playing Depp or Depp playing Burton. Impressively, Burton makes the guy with six inch razor blades for fingers the least bizarre thing in the film – that honor goes to the pink and green landscape of the California suburbs. Complete with another enchanting Elfman score, this is the film to show someone when you want to sum up what Tim Burton is.
And this is what you show someone when you want to sum up Burton, but you want them smiling at the end. In one of the few instances where the creepy misfit is actually the villain, Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice (the self-appointed “ghost with the most”) is mad, creative, and interested in entertaining only himself; in other words, Tim Burton’s id running wild. He’s also part of what makes this one of the most unique supernatural films ever made.