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Angora Sweaters and Scissorhands: Ranking the Films of Tim Burton

Angora Sweaters and Scissorhands: Ranking the Films of Tim Burton

Tim Burton is perhaps one of the most unique and exciting filmmakers working today. With a vision inspired by classic horror and a dry wit, his films are often fiercely entertaining and endlessly clever. Of course, that’s not to say that there aren’t dark spots on his filmography. Like every filmmaker he’s had his missteps but even when the movies don’t quite work Burton manages to create films that are visually stunning and artistic. With the recent release of Big Eyes and a possible sequel to Beetlejuice in the works, examining Burton’s work and influence is more important than ever.

Planet of the APes

17. Planet of the Apes (2001): Even when a Burton film has issues there are usually some redeeming factors (see Darks Shadows’ amazing style) but, oh man, one really has to look hard to find something good in this disaster of a movie. Sure, the makeup may be impressive and there is early 2000s Mark Wahlberg but this remake has no heart and is actually kind of boring.

Alice in Wonderland

16. Alice in Wonderland (2010): Much like Dark Shadows, Alice gives the viewer a lot to look at. Burton creates a mesmerizing wonderland but the whole film feels so disjointed and strange- not in a good way. Looking at Burton’s filmography as a whole this and Planet of the Apes are the only true complete misfires.

Dark Shadows

15. Dark Shadows (2012): Dark Shadows isn’t that bad of a film, at least not as bad as its reputation might suggest. The film based on the 1970s cult classic soap opera of the same name about the Collins family and it’s head, century’s old vampire Barnabas (Johnny Depp). The film has some genuinely funny moments (“ugliest woman I’ve ever seen,” Barnabas mutters upon seeing Alice Cooper), and like most of Burton’s films the attention to detail and style is staggering. So why then doesn’t Dark Shadows work? It has the trademark Burton style, his reteaming with Depp, and a campy turn by Eva Green as a spiteful witch. Everything was there to make it a fun sendup but it feels so, pardon the pun, lifeless. The motivations of characters are unclear for much of the film, the plot feels kind of rushed and worst of all the story, which starts of promising, loses steam at about the halfway mark. Viewers are never given any real reason to care about these characters.


14. Frankenweenie (2012): This is the scrappier cousin to Corpse Bride and based on a short film created early in Burton’s career. Frankenweenie lacks some of the charm of Corpse Bride but is still an enjoyable and harmless little movie. And really that’s the biggest problem. While it’s enjoyable on the surface there isn’t a lot of substance. The story, a young boy who wishes to resurrect his dead dog and is faced with a number of other complications, is entertaining on the first viewing but the slow moments are what ultimately breaks Frankenweenie.

Corpse Bride

13. Corpse Bride (2005) A return to the Nightmare Before Christmas style (Burton was a producer on that film), Corpse Bride is a delightfully romantic and sweet story. Working with the voices of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter Corpse Bride isn’t Burton’s best film, but it has its exciting, romantic and charming moments. [co-directed by Mike Johnson]

12. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985): An absolutely ridiculous introduction to the Tim Burton world but really what else do you expect from a movie about an overgrown man-child on a cross-country mission to find his stolen beloved bike? It’s insane but for someone who grew up on Pee Wee Herman it’s a must and Burton makes the most of the bizarre story. He never takes the film too seriously and it ends up helping the film.

Mars Attacks!

11. Mars Attacks! (1996): Mars Attacks! may be a send-up to those 1950s B movies that Burton loves so much but the whole film, while enjoyable, rings a little tone deaf. It’s almost like Burton, his writers and actors were trying so hard to make a witty satire that they missed the point altogether. Clearly, the film was supposed to look cheap and campy but there comes a point in the movie that, that choice overwhelms the actual story. It’s really the first time in Burton’s filmography that the stylistic choices overwhelm the story. In most of his other films his artistic choices ever hamper the ultimate plot. Unfortunately that’s not the case here.

10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2008) Much more faithful to the Roald Dahl book than the 1971 Mel Stuart adaptation, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory isn’t without its problems. The whole film seems like a bunch of random scenes strung together by a fun performance from Johnny Depp. Nothing feels connected and even though it’s appropriately dark and bizarrely funny, the aimless nature of the script makes the whole film tedious to get through, which is unfortunate, as there are things to love here, namely Johnny Depp’s off-the-wall performance.

Big Eyes

9. Big Eyes (2014): Big Eyes doesn’t really feel like a Tim Burton movie. It lacks his usual dark humor and wit. While Big Eyes may not have the same spark as other Burton films, it has compelling real-life characters at its heart, played by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. It’s the true story of Margaret Keene, an abused wife in 1960s San Francisco who created the kitschy art sensation now known as the Big Eyes paintings. Throughout the fil and her life she had to fight for her craft art: haunting and bizarre images of children with oversized eyes. Her husband, a talented but sketchy hype man, quickly takes credit for the art and eventually grows unstable and abusive. Big Eyes has a powerful story and an interesting feminist spin, but the film never really takes off and not even the usual incredible attention to detail and great acting can fix it.

Sweeney Todd

8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) Here, Burton finds the right balance between eerie and charming. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a film adaptation of the award-winning musical, is everything from a twisted love story, to a family drama, to a murderous revenge tale. Sweeney Todd sags a bit in the middle, mostly under the weight of its own expectations, but Burton expertly handles some of the logistics of filming a movie like this. What genuinely saves Sweeney Todd, though are the magnetic performances from stars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

Batman 1989

7. Batman (1989): Long before Christopher Nolan’s moody take on the superhero franchise, Burton made what is arguably one of the best comic book adaptations. While most fans were used to seeing Batman, a very dark story at heart, played as a splashy or cheesy TV show Burton produced a dark and unexpected adaptation that did justice to the complex super hero. What is so extraordinary about Batman and Burton’s work on the film is that it is relatively early in his filmography. The fact that a young filmmaker with very few credits to his name was able to create something so consuming and thrilling speaks to his true talent.

Batman Returns

6. Batman Returns (1992) Batman Returns is probably even better than Batman. The sequel finds Michael Keaton’s Batman facing off against the Penguin (Danny DiVitto) and Catwoman (Michelle Phieffer). Even darker than the first Batman, Burton makes a movie that isn’t just the fun superhero movie its predecessor was; it’s also an early examination of the deep, often negative effects on Bruce Wayne and villains we otherwise would not have gotten to examine so closely.

Big Fish film

5. Big Fish (2003) Many Tim Burton films could be described as a fairytale, set in a dreamland but what’s so lovely, so brilliant about the touching Big Fish is that Burton mixes both of these things expertly. Based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish centers on a young man (Billy Crudup) coming to terms with his dying father’s (Albert Finney) fantastical stories of adventures that may or may not have happened when he was a young man (played by Ewan McGregor). Though Big Fish has Burton’s flare for the fantastical there is a quaint charm about the whole movie. Not surprisingly it’s absolutely beautiful to look at as well.  Big Fish is an extraordinary achievement, it has Burton’s signature style and humor but it’s also a devastatingly sweet fable.


4. Beetlejuice (1988): The film that truly introduced audiences to the Tim Burton style that would eventually become so recognizable and so influential. Beetlejuice has become a sort of rite of passage for a lot of film fans and it’s not hard to tell why. First there is the unique story: a young couple (Alec Baldwin and Genna Davis) dies and gets stuck in their large country home, which is soon moved into by a fancy city couple. In order to get them out, the couple turns to Beetlejuice (a pitch perfect Michael Keaton), a demon more concerned with wreaking havoc on everyone and everything rather than helping. There are a number of reasons why Beetlejuice became the cult classic it is today, first and foremost is the world that Burton created for his characters. Much like Edward Scissorhands, the central settings in Beetlejuice, the house, the afterlife and the graveyard, are rich and thrilling.

Edward Scissorhands

3. Edward Scissorhands (1990) Perhaps the most identifiable of all Burton films, Edward Scissorhands works as a fevered, dark and even romantic (one could argue it’s Burton’s only true romance) dream- or nightmare. Burton has always been wonderful at creating fully realized worlds and this is the movie we first see that in. Sure, you can catch glimpse of it, especially in films like Batman and Beetlejuice, but Edward Scissorhands exists in a totally different and consuming world. The pastel neighborhood that Edward is adopted into and eventually changes has such a fine attention to detail, is beautiful and terrifying and strangely cold until Edward arrives. Burton draws you into these people’s lives until you’re just as comfortable as them, and that’s what makes the ending such an emotional punch.

Sleepy Hollow

2. Sleepy Hollow (1999): Burton wanted to create an old fashioned horror film like the kind he used to watch as a child on Saturday afternoon TV. It’s terrifying, funny, romantic, adventurous all the things Burton does so well, and Sleepy Hollow is Burton at his best. Sleepy Hollow showcases Burton’s extreme eye for detail; in addition to that, it is ridiculously fun. Bolstered by a great performance by Depp as Ichabod Crane, and a rewriting of the classic story, Sleepy Hollow succeeds the way most good Burton films do. It’s inventive, quick, funny, and scary.

Ed Wood pic one

1. Ed Wood (1994): One of the most overlooked themes in Burton films are the rather tender and emotional moments. Ed Wood is the purest example of that. Rather than mock his subject, real-life director Edward D. Wood Jr. (Johnny Depp), Burton made a film that’s simultaneously a love letter to old Hollywood and an outsider who tries so hard to be brilliant, fails miserably but keeps trying. Ed Wood is the ultimate love letter to the loveable outsider, another stable of Burton’s films. Ed Wood just really, really loved movies and his blind enthusiasm is contagious. Wood may be remembered as the worst director of all time but Burton’s representation of him and his life his so enduring, so tender, and so perfectly constructed it’s hard not to love him and root for him. By the time Ed is sitting across from his idol Orson Welles (Vincent D’Onofrio) he’s been put through the ringer and the look of sheer joy and amazement on his face is so sweet. Ed Wood is Burton’s most emotionally complex film.