Tim Burton is one of the most iconic and celebrated directors alive for his uniquely-styled and quirky films. And The Nerd Stash wants to celebrate him and the fact that one of his most treasured films may have a sequel coming by ranking the ten best Tim Burton movies. Burton’s films are widely acclaimed cult classics and for a good reason. Burton has set himself apart in a way few directors can. With his unique visuals, powerful storytelling, and continued partnership with Danny Elfman in creating catchy scores, most viewers cannot watch a Tim Burton movie without knowing he either directed it or somehow participated in its creation. So without further ado, here are the ten best Tim Burton movies ranked.
10. Frankenweenie (2012)
A stop-motion feature-length remake of Burton’s 1984 short film of the same name, this film takes a classic horror story and puts quite an interesting twist on it. Young Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with science and amateur filmmaking, with the closest friend he has being his beloved bull terrier, Sparky. Devastated when Sparky dies after being hit by a car, Victor uses electricity to bring Sparky back to life. All is well until other kids start reanimating their pets, which eventually leads to the creation of a monster. This is the type of plot that only Tim Burton could come up with. Macabre as the plot is, it is also outrageously fun. However, its most considerable appeal is how deeply it tugs on our heartstrings. No one wants to let their beloved pet go, and we can’t help but root for Victor as he tries to hold on to Sparky forever.
9. Corpse Bride (2005)
Note: Johnny Depp and Tim Burton have a long track record of working with each other, and with a few exceptions (e.g., Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows), it tends to go pretty well. So expect Depp to make a couple more appearances on this list.
In Corpse Bride, Depp voices Victor, the son of nouveau riche fish merchants betrothed to the neglected daughter (Emily Watson) of aristocrats who have become impoverished. While they do instantly fall in love at their rehearsal, Victor still gets cold feet and runs off into the woods to rehearse his vows, placing a ring on what he believes is an upturned tree root. In reality, it’s the finger of a corpse (Helena Bonham Carter) that comes to “life” and accepts Victor’s vows before dragging him into the Land of the Dead.
Another animated film with a macabre plot, Corpse Bride, still manages to be relatively kid-friendly and fun, particularly with the help of catchy tunes such as “According to Plan” and “Remains of the Day.” The film is not without its creepy and dark side, but Burton still makes it quirky and fun for all ages.
8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
See? Depp is already listed again.
Based on Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Tony Award-winning musical, this film sees Depp as Sweeney Todd, a barber returning to his hometown of London after a 15-year exile at the hands of a corrupt judge (Alan Rickman) in love with Todd’s wife. A demented shell of his former self and overcome with grief over losing his family, he chooses to take vengeance on Lonon by reopening his barbershops and slitting the throats of his customers. He also chooses a unique corpse disposal method by partnering with a failed pie-maker (Helena Bonham Carter again), who bakes the remains into pies that become celebrated. Once again, we have a twisted and disturbing plot that Burton manages to make humorous and endearing. While many critics complained that Depp and Carter should perhaps avoid cutting albums in the future, their imperfect vocals did not impact their impressive performances. The eerie plot of this beloved musical belonged in the hands of Tim Burton, and no one else could have done it justice.
7. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
It’s a little wild to believe that this was actually Tim Burton’s first full-length feature film. However, only an eccentric filmmaker like him can genuinely do a whacky character like Pee-Wee Herman justice. This quirky child in a man’s body may weird you out at first, but he’s got a charm and wonder about him that makes you warm up to him fast. That sentiment is shared by everyone Pee-Wee comes across on his journey to get his stolen bike back. That may not sound like much of a plot, but Pee-Wee’s colorful personality and the way he impacts everyone he meets make the film a fun watch. This directorial debut is one of the funnier films of the last 40 years, and it’s one of Tim Burton’s best movies
6. Big Fish (2003)
Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) is at odds with his father, Edward (Albert Finney), refusing to believe the farfetched stories of his life. When Edward falls ill with cancer, Will begins investigating how much of his father’s story is true and how much is fantasy. We get flashbacks into the story of a young Edward’s (Ewan McGregor) life as he sets out on the most fantastic adventure of all time. Big Fish is a beautiful and intriguing film that will constantly have you wondering if Edward’s journey was a true story, a fairy tale, or maybe something a bit deeper. Moreover, it’s a beautiful look into the strained but precious relationship between a father and son. The film is available on Netflix, and it deserves to be revisited.
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Is it a Christmas or Halloween movie?
Who cares? It’s amazing!!
We’re cheating a little bit here, as Tim Burton did not actually direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. However, the story is his brain baby, and his influence over the project could not be more evident. Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king of Halloween Town, is tired of the same routine and seeking something new and exciting, which he finds when he accidentally stumbles into Christmas Town. Obsessed over this new discovery, he decides to give “Sandy Claws” a little break, albeit one he didn’t ask for, and take over Christmas for the year. Needless to say, he ends up in over his head and hits a few snags, i.e., getting Sandy kidnapped by the evil Oogie Boogie and not realizing that kids don’t want shrunken heads for Christmas. While the story is a bit weird and rushed, most of us don’t care. It’s fun, it’s original, it’s got songs we all have memorized, and it’s a cult classic that could only have come from the mind of Tim Burton.
4. Beetlejuice (1988)
Tim Burton’s second film was our introduction to the iconic style that the director is known for to this day. A recently deceased couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) is trapped in their home, which has now been purchased by a family they don’t care for, though they do form a bond with the family’s goth daughter (Winona Ryder). In an attempt to scare off the family, they enlist the help of a “bio-exorcist” ghost named Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), not realizing that they’ve actually unleashed a perverted starter of havoc into their home. This film was such a significant success, garnering more than $74 million at the box office. The movie’s success led to an animated series, video game adaptations of the character, a broadway musical, and a potential sequel. And given the ridiculous amount of spooky fun the movie has to offer, it really doesn’t come as a surprise that it remains a classic to this day.
Side note: I only typed his name twice, so there is no need to go running off.
3. Ed Wood (1994)
Johnny Depp is back on the list again. If you are a passionate filmmaker, or if you’re a younger Tim Burton fan who hasn’t seen Ed Wood, you owe it to yourself to check out this gem. Only the misunderstood man who directed Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Mars Attacks! is worthy of helming a biopic about the man behind Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959). Edward D. Wood, Jr. is widely considered to have been the worst director of all time. While his films are considered cult classics, the fact that Wood really thought he was creating masterpieces speaks volumes about his grip on reality. Regardless, Burton’s biopic is a loving tribute to Wood, showcasing his love for film and his passion for his work, even though that passion is very misguided. And while Depp is magnificent in the role, it would be a wicked act not to pay honor to the late Martin Landau for his perfect, Oscar-winning portrayal of Bella Lugosi. In short, this is one of Tim Burton’s best movies that needs to be rediscovered.
2. Batman (1989)
Before we get into this one, let it be noted that Batman Returns is an honorable mention that is great in its own right.
Tim Burton had never read a Batman comic when he took on this project, so people were skeptical about seeing him direct this film. Bringing in comedy actor Michael Keaton only caused more people to scratch their heads. But to everyone’s pleasant surprise, the film not only delivered but redefined superhero movies forever. With a dark tone and mature themes, Burton made it so superheroes didn’t have to be the stars campy kid’s shows but could be the subjects of serious adult films. In truth, we have Burton to thank for all the mature takes on Batman we have today, be they good or bad. Keaton delivered an intense and believable performance as Batman, making the character much more serious than his only previous live-action portrayal (i.e., Adam West in the 1960’s series). But of course, the true star of this film was Jack Nicholson as the Joker. We can debate who was better in the Nicholson vs. Heath Ledger battle until our hair turns grey, but wherever you stand, at least give this actor the credit he is due.
Side note: The film’s style and tone also inspired Batman: The Animated Series (the theme music is not a coincidence). If you are a 90’s kid, you know that this is a reason to give Tim Burton a big thank you.
1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Johnny Depp is on the list again, appearing in Tim Burton’s best movie as the director’s most frightening yet beloved character.
If you saw a picture of Edward Scissorhands and knew nothing of this film, you’d probably think this is the villain of a horror franchise. Hey, he was built by Vincent Price. But in reality, this created man whose inventor dies before giving him real hands instead of scissors is a gentle, lovable, and misunderstood misfit who has a special gift to offer the world. When an Avon saleswoman brings him into town, everyone sees his artistic talent on display, and they partake of his talent and celebrate him. He also forms a deep bond with the saleswoman’s daughter (Winona Ryder), who develops feelings for him. It’s only when his gift is exploited that everyone turns on him, and Edward faces the crushing realities of being an outcast. Edward is an identifiable character, showcasing the sad truth of being an unusual person with underappreciated talents. Sadly, the world is too afraid of the unordinary to recognize that special uniqueness. Burton has called Edward Scissorhands his most personal film, and with so many fans finding a kindred spirit in Edward, we see what Burton means.
Those are our picks for the 10 best Tim Burton films ranked. Do you agree with our list? Which Burton film is your favorite? Share your thoughts on The Nerd Stash Facebook page or @TheNerdStash on Twitter.