Total Recall: Tim Burton's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Frankenweenie director.
Tim Burton was heavily involved with 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas, but it wasn't until 2005's Corpse Bride that he got around to directing his first full-length animated film, an update on a centuries-old legend about a man (Johnny Depp) who unwittingly hitches himself to an undead wife (Helena Bonham Carter). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Corpse Bride's spindly, pale characters looked a lot like Jack Skellington and his friends -- and the movie sounded mighty familiar, too, featuring the voices of a number of Burton vets (including Depp, Carter, and Albert Finney) as well as the requisite Danny Elfman score. With Burton surrounded by familiar faces and firmly ensconsed in his thematic wheelhouse, it only makes sense that Corpse Bride was successful with filmgoers (grossing over $100 million worldwide) as well as critics; as Zertinet's Steven Snyder opined, "Tim Burton so believably brings his worlds to life, with such a dark, dreamy and dazzling imagination, that we all but take for granted that he has taken us on some of the most delightfully absurd adventures of modern cinema."
Love, vengeance, madness, and lots of blood -- what could be more perfect than Tim Burton directing an adaptation of Sweeney Todd, the Victorian tale of an unjustly imprisoned barber who uses his razor to get even (and then some)? On the other hand, once word got out that Burton was using Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd musical as inspiration, skeptics immediately scoffed at the idea of asking Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Alan Rickman to sing the songs of a Broadway legend -- particularly Depp, whose musical aspirations had always been limited to the guitar. While it's true that Burton's Sweeney may not have featured the most stageworthy singing, any vocal deficiencies were more than compensated with the sheer bloody spectacle of a talented director bringing his lens to bear on one of the grisliest tales ever to grace the Great White Way. Calling it "As unsettling as it is riveting," Gail Pennington of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch promised, "even Sondheim aficionados will see the story with fresh eyes, unless those eyes are covered."
After Batman went down as the biggest box office hit of 1989, Tim Burton had his pick of projects -- and he chose the one closest to his heart. Edward Scissorhands was a story that had been gestating since Burton's lonely days as a teenager in Southern California; granted creative control by Fox (which purchased the rights from a distinterested Warner Bros.), he ran through a list of actors that included William Hurt, Robert Downey, Jr., and Toms Hanks and Cruise before deciding Johnny Depp would be perfect to play the film's central character, the lonely, blade-fingered creation of a mad scientist (Vincent Price). Of course, at the time, nobody knew Edward Scissorhands would mark the beginning of a partnership between Burton and Depp that currently stands at seven films and counting; they only knew, in the words of the Deseret News' Chris Hicks, that the film was "quite a surprise" and "an utterly enchanting fairy tale."
2. Ed Wood
He's enjoyed more critical acclaim and commercial success than most directors, but it seems fair to say Tim Burton has spent a good portion of his career feeling misunderstood -- which is surely part of what drew Burton to Ed Wood, a biopic of the oft-derided director who gifted the cinema with films such as Glen or Glenda and Plan 9 from Outer Space. Its screenplay was penned by Problem Child writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski -- both of whom knew a thing or two about battling the low expectations of others -- and befitting its subject, Ed Wood was punted around the studio system before landing at Disney, where Burton received the full creative control he craved. The result, running more than two hours in deeply unfashionable black and white, was a predictable box office flop -- but it resonated strongly with critics, who embraced it as, in Matt Brunson of Creative Loafing's estimation, "A gentle valentine that celebrates the creative spirit, no matter how misguided that particular spirit happens to be."
Burton's cult classic short films Vincent and Frankenweenie caught the eye of Paul Reubens, who drafted the as yet unproven director for his first big-screen foray, 1985's Pee Wee's Big Adventure. On paper, it seems rather unlikely that filmgoers would be interested in plunking down for the absurd adventures of a bow tie-wearing man-child who hitchhikes across the country in search of his stolen bike, but Big Adventure was a big hit, kickstarting Burton's career and leading to five delightfully strange Saturday morning seasons of Pee-Wee's Playhouse on CBS. A quarter century after it was released, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure remains a cult classic -- and it will always be, as Cole Smithey described it, "Goofy, silly, and just plain funny."
In case you were wondering, here are Burton's top 10 movies according RT users' scores:
1. Edward Scissorhands -- 88%
2. Big Fish -- 86%
3. Ed Wood -- 83%
4. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street -- 81%
5. Sleepy Hollow -- 79%
6. Batman -- 78%
7. Beetlejuice -- 77%
8. Tim Burton's Corpse Bride -- 76%
9. Alice in Wonderland -- 72%
10. Batman Returns -- 68%
Finally, here's Stalk of the Celery Monster, one of Burton's earliest films: