Total Recall: Tim Burton's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Frankenweenie director.
For 25 years and counting, Tim Burton has been one of the most successful directors in Hollywood -- and he's done it his way, presenting filmgoers with an ever-growing list of films that celebrate the strange and macabre, from comedies (Beetlejuice) to dramas (Big Fish) to thrillers (Sleepy Hollow), with a few stops for big-budget blockbuster fare along the way (Batman, Planet of the Apes). Heck, Burton's even proven his mettle as a director of animated fare (Corpse Bride) and served as a producer on at least one movie he didn't direct, but you probably thought he did (The Nightmare Before Christmas). This week, Burton brings his unique style to bear -- in 3-D, no less! -- on a feature-length, stop-motion animated expansion of his early short film Frankenweenie, and to celebrate, we decided to take another look back at his 10 best-reviewed films. Let's Total Recall, shall we?
These days, superhero films are all the rage, but in the late 1980s, the genre was at sort of a low ebb (Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, anyone?). It's understandable, in retrospect, that Warner Bros. dawdled on greenlighting Batman, leaving Burton to work through multiple drafts of Sam Hamm's script before the success of Beetlejuice finally convinced the studio to get serious about bringing the Dark Knight back to the big screen. Of course, fans of the comic were a little harder to convince, and it isn't hard to see why -- with the director of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure at the helm and the star of Gung Ho and Mr. Mom playing Batman, it seemed like a reprise of the campy Adam West era was nigh. As it turned out, Burton's Batman vision was darker than anyone gave him credit for -- and the film's runaway success proved that movies based on comics didn't have to be kids' stuff. Calling it "a success for several reasons," Cinemaphile's David Keyes added that "most of the credit goes to director Tim Burton's brilliant visual interpretation of a dark, ominous comic book."
9. Big Fish
After facing the loudest critical catcalls of his career with 2001's Planet of the Apes, Burton needed a rebound -- and he got it with Big Fish. It certainly had its detractors -- Jim Lane of the Sacramento News & Review, for one, was annoyed by what he called "Burton's flourishes of self-satisfied frippery" -- but most critics were satisfied with the way Burton brought his signature visual style to bear on this adaptation of Daniel Wallace's novel about a father whose propensity for tall tales has driven a wedge between himself and his son. Burton, who had recently lost both of his parents, knew a thing or two about strained family relations, and that no doubt enabled him to bring an extra personal touch to this whimsically bittersweet drama. As Rob Nelson of the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages observed, "Burton, favoring form over content, flavor over fact, has been often criticized for not knowing how to bring his work to satisfactory resolution. But I'd call that a good thing. Blame it on his dad."
Though he was initially reluctant to film a Batman sequel, Burton was eventually persuaded to return to Gotham after wresting complete creative control from Warner Bros. and hiring Daniel Waters (who worked with Burton on an attempted Beetlejuice sequel) to write the script. The result was 1992's Batman Returns, a casting dream that found Batman (Michael Keaton, donning the cowl for the final time) facing off against Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer, resplendent in leather) and the Penguin (a scenery-chewing Danny DeVito). Though some critics (and parents) felt the film was too dark, most reviews were positive; in fact, before Christopher Nolan came along with Batman Begins, Batman Returns was the best-reviewed film in the franchise, something Desson Thompson of the Washington Post attributed to the fact that it "Comes closer than ever to Bob Kane's dark, original strip, which began in 1939."
Burton and Warner Bros. toiled for years on a Batman script, leaving him free to entertain other projects -- but it wasn't until Michael McDowell's original screenplay for Beetlejuice crossed Burton's desk that he felt like he'd met his match. After hiring Warren Skaaren to give McDowell's rather dark and violent script a more family-friendly polish, Burton set about filming what would end up becoming one of 1988's most successful movies -- an absurd ghost comedy starring Michael Keaton as the titular "bio-exorcist" that a pair of ghosts (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) hire to rid their home of its obnoxious living residents. Bustling with kooky special effects, off-the-wall humor, and Harry Belafonte songs, Beetlejuice racked up almost $75 million in domestic grosses, cementing Burton's status as a bankable filmmaker (and speeding Batman's development in the process). More than just a fine early example of Burton's skewed sensibilities, Beetlejuice remains a thoroughly enjoyable comedy; in the words of eFilmCritic's Scott Weinberg, it "Coasts by like a rocket, thanks to Keaton's inspired performance and Burton's dark-carnival lunacy."
If a movie had never been made from Roald Dahl's classic tale of a reclusive, legendarily eccentric candy maker and the children whose lives he alters forever, Tim Burton would have been the perfect director to make it happen. Of course, as we all know, Mel Stuart directed Gene Wilder in a 1971 adaptation -- one that, despite Dahl's negative reaction, was remembered fondly by many of the kids who grew up with it. Greeted with a fair amount of skepticism, Burton's new take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory threatened to be a misfire of epic proportions -- Johnny Depp playing Wonka as a cross between Anna Wintour and Michael Jackson? Say what? -- but Burton's instincts ultimately proved both lucrative (Charlie grossed nearly $475 million worldwide) and critically successful. Writing for the Independent, Robert Hanks echoed the sentiments of many of his peers when he pointed out, "In its combination of fidelity to its source and wacky visual ideas, Burton's take is a triumph of common sense and imagination -- exactly the qualities for which we admire children."