Total Recall: Tim Burton's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Frankenweenie director.

Tim Burton

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?


71%

10. Batman

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."

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77%

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."

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81%

8. Batman Returns

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."

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81%

7. Beetlejuice

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."

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82%

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

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."

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Comments

Dave J

Dave J

That "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" really caught me off gaurd for I never knew he was ever involved in the movie whatsoever!

Oct 3 - 05:18 PM

Namclay

Zach M.

Well, it does have dark tones to it.

Oct 3 - 08:50 PM

Doris M.

Doris Miller

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Oct 10 - 01:55 AM

Morgan Wesley

Morgan Wesley

where the hell is the nightmare before Christmas.

Oct 3 - 05:46 PM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

He produced Nightmare. He didn't direct it.

Oct 3 - 05:50 PM

James Nickerson

James Nickerson

also wrote it

Oct 5 - 09:57 PM

allister w.

allister w

actually he developed the story. someone else wrote the screenplay.

Oct 7 - 06:26 AM

whoffman1

Will Hoffman

He didn't direct NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Henry Selick directed it.

Oct 3 - 05:50 PM

allister w.

allister w

yeah, and then Burton put his name up front, and above the title. Burton came up with the story but did not even write the script. So, he did not direct, did not write the script, yet takes all the credit. Burton's ego got the better of him. And Selick has directed all but one of the Burton produced animated features. And Selick does it better than Burton.

Oct 7 - 06:45 AM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

Animated films Directed by Tim Burton = Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, & soon The Adams Family (if he still has plans on that)

Animated films he did NOT direct = A Nightmare before Christmas, Coraline (yes, some people out there actually thought he directed this movie)

Oct 3 - 11:36 PM

Hugo Emanuel Melo

Hugo Emanuel Melo

It doesn't suprise me that Coraline is mistaken for Burton movie, it's by the same director as nightmare before christmas (Henry Selick).

Oct 4 - 03:08 AM

Kurtiss Keefner

Kurtiss Keefner

And just to add to that "Paranorman" as well :P

Oct 4 - 04:28 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

I have not heard anyone imply that Burton had a single involvement with that. Guess they must have learned when they watched Coraline.

Oct 5 - 12:18 AM

Paul Isely

Paul Isely

I honestly think Batman Returns is extremely overrated. It's not awful but in no way do I think it's better than Batman89. IMO it doesn't really know if it wants to be silly or serious. And it seems more like a Tim Burton film that happens to feature Batman rather than a Batman film directed by Tim Burton if that makes sense.

Oct 3 - 05:46 PM

Andrew StClair

Andrew StClair

"And it seems more like a Tim Burton film that happens to feature Batman rather than a Batman film directed by Tim Burton if that makes sense"

It does make sense. That's the very reason why its the best one....

Oct 3 - 07:26 PM

King  S.

King Simba

Yeah, I find the enjoyment of Batman Returns depends on how much of a Burton fan you are. It really is a Burton film rather than a Batman film, the kind of film which is just weird for weirdness sake, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your opinion of Burton. Personally, as a fan of Burton, I thought Batman Returns was easily the best Batman film before Christopher Nolan came on to the scene.

Oct 4 - 06:05 AM

Bow Ties are Cool

The Holy Rainbow of Awesomness

Tim Burton Returns doesn't feature Batman, just some psycho in a Bat suit.
"Anyone who knows me, would know I'd never read a comic book."

Oct 4 - 10:24 AM

Arran McDermott

Arran McDermott

At least Batman is in Burton's films for more than 20 minutes. Take that, Christopher Nolan!

Oct 4 - 08:35 PM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

Yeah, take that!!! and put it with your millions of dollars and critical acclaim.

Oct 5 - 06:17 AM

Bow Ties are Cool

The Holy Rainbow of Awesomness

Nolan's films are actually about Bruce Wayne. There's a reason why JesusBatman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnDyuNBakV8) and DickBats didn't last long. Bruce Wayne is why people actually like Batman and focusing on the actual character instead of making him some psycho who just beats up and kills people is why comic book fans like the Nolan films. Name an actual arc in the Burton films he goes through. In 89 all he learns is that he didn't need to kill his parents murdered because the guy was an idiot who got himself killed on his own. What does Batman do in Returns. He doesn't even return as he was always there.

Oct 5 - 09:56 AM

Hugo Emanuel Melo

Hugo Emanuel Melo

Batman IS a psycho in a batsuit.

Oct 6 - 01:47 PM

Mohd Syafiq Bin Jabaruddin

Mohd Syafiq Bin Jabaruddin

I think the actual problem with Returns is that there were two plot threads that never seem to actually converge. Perhaps if they left in the part where Penguin and Max were brothers...

Oct 4 - 09:17 PM

allister w.

allister w

funny, Batman Returns is the only Batman film I liked (and I liked it a lot) But, then, I don't like Batman, so you may have a point.

Oct 7 - 06:48 AM

Linda B.

Linda Burke

He produced Nightmare. He didn't direct it.

Oct 3 - 05:50 PM

James Nickerson

James Nickerson

also wrote it

Oct 5 - 09:57 PM

allister w.

allister w

actually he developed the story. someone else wrote the screenplay.

Oct 7 - 06:26 AM

whoffman1

Will Hoffman

He didn't direct NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Henry Selick directed it.

Oct 3 - 05:50 PM

allister w.

allister w

yeah, and then Burton put his name up front, and above the title. Burton came up with the story but did not even write the script. So, he did not direct, did not write the script, yet takes all the credit. Burton's ego got the better of him. And Selick has directed all but one of the Burton produced animated features. And Selick does it better than Burton.

Oct 7 - 06:45 AM

Bradley Johnson

Bradley Johnson

Love Tim Burton!! Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Sweeney Todd!

Oct 3 - 06:23 PM

Peter Bobbs

Peter Bobbs

Love tim burton, not a fan of his charlie and the chocolate factory/alice in wonderland/planet of the apes (stay away from remakes!) but he is a fantastic artist and director.

Oct 3 - 07:01 PM

Andrew StClair

Andrew StClair

But neither Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nor Alice in Wonderland were remakes....

Oct 3 - 07:37 PM

Cloud

Neil Charles Kevin Sanchez

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a remake, just so you know.

Oct 3 - 08:48 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is a re-adaption, which means that Burton made the movie based following the book accurately, & not basing itself off the shitty 70s one. A remake of his is Planet of the Apes.

Oct 3 - 11:31 PM

Bow Ties are Cool

The Holy Rainbow of Awesomness

Planet of the Apes is based off a book too.

Oct 4 - 11:56 AM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

Yeah, but Burton took more liberty in following the movie rather than the book (which is the only time he's done that).

Oct 4 - 12:33 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Shitty 70's one? The shitty one was made by Burton, and it was all kinds of awful on every level.

Oct 4 - 11:15 AM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

How was it bad? Just because Gene Wilder wasn't in it? The Burton one did everything right that the old one did wrong (which was everything). The new one had solid acting, realistic & fully developed characters, a wonderful score with great Oompa Loompa songs that all sound DIFFERENT (not none of that "Oompa Loomp doop a dee do" shit), a storyline that follows the book closer & actually improved on the original cheesy ending, great morals for kids to learn on appreciating what they have in life & for their family, & wondrous visuals. The old one was loaded with terrible acting (with the exception of Gene Wilder, but at a certain point even he got tiring), no-name actors (again, except for Gene Wilder) that were apparently grabbed from acting camp, a predictable storyline & laughable plot, a handful of mediocre special effects (take note that I said a HANDFUL), horrible songs hat all sound the same, & characters as likable as the characters in an Adam Sandler movie.

At least Johnny Depp & the actors from the new one know how to act. (and take in mind that I'm not even a fan of Depp)

Oct 4 - 12:32 PM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

Great Oompa Loompa songs? Dude they were a cacophony... Horrific noise with this pathetic single Oompa pasted everywhere in CGI. It was a fucking disgrace. Oh, and I guess you consider turning Wonka into a Jacksonesque kiddie humper is grounds to say the acting was good. Johnny Depp literally embarassed himself in this performance, and whether he admits it or not it's a shit stain on the titey-whiteys he calls a career. Well, that and the 'Astronaut's Wife' - in which his role is nowhere near as humiliating.

I don't even know why I would try to explain how much was wrong with Burton's Wonka.. because if you are defending it you must have the worst taste ever. You stole fizzy lifting drinks. You bumped into the ceiling which now has to be washed and sterilized, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!

Oct 4 - 07:27 PM

Mohd Syafiq Bin Jabaruddin

Mohd Syafiq Bin Jabaruddin

Well, that taught me to be careful when reading Val's comments after this.

Oct 4 - 09:14 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

And your support is what? Based on actual analysis or just based on your "OMG GENE WILDER WONKA IS THE ONE I GREW UP WITH!!!" crap? Because the new songs are are well written musical numbers that have different tones from different musical eras, & best of all, as stated before, sound DIFFERENT. The old Oompa Loompa songs are all dreadful numbers with the exact same musical scores & lyrics that change only slightly with each song. And I don't what the hell you're talking about when you say "kiddie humper" about the new Wonka, because he was no way in hell anything like a pedophile; that being said, how the hell is Depp's Wonka a kiddie humper? Because if anything, his Wonka was nothing more than a rude & arrogant man towards the kids & having little interest in them because of how isolated he kept himself, thus making him much more realistic take on the character. Now, if we're talking about Wilder's Wonka when it comes to kiddie humper, then we got something.

"because if you are defending it you must have the worst taste ever."

Really? How old are you exactly, 12? I'm not going to continue arguing with an idiot like you who has given no real reason, let alone even decent excuses, as to why the new one sucks, & is only supporting his crap based on their 70s Wonka bullshit, which only tells me that anyone who likes the 70s Wonka movie is a bleeding imbecile with as much brains as a pea, with the exception of a handful (you clearly not being one of them). And after reading the laughable, & completely immature responses you gave to the people in your "Eclipse" review, nothing will tell me otherwise. And as for my taste, it's not the greatest ever, but it's not crap either. And I wouldn't bother saying anything about it anyways, because you liked Speed Racer but gave The Grey a 20%.

Oct 5 - 12:43 AM

Bigbrother

Big Brother

My basis for it is Gene Wilder took a character that could have been an off putting creepy pedophile type (As seen in the Depp edition) and made him charming and endearing while not losing any of the eccentric weirdo vibe. Also he was a comedic genius with more comedic timing in his left nut that Depp has in his entire body. Depp is a great actor, but this is easily one of his most off putting roles where his sensibilities got pretty much everything wrong. As for the Oompa Loompa songs. The beauty of them was their simplicity, they complimented the movie, were memorable without distracting you from the central plot. Whereas the Burton ones I can't remember the words or melody to at all except thinking that they were unpleasant to the ears at the time and a tremendously unnecessary distraction. Wilder took something that on paper could have been A. forgettable fluff or B. A horrible calamity in the visual medium and came up with C. A timeless, endearing classic that should never be remade and can never be improved upon. Burton's Charlie will go down in history as an example of a remake that should never have been attempted.

Oct 5 - 06:27 AM

Valmordas

Val Mordas

I thank Brother for the elaboration I totally agree with, and no I am not basing this on 'The Wonka I grew up with'. I like Burton (and still do, however his latest works have been questionable). I have eyes and ears, both of which were bleeding after watching his bastardization of both book and previous film. Taken as a unique entity, with no previous standard for which to judge, Burton's Wonka is still an awful travesty of a film.

Oct 5 - 01:20 PM

allister w.

allister w

how was it bad? Well, let's see: Gene Wilder's characterization is under the skin weird. Johnny Depp's is "look at me" on the sleeve weird. And, if you are going to make a musical, you better have some hummable tunes. That said. the original took WAY too long to get to the Chocolate Factory. Still, I will take it over Burton's flaccid version.

Plus, Burton made the most dumb down celluloid version of Alice in Wonderland, bar none. And Burton's Sweeney Todd is a slick Hollywood version of the much grimier version staring George Hearn (again, Depp is phony weird. Hearn is the real deal).

Oct 7 - 06:37 AM

Marcus Liddle

Marcus Liddle

Ha. completely forgot about Planet Of The Apes. and where is Mars Attacks!?

Oct 24 - 04:49 PM

Kieran F.

Kieran Fraser

Edward Scissor-hands isn't number one........Hmmm...

Oct 3 - 07:02 PM

Rbaldelli7

Michael Baldelli

Ed Wood is my favorite of his. "You think it takes talent to play Frankenstein?"

Oct 3 - 07:08 PM

Jason Lilly

Jason Lilly

LOL. "Karloff? Sidekick? F@#$ you!"

Oct 3 - 07:59 PM

allister w.

allister w

Ed Wood is his best, followed by Pee Wee.

Oct 7 - 06:50 AM

Daniel Breidenstein

Daniel Breidenstein

Batman is his best movie IMO..

After that

Ed Wood
Beetlejuice
Batman Returns

Oct 3 - 07:15 PM

Andrew StClair

Andrew StClair

"And it seems more like a Tim Burton film that happens to feature Batman rather than a Batman film directed by Tim Burton if that makes sense"

It does make sense. That's the very reason why its the best one....

Oct 3 - 07:26 PM

Phil White

Phil White

Jerry Benedict is too young

Oct 3 - 07:30 PM

Andrew StClair

Andrew StClair

But neither Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nor Alice in Wonderland were remakes....

Oct 3 - 07:37 PM

Cloud

Neil Charles Kevin Sanchez

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a remake, just so you know.

Oct 3 - 08:48 PM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is a re-adaption, which means that Burton made the movie based following the book accurately, & not basing itself off the shitty 70s one. A remake of his is Planet of the Apes.

Oct 3 - 11:31 PM

Bow Ties are Cool

The Holy Rainbow of Awesomness

Planet of the Apes is based off a book too.

Oct 4 - 11:56 AM

Frisby2007

Frisby 2007

Yeah, but Burton took more liberty in following the movie rather than the book (which is the only time he's done that).

Oct 4 - 12:33 PM

Jason Lilly

Jason Lilly

LOL. "Karloff? Sidekick? F@#$ you!"

Oct 3 - 07:59 PM

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