If you follow Nightmare on Film Street on Twitter, you know that today is the birthday of the fantasy-macabre visionary, Tim Burton! And what better way to celebrate the Pumpkin King personified than with a Tim Burton marathon of his Ten Best Films of All Time (..thus far)!
If you’ve been living under a bland and entirely un-spooky rock, Tim Burton is a film director, producer, artist, writer and animator. He’s the creative mind behind some of the largest films of the past 30 years.. and currently the 9th highest grossing director of all-time, to be exact.
He boasts an impressive back-catalog of films including; the ghost-with-the-most Beetlejuice (1988), the whimsically sorrowful tale of Edward Scissorhands(1990), and the Halloween season staple, Nightmare Before Christmas(1993). But which are best, you say? Well, let’s get to it!
Everyone Hail to the Pumpkin King!
10- Big Fish
We had a hard time ranking Tim Burton’s 2003 fantasy/comedy Big Fish higher on our list, as it’s probably the most mainstream (read: not spooky) he’s ever ventured. The film is adapted from a novel of the same nam written by Daniel Wallace. It follows Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), a former traveling salesman in the Southern United States with a penchant for storytelling, who is now confined to his deathbed. Will (Billy Crudup), his estranged son, with his wife Joséphine (Marion Cotillard), attempts to mend their relationship as Bloom relates the somewhat tall tales of his eventful life as a young man (his young self being portrayed by Ewan McGregor).
Big Fish is tells a beautiful and sad story, and it tells it with a whimsy we could only expect from Tim Burton’s larger-than-life perspective.
Batman is the 1989 American superhero film directed by Tim Burton and produced by Jon Peters and Peter Guber. Though Tim Burton became attached to the project in 1986, it wasn’t until the success of 1988’s Beetlejuice (who you may just catch a little further down on our list) that the project received the go-ahead. And too like Beetlejuice, this film stars Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne.. and spoiler alert, Batman. Title roles include Jack Nicholson as The Joker, alongside Kim Basinger, Robert Wuhl, Pat Hingle, Billy Dee Williams, Michael Gough and Jack Palance.
What sets Tim Burton’s Batman apart from the plethora of other comic book adaptations is it’s almost literal translations from page-to-screen. With a bold color palette and wildly animated portrayals, the characters themselves seem to have been lifted directly from the pages and placed in a 3-dimensional underbelly.
8- Corpse Bride
Corpse Bride (2005) is Tim Burton’s first foray into directing a feature-length stop motion film. It feature the voice talent of Johnny Depp as Victor and Helena Bonham Carter as Emily in the lead roles. The film is set in a fictional Victorian village, and follows a nervous young Victor, who is arranged to be married to shy but lovely Victoria. Things go awry when Victor sets out to the woods to practice his wedding vows, accidentally placing the ring on the skeleton finger of the Corpse Bride. Now animated, the Corpse Bride pulls Victor, and soon the whole village, into her colorful underworld.
Though overshadowed by Tim Burton’s iconic Nightmare Before Christmas, this film displays a wonderful advancement in the capabilities of stop motion film-making. I also double dare you to watch it and not find yourself humming one of the songs for days afterwards.
7- Batman Returns
Batman Returns is the result of Tim Burton’s struggle with the studio to greenlight his beloved tragedy, Edward Scissorhands. Though this film may not have been of Tim Burton’s own choosing, the 1992 follow-up to 1989’s Batman is arguably the best of Warner Brother’s initial 4 film Batman series.
In Batman Returns, Michael Keaton reprises his role as SPOILER ALERT Batman/Bruce Wayne, against a new host of baddies; Danny DeVito as the twisted and slightly pathetic Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as the fierce and seductive Catwoman and Christopher Walken as corporate tycoon Max Shreck (a character original to this series). This film delved darker than it’s predecessor, mainly due to the design and embodiment of our deliciously twisted new villains.
6- James and the Giant Peach
Alright, so before you get all ‘Tim Burton didn’t direct this‘ on me, let me preface #6 on our list by saying; Tim Burton didn’t direct this. But, as the second film from the Henry-Selick-directing, Tim-Burton-producing partnership, James and the Giant Peach proves a good team, is damn good team.
Based on the book of the same name by Roahl Dahl (I see a pattern! Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, anyone?), the film follows young James on a misadventure aboard a giant peach with a whole host of creepy little pals (creepy cause they’re bugs).
This film was arguably the strangest thing I watched on the regular as a child, and probably the only film in my heavy rotation of kid-dom that I never fully understood. Why bugs? Why a peach? Where is this illustrious Big Apple? I suppose young Kim will never know.
5- Ed Wood
Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s first attempt at adapting non-fiction for the big screen (unless you count Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, which is mostly wrong, but not entirely so). The film portrays the life and career of Ed Wood (played by Johnny Depp), notably known as ‘the worst director of all time’. The film is an homage to the Science Fiction and B-Movies beloved by Burton in his childhood.
This film was a departure to Tim Burton’s expected dark/whimsical style, and failed to perform at the box office. It soon gained cult status though, as even without all of the loud Tim Burton quirks, Johnny Depp’s subtle optimistic performance paired with Martin Landau’s interpretation of horror icon Bella Lugosi makes this one of his most notable films to date.
4- Sleepy Hollow
Inspired by Washington Irving’s classic Halloween tale, Sleepy Hollow, released in 1999, found Tim Burton venturing to the fictional pioneer village of Sleepy Hollow (I know, big stretch. Stay with me!), and expanding the simple legend into dark, paranormal mystery fit for a feature-length film. Johnny Depp, by now a Tim Burton regular, portrayed Ichabod Crane, with Christina Ricci as Katrina van Tassel.
Sleepy Hollow stands out as one of Tim Burton’s closest ventures into traditional Horror. Though still retaining the humor and quirkiness (in Johnny Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod, especially) known to Tim Burton, the menacing mayhem of the Headless Horseman made this flick quite a successfully scary film.
3- Edward Scissorhands
What would a Tim Burton list be without the painfully beautiful story of Edward Scissorhands? (answer: a shitty list). The film co-written and directed by Burton, features Johnny Depp as Edward, the lovable, unfinished creation of a mysterious inventor (portrayed by the iconic Vincent Price in one of his last on-screen appearances). After the passing of his ‘father’, Edward ventures down from the factory, and falls in love with the rebellious, but kind Kim (Winona Ryder).
This film is the perfect blend of everything we’ve come to love from Tim Burton, a wildly creative character breathing heart and soul on the screen, a taste of quirky humor, fantasy, and ultimately- a touch of darkness.
2- Nightmare Before Christmas
‘Woah wait, Tim Burton didn’t dir-‘ Again- shush, dear reader. I’m getting to it. Though not directed by Tim Burton, Nightmare Before Christmas, written and produced by Burton, soon skyrocketed as one of his most iconic films of all time. Due to scheduling conflicts with Batman Returns, Burton handed directing reigns to Henry Sellick.
The fantastical stop motion animation film follows the king of Halloween, Jack Skellington, who adventures out of the confines of his holiday in search for something new and exciting. When he stumbles across the wonders of Christmas Town, things quickly go awry when Jack tries to commandeer the Holiday from the jolly old elf himself, Santa Claus.
The film is iconic, a modern-day fable, and probably the only full story the goth teams loitering about the Hot Topic can recount.
It’s Showtime! Topping our list of Tim Burton flicks is his 1988 comedic fantasy, BEETLEJUICE (, BEETLEJUICE, BEETLEJUICE)! The film follows the recently deceased Maitlands (portrayed by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis). The couple are forced to continue haunting their own farmhouse even after an avant-garde family moves in and begins tinkering with the decor. Desperate to clean the house of the un-dead, the Maitlands call upon Beetlejuice, the bio-exorcist (portrayed by Michael Keaton).
Only Burton’s second feature film, Beetlejuice truly shines in every, eerie way. The over-the-top practical effects and grotesque character designs really get a chance to play in Burton’s dark, bureaucratic afterlife. Keaton kills as the zany and out-of-control Beetlejuice, which is quite the feat considering he only has 17.5 total minutes of screentime. Yeah.
Before we depart, we do have a few films that we weren’t able to fit into this list. I suppose we could have extended it to a less click-bait-able number, but here we are. Honorable mentions; Mars Attacks!(1996), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street(2007), and Frankenweenie(2012).