The Strange and Unusual: Our Favorite Tim Burton Films

The Strange and Unusual: Our Favorite Tim Burton Films

With the premiere of Dumbo, we've decided to go back and pick some of our favorite films from Tim Burton, spanning over thirty years. Take a look at our picks below:


Batman  directed by Tim Burton in 1989.

Batman (1989)

In what is arguably Tim Burton’s most significant step as a director, 1989’s Batman was a rare accomplishment in that it used the “weird” sensibility that Burton had excelled in with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice and forged it with a blockbuster template. As a kid, I was more eager to see Batman than any other film because of the marketing – the cropped logo with the gold and black colors was so iconic that it almost eclipses the film itself. The anticipation of the release date, June 19th, is still seared into my memory. I will admit that once I saw the movie, I was more entranced with the tone and the look of the film – the idea that a comic book movie could work dramatically while still maintaining a high level of spectacle was a new frontier and Burton should get loads of credit for that achievement. The performances by Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson were also strokes of genius, telling the audience that this isn’t going to be disposable fluff, this is going to something different. While other films in the franchise (namely its extremely underrated sequel, Batman Returns) took the character to greater heights, Batman set the tone and with its massive success, paved the way for the modern day comic-book blockbuster. - Joey Aucoin

Beetlejuice  directed by Tim Burton in 1988.

Beetlejuice (1988)

Burton’s sophomore follow-up is one of the most wildly original films he’s ever created. It’s hard to believe this film isn’t an adaptation or remake. The film’s characters are one of its best features. Without Beetlejuice, we would not have our goth icon Lydia Deetz, played to perfection by a young Winona Ryder, who people still quote 30 years later. And then there is Michael Keaton, in his earliest most recognizable role as Betelgeuse, a character you are meant to abhor, but is somehow beloved. Everything about this film is unique. Its clever use of postmodern grotesque, carnival style aesthetics, all cut with an amazing sense of morbid humor. In Beetlejuice’s opening scene, a terrifyingly large spider climbs over a country home, only to be gently picked up like it wasn’t a threat at all, lifted away from a hand-made miniature town. This use of pseudo-horror camera tricks lay the foundation for the rest of the film’s more shocking gags, which include human deformation, jokes about suicide (“little accident”), and a dead chain smoker who is, “thinking about cutting back.“ Laughter takes away from the macabre, making it easy for those watching to not think too hard about what was just said. Beetlejuice is Burton at his very best. - Sara Sorrentino

Ed Wood  directed by Tim Burton in 1994.

Ed Wood (1994)

Any other filmmaker could have turned a biopic about Ed Wood—the so-called “Worst Director of All Time” who populated his b-movies with has-beens, charlatans, and misfits—into a sideshow, but who loves a misfit more than Tim Burton? Ed Wood is a glorious tribute to the act of movie-making, money or talent be damned. Featuring the best performance of Johnny Depp’s long-departed “indie golden boy” years, along with crisp black and white cinematography from Stefan Czapsky, Ed Wood is the kind of passion project only Burton could make. Though it drapes a pink angora sweater over the grimier aspects of the director’s life (and invents an inspirational encounter with Wood’s hero Orson Welles), the movie’s can-do gumption overwhelms any nitpicking over historical accuracy. And yet, there’s a dark tenderness at its core for Wood and his friend, the drug-addicted former Dracula, Bela Lugosi (Oscar-winning Martin Landau). They were dreamers who reached for success, grabbed it briefly, and then tumbled hard back to Earth, though ultimately both achieved a strange sort of immortality. One can easily imagine Tim Burton echoing Wood’s words: “This is the one I’ll be remembered for.” - Kayleigh Hearn

Sleepy Hollow  directed by Tim Burton in 1999.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Before the dark times, before the Apes, Tim Burton once again dazzled audiences with his own personal stamp on the Hammer Horror genre. 1999 brought us the delightfully gruesome Sleepy Hollow featuring longtime collaborator Johnny Depp as the tortured Ichabod Crane and Christopher Walken as the mute Headless Horseman. A visual feast thanks to its Oscar-winning production design and Emmanuel Lubezki's top-tier cinematography, Burton's horror picture certainly doesn't hold back when it comes to scares and gore. Although a low-key romance between Depp and Christina Ricci’s characters, Sleepy Hollow wears Burton's horror influences on its sleeve. From the stacked supporting cast featuring Martin Landau, Michael Gough, Ian McDiarmid, and Michael Gambon, to the many twists and turns in relation to the plot, to the thrilling, gore-soaked climax, this is Hammer in all but name. Burton has always had a knack for getting studios to bite when it comes to his outlandish ideas, from the gothic atmosphere of Batman Returns to the big budget farce of Mars Attacks!, and Sleepy Hollow is no different. He got a studio to make a classic horror movie in the modern age and pulled it off exceedingly well. With beheadings and impaling galore it's a high point for both Burton and the genre as a whole, and it's also this writer's personal favorite horror film. - Matt Curione

Batman Returns  directed by Tim Burton in 1992.

Batman Returns (1992)

Wild stories like Batman Returns need a wild director, and Tim Burton’s take on the Caped Crusader will always be one of my favorites. The sequel to Batman (1989) is outlandish at times but that’s the way a comic book film should be. In Batman Returns, the Penguin (Danny DeVito) wants revenge on Gotham after his parents abandoned him, and plans to destroy all firstborn sons in Gotham. Meanwhile we’re introduced to the slimy Max Shreck (Christopher Walken), who also wants to take over Gotham, and a sassy Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) who wants revenge on Shreck for trying to murder her. All of this is happening while our obvious Batman (Michael Keaton) is trying to save the day. I was only 5 when Batman Returns came out, but I vividly remember seeing this movie for the first time and loving it ever since. Selina Kyle was my personal favorite. She stuck up for herself and survived everything that was thrown at her, and had a KILLER costume to boot. Even to this day seeing Catwoman stand in her window with the neon pink radiating from her room gives me so much joy. Batman Returns is a staple of my youth and I have all the thanks to Tim Burton for that. - Rachael Hauschild

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory  directed by Tim Burton in 2005.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

When Tim Burton stormed onto the scene of Warner Brothers’ Willy Wonka update, everything about it changed. The names in consideration for portraying the signature fictional creation of author Roald Dahl (pronounced Roo-all) ranged from Bill Murray to Adam Sandler to Will Smith. But when Burton’s long-time collaborator Johnny Depp stepped into the shoes of Wonka, he vowed to work with Burton to create a unique take on the character made famous by Gene Wilder. The result was a critically lauded but popularly divisive remake that, to this day, few people regard as a worthy discussion point for the director’s filmography.

However, with the release of Dumbo this month, I invite you take a step back and look at this fourteen-year-old entry as one of Burton’s weirdest, warmest, and most ambitious works. Burton’s choice of stylish, colorful, and offbeat cartoonish imagery makes this a sumptuous feast of a film, but would it be as quirky without Depp as Wonka? Probably not. This is has always been one of my favorite Depp roles. Not that it’s one of his best, but it’s one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen on a screen. His makeup and actions blend into Burton’s atmosphere, yet feeling distant from Wilder’s interpretation, to the extent that it feels like an entirely different character. And yet, by the time the credits roll, I always move past the initial shock of seeing the pale, lipstick smeared Depp, and end up falling in love with his character; a more personal and intimate Wonka than portrayed in ‘71, especially with the addition of Christopher Lee as Wonka’s father in the third act. The film is not without flaws. It’s a tad too long, a bit too stylish for its own good, and most of the performances lack anything worth writing home about, and Deep Roy as the Oompa Loompas was a colossal misfire. And yet, this remains one of my favorite feel-good pleasures. It’s a movie I can always go back to to uplift my spirits. It’s warm, inviting, funny, sweet, and visually appealing, even if to a fault. Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for me, always wins the war over which Willy Wonka adaptation is better, even though both are lovable in their own special ways. - Ben Lane

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure  directed by Tim Burton in 1985.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is a bit of an odd entry in Tim Burton’s filmography, as it doesn’t really have the signature style of the rest of his work. The comedy of the character of Pee-wee is much louder and more brazen than the winking, more subtle humor of Burton’s later work. Even the visual design of sets and camerawork is totally different than his very next film, Beetlejuice. However, this doesn’t come across like some form of erasure of a director’s distinct voice, but rather, just a knowing and selfless step back out of the spotlight for another to shine. Burton and Herman are coexisting, perfectly symbiotic, onscreen. When Burton gets his moments to shine through, like the iconic Large Marge scene, he’s showing off the best side of his early directing style, using practical effects for chilling results that work right alongside all the laughs. Still, the real star of the picture is the boyish, oddly charming personality of Pee-wee Herman and his mischievous adventures. Pee-wee is not only a force of nature to be reckoned with throughout the story, but also such an indelible part of the film’s DNA that Burton’s involvement can feel a little eclipsed. - Callie Smith


What are some of your favorite films from Tim Burton? Be sure to leave us a comment below or at @TalkFilmSoc.

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