Burton. Eight films with Tim Burton’s unmissable gothic fingerprint is the reason he lands on this list. He doesn’t have a top 500 of all-time film (and unlike some others I’m pretty certain of that) and that’s a blemish, even this far down, but if Beetlejuice and Corpse Bride are his sixth and seventh best films? No, they’re not Pan’s Labyrinth (and Burton is no Guillermo del Toro- a contemporary that is an apt comparison), but that’s depth and quality there.
Best film: Ed Wood. A film that is always overlooked when people talk about Burton’s or Johnny Depp’s best work but it shouldn’t be. Burton is a visual director, and many of his films over the years have so-so narratives and screenplays at best— Ed Wood is absolutely the exception- sharp, entertaining– it is a perfect film.
total archiveable films: 8
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 0
top 100 films of the decade: 2 (Ed Wood, Batman)
most overrated: It’s Edward Scissorhands. Burton has two films that land in the TSPDT top 1000—both starting with “Ed”- haha. Ed Wood is fine (maybe a little underrated) at #901 on the TSPDT consensus top 1000. It’s Scissorhands at #678 that strikes me as 300-400 or so slots too high.
most underrated: Batman isn’t in the TSPDT top 1000—- that doesn’t crush me—though I’m somewhere between 600-900. But they have it way down at #1900 or so—too low. If you look at Marvel’s films and you, like me, lament the lack of individual artistry and authorship—look no further than Batman. Burton made a comic book film, a box office smash of great entertainment…. and he made a Tim Burton film at the same time.
gem I want to spotlight : Sleepy Hollow. It is time this movie is revived and given the due it deserved. It was lost in the shuffle in 1999 (still is)—new names like PT, Wes, Sofia, Spike Jonze, Aronofsky were on the come— and I’m not saying this film is worthy of being in the class of those films. But look at Burton’s work here along with Emmanuel Lubezki as his cinematographer. Jaw-droppingly beautiful.
- Gothic horror, fantasy, expressionism, genre, macabre but playful
- PG or PG-13 version of Cronenberg, darkness
- Quirkiness of character and story— and inventiveness in mise-en-scene, art direction, the use of miniatures, color and black and white excellence, makeup
- Reverberating notes of German Expressionism via James Whale and Tod Browning
- Certainly hard to think of Burton’s work without thinking about the work of composer Danny Elfman
- Ed Wood
- Sweeney Todd
- Sleepy Hollow
- Edward Scissorhands
- Corpse Bride
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
By year and grades
|1990- Edward Scissorhands||R|
|1994- Ed Wood||HR/MS|
|1999- Sleepy Hollow||R|
|2005- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory||R|
|2005- Corpse Bride||R|
|2007- Sweeney Todd||HR|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives
hey have you seen the miniseries, watchmen. it has a lot in it that is visual, definitely a recommend.
@m — I have not caught Watchmen– thanks for the recommendation
Dominik must be the only one left with a MP in the pre 2009 world. It’s a giant MP, and almost nothing else. Must be difficult to pin him down.
@AP— good work here! There are a few with an MP left in the pre-2009 world— (Zinneman with High Noon, Mamoulian with Love Me Tonight, Curtis Hanson with LA Confidential) but yeah — Dominik has the single best remaining film not accounted for by the 166 directors on this list. He is difficult to pin down. What do you make of him?
Perhaps his lack of commercial success despite having one of the biggest stars on earth headlining his two American films has made it difficult for him to get projects greenlit? He did some laudable work last year on the 2nd season of Mindhunter… but that’s not quite what you’re hoping for from someone who dropped a massive masterpiece on un 13 years ago.
@Matt Harris– Absolutely that has to play a part. I’ve also read (can’t remember or find where now) that he’s not exactly easy to work with or much of a compromiser (which is fine if you’re making a lot of money)– just kind of the opposite of what you hear about someone like Denis Villeneuve or something who everyone likes working with.
That said- Domink’s new film Blonde is currently slated for a release in 2020 from netflix, decent budget, Ana de Armas, Adrien Brody, Bobby Cannavale…. thank you netflix— look at what Dominik says “Dominik previously told Collider that he believes Blonde “will be one of the 10 best movies ever made.” — lol.
Batman Returns is his best film !
I have to agree with KidCharlemagne. While I don’t think Batman Returns is necessarily Burton’s best film, I do think it’s one his best and undoubtedly more of a Burton film than even Batman ‘89. It’s dark, twisted, weird and completely Burton. I think it also has better production design than the first film (which is saying a lot). Personally, I think it’s at least worthy of the archives.
I join, Batman returns is just as good as Batman 89, performance is just as good, Pfeiffer is amazing
I must admit i am not very knowledgeable about cinema. And as an amateur i ask what are your opinions about “Big Fish”?
@Oguz- thanks for the comment and for visiting the site. I like Big Fish– it just missed out on the archives but I must admit when I was putting together Burton’s page here I was struck by some of the imagery– I think it is the Burton film (along with Batman Returns) that I need to rewatch next
I just saw the short film Vincent today by Tim Burton. It featured his trademarks you talk about.
What next should I watch from Tim Burton?
I’m not very big on Tim Burton in general, and, unlike Guillermo del Toro, his artistic choices don’t always seem to come together. It’s hard to explain, but I don’t find that there is “heart” in his work as often as people give it credit for. I’m not talking about substance. Think of Baz Luhrmann – Moulin Rouge! feels right, but the Great Gatsby doesn’t, and it isn’t simply because the former is better crafted and masterfully edited (I think production design and Mise en scene gets Moulin Rouge to MS, but the editing and pacing gets it to MP). That’s the impression that most Burton films give me. Out of the ones I’ve watched, I’d say Ed Wood is indeed the best. Edward Scissorhands is wonderful, of course, but Ed Wood goes all the way and Burton fares beautifully in black and white. Charlie is horribly uneven and Sleepy Hollow I didn’t like much, but I have to agree that the cinematography is stunning and I’m beginning to notice more and more people picking up on it. It’s dark, gloomy, stark, visceral and appropriately otherworldly. That’s as far as my knowledge on Burton goes, but I wanted to ask, apparently you haven’t archived Big Fish. I don’t think it’s a masterpiece or anything of the sort, but it’s ambitious, perhaps more of an ambitious narrative than a spectacle – the narrative definitely works more than in Sleepy Hollow or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. And I find there is some wonderful imagery on display, more scarcely, but it’s there, some very poignant well written scenes and everything just rolls. I’m really hoping my memory of it isn’t just nostalgia saturated and completely biased, but I can’t think of a reason that Charlie is in the archives and Big Fish is not. That said, thank you for mentioning Sleepy Hollow, even if the credit probably belongs to Lubezki, and I agree on your review of Ed Wood.
@Georg- Good stuff here- and I like the Baz and del Toro comment. You are not the first to point out the absence of Big Fish- I may have missed some of the more redeemable qualities- it certainly happens. I saw it in theater but I think that’s it so we’re talking nearly 20 years here. I’d like to get to both it and Batman Returns again before updating the page.
Have you seen Sweeney Todd?
@Drake – yes, admittedly I haven’t seen it in a long time as well. And I haven’t watched any of his work on Batman. At this point, Burton is relatively deep in the queue so I don’t think I’ll be looking at his work soon
@Zane – no, not at all. It looks a touch darker than usual Burton and I’d like to see him direct a musical. But no I haven’t seen it. I take it you recommend it?
Yes. If my word isn’t enough for you, Drake lists it here as among his best as well. I’m not a huge Burton admirer myself, I don’t think a lot of his style always lands, but this is one of his few films where it remarkably does, in my opinion. Depp gives one of his best performances there; widely considered the frontrunner for the Oscar the Oscar had DDL’s performance in There Will Be Blood not been in the running.
@Zane – haha, great. I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for it. After all, who doesn’t want to watch murderous barbers sing in lots of make up?
Edward Scissorhands R
Ed Wood R
Sleepy Hollow R
Big Fish R
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory R
Corpse Bride —
Sweeney Todd HR