Every Tim Burton Movie, Ranked

Movies Lists Tim Burton
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Every Tim Burton Movie, Ranked

No, that’s not an American Robert Smith, that’s Tim Burton, Hollywood’s resident Hot Topic manager/goth filmmaker extraordinaire. And it’s time to rank his movies. Growing out of an animation world that wasn’t quite ready for his particular spin on the silly-sweet macabre, Burton broke out into a live-action directing landscape ready for an auteur with an intense and inventive aesthetic. From this idiosyncratic vantage, he changed how we looked at everything from superhero movies to horror-comedies – and shined spotlights on Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder and Danny Elfman strong enough to make them household names right alongside his most emo creations. While he eventually broadened his scope towards half-hearted, CG-reliant remakes, he boasts decades of work that have an artistic throughline going all the way back to the cheeky, grim warmth of his student film Stalk of the Celery Monster. While his movies’ aesthetic may no longer stand out from the mainstream – so much so that his return to TV barely made a wave at all – Burton was a major force in moving the movie needle towards darker fare, and remains one of the more influential figures in modern media.

Here’s every Tim Burton movie, ranked:

19. Dumbo (2019)


It makes sense for Tim Burton to be tapped to direct a live-action adaptation of Disney’s beloved animated classic about the bullied baby elephant with gigantic ears whose “disability” turns out to be what makes him extraordinary. Throughout his career, Burton has been drawn to telling the stories of melancholic outcasts and social rejects who build a world. Add to this the film’s setting, an early 20th century small traveling circus full of all of the whimsical tropes that come packaged with such things—snake charmers, wild animal trainers, clowns, strong men, etc.—and the project has Burton’s name written all over it. However, Burton begins on the wrong foot by treating the material as the kind of grand spectacle that worked well for recent Disney live-action remakes like Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book. Those movies had issues, but matching the grandiosity of their adventure and thrills-filled originals wasn’t one of them. The 1941 Dumbo is a more low-key and intimate story. The 2019 Dumbo unwisely pushes its titular hero into the background in favor of human characters who lack depth, and an action-heavy script that runs out of steam barely after the first act is over. Colin Farrell plays Holt, who comes back to work at the small-time circus of frumpy but warmhearted Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Not only did Holt lose his arm in the war, but he finds out that Max has sold the horses he used to train for his act, forcing him to work with elephants. One of the elephants, Jumbo, gives birth to Dumbo, whose giant ears become a source of ridicule amongst the staff and the circus’ audience. However, Holt’s adorable children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) see something special in the baby elephant, and through their private training sessions, find out that he can actually fly using his ears as wings. To this point, Ehren Kruger’s script sticks pretty close to the story beats of the original, but the human characters are cardboard cutout Disney placeholders. Kruger further shoots himself in the foot by completing the entire story arc of the original Dumbo within the first act of the remake. This leaves an hour of runtime to go, so enter V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and one of his star performers, Colette Marchant (Eva Green). Vandevere owns a giant theme park in New York and wants to incorporate Dumbo into his grand show. Vandevere is smarmy, sly, rich, and doesn’t like kids or animals. In typical Disney terms, this equals “bad guy.” Since the overall emotional arc of the story and its protagonist is pretty much over, we’re treated to the same scene of Dumbo flying around the circus, but this time it’s bigger and shinier, an apt and hopefully unintentional self-criticism the movie throws at itself. The premise of a bunch of 1919 circus freaks whimsically conspiring to save an elephant from captivity should be an easy layup for Burton, but he just goes through the motions here with a paint-by-numbers Disney climax.–Oktay Ege Kozak

18. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a story that employs the most basic adventure tale formula with an imaginative gusto. The images he crafted are so affecting that they have been seamlessly woven into the cultural vernacular, resulting in endless adaptations. Each version of Alice in Wonderland distorts this imagery through the cultural lens. Unfortunately, Tim Burton’s offering is undercut by his penchant for the 21st century CGI-ed aesthetic. This Wonderland is populated with characters whose limbs stretch disproportionately long or whose unwieldy heads sit on slight shoulders, all of this is supposed to capture Lewis Carroll’s asymmetrical world, jagged and looming: a fever dream. But under Burton’s direction this landscape of characters is disarmingly ugly, decorated in the untextured gray of computer-generated scenes. While the early stage of his career was dominated by a B-movie sensibility which animated his actors with their practical reach, Alice in Wonderland proves that this newly stylized filmmaking isolates the actors. Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway can all craft strange characters, but each rendition of these storybook figures feels isolated and removed, segmenting the plot and muddling the tone. If nothing else, Alice in Wonderland confirms that Johnny Depp’s stilted quirkiness, once heralded as cool in its boldness, is nothing more than an embarrassing party trick.–Anna McKibbin

17. Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark Shadows

The adaptation of the 1970s soap opera, like so many reboots, re-imaginings and revivals of late, should have been left for dead. Johnny Depp is vampire Barnabas Collins, cursed to a life full of plot holes and bad jokes, or something like that. Our fanged fish out of water wakes up 200 years after being buried undead by a spiteful witch, and the zany Tim Burton twist here is that he’s in the 1970s, just like the show! Beat-you-over-the-head evidence of that abounds, including the requisite Volkswagen Bus, the local theater marquee, and a he’s-still-alive? Alice Cooper cameo. In fact, the scenery is often telling a better story than the script, because every character of note in the film spends most of their screen time explaining to us exactly why they’re there. The line between cute and corny begins to blur quickly, and seeing talented performers spout clichés in the name of half a dozen unfinished storylines becomes both plodding and depressing. All the quirks in Burton’s canon don’t add up to depth of character, and most of the characters here have an abundance of style and a lamentable dearth of substance. Everything feels a little fake and overdone; what was once fresh and bright is now two-dimensional and well-worn. Burton and Depp’s best efforts have been films that found humanity in the strangest places, but unfortunately, Dark Shadows ends up being a bumpy ride amidst some parlor tricks and wooden cutouts.—Tyler Chase

16. Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes

Tim Burton has rightfully earned his place as a stylistically fringe, critically questionable, yet commercially successful director. So, who else would be better suited to helm the story of a stylistically fringe, critically questionable, yet commercially successful painter? Big Eyes is based on the true events of Walter and Margaret Keane, a power couple of the San Francisco art scene who, from 1955 to 1965, revolutionized a sacred sect of high culture into a mass commercial enterprise. Big Eyes’ staunchest goal is to re-evaluate the dynamic of that power couple by following the rise and fall of a pseudo-misogynist and the journey of the woman he held his domestic, creative and financial prisoner through emotional manipulation and a patriarchal pimp hand. When Walter (Christoph Waltz) and Margaret (Amy Adams) first meet, she’s new to the city, a brand-new divorcee with a daughter in tow. He comes upon her in the park, surrounded by her paintings—the now-iconic images of sad waifs with disproportionately big eyes, natch—pedaling sketch portraits to passersby for half her asking price. He pounces. Screenwriters Larry Karaszewski and Scott Alexander teamed up with Burton for the first time since 1994, when they supplied the script for Oscar-winning biopic on cult filmmaker and camp counselor Edward D. Wood Jr. The creative integrity of Ed Wood cannot be said of Big Eyes. One of the major malfunctions of Big Eyes is that its universe is a little too recognizable, following a narrative path that, though long and windy, is paved in familiar terrain. The theatrical kitsch that might otherwise work is understated to the point of pander and reads as misused and misunderstood as a stylistic tool. The story of Walter and Margaret Keane is bona fide movie material through and through, but rich narrative drama is just not part of Burton’s wheelhouse. Challenging the art world’s widespread dismissal of Keane’s kitschy works is not the goal of Big Eyes, just as the goal of Ed Wood is not to challenge Wood’s unfortunate position in directing history. Burton is trying to bring to life a sympathetic narrative for peripheral artists through his own distinguishable style, but in the process of trying to not distract from a heavy storyline, his visionary directing, though aesthetically vibrant, is severely stunted.—Melissa Weller

15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

This bastardization of the delightful 1971 Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory is as frustrating for its on-the-nose adaptive choices as for its charmless central performance. Roald Dahl’s source material is strangely off-putting, intoxicatingly imaginative, ridiculously colonial-capitalist (who writes a whole book about a magical factory owner?) and perfectly pitched at sucking in children with its alluring shades of darkness. Tim Burton and writer John August don’t bother hiding Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s terrifying subtext behind anything but Burton’s heightened (yet often impressive) sets. The racist British Imperial fantasy of the Oompa-Loompas? Enhanced and underlined, complete with a pith-helmeted Wonka. Gene Wilder’s charming, wry wit colored a gentle eccentric and was soft enough that if you weren’t listening closely, it could pass right by you. When harsh words, a hard attitude or a frightening display of shipborne nihilism snuck through, it was shocking. Johnny Depp’s terrible little coaxing mutter, dribbling out of a slickened and smoothed cartoon, seems designed to soothe and kidnap stray children—it’s more of a Pennywise choice than a wise choice. Jim Carrey could’ve pulled this off at his peak, maybe, but that’s because he could be clownish without seeming calculated. But an infatuation with a creepy performance isn’t the film’s only flaw: At Burton’s every turn, nuance is replaced with straightforwardness, lessening every impact. Insipid dialogue is just as frustrating as the same reaction shots used in every semi-elaborate song. Wonka’s backstory is explained in a series of flashbacks, something that would become all too familiar in the remake-apalooza afflicting Hollywood in and around the film. Of course, of equal blame (or maybe even more) for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the Dahl family. The moneygrubbing estate had full artistic control and bonded with Burton over disliking the original film. Burton remains a skilled artist with an undeniably effective visual toolbox, but cowing to the demands of the Dahls saps his work of impact—even at its most gleefully brutal.–Jacob Oller

14. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

With a little X-Men here, a sprinkling of Harry Potter there, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children treads in opulent fantasy and themes that are the stuff of sturdy all-ages drama: The battle between good and evil, say, or the struggle of the different against the oppressive and mundane. Tim Burton would seem well-suited to this material, embracing throughout his career the strange, the disaffected and the outcast—all of which apply here. In its grandest segment, the children set out on a rescue mission by raising a sunken wreck just off their coastline. Making the vessel seaworthy requires a few of the children to put their talents to use, and Burton turns their efforts into something majestic. This thrilling sequence follows them to a seaside amusement park in England, where the kids, Jake among them, must enter battle to save themselves. A pleasingly Burton-esque scene ensues: Skeletons get the Ray Harryhausen treatment so they can do battle set to a lively techno score. If there’s a problem with this scene, it’s that they suggest what the rest of film might have been—something more rousing, charming, and, above all, emotionally involving. That the movie hangs together is a tribute to Burton, who is ready as ever to play with his high-contrast, super-saturated colors. There’s also the efficient, unfussy way he constructs a scene, allowing us room to breathe and to truly understand the coherent space into which we’re immersed. What’s disappointing is that Burton doesn’t elevate the so-so material, which seems well-positioned to function as a resonant allegory about the costs of war, being without loving parents and the struggles of being different. In the composite, the series of beautifully framed and well-acted scenes is less than the sum of its parts. What we’re left with is an assemblage of familiar elements that never finds its emotional core.—Anthony Salveggi

13. Planet of the Apes (2001)

This much-maligned “re-imagining” isn’t the abomination that many claim it to be, but it’s also completely pointless and has somehow dated worse than its 1968 counterpart. Technically competent, but lacking any artistic drive to exist, Tim Burton’s remake bears none of his trademark whimsical-gothic style as he rushed through this project like the gun-for-hire that he was. In one of his first leading roles, Mark Wahlberg looks downright uncomfortable playing the iconic Charlton Heston part, and the film’s attempt at being truthful to Pierre Boulle’s original novel by moving the setting to an actual alien planet completely backfires. The less said about that ridiculous ending, the better.–Oktay Ege Kozak

12. Frankenweenie (2012)

When Victor Frankenstein’s beloved bull terrier, Sparky, is hit by a car and killed, his mission is clear: Bring Sparky back to life! Now Sparky’s good as new—except that he leaks water and anything he eats. And when the poodle he loves next door, Persephone, sniffs his new neck bolts, she gets an electric shock that adds Bride of Frankenstein-like streaks of white to her beehive hairdo. Sparky might be a re-animated dog made out of clay, but he’s also one of the most expressive cinema dogs of all time, one whose pain we feel when his resurrection is discovered and he runs away from Victor’s freaked-out parents. He finds himself in the pet cemetery, where he lies down mournfully on his own grave—after turning around in a circle several times like any dog. He heroically saves the day when other resurrected pets run amok, and we cheer when the formerly terrified townspeople all pitch in to bring Sparky back to life once more. —Sharon Knolle

11. Mars Attacks! (1996)

With Jack Nicholson as president, Sarah Jessica Parker’s head appearing atop a chihuahua body and an alien race that speaks in a bird-like squawk, Mars Attacks! is filled with enough campy goodness to make even the most serious sci-fi fan crack a smile. Although it was initially received poorly among critics and fans alike, repeat viewings of Mars Attacks! made this one shine for a cult audience.—Sean Doyle

10. Corpse Bride (2005)

While The Nightmare Before Christmas actually only boasts the legendary Henry Selick as a credited director, Tim Burton co-helmed Corpse Bride with stop-motion animator Mike Johnson (who worked on both Nightmare and the Burton-produced James and the Giant Peach). That seems to imply a level of hands-on closeness from Burton not quite seen in the former film, but even that may be taken with a grain of salt: Burton was also making Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory during the film’s production. Even with this multitasking, though, the result is an animation colored by all the thematic and aesthetic hallmarks of Burton, fully realized through the detailed goth cartoonishness possible with stop-motion. Really, what’s more Burton than a wan wimp accidentally getting engaged to a rotted (yet beautiful) murder victim? A stuffy monochrome Universal Horror world melts away to reveal the Technicolor revenants of the afterlife (and one of the best uses of skeletons in a musical scene since…well, there’s actually a surprising amount of good examples). Macabre and silly in dialogue and character design, Corpse Bride is filled with classic horror references and the kind of outsider optimism that’s made Burton a household name for decades. Also, with this and Rango, Johnny Depp proves himself a rock-solid voice actor, full of subtle emotion and larger-than-life deliveries.–Jacob Oller

9. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Although it’s based on a tale from the 1800s, Burton takes The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and makes it his own. The 1999 film takes Washington Irving’s legend and adds his own grim spin on the classic tale of the headless horsemen. We get a predictable, yet reliable lead from Johnny Depp as Ichabod Crane, who is investigating the crimes of The Headless Horseman. It’s a period-slasher flick with a Burton spin, and you can’t ask for more than that in a horror movie.–Tyler Kane

8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Whoever said murder couldn’t be wonderfully melodic? Although the Tony-winning Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was right up Burton’s alley, his 2007 film took his macabre look at a homicidal English barber and made it fun. Here’s another Burton flick that relies on the tested chemistry of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but we also see great performances from Alan Rickman as the corrupt Judge Turpin and Sasha Baron Cohen as a rival barber. The film sees Burton’s on-screen gruesomeness at an all-time high, but it’s all balanced out by some infectious musical numbers.–Tyler Kane

7. Big Fish (2003)

It is hard to take a dysfunctional father/son relationship and make it into a magical fantasy world, but that’s just what Burton did in Big Fish. The director takes viewers on a journey of the life of Edward Bloom, an ordinary man who through his own storytelling has lived an extraordinary life. In just two hours Burton addresses death, infidelity and the feelings of estrangement with ease, but he never loses his sense of fantasy. By the end of the movie, Burton has you seeing magic in even the most mundane events and believing in the impossible.—Laura Flood

6. Ed Wood (1994)

Burton’s style owes plenty to campy B-movies of the 1950s, so it’s not surprising that one of his most critically beloved films was a biopic on Ed Wood, the director of what is considered one of the worst films of all time, Plan 9 From Outer SpaceEd Wood marked only the second time he worked with his muse Johnny Depp, which allowed him to play a dynamically different character from Edward Scissorhands. This time around, Depp is a terrible director who crossdresses and wants to be like his hero, Orson Welles. By directing Ed Wood, Burton showed admiration and sympathy for the director rather than poking fun at him. It’s a move that showcased Wood as a determined individual with ambition and hopes to be great.—Ross Bonaime

5. Batman (1989)

With each passing year, it becomes harder to remember that for decades, the popular perception of Batman was not that of the brooding, grim vigilante. Before Tim Burton’s Batman, it was that of the super-campy TV series (and 1966 movie) Batman, colorfully portrayed by Adam West. Though hyped to unholy hell ahead of release, Burton’s version of the character and world restored a great deal of respectability to not only the Caped Crusader, but to comic books in film. Applying the Burton house style of German Expressionism-inspired visuals, Gotham City was again rebuilt as the Great Depression-era New York-at-midnight it was originally conceived as. And Michael Keaton’s astonishing sharp-left turn from being perceived as only a comedic actor to that of the split personality Billionaire Playboy/World’s Greatest Detective, created what may have created the film’s biggest critical shockwaves. With Jack Nicholson applying the full second half of The Shining mode as the Joker, the full package amounted to one entertaining-as-hell summer movie. (Enough so to forgive a archvillain’s needlessly changed origin story.) As both the genre and the Batman mythos itself have received more and more sophisticated treatment, it’s harder and harder to view Burton’s film a Batman film, and easier to see it as as pure Burton. Still, in 1989, it was an initial glimmer of things to come. —S.W.

4. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Referred to by Burton himself as epitomizing his most personal work, Edward Scissorhands has both reached cult status among its fans and has endured for new generations to discover and enjoy. The film is highlighted by elaborate makeup and costume designs in addition to superb performances. Perhaps more importantly, Edward Scissorhands remains the archetypical Burton film and will likely be the work to which his films are compared for the duration of his career.—Brian Tremml

3. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Tim Burton’s full-length directorial debut is also one of his best. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure brings us into the bizarro world of Pee-wee Herman, the excitable, ageless protagonist that’s hopelessly attached to his bike. After it’s stolen in broad daylight, we see Herman travel across the U.S. to reclaim his baby. And through the adventure and its ongoing discoveries (who knew The Alamo didn’t have a basement?) we’re introduced to unforgettable characters like Herman; his (sort-of) love interest, Dottie; the horrifying trucker ghost Large Marge; the snotty, rich Francis and Herman’s dog, Speck. Herman’s wacky world is fully realized through the eye of Burton, and this one stands alone as a film that kids and adults can both get a kick out of.–Tyler Kane

2. Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns at 30: Tim Burton’s Best Dives Headfirst into the Toy Box

There’s still healthy debate as to which of the original Tim Burton Batman films is actually superior, but Batman Returns has a case to make as one of the most entertaining takes on the Caped Crusader. Michelle Pfeiffer certainly is responsible for the most fun take on the Catwoman mythos, although that’s certainly not saying much when the alternatives are the disastrous Halle Berry feature or the disappointing mundanity of Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises. But the casting is so strong all around—a wild-eyed Christopher Walken as the bizarre-looking corporate villain, a more comfortable Michael Keaton who has settled into the Batman role and the impeccable Danny DeVito as the real star of the film, the hideously makeup’d Penguin. Oswald Cobblepot is a character of significant pathos and audience empathy here, alternately shrewd and pathetic, which makes for a fascinating villain. Yeah, the movie dives into Bruckheimer-esque absurdity during the portion when it’s revolving around penguin soldiers with missiles strapped to their backs, but you can’t argue that doesn’t jibe with the tone of classic Batman comics of the ’60s and ’70s. —J.V.

1. Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuice 2 Lives on With a New Writer

So much in Burton’s catalog can be traced back to Beetlejuice. The dynamic, possibly insane main character, the darker take on the family lifestyle, the supernatural engaging with the physical world—all of these have become staples in Burton’s work. It was after Mr. Mom and prior to Batman that Michael Keaton played Betelgeuse with high-intensity and spastic slapstick nature—here, he’s almost like a robot Chaplin dipped in water. But Burton nailed his directorial themes with only his second film, combining the gothic with the suburban that works like an intro the rest of his career.—Ross Bonaime