By Christian DiMartino
I was sitting in some bulls**t class about maps or some s**t and it occurred to me: Tim Burton has a new movie coming out. So… I should rank his others. Because why would I pay attention to the maps?
I personally love Burton, for the most part. His films, if all else fails, are at least always visually marvelous. Sure sometimes he phones it in, or he makes films for the sake of Hot Topic product placement. I’ve also noticed that if he does something special, what follows is a lesser effort. But I excuse those films because of his best work. He’s a filmmaker who is often overlooked because of “style over substance,” which isn’t fair because he is capable of making great films. Whatever.
So with his latest film, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, out this week, I’ve decided to rank all of them. And for the record: he did NOT direct The Nightmare Before Christmas. So don’t ask where it is.
17. Planet of the Apes: Last place was really a toss-up, but I have to go with this one. Burton’s attempt at a reboot is visually competent thanks to the production design by Rick Heinrichs and the make-up, but… let’s be honest, this is a film that you will forget a week after seeing it. Not even Mark Wahlberg can save this thing. Stick with Charlton Heston.
16. Mars Attacks: Burton’s follow-up to Ed Wood is basically an Ed Wood film, except this movie isn’t so bad it’s good: it’s just bad. I’ve heard it’s better upon a second watch, but judging from my first go, I found it annoying and repetitive, squandering an amazing cast in the process. It’s basically like hearing an unfunny joke repeatedly for two hours straight.
15. Alice in Wonderland: On paper, it should’ve been a slam-dunk: Tim Burton making an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Who better? However, this isn’t the case. It’s really just a gorgeous mediocrity. It’s a grand production, but production aside, nothing else really adds up. Burton should have just stuck to the initial source material rather than doing a sequel. Johnny Depp’s performance was a disappointment as well. It’s not an awful film. Just a missed opportunity.
14. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: I like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s not Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and Depp’s performance pales compared to Gene Wilder’s, but like most Burton productions, it’s a visual marvel. Easy on the eyes. It also does Roald Dahl’s novel the right amount of justice and even adds a bit of unexpected depth. Not a great film, but good enough.
13. Dark Shadows: I am completely alone on this, and believe me, I have come to terms: I like Dark Shadows. Sure, it’s a film that Burton and Depp did in their sleep. But I think it’s funny and a good amount of fun. It also, of course, looks great, thanks most in part to Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography. I won’t lie though: the last twenty minutes is pretty dumb.
12. Corpse Bride: Corpse Bride is a simple movie (I mean, it’s not even 90 minutes), but it’s good fun, with just the right amount of Burton’s dark humor. It also has such great voice work from Depp,former squeeze Helena Bonham Carter, Albert Finney, and the rest of the gang.
11. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure: What an odd way for Burton to start his career. Should this film be as funny as it is? Maybe not. But it is funny, and a lot of that comes from the charisma of its star, Paul Reubens. It’s also just a good amount of fun. I myself have never really been on the Pee Wee bandwagon, but this is a good one.
10. Edward Scissorhands: I myself have never really been in love with Edward Scissorhands, but it is an undeniably good movie, and really, it’s probably the most Burton-esque Tim Burton film. We have Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, not to mention his usual visual flair and a creepy, kooky, mysterious and spooky story to go along with them. I see why it’s a classic.
9. Frankenweenie: Frankenweenie should have won the Best Animated Feature Oscar that year. I like Brave, but this film is obviously better. This is probably the most personal of Burton’s films, which is strange considering all that transpires onscreen. Frankenweenie is funny, thanks mostly to Burton’s dark sense of humor and the perfect cast. But yet it is also undeniably sad, mostly this is a story that most can relate to.
8. Batman: “Let’s get nuts!” This is a film that I’ve often under-sold. But I don’t really know why. I’ve realized in recent years that it’s a film I enjoy more and more the more I think about it. Michael Keaton is a perfect Batman. Jack Nicholson is obviously having a blast as The Joker, and we have a blast watching him. It’s great fun, but I honestly prefer…
7. Batman Returns: Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I think Batman Returns is just a smidge better. The film caused kind of an uproar during its initial release, due to the dark, somewhat sexual content on display in what was meant to be a kids movie of the sorts. However, I am a man of strange tastes, and I love Burton’s dark touch here. From the opening scene, you know that you’re in for something much creepier than the last time. And then you meet Danny Devito’s Penguin and… you’re sold. Keaton is terrific, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman… she’s the epitome of sexy.
6. Big Eyes: I may never understand the lack of love for Burton’s last film, Big Eyes. It’s such a tragic, perfectly acted, fascinating and frustrating film. But it’s frustrating in the right ways. I wanted to pull my hair out on multiple occasions, and its mostly because of Christoph Waltz’s sly smarminess. Really though, this is Amy Adams’ film. This is one of her best performances. We feel her tragedy every step of the way. The last twenty minutes is kind of weird, but I think it’s an excellent little number.
5. Big Fish: Kind of like Big Eyes, Big Fish was initially believed to have some sort of Oscar buzz, but fizzled. Which is a damn shame really, because it’s such a gorgeous and lovely piece of work. In terms of story, this feels like Burton is out of his comfort zone. But this is not the case. Big Fish is a work of beauty in more ways than one. It’s a perfectly acted, somewhat funny, but also tender and undeniably moving.
4. Beetlejuice: Michael Keaton didn’t have an Oscar nomination until Birdman back in 2014, but hell, I probably would’ve thrown him one for Beetlejuice. It’s not the kind of performance that warrants an Oscar, but he breathes so much life into this character, it makes the idea of a Beetlejuice 2 sound somewhat more welcoming. Aside from him, the rest of the cast is terrific, and really, so is the movie. It’s so weird, but yet its filled with invention and its absolutely hilarious.
3. Ed Wood: Speaking of hilarious, Ed Wood isn’t quite as weird as some of Burton’s other films, but it’s definitely his. Basically, Ed Wood, written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karazewski (recent Emmy winners for The People vs. OJ Simpson and writers of Burton’s Big Eyes), is comic gold. This is the film, aside from Edward Scissorhands, that first showed us what a duo Burton and Depp can be. Ed Wood is funny, thanks most in part to Depp and Martin Landau in his Oscar winning role. But yet there is something kind of sad about it too, mostly because of its protagonist’s delusions.
2. Sleepy Hollow: Sleepy Hollow is a rare kind of treat: it’s a film that, no matter how many times I see it, remains fresh within every viewing, and I’ve seen it zillions of times. But I mean, what a gorgeous thrill ride this film is. Beautifully filmed by three time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, and featuring a lavish production and all that, Sleepy Hollow is not only easy on the eyes, but it’s also a compelling mystery, and an interesting twist on the Washington Irving tale. I love this movie to bloody death.
1. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street: Ooh mamacita, how I love this movie. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is the film Tim Burton was born to direct, and surely enough, he completely knocks it out of the park. This is a haunting, beautiful, frightening, and flawlessly acted film, but yet for all of its blood splatter, there is undeniable poetry within it. It’s a musical in which the songs even feel necessary with the story, and they’re all so perfectly sung. In all honesty, this is the best performance Johnny Depp has ever given. It’s a tragic, terrifying piece of work. I could go on and on about why I love Sweeney Todd, because it’s just such a masterpiece. But I guess I’ll wrap this up quickly: if you haven’t seen it, YOU MUST.