Tim Burton’s work first came into my awareness when Batman was released in 1989. I was ten years old and several years would pass before I knew anything about the man who made it, but now more than 20 years later he has solidified himself as one of the most successful and recognizable directors working today. Anyone familiar with his work and his style may wonder a little at why it took Burton so long to make an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” (since it almost seems to have been specifically written for him), so while you’re pondering that, here is a list of my personal choices of the best films that Burton has given us during his storied career.
10. Batman Returns (1992) PG-13, 126 mins.
When I first decided to come up with this list, Batman Returns was the first of all of Tim Burton’s movies that popped into my head as one to be left off the list (followed closely by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes, which will be left off), but closer retrospection suggests that there is more to admire in the first Batman sequel than I initially thought.
If nothing else, we should remember how effectively Burton and his team re-captured the unique look and feel of the groundbreaking original Batman, but the original's shoes proved a little too big for the first sequel to fill. Nevertheless, it's memorable for its clear example of the kind of darkly atmospheric film that has become one of Tim Burton's trademarks.
Batman Returns Trivia - Danny DeVito was forbidden to describe the make-up that he would wear in the movie as The Penguin to anyone, including his family.
9. Mars Attacks! (1996) PG-13, 106 mins.
Ah, Mars Attacks! Not exactly one of Tim Burton's most popular movies, but even it's overabundance of goofy gags and unfunny moments, it's a science fiction spoof that can hardly be left off any list of his most memorable films.
Jack Nicholson is the president of the United States when Martians invade and decide to take over the planet. They have super-powerful, squirtgun-like weapons, and the movie focuses on numerous different cross-sections of humanity as they struggle to survive the Martian takeover.
Burton doesn't quite succeed in making a memorable spoof, since the comedy just wasn't there enough, but it's certainly a memorable production. It was hobbled at the gate by sharing theaters with the super-successful Independence Day, but possibly a little too much strangeness and a little too little hilarity were the movie's real problems. But hey, at least it was better than Batman Returns.
Mars Attacks Trivia - Tim Burton was told repeatedly that he could not kill off Jack Nicholson's character in the movie, so he responded by casting Nicholson in two roles, and killing him off in both of them.
8. Sleepy Hollow (1999), R, 105 mins.
Moving on to Sleepy Hollow, another entry on the list of Tim Burton's Top 10 list that didn't exactly knock my socks off but that I feel compelled to include anyway. And not only because it doesn't strike me as prudent to diss a movie with a tagline like "Heads will roll."
Like all of my favorite of Burton's movies, Sleepy Hollow is a spectacular atmospheric creation, if not the greatest overall movie. It's the story of Constable Ichibod Crane and his efforts to solve the mystery of the return of the Headless Horseman and three grisly local murders. Crane, a realist whose adherance only to the rules of logic would impress Sherlock Holmes himself, refuses to believe the local hype about the Headless Horseman until a confrontation forces him to re-evaluate his convictions.
Sleepy Hollow Trivia - This was the last movie produced on laserdisc anywhere in the world.
7. Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985), PG, 90 mins.
Quick question, can you imagine going through life with a name like Pee-Wee Herman? I don't think I could. Junior high school would have killed me. Either that or I would have wound up like Paul Reuben's character in this movie, a "man-child" with such an intense connection with his bicycle that he embarks on a cross-country journey to get it back after it's stolen in broad daylight.
During his adventure, Pee-Wee meets all kinds of bizarre people and situations, forcing him to rely on his limited resources of intellect and coolness in order to achieve his goal of reaching the Alamo, which is where a fortune teller told his that his bicycle has been taken.
The movie has been called a Tim Burton remake of the Italian classic film The Bicycle Thief, and while I can hardly think of two movies more completely different, it's also interesting to consider how similar they are.
Pee-Wee Trivia - This was Tim Burton's directorial debut, and the first film score done by legendary composer Danny Elfman.
6. Beetle Juice (1988), PG, 92 mins.
Ah, I have so many cherished childhood memories of watching Burton's classic horror/comedy Beetle Juice, which is surely the man's most appetizing title ever. Michael Keaton plays the title role of Beetle Juice, a "bio-exorcist" hired by the recently deceased couple, Adam and Barbara, when a pesky still-alive family moves into their beloved home and destroys their peaceful afterlives.
After failing to scare the new family off on their own, and after being be-friended by the family's daughter, Adam and Barbara become the central attractions in a side show. After hiring Beetle Juice, they soon become alarmed at his methods, and may end up having to attempt to protect the family that they tried to exorcize from the very ghost that they hired to exorcize them!
Beetle Juice Trivia - This is Michael Keaton's favorite of his own films, even though his character is only on screen for less than 18 minutes of the 92 minute running time.
5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), R, 116 mins.
Burton's film adaptation of the Broadway musical is the kind of unique combination of operatic musical performances and extreme violence that only he could pull off just right. I still remember being initially disappointed when, having gone into the theater not knowing anything about the movie, I discovered that it was going to be a musical, only to be thoroughly impressed with the whole thing by the time it ended.
A barber in Victorian London, Benjamin Barker, is falsely accused of a crime and sent away for years, while the same Judge takes control of his daughter, and his wife eventually commits suicide. 15 years later, he returns to London, opens a barber shop, and begins a murderous and insatiable rampage of murder against the people who caused his pain.
Sweeney Todd Trivia - Helena Bonham Carter was pregnant with hers and Tim Burton's second child during filming of the movie, and she insists that, because filming was done out of sequence. the size of her breasts changes noticeably throughout the film.
4. Big Fish (2003), PG-13, 125 minutes.
Steven Spielberg was originally signed on to direct Big Fish with Jack Nicholson starring in one of the lead roles (which ultimately went to Albert Finney), but dropped out because he was too busy, and Tim Burton signed on and made what surely is a very different movie from what Spielberg would have done.
The story is about Edward Bloom, a dying man attempting to reconnect with his estranged son through the only real means of communication that he knows - story-telling. The son is initially angry to see that his father is still telling fictional stories to him because he feels like he doesn't know anything real about his own father, but he soon begins to realize that there might be a lot more to his father's stories than he thought.
Big Fish Trivia - This was the feature film debut of Miley Cryus.
3. Batman (1989), PG-13, 126 mins.
Burton's gothic adaptation of Batman is another of his films about which I have very fond memories of watching over and over in the theater when I was a kid, and it's also one of the most recognizable examples of his trademark style, and it broke box office records left and right when it was first released into theaters.
A young boy witnesses the murder of his parents and grows up to be Batman, a reclusive crime-fighter who first emerges from the shadows to protect Gotham City from the attacks of the Joker, a horribly disfigured man out for revenge against his former employer and for the takeover of Gotham. Jack Nicholson inhabits the role of The Joker with almost bizarre completeness, Michael Keaton appears as the caped crusader for the first of only two times, and Kim Basinger takes on the role of ambitious reporter Vicky Vale, who's determined to discover the secrets behind the Bat's mask.
Batman Trivia - Jack Nicholson demanded top billing and a percentage of both merchandise and gross of the film, and because of the movie's enormous box office success, he ultimately made around $60 million for the movie. It's the most that any actor has ever made for a single movie in film history.
2. Ed Wood (1994), R, 127 mins.
Tim Burton's biopic of the legendary Ed Wood, hailed as the worst director of all time, is the movie that many people call Burton's best work ever, some even claiming that all his other movies pale in comparison, but I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that it might, in fact, come in at #2.
It's a mostly true story of the prime of Ed Wood's career, the 50's, during which time he made Plan 9 From Outer Space, Glen or Glenda, and Bride of the Monster, among others, for which Mystery Science Theater 3000 is eternally grateful. The movie had a terrible time getting made, because of its unpromising subject matter, and didn't blow anyone's hair back at the box office, but has attained a massive following and is the movie that many claim Tim Burton will be most remembered for.
Ed Wood Trivia - The budget for this movie was more than the budget for all of Ed Wood's movies combined.
1. Edward Scissorhands (1990), PG-13, 105 mins.
For me, Edward Scissorhands is the film that most exemplifies the characteristic look and feel of a Tim Burton film. The sets, the locations, the characters, the atmosphere, the music, the story, everything is so thoroughly and characteristically a product of Burton's unique mind that I think it stands well above any other film he's ever made. Who else could have crafted such a touching and poignant love story about a quietly charming man with scissors for hands?
Edward is the unfinished creation of an eccentric inventor who died before he was able to finish making Edwards hands, leaving him doomed to live life as we know him. When a kind Avon lady ventures up to his mysterious, forbidding mansion on top of a hill at the edge of her thoroughly manicured town, she invites Edward into her home and her community. Edward at first amazes people with his soft-spoken charm and the amazing things that he can do with his hands, but things soon take a turn for the worse as it becomes clear that a normal life just might not be within his reach.
Note: The movie will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release on December 14th of this year. Time to watch it again!
Edward Scissorhands Trivia - The houses in the manicured community in the movie are a real neighborhood in Lutz, Florida. Nothing was changed about the neighborhood except for the color of the houses.
Oh, and if anyone disagrees with me for choosing this as my favorite of all of Burton's movies, I might remind you that this is also Tim Burton's favorite of all of his own films. So there.
Charlie and the ChocolateFactory: The movie was not good. Sorry. Not horrible, but not good.
Corpse Bride: Pales just a little too much in comparison to The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The Nightmare Before Christmas: Not a Tim Burton film, remember?
Planet of the Apes: I don't feel I need to explain this one. Burton's only train wreck?
Frankenweenie: I haven't seen it. But I'll get right on it.
Enjoy Alice in Wonderland, everyone. It comes out today!