When Tim Burton burst onto the Hollywood scene, he was heralded as a true original with a distinct style and compelling projects.  However, that unique style has become rather stale in Burton’s recent years, as the Tim Burton style repeated itself so much that every movie uses the same actors, sets, costumes, music and cinematography.  In addition, five of his last seven films have been remakes or adaptations of existing content.

Still, Burton remains one of Hollywood’s best directors.  To celebrate his creepiness, here’s a countdown of the films he directed, starting with the worst and building to his best.

14. Planet of the Apes (2001)

The costumes and make up are outstanding, but this may be the most over-acted movie of the last decade.  The apes snarled and growled with every move and Mark Wahlberg delivered every line as insincerely as possible (like he does in every movie).

13. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

This remake?/adaptation?/sequel? to the beloved Disney classic was doomed from the beginning, as Mia Wasikowska was painfully miscast in the titular role.  Her stiff, wooden performance robbed Alice of any empathy from the audience.

12.  Mars Attacks (1996)

It has more big-name stars than any other Burton film and some truly hilarious moments (i.e. killing the aliens with grandma’s country music), but overall the slapstick destruction comedy is inconsistent and stretches a tired premise for too long.

11.  Corpse Bride (2005)

It will always be compared to Burton’s other stop-motion film, The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Burton only produced, therefore not on this list), and it pales in comparison to the Jack Skellington-starring cult classic.  Also, it looks way too similar, like they just used the existing sets from Nightmare.

10. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

There’s nothing particularly bad about this adaptation of the headless horseman tale, but there isn’t anything necessarily good about it either.

9. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Many aren’t aware this madcap search for a missing bicycle was Burton’s first feature film.  It’s whimsical and is seeing a renaissance after Paul Reuben’s scandal in the 90’s, giving a whole new generation reason to say, “Just tell ’em Large Marge sent you.”

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

Turns out Johnny Depp isn’t a terrible singer.  He wasn’t great in this Broadway adaptation, but just good enough to keep up with Alan Rickman and prevent Sascha Baron Cohen from stealing the show.

7. Batman Returns (1992)

Watching this a ten-year-old, Danny DeVito biting that guy’s nose causing it to gush blood elicited an eye aversion.  While the special effects are laughable now, in this sequel, Batman took on his greatest foe of all.  Not Catwoman, not the Penguin, but Christopher Walken.

6.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Remaking one of the most beloved children’s films of all-time is no easy task.  Though Burton’s chocolate-themed CGI creep-fest lacks the charm of the original, he wisely varies much of the minor plot details enough to help this version stand on its own.

5. Ed Wood (1995)

A loving tribute to terrible movies, this biopic features Sarah Jessica Parker saying her face doesn’t look like a horse.  So she’s heard the jokes?

4. Beetlejuice (1988)

Burton’s second feature film established his signature style and created an afterlife simultaneously hilarious and creepy.  Michael Keaton is a man unleashed as the titular haunter summoned by his name chanted thrice and a much slimmer Alec Balwin, Geena Davis and Winona Ryder give superb supporting performances.

3. Batman (1989)

Christopher Nolan has made the definitive Batman films, but his interpretation of the Dark Knight builds on Burton’s cinematic foundation.  Before Burton’s re-imagining, Batman was a campy non-threatening 60’s star.  Burton took the darker hero Frank Miller helped form in DC Comics and introduced moviegoers to the Batman we all know today.

2. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

If Beetlejuice established Burton’s signature style, Edward Scissorhands perfected it.  It is dark, moody, quirky, melodramatic and beautiful.  It is one of the few movies from the late 80’s – early 90’s that completely holds up in every aspect today and established Burton as an elite filmmaker.

1. Big Fish (2003)

Burton’s best film is also his most unrecognizable.  It bears none of his signature style, yet is the pinnacle of his ability.  It’s a fairy tale about the most essential aspect of film: storytelling.  It blurs the line between fantasy and reality and presents heart-warming (albeit sappy) romantic and familial relationships.  Edward Scissorhands may be always considered the essential Tim Burton film, but Big Fish is an often overlooked gem.

  • “Mia Wasikowska was painfully miscast in the titular role. Her stiff, wooden performance robbed Alice of any empathy from the audience.”

    I quit reading right there. Sorry, but any credibility you’d hoped to attain immediately went right out the window with this statement.

  • Matt

    Best to do your homework before rating films. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is not a film remake – it’s a film based off of the original book “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Rohald Dahl. The film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has nothing to do with Burton’s film.

  • Interesting list. Big Fish is definitely an under-appreciated film. I haven’t seen Ed Wood (I am dying to) but your top 5 is awesome.

    I agree with the first 2 posters. Alice in Wonderland was a misfire but Wasikowska was definitely not at fault. She may have been the 3rd best thing (after Bonham-Carter and Hathway respectively) about the movie. Check out “The Kids are All Right”–Mia is wonderful in that movie.

    To add to what Matt said, Roald Dahl tried to distance himself from “Willy Wonka”. Burton’s film is a much closer adaptation (in terms of content and style) to the original novel than “Willy Wonka.”

    Also, not a fan of your comments about Corpse Bride but I can see your point. Kind of.

  • Nate

    except for the fact that Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay for Willy Wonka. Does no one remember this? also, the first Willy Wonka was closer to the book, apart from the music. Burton’s adaptation used the correct lyrics but the Gene Wilder version was closer to Dahl’s character of Wonka. Depp was awful in that. Also, there were no daddy issues in Dahl’s book, in terms of Wonka.

    The only two Burton movies worth watching are Ed Wood and Big Fish. The rest I could do without. He has to add his stamp to things, ie. turning a brilliant musical (sweeney todd) into a burton film. UGH.

    Burton is the epitome of talented filmmaker too obsessed with himself. No I didn’t watch ‘Alice’ but I’ve seen the others and know I can’t stand the rest of them.

  • Bone

    PotA definitely deserves its place at the bottom. That was appalling. However, Sleepy Hollow is one of my all-time favorites, and one of Burton’s more underrated works.

    Alice in Wonderland is not Oscar material by any means, but it took way too much heat from critics. Mia W. was easily the best thing about this movie. She’s one of the best right now at expressing subtlety on the screen, and Alice is not an overly excited character to begin with (she’s jaded more than anything). Unfortunately, subtle is too often misinterpreted as wooden or boring.

  • Missy

    I agree that Big Fish is one of Burton’s best and most underrated films. It is beautifully shot and the scenery and colors are amazing, but there are still a lot of Burton ‘stamps’ in it that make it recognizable.
    Disagree with Sleepy Hollow…it is an amazing movie overall- acting, sets, color- all blend perfectly together.
    And quite frankly, I think that Sweeney Todd is a fantastic production…this coming from a theatre minor and lover. Def much better than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which could have been great, but I agree that I did not like the way Depp played Wonka. Kinda creepy indeed.

  • Jacky

    I dont agree with your worst to best list.
    First off where is The Nightmare Before Christmas?
    It’s been over played but that doesn’t mean it’s not good just because your sick of seeing it everywhere.
    I agree that corps bride but he din’t direct that one..?
    James and the giant peach?!
    Your list is questionable.
    And what is up with your list of what you did as a writer?
    Like you need to back your self up for writing about things you don’t really know. Just because you have the degree and somewhat experience doesn’t make you special.

  • Chad Shanks

    @ Jacky: Tim Burton did direct The Corpse Bride, but did not direct James and the Giant Peach or The Nightmare Before Christmas (I explained this in my list). Burton only served as a producer on those two films.

    IMDB is a good resource for checking a director’s credentials to ensure complaints are accurate. Here is Tim Burton’s IMDB page:

    Thank you for reading.