Top 5 Tim Burton Films
By Austin Johnson
We’re in between Halloween and Christmas, which always seems to be the time of year to watch Tim Burton’s work. I just watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, which might be my favorite film Burton has ever contributed to, but I’m only going to talk about films that he directed. This will be a top 5 list focusing on his filmography from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure in 1985 to Dumbo in 2019. That’s 19 films, because I’m not including the numerous shorts he has done.
5.) Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
“At last! My arm is complete again!”
Believe it or not, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was nominated three times at the 80th Academy Awards and won for Best Art Direction. Johnny Depp has been nominated three times in his whole career. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland, and Sweeney Todd. Depp is the go-to for Burton as he is capable of physically channeling all the weird characters in Burton’s mind. Tim was married to Helena Bonham Carter at the time, who was also a go to for obvious reasons. Depp and Bonham Carter seem to have the chemistry for a friendship/relationship that Tim wants to put on the screen. I’m not complaining, especially when they are put together for a musical set in 1800's England. My favorite bits of the film come when Alan Rickman or Sacha Baron Cohen is on the screen. They’re both villains from Todd’s perspective and they both get brutal death scenes. A lot of people have brutal death scenes, but at least they get turned into pie afterwards. The songs and violence mix quite well together in this epic revenge story, so much so that I still find myself singing aloud, “‘twas Pirelli's Miracle Elixir…”
4.) Corpse Bride (2005)
“Isn't the view beautiful? It takes my
breath away. Well, it would if I had any.”
Here’s Depp and Bonham Carter again, except they’re animated this time. Corpse Bride was nominated for Best Animated Film at the 78th Academy Awards. That group was pretty cool. Corpse Bride, Howl’s Moving Castle, and then Wallace & Gromit won. Albert Finney, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, and Michael Gough act as the supporting voices and, my God, what a lineup that is. Corpse Bride is a part of Burton’s stop motion projects. He’s mastered that craft over the years, and you got to track it back to him writing for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Corpse Bride has one of the coolest settings. Burton is so good at constructing fantastical places, but it’s unexpected here because our main character Victor (Depp) is taken to the underworld. It’s much more lively in Burton’s mind than most and that makes this film very unique and beautiful.
3.) Frankenweenie (2012)
“Ladies and gentlemen. I think the confusion here is that you are all very ignorant. Is that right word, ignorant? I mean stupid, primitive, unenlightened. You do not understand science, so you are afraid of it. Like a dog is afraid of thunder or balloons. To you, science is magic and witchcraft because you have such small minds. I cannot make your heads bigger, but your children's heads, I can take them and crack them open. This is what I try to do, to get at their brains!”
My favorite of Burton’s stop motion projects! Frankenweenie! Burton made a short film in '84 of the same name. It’s black and white and the only one of Burton’s stop motion films that isn’t a musical. It was nominated at the 85th Academy Awards for Best Animated Film along with Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and Brave. Brave won. Frankenweenie is an homage to Mary Shelley’s book, Frankenstein and the film from 1931 of the same name. In this film, our main character Victor resurrects his pet Bull Terrier named Sparky. It’s so damn funny and the characters are voiced spectacularly by some Burton mainstays. Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and then a young Charlie Tahan as our main character. I love when directors find their people and get that full commitment from them.
2.) Batman (1989)
“Batman... Batman... Can somebody tell me what kind of
a world we live in, where a man dressed up as a bat gets
all of my press? This town needs an enema!”
Batman came in at number 3 on my Top 5 Batman Films list and number 4 on my Top 5 1989 Films. So, this is the highest I have ever had it and I don’t see what scenario would cause it to be number 1. Maybe Top 5 Kim Basinger roles… but, that would probably go to Wayne’s World 2. I don’t know. It won Best Art Direction at the 62nd Academy Awards and if you’ve read any of my shit before, then you know I’m obsessed with the Gotham that Burton created. It’s dark, twisted, and fantastical. I don’t think we will ever see a more ambitious Gotham, because Burton is one of the only mainstream guys whose weird matches well with the comic book angle.
1.) Batman Returns (1992)
“My dear penguins, we stand on a great threshold! It's okay to be scared; many of you won't be coming back. Thanks to Batman, the time has come to punish all God's children! First, second, third, and fourth-born! Why be biased? Male and female! Hell, the sexes are equal with
their erogenous zones blown sky high! Forward march!
The liberation of Gotham has begun!”
I know, I know… I got the two Batman films at the top. Fucking sue me. They are both stellar films that showcase Tim Burton’s talent on a very high scale. Like I mentioned earlier, I did a Top 5 Batman Films and the '89 one that I just talked about got third while Returns found itself at the top of that list too. It was nominated for Best Makeup and Best Visual Effects at the 65th Academy Awards. Michael Keaton is back as Bruce Wayne, but the cast members that serve as villains in this Gotham stand out strong for me. Danny DeVito as the Penguin, Christopher Walken as Max Schreck, and the lovely Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Burton’s Gotham is my all time favorite comic book setting in a film by far. It’s like a giant stage for all the weirdos to come out and play on. When I think about Tim Burton, The Nightmare Before Christmas really is the first film that comes to mind. I absolutely adore it inside and out. It would probably be number 1 on the list, but he just wrote it. Batman and Batman Returns is when he was given the most to work with and had the highest expectations. As far as I’m concerned, he fucking delivered the goods with those two wonderful superhero films.