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List-Mania: Tim Burton x 5

by Nathaniel R

Since our Dumbo review didn't soar, or even materialize at all (oops), we should definitely turn some attention to Tim Burton today. Instead of a regular Tuesday Top Ten list... we're just going with LISTS plural. To make up for the lack of a proper Dumbo review, we're throwing FIVE of them at you today. While it's true that this decade of his work has left much to be desired, he's actually always been an uneven auteur. All throughout his filmography magic blooms in unexpectedly dire places OR weeds sprout up in otherwise magically lovely gardens if you catch our drift.

Burton is only 60 years old and since he's made films at a roughly one-every-other-year clip for his whole career, we hope he manages to rally his artistic instincts for one more classic before he retires in say, 2031 after another five pictures (spitballing!). He has directed 19 movies and we'd rank them like so...


  1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  2. Ed Wood (1994) 
  3. Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
    Tier 1. Masterpieces of their genres really...  spectacularly niche genres but still! Few films have this kind of consistent magic and uniquely memorable visuals from first frame to last...

  4. Beetlejuice (1988)
  5. Batman Returns (1992)
  6. Corpse Bride (2005)
    Tier 2. Loveable. Weird. Creepy. Goofy.  Essential Burton

  7. Frankenweenie (2012)
  8. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
  9. Mars Attacks! (1996)
    Tier 3. Far from perfect but there's much to love within them.

  10. Batman (1989)
  11. Big Fish (2003)
  12. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007) 
    Tier 4. Wildly uneven pictures and thus a bit aggravating despite the highs.

  13. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
  14. Dumbo (2019)  
  15. Dark Shadows (2012)
    Tier 5. The "meh" group. They're all missing some organic magic ingredient, feeling forced or earthbound despite their fantastical natures. And all of them are completely lacking in focus (if anything that's what's tripping Burton up these days). But thank God, by which we mean Vincent Prince in the context of Burton's presumed theology, for Eva Green. The raven-haired beauty of often otherwordly acting inspiration has more than earned a great Burton picture built around her. Where is her Ed Wood?  

  16. Big Eyes (2014)
  17. Planet of the Apes (2001)
  18. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
  19. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
    Tier 6. The Actively Bad pictures. They don't work. At times they're even unwatchable.  


Immediately after starting this it seemed like a terrible idea since its like comparing apples to oranges shrunken heads. He hasn't quite averaged 1 Oscar nomination per picture so Oscar has always been a bit resistant. They only started catching on to him with Sleepy Hollow, which he unfortunately followed up with a few of his worst movies.   

  1. Batman, Art Direction (1989) ... won!
  2. Ed Wood, Supporting Actor Martin Landau (1994)... won!
  3. Beetlejuice, Makeup (1988)... won!
  4. Sleepy Hollow, Costume Design (1999) ... lost to Topsy-Turvy
  5. Corpse Bride, Animated Feature (2005) .... lost to Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  6. Edward Scissorhands, Makeup (1990)... lost to Dick Tracy
  7. Sleepy Hollow, Art Direction (1999)... won!
  8. Ed Wood, Makeup (1994)... won!

  9. Sweeney Todd, Costume Design (2007)... lost to Elizabeth: The Golden Age
  10. Frankenweenie, Animated Feature (2012)... lost to Brave
  11. Sleepy Hollow, Cinematography (1999)... lost to American Beauty
  12. Sweeney Todd, Art Direction (2007)... won!
  13. Big Fish, Original Score (2003)... lost to LotR: Return of the King
  14. Alice in Wonderland, Costume Design (2010)... won!
  15. Sweeney Todd, Actor Johnny Depp (2007)... lost to Daniel Day-Lewis in There Will Be Blood
  16. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Costume Design (2005)... lost to Memoirs of a Geisha
  17. Alice in Wonderland, Art Direction (2010)... won!
  18. Alice in Wonderland, Visual Effects (2010)...lost to Inception

Let's take these in chronological order to simplify...


  • Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
    -Original Screenplay (Phil Hartman, Paul Reubens, Michael Varhol)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990)
    -Score (Danny Elfman)
    -Screenplay (Tim Burton, Caroline Thompson)
    -Actor (Johnny Depp)
    -Production Design (Bo Welch)
  • Batman Returns (1992)
    -Actress (Michelle Pfeiffer)
    -Costume Design (Bob Ringwood, Mary E Vogt) 
    - Score (Danny Elfman)
  • Ed Wood (1994)
    -Actor (Johnny Depp)
    -Costume Design (Colleen Atwood)


Terrible shame that only two actors have ever been nominated from his filmography and Johnny Depp was much better, at least twice, within that same filmography than the time he was nominated (Sweeney Todd)! It's not a top 20 because I couldn't decide between about 4 people for the last slot. 


  1. Martin Landau, Ed Wood (1994) -the only Oscar winning performance from the Burton filmography and one of only two nominated
  2. Michelle Pfeiffer, Batman Returns (1992)
  3. Johnny Depp, Ed Wood (1994) - Golden Globe nominee
  4. Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands (1990) - Golden Globe nominee

  5. Eva Green, Dark Shadows (2012)
  6. Dianne Wiest, Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  7. Michael Keaton, Beetlejuice (1988)
  8. Albert Finney, Big Fish (2003) - Golden Globe nominee
  9. Sarah Jessica Parker, Mars Attacks! (1996)
  10. Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice (1988)
  11. Vincent Price, Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  12. Paul Reubens, Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
  13. Catherine O'Hara, Beetlejuice (1988)
  14. Danny DeVito, Batman Returns (1992)
  15. Lisa Marie, Mars Attacks! (1996)

  16. Kathy Baker, Edward Scissorhands (1990)
  17. Helena Bonham-Carter, Sweeney Todd (2007) if she'd been able to sing this might have been one of the very best performances in his filmography
  18. Sarah Jessica Parker, Ed Wood (1994)
  19. Bill Murray, Ed Wood (1994)
  20. Sylvia Sidney, Beetlejuice (1988)


We're trying to stay positive though it's #14 for us among his 19 pictures.

  1. Dumbo's first flying "performance"
  2. Dumbo is very cute (even though he becomes a supporting character in his own film - sigh)
  3. That the film sends a 'take smart girls seriously' message consistently throughout
  4. Eva Green as Colette. Eva Green has yet to not be a highlight in any film smart enough to include her.
  5. Rick Heinrichs' Production Design. Among Burton's regular department heads, we'd argue he's the one that Burton least needs a break from. Sometimes a new collaborator can shake you up creatively and Burton has been using many of the exact same people for decades now. A particularly strong performance by Heinrichs here in the juxtaposition of the small scale circus with the mega circus (especially when it comes to the living quarters/exhibits of Dumbo's mom. 
  6. "Pink Elephants on Parade"
  7. Any times Burton tells the story through Dumbo's POV (which should have been FAR more often). It's silent film magic if you ignore the dialogue and just see what Dumbo is seeing.

Care to make a list of your own in the comments. Any style of Tim Burton list is welcome.

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Reader Comments (35)

Burton pictures are wildly uneven. Even his best often have scene or story problems so bad they are cringworthy. His best pictures have high highs to offsett their issues.

His best are: Edward Sissorhands, Mar’s Attacks + Bettle Juice.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnon

Onto your best things about Dumbo I'd add in Michael Keaton's hairstyling, which tells a unique and fascinating story of it's own, revealing so much about the character.

I was talking to some friends after and it was the only thing we all agreed worked.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBJT

I'm not going do a full ranking because I think about half of his films are at least kind of bad (some being very, very bad), but there are some gems at the top. Batman Returns is easily my #1. The rest of my top five (the order would change day to day) are Sleepy Hollow, Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands.

And I love it that Sylvia Sidney made your Top 20 performances.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Here is my list of Tim Burton's films that I've seen so far:

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I think his best movie is Pee Wee's Big Adventure, followed by the Batman movies and Mars Attacks. But his career just went steadily downhill. I tried to watch some of his newer movies recently, as the Blank Check podcast (which is a lot of fun) is doing a Burton series to coincide with the release of Dumbo, and...blergh. They are terrible.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

I forgot how hilarious Dianne Wiest and Kathy Baker are in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Dianne is so good in that movie because that character could have been such a broad caricature and she makes her real without losing the funny. Her exasperated "Darn this stuff!" when her Avon products don't work on Edward kills me.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

I object, Big Fish is way too low - the ending of that film still gets me, every time - there was something special about my dad taking me to it too - I can't watch it anymore now :(

And I actually didn't hate his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? I HATED Christopher Lee's whole added on bit but he really nailed the creepy factor of Dahl's books and the whole thing is great to look at.

Otherwise - pretty spot on.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermorganb

I'm shocked that the production design in Batman Returns isn't on your shoulda-been-nominated list. It's the best thing in the movie. Selena's apartment alone...

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCash

God bless Kathy Baker in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Carden

Wow. At the risk of heterosplaining, I am gonna have to say that your love of Eva Green has overshadowed your perception of her in DUMBO. For me, she was as bland as Colin Farrell and the children (with occasional lapses of "staring off into the distance" and "what accent IS that?").

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTravis C

Nat: I'd maybe get rid of the exclamation mark after won for the winners between 7-12 (replace it with a period) on that winners list and add a question for anything below 12. So 1-6 becomes "Yay! It won!", 7-12 becomes "Oh, it won." and 13-18 becomes "That won!?"

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

After seeing the Dumbo remake, I re-watched the original animated version and wound up seeing it twice, almost back-to-back. It's THAT good. Everything about it works, the comedy, the emotions, the music, the characters, the surreal moments, it makes me sad that future generation may think of this absolutely inferior remake when they hear the title "Dumbo" rather than the masterpiece in simplicity that was the 1941 animated film. While the remake isn't awful, it feels like Burton is being suffocated. The cinematography is incredibly dark and none of the actors (save for Eva Green and Alan Arkin) show any kind of enthusiasm (which is especially disappointing seeing that this is Burton re-uniting with Michael Keaton). Also, I haven't cringed so hard at a line as I did when DeVito said "no booze in front of the baby".

As for Tim Burton, my Top Five of his are Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Big Fish, Beetlejuice and Sleepy Hollow, while my Bottom Five are Alice in Wonderland, Planet of the Apes, Big Eyes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Dark Shadows.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRichter Scale

As far as Big Eyes is concerned? Most to all of the problem isn't with Burton. It's with Waltz, who is so stunningly wrong for the role that I can't believe a competent studio would have ever signed off on it. Imagine what Big Eyes could have been with Amy Adams and Bruce Campbell as Margaret and Walter Keane. Eh? Sounds way better, right?

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Thanks for this article, I find myself in agreement with you except for a few things.
Catherine O'Hara should have been nominated and won for best supporting that year. She is perfection in that role.
I find I like Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory more than you or other people.
The composer branch of the Oscars is crazy. Are you telling me that Danny Elfman has never won an Oscar? I just checked IMDB and he doesn't have a Grammy either. Shame on them
Big shout out to the Blank Check Podcast for their Tim Burton series, Nathaniel you need to appear on that podcast. You would be perfect. And you might be able to beat Griffin Newman at the box office game.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

The best- "Ed Wood", "Beetlejuice", "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" "Edward Scissorhnads" - the worst- "Planet of the Apes". "Mars Attacks", "Big Eyes"

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Tim Burton movies will always be special to me because he was the director that got me INTO movies. Though I haven’t liked anything of his in the last 10 years other than Frankenweenie, I will always hold Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride and Beetlejuice dear to my heart. Lots of love for Ed Wood, Big Fish and Sweeney Todd for me too,

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Rech

re Blank Check, they are doing Jonathan Demme this fall (by listener vote) which would be a great series for you to appear on, Nathaniel.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Annette Bening, Sarah Jessica Parker and Pam Grier getting her kids off the bus are the best performances in 'Mars Attacks!'. And the line reading of "The Nancy Reagan chandelier!" from Glenn Close.

Once Miranda Richardson goes H.A.M. in 'Sleepy Hollow', she's amazing.

"Remains of the Day" from 'The Corpse Bride deserved an original song nomination, "Big Fish" for cinematography and art direction and almost everything had a terrific score. Danny Elfman is very underappreciated.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMorgan (the 1st)

Suzanne -- i almost always say yes when someone invites me for a podcast ;) but the invites are few and far between!

April 2, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

The single greatest things Burton has pulled off have been the dinner sequence in Beetlejuice (as co-written by O'Hara, who has to sell the moment, and damn does she), the "solution" to the Martian problem in Mars Attacks! (still one of the funniest ensembles ever assembled, love that film, with a killer Sylvia Sidney performance, may she rest in peace), and the epilogue of Edward Scissorhands, which, alongside Elfman's best score (and the one that should have won him every single award known to a composer) and the visuals, as well as "Sometimes, you can still catch me dancing in it..." is the purest Burton moment he's ever been able to capture.

Pfeiffer and O'Hara get my vote for best performances in a Burton film, because without them, Beetlejuice and Batman Returns would not rank as highly as they do. Pfeiffer especially... Honestly, she's never been that good again, and she floors me every time.

Burton was the very first director (auteur) I fell in love with. I wholeheartedly agree he's kind of meandered since Sleepy Hollow, which was already uneven and in need of some focus (which I agree is the main problem with his later work), but still captured him in a way worth remembering and revisiting. Most of his later work is just tired and processed, and though I enjoyed Dark Shadows and Eva Green's role in it, it wasn't enough to save it.

Still, not many directors can call Beetlejuice, Scissorhands, Batman Returns, Ed Wood, Mars Attacks, and, let's be honest, The Nightmare Before Christmas, as their own. And a mighty fine feast they all make.

He will always hold a special place in my heart.

April 2, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

Manny: Tearing up just thinking of Winona dancing in the snow. It truly is the purest moment of cinematic magic in the Burton filmography.

Having seen it many times, but originally in the theatre in 1990, the reveal was a bit of a surprise, no? Trying to recall my first very viewing..

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterParanoid Android

Lisa Marie and SJP are on list, and Amy Adams is not for Big Eyes... pfffff... strange, but this is a subjective list so anything can happen... :)

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGeri

Big Eyes is a Tier 4. Come on.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJohnny

Obvs, Pfeiffer has given the best performance ever in a Tim Burton movie. Martin Landau is really good. But cranky old man is not that much of a stretch. Pfeiffer, on the other hand, put it all out there. And it worked. And she is amazing.

Also, this list is great and all ... but leaving out any mention of Jan Hooks as Tina the tour guide at the Alamo from Pee Wee's Big Adventure is blasphemy and treason. "Yes, there are thousands and thousands of uses for corn .... all of which I will tell you about right now." It's the single greatest cameo performance of all time.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCharlieG

Batman Returns-would’ve been a lot greater if Original Catwoman Choice, Annette Bening, ((hot off her eye-pooping role in The Grifters), hadn’t declined the role due to pregnancy. Madonna/Evita and Whitney Houston/Bodyguard made it through...

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTOM

Edward Scissorhands is my favourite film OF ALL TIME. Such a shame he has made such crap on the whole since 2001. I still love the atmosphere and everything really in Sleepy Hollow.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEvangelina

I am partial to Amy Adams in Big Eyes,she was doing so much work to make it as real as it could with her co star constantly mugging,agreed it was not Burton's fault as such as hiring but the way he directed Waltz.

Edward Shands the ending is on my top 5 ever

Co sign all the Pfeiffer love.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordonuk

Paranoid Android: I should have mentioned the Ice Dance, but it and the finale are so tied in my memory they're essentially the same thing.

Just bliss.

And yes, all of the tears. Every time. But Burton and Elfman and the cast more than earn them time and time again.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

Edward Scissorhands is also my favorite movie of all times!
I could write a book About how much I love it. The Ice Dance is pure M-A-G-I-C.
It's one of the biggest Oscar crime that thix Beautiful score was not even nominated!

Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie too. I love the complete silliness of Mars Attacks! and the creepy silliness of Beetlejuice. Corpse Bride is amazing. Loved the ending.
I did enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and even Dark Shadow. Maybe because I've never seen the original movie/TV Show.

And even though he didn't direct Nightmare before Christmas, it's based on his idea. So yay!
Alice was... okay.

He can be hit&miss obviously, but yeah, I'd put him in my list of favorite directors, just for Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, Corpse Bride, Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow and Frankenweenie alone.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSonja

Cash, I love the BATMAN RETURNS set decoration, too! Besides Selina's apartment, there's Arctic World's, Max Shreck's office, the German-inspired architecture ... I will always love BR because it is a weird movie that just happens to be about comic book characters. Michelle isn't just playing Catwoman -- she's a woman having a nervous vreakdown/PTSD after almost being murdered, and still loathes herself when she's not able to be her other persona. That scene when Selina and Bruce walk downtown and bitch about the headlines regarding Batman and Catwoman is genius.

The only thing I remember about ALICE IN WONDERLAND is Anne Hathaway being delightfully weird.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJakey

Dianne Wiest should have won the Oscar for Edward Scissorhands.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

Pfeiffer’s catwoman and big fish always do it for me.

April 3, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMark

The one important thing that has been missing in most of Tim Burton's movies has been a truly great screenwriter. Just think about it: the one movie of his that truly knocks it out of the park is Ed Wood, which had Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski on script duty. Can you imagine what would happen if Burton would direct a script by the Coens for example, or Jordan Peele or maybe Charlie Kaufman? That could be a match made in heaven.

April 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDieter

I grew up loving the old ABC soap opera Dark Shadows and by the time Burton's movie came out I was so disgusted with him that I actively avoided seeing it. The last movie of his I sat through was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and that (along with the disaster of his Planet of the Apes remake) made me give up on him altogether. He's a thorough hack at present, routinely making lousy remakes/reimaginings of beloved old stories, and it's just sad.

April 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRob

While I think that Sleepy Hollow is overpraised in general, the score is fantastic. Easily the best since Carpenter's Halloween.

April 4, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom G.

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