The best of the unique and magical style of Burton’s directing
5. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Although directed by Henry Selick, The Nightmare Before Christmas was written and produced by Tim Burton. Thus, it remains very Burtonesque and has Burton’s trademark Gothic stylization stamped all over it. With its fair share of scary and morbid creatures, it is nothing short of dark mischief; it is a timeless holiday animation that combines elements of dark and fright with fun and glee.
Set in the shadowy and dreary Halloween Town, it tells the story of Jack Skellington, a Pumpkin King who accidentally stumbles upon a secret portal, which transports him to the bright and colourful Christmas Town. There he begins his quest to bring Christmas back to Halloween Town.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unconventional take of a ghoulish, frightful stop-motion animated musical, which certainly lives up to its hype. Indeed, it is a movie marvel that deserves to be in the top five, and one that is worth watching regardless of age or time of the year.
4. Batman (1989)
Batman is undoubtedly one of the world’s most popular superhero – and some would argue perhaps the greatest – so it should come as no surprise that there have been more than ten film adaptations. Though Christopher Nolan’s critically acclaimed Dark Knight trilogy is often considered one of the best and most iconic Batman adaptation to date, Burton’s Batman nonetheless remains a cult classic among die hard Batman fans, and with good reason – this dark fantasy is grippingly thrilling.
Unlike other adaptations, Burton’s take on Batman is a more sinister and menacing affair, enhanced by the visually stunning set, where production designer Anton Furst meticulously constructed a rotten, decaying and corrupted Gotham City. But all is not dark and grim in Gotham for the film does provide some comic relief. Michael Keaton gives a stellar performance as Bruce Wayne, whilst Jack Nicholson’s portrayal as the exaggerated, sadistic Joker is equally deserving of praise. Since its release twenty-eight years ago, Burton’s Batman has laid the foundation for future Batman adaptations and continues to be a cultural phenomenon.
3. Beetlejuice (1988)
Burton, indulging in his fanciful imagination, has once again produced a masterpiece that is quirky, innovative and delightfully refreshing. Beetlejuice is a supernatural comedy about the afterlife of Adam and Barbara Maitland, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, a recently married young couple who become ghosts after a freak car accident.
Initially unaware of their newfound ghost status, they return to their rustic country home only to discover that they are actually dead, and their house has been sold to an obnoxious New York family, the Deetzes, who are determined to give the place a major renovation. Realising that their souls are now trapped in the house, the Maitlands set out to scare Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O’Hara) and their daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) away. But when their feeble attempts to spook the Deetzes out of the house fail, they enlist the aid of Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), aka ‘Beetlejuice’, a rude, arrogant and morbid ‘bio-exorcist’ spirit to frighten them off.
Keaton’s character is a breath of fresh air, and though only appearing later in the film, he nonetheless captivates the audience with his tremendously hilarious lines and cartoonish performance. With multiple nominations and an Academy Award for Best Makeup, this foolishly charming ninety-two minutes feature is sheer delight and definitely worth your time.
2. Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Johnny Depp collaborates with Tim Burton again in this epic film adaptation of Sondheim’s Tony and Olivier-Award winning 1979 musical Sweeney Todd. Set in mid-19th century Britain, Depp stars as Benjamin Barker, the repulsive and loathsome barber turned serial killer, who seeks retribution for his wrongful imprisonment.
In many ways, Barker (later called ‘Sweeney Todd’) shares many similarities with Jack the Ripper, one of the world’s most notorious criminal: both lived in Victorian London, both embarked on barbering careers, and both were callous, cold-blooded killers.
This twisted revenge tragedy sees Depp form a perverse partnership with Mrs Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter), a pie-maker who lives below him with a reputation for selling ‘the worst pies in London’. Upstairs in his barbershop, Depp slits the throats of unsuspecting customers, and dispose of their bodies into the cellar via a trapdoor; later, Lovett collects the bodies and bakes them into her pies.
It is a win-win situation for both: Depp satisfies his desire for revenge whilst Lovett’s pie business lifts thanks to this new secret recipe. Violent, sinister and gory, this horror musical has proved a success. It is a remarkable piece of work that is well deserving of second place.
1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
In first place is Edward Scissorhands, which is notably Burton’s greatest work and the first of his eight collaborations with Johnny Depp. It is a modern spin on your typical boy-meets-girl story, with the perfect balance of weirdness, romance, humour and magic.
The central theme of the film is the notion that there is beauty amidst the darkness. Depp plays Scissorhands, the incomplete creation of a mad inventor who suddenly passes away leaving him with scissor blades for hands. With his strange appearance – ghostly pale skin, wild unkempt hair and scars on his face – Depp looks nothing like the quintessential Prince Charming. Yet, there is something enthralling and hauntingly beautiful about his character; by the end of the film, Depp’s vulnerable, naïve and sensitive portrayal of Scissorhands will have you rooting for him.
Dianne Wiest plays Avon saleswoman Peg Boggs, ‘the fairy godmother’, who finds Scissorhands confined in the Gothic mansion where he was created in, and brings him home to her queer pastel neighbourhood. There, he meets Peg’s daughter Kim, played by Winona Ryder, and subsequently falls in love with her. The chemistry between the two is undeniable; he is the strange yet lovable Prince Charming, while she is the beautiful and compassionate Cinderella. For those who want a taste of the very best of Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands is a must watch!