Tim Burton is a curious talent. From the start of any of his movies, you instantly have the thought, “Oh yeah, this is a Tim Burton movie.” He has a unique aesthetic, showcasing the beauty in the morbid. His career has been a rollercoaster of quality. From classics to clunkers, Burton’s unique filmmaking style has occasionally run its course. But love or hate his films, there’s bound to be one that fills you with cheer for being an outcast. Here are the best Tim Burton movies, ranked from worst to best.
NOTE: This list will only include all movies directed by Tim Burton, and The Nightmare Before Christmas is not one of them. Henry Selick actually took the director reigns for that one. Now with that out of the way, let’s dive in.
TIM BURTON FILMS
19. Planet of the Apes (2001)
It’s hard to live up to a classic, but Burton’s Planet of the Apes fails on almost every level. Perhaps most disappointingly, it doesn’t even feel like a Tim Burton film. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t bring any of the whimsy normally associated with Burton’s protagonists, and the film takes certain liberties that just don’t add up.
Combined with an ending that will make you pass out from your eyes rolling into the back of your head, it’s bizarre to even fathom what would attract Burton to this project in the first place.
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18. Dark Shadows (2012)
Dark Shadows seemed like a natural fit for Burton. A remake of an old vampire TV show starring frequent collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter? Slam dunk! However, the finished product is an unfocused story and visuals that almost seem like a parody of Tim Burton movies. There’s nothing for fans of the old show nor the uninitiated. It’s just a big, bombastic mess.
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17. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Riding high off the advent of actually good 3D technology, Alice in Wonderland grossed over $1 billion and led the way to all of the live-action Disney remakes you see today. A mortal sin if ever there was one. In hindsight, it’s a bizarre film that sacrifices any heart for a “Look what we can do!” aesthetic.
TIM BURTON DIRECTED MOVIES
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is an all-time classic for a reason. Tim Burton had the thankless task of directing the 2005 remake, and to his credit, there’s a lot of interesting choices he made. He fleshes out Charlie’s family and gives Wonka himself a sympathetic backstory.
But what it gets wrong completely shoots the film in the foot. Namely, Johnny Depp’s bizarre performance. Still, you have to commend him somewhat for fully committing to his strange new vision.
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15. Dumbo (2019)
The 1941 Dumbo may be one of the greatest animated movies of all time, but with a 64-minute runtime and some unfortunate overt racism, it hasn’t exactly aged well. Perhaps this is one of Disney’s films that should’ve remained in the vault because Burton’s remake just falls flat in so many ways. Dumbo itself is very cute, and it’s kind of interesting seeing a Disney film… make fun of itself? But it’s just too much of a bore for anything to really stand out.
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14. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
If Tim Burton ever directed an X-Men movie, it would look exactly like Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. While it has that Burton-esque flair, it doesn’t have a whole lot else. Eva Green is fantastic, but the children at the heart of the film get tossed to the wayside. Kids who already have an appreciation for a goth aesthetic may get a kick out of it, but it never rises to such heights as the best Tim Burton movies.
Now we’re getting into the Tim Burton film that are actually pretty good. Sleepy Hollow is Tim Burton at his stylistic best. The costumes, production design, and cinematography work together splendidly to create one heck of an atmospheric landscape. Anyone curious about what production designers do need only to study Tim Burton movies.
The story doesn’t always work in as many terrors as it would like, and it has a tendency to fall into the realm of movie cliches. But for a pretty picture, you can’t beat the view.
FUN TIM BURTON FILMS
12. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Look, I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you Mars Attacks! Is some masterclass of artistry. It’s just hard to imagine that a Hollywood film with an all-star cast made something bordering on absurd Surrealism. It evokes classics from the past and serves as a modern homage to B-movies.
Your mileage with this film will likely depend on how much you like visual gags and low-brow humor. As long as you don’t go in with lofty expectations, it’s a good way to pass a Saturday afternoon.
RANKING TIM BURTON DIRECTED MOVIES
11. Corpse Bride (2005)
Corpse Bride feels like some producer said, “Hey! Kids like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Let’s just do that again.” Tim Burton finally got the chance to direct a stop motion animated film, and the results are spectacularly “meh.” One of the best stop movies movies this is not.
It’s a cute film, and the stop motion animation is breathtakingly wondrous. It was actually animated by LAIKA before they were their own fully-fledged animation house. It’s just a shame the other components don’t do the stop motion justice.
TOP 10 TIM BURTON MOVIES
Now that we’re into the top 10 Tim Burton movies, everything from here on out pretty much reaches “great” status. Sweeney Todd is without a doubt Burton’s most violent film, but even amongst all the blood and violence, he never loses his creative flair. The whimsy usually injected into his movies is replaced with macabre style, and it works brilliantly.
More than anything, the film shows just how good Burton is at directing musicals. Of all the movie genres, the horror film and the musical don't work on paper. And, yet, the genre elements never overshadow one another. Instead, they work in tandem to create a gripping work that sticks with you.
Tim Burton made a short film called Frankenweenie before his feature-length debut. He returned to these roots in 2012 for a film of the same name that retells the story of Frankenstein, but this time, it’s about a young boy who wants to bring his dog back to life after it’s hit by a car.
It’s a moving, heartfelt film. Made in black and white and featuring plenty of B-movie, monster references, the film is a loving testament to the movies that clearly influenced Burton growing up. It flies a little off the rails in the third act, but it’s the kind of movie that will make you hold your pup a little closer once it’s over.
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8. Big Eyes (2014)
Tim Burton let go of many of his artistic flourishes for Big Eyes. However, unlike Planet of the Apes, the movie is all the better for it. Burton brings the characters down to Earth to tell a haunting tale of a husband who steals his wife’s artwork and passes it off as his own.
It’s one of Burton’s most mature works. Instead of focusing on style, he places Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz front and center, and the pair do an extraordinary job. It’s a solid film that shows Burton can still tell relevant, engaging stories without relying on many of his crutches that became prominent within the last decade.
BELOVED TIM BURTON DIRECTED MOVIES
7. Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
This debut feature film proves to be one of the best Tim Burton movies. He brings slight brush strokes of what would come to be known as his signature style to the zany antics of Pee-Wee Herman.
There’s nothing particularly insightful about the film. It’s just going from one gag to the next, but when those gags work so well (particularly the super freaky Large Marge sequence), it’s hard not to fall in love with it.
BEST TIM BURTON FILMS
6. Batman (1989)
Tim Burton accomplished something truly extraordinary with 1989’s Batman. He made a comic book superhero movie accessible to the masses while infusing his own creative flair in the process. Burton’s trademark grim but whimsical set design is on full display, turning Gotham into a Modernist-German Expressionist dream.This movie shows exactly why Burton is an immense talent. He can take a superhero film, musical, or dark drama and turn it into something that is signature “Burton.” He’s faithful to the genre he works in while putting his own stamp on it.
TOP 5 TIM BURTON FILMS
5. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward Scissorhands is peak Burton. It’s an odd, lovely film and a biting satire of suburban sensibilities. The townspeople are all too welcoming to allow Edward to trim their hedges and give them haircuts, but when he’s framed for a crime, they’re all too willing to chase him out.For anyone who’s ever felt ostracized and cast out from society, Edward Scissorhands is a near-perfect love letter. It’s a modern fairy tale that could’ve only sprung from the mind of Tim Burton.
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4. Batman Returns (1992)
Riding high off the success of Batman, Burton upped the weirdness and made a solid sequel. He introduced Catwoman, played brilliantly by Michelle Pfeiffer, whose scenes with Batman are extraordinary. Danny DeVito is also a delight as Penguin, and his run for mayor is still a magnificent piece of political satire.The film exudes personality. It’s a film with a confident director who knows precisely what he wants to do, and a studio letting him get incredibly strange with it. Darker superhero movies would come later, but there still has never been a beast like Batman Returns.
AMAZING TIM BURTON FILMS
3. Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice twists the ghost movie on its head by making the ghosts the central characters. You root for them to scare the uptight Deetz parents from their home. From the “Banana Boat Song” scene to the sand worm, Beetlejuice was designed to influence a generation of outcasts.
TIM BURTON MOVIES LIST, RANKED
2. Big Fish (2003)
Big Fish isn’t filled to the brim with Burton’s usual stylistic flourishes. But those magical, whimsical moments are there just enough to lift this movie to something wonderful.Even if you strip away the visuals, it’s a fantastic movie about the bond between a father and his son. The stories the father tells his son influence his life so much. While other Burton films deal with the power of stories, none are quite as impactful as Big Fish.
THE BEST TIM BURTON MOVIE
1. Ed Wood (1994)
If there’s a central theme to take from Tim Burton films, it’s that the world needs more outsiders, more weirdos, and more kooky talents. In Ed Wood, Burton celebrates the life and talent of the director of such “bad” movies as Plan 9 From Outer Space. Ed Wood may have never found his place in the world, but through this film, Burton celebrated what he tried to do, fully devoting himself to his visions.
The style here is restrained. Burton foregoes many of his flourishes and opts to film in black and white. The characters are allowed to shine, and the audience can bask in all of their eccentricities. An ode to cinema and Burton’s most personal film, highlighting why he is a singular talent.
German Expressionism Explained
Watch one of Tim Burton’s films, and you’ll easily find the influences from German Expressionism. Learn more about the artistic style that has influenced Burton throughout his career and how other modern films have incorporated this important movement.