A Look at Tim Burton’s Career as a Director Through Movie Trailers


I’m not really quite sure how I feel about Tim Burton.   I think he’s made some great movies, and he certainly has a unique style, but in recent years it seems as though his style has become almost a parody of itself.  Instead of focusing on his characters and the nuances of his stories, Burton has opted instead to focus almost entirely on style, making his recent films more faux-goth and Tim Burton-y than ever before.  That’s the impression I’ve gotten, at least.

That said, Burton’s a pretty damn good filmmaker.  Even his clunkers (looking at you, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) aren’t nearly as bad as half the crap that passes for entertainment these days.  Overall, I’m a fan of Tim Burton, and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down anytime soon.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back (and forward, in the case of Alice in Wonderland) at all the feature films Tim Burton has directed to see how his style has changed (or devolved?) over the years.  It’s weird – some movies you can pin as a Burton flick immediately, while for others, it isn’t quite so apparent.  You can see for yourself after the jump.

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)


I really can’t imagine how I’d react if I didn’t know who Pee-wee Herman was before seeing this preview.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think a lot of people know that Burton directed Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  It’s pretty far from what he’s done with the rest of his career, but I personally think it’s a hilarious movie that’s aged quite well.  I’m not sure it’s a cult classic, but I’ll be damned if I find someone who doesn’t know who Large Marge is.

Beetle Juice (1988)


Michael Keaton’s best role?  I think so.  Beetle Juice is when Burton really started showing his unique sense of style.  Having parts of the film take place in the afterlife allowed Burton to let his imagination run wild, and his fingerprints are all over this movie.  Even the clothes and the giant house look like Tim Burton had a hand in their design.  The dinner table scene is by far my favorite, which I guess is kind of odd considering how much I love Keaton in this movie.

Batman (1989)


It’s amazing to think that after just two feature films to his credit, Warner Bros. placed the Batman franchise in the hands of Tim Burton.  I like Nolan’s more grounded interpretation of the Batman character better, but Burton did an awesome job in his own right.  The Batmobile and new Batman logo became instantly classic, and I wonder how much influence Burton had on their design.  My earliest memory of a movie being hyped beyond belief is Burton’s Batman, and I definitely was not disappointed when I finally saw it in the theater.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)


And the love affair with Johnny Depp begins.  Personally, I think Edward Scissorhands is Burton’s best film.  It’s got that incredible sense of style that has become Burton’s trademark, from the bright, colorful suburban neighborhoods to the dark, haunting atmosphere of Edward’s home, to the zany haircuts sported by the suburban housewives.  But Edward Scissorhands has got a lot of heart, too, an even as an outlandish fable, it’s tough not to get wrapped up in the love story presented.  Yeah, I really dig this movie.

Batman Returns (1992)


Most people thought this movie was pretty disappointing.  I didn’t think it was so bad, but it isn’t the type of movie I’ll watch when it comes on television.  The Batman movies starting getting really silly starting with Batman returns (penguins with rockets on their backs?) and became downright atrocious until Nolan’s reboot.  Part of me thinks that Burton wasn’t nearly as into this one as he was for the original.

Ed Wood (1994)


This is actually the only Tim Burton movie I haven’t seen.  But if it’s Burton and Depp, it can’t be that bad, right?  Has anyone seen it?  It looks like it could be terrific or awful, with no much room for in-between.

Mars Attacks! (1996)


I don’t know how someone could watch this trailer and not want to see Mars Attacks!  A silly movie about a Martian invasion featuring a star-studded cast and Sarah Jessica Parker’s head on a dog?(Would a horse have been more appropriate?)  There’s nothing really special about Mars Attacks!, but if Burton’s goal was to make a fun popcorn movie, he definitely succeeded.  I still love the way the Martians talk, and even today I’ll still chuckle upon hearing their ridiculous voices.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)


Sleepy Hollow must have been a wet dream for Burton, what with all the gothic images prevalent throughout the film.  It’s certainly a unique and interesting take on the Sleepy Hollow legend, and Burton’s use (or neglect?) of color really makes for some stark, memorable images.  I’m not real sure about the consensus on this one, but I personally like it a lot.  I also have a thing for Christina Ricci, so that may be part of it.

Planet of the Apes (2001)


Alright, look: I know a lot of people hate this movie, but I’m not one of them.  In fact, I like it.  A lot.  Now, it doesn’t really feel like a Tim Burton movie (aside from a Helena Bonham Carter role), and it really doesn’t compare to the original Planet of the Apes.  But Burton took cues from the original and made revisions to fit his version of the film – like, for example, an ape telling a human to keep his filthy hands off of him and an ape-faced Lincoln Memorial replacing the Statue of Liberty for the film’s quasi-twist ending.  Plus, Tim Roth is just awesome as Thade.  You can hate this movie and say it sucks – and maybe you’re right – but Roth is the shit in this one.

Big Fish (2003)


Some consider Big Fish to be Burton’s magnum opus.  I don’t – I think that would be Edward Scissorhands – but that sort of praise for a film directed by a man with an extensive list of films to his credit gives an idea of how highly Big Fish is regarded.  All in all, it is a really good movie, and the sort of surreal storytelling involved makes it a perfect vehicle for Tim Burton.  Burton’s style is present, but it’s somewhat restrained so as not to take too much away from his characters.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)


This was another remake for Burton, and I think that he failed miserably.  Granted, the original is a classic, and Gene Wilder is so great as Wonka that even an actor as talented as Depp would have a hard time filling his shoes.  All the characters – including Wonka – fell flat, and I think a lot of that is due to the fact that Burton concentrated almost entirely on creating a bizarre, quirky, twisted chocolate factory.  The movie itself lends itself to a unique style, but in this case, I think Burton went overboard.

Corpse Bride (2005)


And now we’re at the part of Tim Burton’s career where his movies have become, well…underwhelming.  There’s nothing wrong with Corpse Bride, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the movie with which it is always compared, The Nightmare Before Christmas.  So automatically, it’s somewhat disappointing, but I actually think this movie would have been way cooler if it was live action.  And Tim Burton wouldn’t have been a great director for something like that?

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


Again, the word “underwhelming” comes to mind.  By no means do I think Burton mailed it in for this movie, but aside from Sacha Baron Cohen’s performance, Sweeney Todd is quite forgettable.  I mean, sure, Depp can sing a bit, as can Carter, but the movie itself just seemed slow and bland.  That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing Tim Burton take a stab at another musical.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)


We’re gonna have to wait until March to see if this movie’s any good, but I’m somewhat skeptical.  Like I said before, I think Burton’s films have trended downward in quality as he”s gotten older.  Alice looks to be visually amazing – as any psychedelic movie should –  but that doesn’t always translate to a good movie.  In any event, I’m sure I’ll see this one and I’ll go in with an open mind.  External stimulants may be required…

  • Bert

    I think part of the reason Big Fish is so good is that it’s a Burton movie, but it’s really not dark in the way that most of his films are. It’s actually an extremely heartwarming and happy movie. Not to mention that it’s pretty much a given that any movie with Albert Finney in it has got to be awesome. And that Jessica Lange is possibly the most attractive 60 year old woman in Hollywood.

  • Madison

    @ Bert

    Lange is quite a looker, yes. She’s not Cindy McCain, though.

    And I totally agree with you about the style of Big Fish – there are flashes of Tim Burton in the trees and such, but the focus in Big Fish is on the people, not the settings.

  • Kevin

    Ed Wood is incredible. You should definitely check it out. The acting is top-notch and just learning about the oddball that was Ed Wood is a treat.

    Now when it comes to Tim Burton, I think I gave a pretty accurate description of how I think he has sacrificed story and characters for glossy visuals in another review. His films just feels so serious nowadays, whereas Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (one of my all-time favorite movies) and most of his films pre Mars Attacks have a feeling that he was trying his hardest to put out a quirky, quality film and has been mailing it in ever since.

  • Mars Attacks i love it….i remember seeing it in theaters as a kid and thinking to myself movies couldnt possibly get better than this….i could watch it over and over and over just because of jack nicholson

  • shaq85

    Ed Wood, is the best film of Tim Burton.

    And for me one of the Top50 movies of ALL-TIME.

    Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

  • Lilly

    You know I don’t see the ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ trailer and i thing that this is one of the best movies that Tim Burton has ever made….

  • Madison

    @ Lilly

    That’s because Burton didn’t direct Nightmare Before Christmas. He was attached, but he didn’t direct.

  • DaveDave

    Burton has to be one of my favorite directors since I was a kid. I remember instantly loving Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands when I saw them and I had to of rented Beetlejuice 30 times from blockbuster when I was 5. I loved it when they had him guest star on Tiny Toons and all the characters would mess with him and scare the shit out of him. I can’t say that I disliked any of his movies(even Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I will admit that his movies have gone down since Planet of the Apes(Big Fish was better), but I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Alice in Wonderland.

  • chelsea

    i utterly despise what tim burton (and johnny depp) have become. don’t get me wrong, they both have good movies, but it has become a parody over the years. let’s make johnny depp play a pale eccentric, outsider (even gothic) and throw in some black and white stripes or checkerboard pattern…. screw the story or character development, it will sell because it’s burton and depp! they can do no wrong! let’s throw in helena bonham carter, too… she’s part of the package deal now. no need to branch out or strive for any sort of creativity. i mean, it’s only movies. the masses don’t care about that.

    it’s annoying…

  • Sean

    Personally I think every Burton movie since Mars Attacks, with the exception of Big Fish, has been terrible.

  • Ashweee

    @ Chelsea, I think you are being a little hard on him. Look at David Fincher and Brad Pitt, they’ve done a good many movies together, sometimes actors and directors just have that chemistry, Depp has become a bit of a typecast and Burton’s movies have declined in quality but his visual style and quirkiness remain the same, it keeps me coming back every-time, that’s for sure.

  • CNA

    Although he did not direct it, I still consider Nightmare Before Christmas to be Burton’s film. He didn’t have time to direct, as he was busy with Batman Returns, but he still produced it and wrote the poem on which it is based. I know a lot of people do believe it’s a Burton directed film because his influence is definately still there, and Tom Selick (Coraline, James and the Giant Peach, 9), who did direct it, is very similar to Burton in his style.

    Agreed though, Edward is his best movie and Big Fish comes in at a very close second. I’m excited to know he’s remaking Frankenweenie into a feature length film; I hope it’ll take him back to his roots and and bring back the brilliance that he hasn’t been showing lately.

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