Every Tim Burton filmed ranked from worst to best

Jack Skellington, Beetlejuice and Batman
(Image credit: Barry King/WireImage via Getty ; Warner ;)

In 1984, a 26-year-old Tim Burton was fired from Disney after his short film Frankenweenie was deemed ‘too scary’ for kids. Luckily, he was snapped up by comedian Paul Reubens, who thought his wacky style was a perfect fit for the feature film Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. Thirty-eight years and twenty feature films later, Burton is a household name and a staple for any kid looking to dip a toe into counterculture. 

Burton’s unmistakable blend of German Expressionism and pastel Americana was a cinematic revelation that captured the audience’s imagination. It’s a visionary style perfectly suited to the kinds of stories he loves to tell — tales of the oddball outsider who’s unable to connect with the world. For many of us, Burton’s dark fantasy worlds were the gateway to alternative culture. They allowed us to explore and express our morbid, macabre identities in a world full of pastel-coloured ‘normal’ people. 

Over the years, Burton’s cast of favourites have come to typify his style almost as much as the striking aesthetics and Danny Elfman soundtracks. Although he’s known for regularly casting actors like Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, and Danny DeVito, it’s Johnny Depp who stands above them all as Burton’s creative muse. Abuse allegations between Depp and his ex-wife Amber Heard have impacted the discourse on Burton’s films in recent months, but we’re choosing to focus on the director and his creativity for this list.

With Addams Family spin-off Wednesday slated to hit Netflix on November 23rd and Beetlejuice 2 in early development, we’re donning our eyeliner and backcombing our hair to definitively rank all 20 of Burton’s films from worst to best.   

A divider for Metal Hammer

20. Dumbo (2019)

Adapted from the 1941 animated film, Burton’s Dumbo attempted to bring realism to one of Disney’s classic fantasy-period pieces. Unfortunately, the film sidelines its flying baby elephant in favour of human characters (no cute talking animals in this, I’m afraid), and loses its heart and charm in the process. The story feels rushed and doesn’t pack the emotional gut punch of the original.

19. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

On paper, Miss Peregrine’s sounds like a classic Tim Burton film. A secret school for extraordinary children, hidden out of time by the enigmatic Miss Peregrine (Eva Green). It’s got all the right ingredients, but the plot feels muddled and our protagonist Jacob (Asa Butterfield) gets a bland role as audience avatar and exposition prompt.

18. Dark Shadows (2012)

Dark Shadows is based on a ‘60s TV series about an ancient vampire who is excavated and must adjust to modern times. The costume, makeup, and set design are wonderfully kitschy, the cast is great, and there’s even a guest appearance from Alice Cooper. However, the tone of the film is a jarring mulch of comedy and violence, and it’s not particularly memorable compared to some of Burton’s other films. 

17. Planet of the Apes (2001)

Planet of the Apes is a reimagining of the 1968 original and, with visionary world-builder Burton at the helm, had real potential. Unfortunately, it feels too self-aware and ‘safe’ to follow through on its promise. The dialogue is clunky and the story struggles to commit to its own logic. Still, you’ve got to admire it. Legendary SFX makeup artist Rick Baker absolutely nailed the brief. Pair that with the intricate set pieces and costumes, and you’ve got one epic-looking film.

16). Big Eyes (2014)

Big Eyes is a biopic about artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), whose husband (Christoph Waltz) steals credit for her paintings of big-eyed children. Even though it’s rooted in realism, Burton’s stylistic fingerprints are all over this, especially the angular shot composition and bright colour palette. The story is emotive, and you’ll find yourself fiercely rooting for Keane. However, when placed in the context of Burton’s filmography, Big Eyes isn’t a film you’d normally reach for.

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

Where there’s a Victorian musical tragedy featuring cannibalism, you’ll find Tim Burton. Sweeny Todd is a deliciously (ahem) grim revenge story that revels in its own dark subject matter. The cast is first-rate, and the acting is even better, although Depp’s singing sometimes strays into Bowie territory. It’s an okay film overall, just not as good as some of the others in this line-up.

14. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1964 children’s book is a visual masterpiece. The kaleidoscopic ‘60s colour palette and surreal set design is exactly what you’d expect from Dahl and Burton. The real sticking point is Depp’s chipper performance as Wonka. It’s off-putting and baffling, as is the ‘daddy issues’ backstory that serves as his character motivation. 

13. Frankenweenie (2012)

Despite deeming his live action short ‘too scary for kids’, Disney eventually hired Burton to adapt Frankenweenie as a full-length, black and white, 3D stop motion feature in 2012. The story about a boy bringing his dead dog back to life is a shameless tear-jerker that uses its premise to explore some fun, morbid moments. It’s got real feel-good factor and tons of cool retro horror throwbacks sprinkled in.

12. Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)

Pee-wee’s Big Adventure was Tim Burton’s feature film directorial debut and in it, you can see the makings of the director we know and love today. Built around the unsettling child-like character Pee-wee (Paul Reubens), PBA is an off-beat, feel-good comedy with a Burton-esque dose of surrealism. Each moment out-does the last, from the Godzilla scene to the Twisted Sister cameo. If you can get past Pee-wee’s disturbing, infantile character, this is a fun watch.

11. Big Fish (2003)

Big Fish is a series of fantastical tales dotted into a wraparound story about a man trying to learn the truth of his dying father’s life. The episodic format gives Burton the opportunity to showcase his weird and wonderful visuals while the main plot keeps you emotionally invested. It’s a beautiful watch that’ll leave you bawling your eyes out by the end credits. It’s criminally underrated as far as Burton’s films go.

10. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Disney’s live action remakes have a reputation for being soulless cash-grabs, but AiW is one of the rare exceptions to the rule. It brings a freshness to the story by setting it years after Alice’s original adventures in wonderland. Unfortunately, there’s really no getting around the fact that Alice is a boring character, especially compared to others in the story.

9. Ed Wood (1994)

Burton’s biographical comedy drama about real-life director Ed Wood is often considered his magnum opus. It’s a black and white film that uses fun transitions, and interesting, off-kilter shot framings to capture Wood’s (Depp) eccentric, happy-go-lucky energy. It’s got a pretty long run time at two hours seven minutes and tends to be slower paced than some of Burton’s other films. 

8. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Like most Burton films, Sleepy Hollow is a goth’s delight. From the desolate, haunted feel of the cursed township to the period costuming, everything has a cold, washed-out feel to it. Christopher Walken makes a menacing Headless Horseman (you knew he would) and you get a lot of ‘tasteful’ gore for the certificate 15 rating, too. It’s a good Tim Burton film, just not his best.

7. Batman Returns (1992)

Warner Bros. gave Burton full creative control of Batman Returns to lure him back to the director’s chair once more. The result is a darker tone with more violence than his previous Batman film and, at some points, more style than plot. Batman Returns holds its top ten spot thanks to its bold visuals and epic character performances. Danny DeVito was destined to play the Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer utterly owns her role as Catwoman, playing equal parts sassy, funny, and sexy. 

6. Mars Attacks! (1996)

Mars Attacks! sees Burton move away from gothic visuals and toward his other love language: kitschy retro Americana. It’s an alien invasion parody inspired by a set of ‘60s Topps trading cards. It flopped at the box office but found cult status years after its release thanks to scene after scene of quotable, iconic moments and outstanding character design. Sure, Mars Attacks! is tacky and the CGI hasn’t aged well, but it’s still a blast

5. Corpse Bride (2005)

Corpse Bride is the first feature length stop motion film directed by Burton and is a colourful romance tale about love and loss. Burton uses two distinct palettes throughout — cold greys and blues for the dull mortal world, and vibrant Day-Glo for the land of the dead. Stylistic choices like this make the ‘be true to yourself’ moral of this tale hard to miss, but then again, it is a children’s film. It’s short and sweet, and sometimes, that’s just what you need.

4. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands is the film that kick-started Burton’s long standing creative relationship with Johnny Depp. Although the visuals are stunning, it’s Edward’s character design and Depp’s performance that make this film what it is. 

Transformed by artist Ve Neill and costume designer Colleen Atwood, Depp becomes the titular Edward, a scissor-handed loner who is unsuccessfully integrated into ‘normal’ society after years of isolation. He isn’t loud or assertive; instead, he draws you in with quiet mystique and gentleness. You’d die for this guy. Add to that the haunting score by Danny Elfman, which swells over Burton’s fairy tale visuals to create moments of true magic — especially the iconic ice dance scene. It’s a bittersweet love story with style.

3. Batman (1989)

Until 1989, Batman hadn’t graced the big screen for 23 years. Enter Tim Burton. He revived the franchise with a noir-style reimagining far darker than the campy days of Adam West. And it’s a tone you’ll find in every Batman film since. Michael Keaton crushes it as Batman, if not just because of his enigmatic eyebrows, and Jack Nicholson’s unhinged turn as the Joker was considered definitive before Heath Ledger came along. 

Although the story itself is on the lacklustre side, when you combine Danny Elfman’s ominous, dramatic score, the ground-breaking noir tone, and the cult-status characters, Batman was revolutionary for its time. It's still impacting superhero films to this day and makes for a great nostalgic watch.

2. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

Okay, okay, so Tim Burton didn’t direct this one — celebrated stop-motion director Henry Selick did. But Burton designed the characters and wrote the story while working at Disney in the early ‘80s. It’s become a runaway hit in the years since it was released and is now virtually inescapable around both Halloween and Christmas. It would be criminal to rank Burton’s films without this in the line-up. The stop-motion musical about the Pumpkin King of Halloween stealing Christmas is a ‘Grinchian’ story with the added twist of the main character being good-hearted but having misguided, harmful aspirations. It’s a simple story, which makes it easy to get behind.

TNBC is clearly a labour of love — it’s intricately detailed and masterfully shot, with dynamic camera movements, tactile textures, and classic musical framing, all painstakingly created frame-by-frame over three years through the medium of stop motion. Danny Elfman’s yearning, mischievous soundtrack has become the stuff of alternative culture legend. It’s so good that Walt Disney Records released Nightmare Revisited in 2008 — an album of eighteen cover tracks by alternative artists like Korn, Amy Lee, and Flyleaf. 

1. Beetlejuice (1988)

Say his name three times and he shall appear! The number one spot goes to the pinstripe-clad, potty mouthed, whorehouse-loving, “bio-exorcist” himself. Beetlejuice marked Burton’s second feature-length film and is a wacky tale of death, life, and belonging.

Betelgeuse (the film was renamed for ease) was expertly brought to life by Michael Keaton, who successfully ad-libbed his way into goth infamy even though he only appears for a total of fourteen minutes and was only on set for two weeks. Makeup artist Ve Neill (responsible for Keaton’s mouldering, electro-shock appearance), recently told Fangoria magazine that there were times when Keaton’s unscripted spiel was so hilariously dirty, they knew they’d never be able to use the take. Goth poster girl Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder) and the ghost couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) act as the film’s beating heart. Their story of found family and death acceptance gives this film its long-lasting substance. Beetlejuice is pure cartoonish fun for lovers of the dark and macabre. Shrimp hands grabbing people’s faces, chairs eating people, and giant sandworms with Michael Keaton’s face, are all delivered in playful stop-motion and punctuated with zany sound effects and snappy comic book-style editing.

This film’s aesthetic is indelible. That black and white pinstripe with accents of lime and purple are instantly recognisable as ‘Beetlejuice colours’. Burton uses vivid lighting alongside angular, stylised sets to flood each shot with colour and shadow, to give it the cartoonish, surreal vibe we know and love. Beetlejuice has been so enduringly popular that it has inspired a spin-off cartoon series, a musical, and is currently in development for a sequel. Just goes to show, once “the ghost with the most” has settled in, there really is no exorcising him…