I will start this off with a bit of a disclaimer and state the fact that I am a huge Tim Burton fan. Major. I even have a Nightmare Before Christmas themed tattoo sleeve and a small collection of Burton film memorabilia. You might think this list is biased or whatever else, but even as a fan I am fully capable of ranking these films for what they are because like anyone, there are films I love and ones I wasn't too crazy about.
With this list I will be focusing on the films that Tim Burton has directed, written, or produced. Why do I have to specify that? Well, perhaps the most popular piece of work to come from Burton's brain wasn't even directed by him so there needs to be some clarification. Unlike some other lists I have compiled, this one is in order from worst to best and I want to emphasize that this is my personal list. It's my opinion and I understand you all won't agree. I just ask you be respectful, so let's keep the comments clean.
I will also mention this list will not include any movies I have not seen, so if you see a Burton film missing that doesn't mean I forgot it. That just means I haven't seen it yet.
17. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Kicking off the list in dead last is Burton's adaptation of the Lewis Carroll story and 1951 Disney animated classic, Alice in Wonderland. I went into the film open minded but for me it was nothing but an overly weird CGI dump with a poor script, lousy 3D, and a bad cast. I'm the first one to point out the weird that exists in Tim Burton's filmography and art, but this one was a little too weird. Weird to the point where it felt like it didn't even belong, which is something I had never experienced with a Burton film before.
I'm still upset there is going to be a sequel because it doesn't need or deserve it.
16. Planet of the Apes (2001)
Planet of the Apes was another that just got a bit weird. Between the Helena Bonham Carter ape that looked like a post-surgery Michael Jackson and the awkward ending, it just proved to be a remake that didn't really need to exist at all.
15. Dark Shadows (2012)
I really wanted to like Dark Shadows and I should have, but in the end it just wasn't that good. The premise was fine enough and I appreciated the casting, but my complaint with quite a few of the more recent Depp releases applies to this one as well... it was weird just for the hell of it. That and the plot was a bit forced and the flow was off for me.
I felt that this movie really helped to push the belief that the Burton and Depp relationship has gone a bit too far because, although it's a beautiful film relationship, Johnny Depp can't play every character. It's just not possible.
14. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Something about the whole Willy Wonka feeling more like Michael Jackson at the Neverland Ranch just didn't rub me the right way. They made Willy Wonka a bit too eccentric which I didn't think was possible. Plus, I hated the way the Oompa Loompas were portrayed and I wasn't a really a fan of the kids. Well, Charlie was alright but honestly, who doesn't love Freddie Highmore?
13. Pee Wee's Big Adventure (1985)
I'm the first to say I hate Pee Wee Herman. The character is annoying and creepy, but when it comes down to this list I would much rather watch Pee Wee's Big Adventure than any of the previous four movies. I could take it.
Despite how much I don't like the character, this isn't really a horrible movie. It has a great score composed by Danny Elfman and it's definitely something different.
12. Ed Wood (1994)
I feel like Ed Wood is just one of those movies you have to see. It's a bit difficult to even describe without ruining the atmosphere of the film itself. All I will say is it's probably one of the best performances Johnny Depp has done in his career, not just with Tim Burton.
11. Big Fish (2003)
This is where it gets really difficult to rank these because I absolutely adore Big Fish, but comparing it to the others it just has to land here at #11.
Big Fish is a bit different than other Tim Burton offerings and I think that's maybe why it isn't as popular outside of the fanbase. Telling the story of a man who relives his dying father's stories and myths, it is more emotional and somewhat grounded in reality. It truly has a sweet story behind it and I don't think it gets enough credit.
10. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Sweeney Todd was one of those movies that shouldn't have worked, but it really turned out to be something not only decent for Burton, but in general. It not only showcased that Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter could sing, but it showed Burton's versatility with the fact that he could bring a live-action musical to life and have it be a perfect blend of everything Sweeney Todd embodies. Not to mention it got Johnny Depp an Oscar nomination for Best Actor and won him a Golden Globe.
I've always enjoyed Sweeney Todd and I thought for what it was worth it was very good overall. The cinematography was great, the cast was awesome, and they tweaked the stage play enough to avoid the campy nature it can give. I saw the stage play that same year with my family and found it a lot more lackluster than the movie.
9. Frankenweenie (2012)
I was a fan of the Frankenweenie short film long before this stop-motion version, but I did really love the full-length movie. It also reunited us with old Tim Burton regulars Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara.
Following a boy who brings back his dog after he is killed in an accident, it really resonated with anyone who has experienced the loss of a pet. The story itself is sweet and I thought the animation was gorgeous. I also liked the fact that it was in black and white.
8. Batman (1989)
Batman isn't underrated by any means, but I think it's just been overshadowed at this point by Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy. Tim Burton brought us the first battle between Batman and The Joker with this 1989 film and I still think it's a great adaptation, even after the greatness Nolan delivered. It delivered another great score from Danny Elfman and Jack Nicholson's version of The Joker is one of the most widely recognized in Hollywood.
I'm not even ashamed to say Michael Keaton was my favorite Batman.
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Sleepy Hollow is a must for anyone who is a fan of the Legend of the Sleepy Hollow story by Washington Irving. This adaptation, again starring Johnny Depp, is a worthy take on the story and the characters. This movie is from from the best era of Burton films, in my opinion, and it was because his vision on film just worked with stories like this.
The suspense and overall creep factor worked beautifully in this film because it was so balanced. There are moments when you feel like you know what is going on and then you get a feeling of uncertainty and it boosts up that suspense again.
6. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Anyone that says they don't love Mars Attacks! is a person you shouldn't be paying any attention to.
Easily one of the more comical releases, Mars Attacks! brought in a diverse and popular Hollywood cast that brought to life a story about martians violently invading Earth. The cast included Jack Nicholson, Natalie Portman, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Michael J. Fox, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lucas Haas, Pierce Brosnan, Annette Benning, and many more.
I have loved this movie since I was a kid and it's primarily because it's absolutely hilarious and it has great characters. The martians are reminiscent of the old trading card series released in the early 1960s. It was the perfect compliment to Tim Burton's humor which many people choose to ignore in favor of the more darker elements of his work.
5. Corpse Bride (2005)
Marking Burton's return to stop-motion animation, Corpse Bride was a pretty big hit with critics and audiences and it deserves every bit of it. Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter gave their voices to Victor and Emily in this story of a shy, nervous young man who accidentally exchanges wedding vows with the spirit of a ghost bride.
The characters are enough to melt your heart, but the story itself actually is very deep and the fact that it was marketed more at kids was a bit odd. The thematic elements are very adult but I liked it. Anyone could relate to any character and even to the situations they are presented with.
4. Batman Returns (1992)
I'm going to admit something to all of you. Are you ready?
Batman Returns is my favorite Batman movie.
There, I said it. Not only did it give us the best film adaptation of Catwoman to date, but it gave an overall depth and feel to the city of Gotham as a whole. Batman Returns really showed us what a slimy, corrupt city Gotham was deep in its underbelly and the introduction of Penguin as more of an underground mythical creature gave a bit of a more fantasy-like quality to Batman and I never minded that. I actually think Danny DeVito's portrayal of Penguin is one of the best comic villain portrayals of all time.
3. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
There is no denying that Edward Scissorhands is not only one of the biggest gems in Tim Burton's filmography, but in film history.
In one of Johnny Depp's most famous roles, he brought to life a reclusive but gentle young man with scissors for hands as he is taken in by a family and falls in love with their daughter. The depth that the actors brought to these characters, specifically Depp, is still magical to see on screen despite how many times I watch this movie. The ending still makes me tear up to this day.
This story about Edward remains one of the most treasured films among fans that Tim Burton has directed, and many even rank the ice dance as one of the most beautiful scenes captured on film. The story and characters hit you right in your core and it contains one of the best love stories in Burton's filmography. Plus, who doesn't want to see Anthony Michael Hall play a lunatic?
2. Beetlejuice (1988)
Beetlejuice gets edged out just by a hair for me and it's one of my all-time favorite movies, not just a favorite from Tim Burton. This time we were introduced to Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) after they are killed in a car accident. As they return to their home as ghosts, they are forced to share their home with an eccentric family from New York city including a daughter that is able to see and talk to them. It isn't until the introduction of a freelance, bio-exorcist (Michael Keaton) that things get crazy and threaten not just the Maitlands but the family in their house.
For me, this movie contains some of the most iconic scenes in film and probably one of the most widely recognized characters Burton has ever created. The story itself is funny, exciting, and suspenseful and it mixes a perfect brand of eeriness that aids in bringing the characters to life. Aside from the #1 pick, it's obvious that Burton has never managed to top what he did with Beetlejuice.
1. The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Remember when I put the disclaimer about not every film being directed by Burton? Well, this is the one exception. The Nightmare Before Christmas was essentially from the mind and vision of Tim Burton, but it was directed by Henry Selick. That fact is often overlooked or not known by many people as it's often titled as Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas, so it's something I wanted to reiterate and/or set straight.
With that said... yes, this is my #1 pick and it's not just because I was in high school when it rose to popularity once again. In the mid-2000s, The Nightmare Before Christmas rose to popularity with its 10-year anniversary celebration and all of a sudden it became the cool thing to do, if you were that type of kid, to go to Hot Topic and buy a bunch of Jack Skellington merchandise and wear it to school. For me, however, I have loved this movie since it was released in 1993. My parents had to buy two copies of it on VHS because I watched it so much that I wore the tape out. I've also had to make the switch to digital with this movie because when I bought my first copy on DVD back in high school, I watched it so much that the disc eventually stopped playing.
The story itself is different, fun, and interesting and the characters all embody what Halloween is. You have the devilish trick or treat gang, the one trying to warn of the dangers, the vampire group, the witch coven, and every bit of weird and scary in between. The mixing of Christmas and Halloween together was a genius idea then and it's a genius idea now. The music is well written and it contains perhaps the best score that Danny Elfman has ever composed. We all can find something to relate to with these characters and the sense of wonder and excitement that Jack Skellington possesses is something we all have. Most of us just don't act on it out of fear or indifference.
I can understand why people think Nightmare is overrated at this point and I would even agree that the amount of merchandising and branding surrounding the film is getting a bit ridiculous, but if you focus on the film itself and not the annoying fandom and the beating it took from the 2000s "goth culture" you can still see what a great film it is.