Tim Burton has become the poster boy for all things gothic and weird in modern cinema. If one really looks into his body of work, there is a sort of formula within the majority of his films that he abides by, and it goes something like this: an oddball, misfit character is somehow thrown into new territory. This oddball, misfit character doesn’t quite fit in at first, but is later is accepted by his family and peers.
Essentially, most of his films are about unusual people finding their way and stepping into their own. And almost always, they are set to phenomenal scores written by the brilliant and talented composer and former frontman for Oingo Boingo, Danny Elfman. Let’s explore some of those films, and some that fall far away from the Burton formula, with a list of Tim Burton films that should be essential viewing by Burton newbies and fans alike.
10. Vincent (1982)
‘Vincent’ is not a feature-length film. It was Tim Burton’s attempt to showcase exactly what he was capable of crafting while working as a conceptual artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios. It was also Burton’s homage to his life-long idol, Vincent Price, who also narrates the film. Tim Burton uses stop-motion animation to craft this film. It is filmed in black and white. After it was shown in Los Angeles for two weeks and had a small run of showings at a few film festivals, ‘Vincent’ was locked in the Disney vaults until it was released on the 2008 Special and Collector’s editions of “The Nightmare Before Christmas’ DVD.
‘Vincent’ tells the story of seven year old Vincent Malloy. Vincent outwardly appears to be just like any other young boy of his age, but he has an imaginary dark side of epic proportions. He secretly yearns to be a murderous villain, just like Vincent Price.
9. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
‘Sleepy Hollow’ takes the Washington Irving story of ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow’ and turns it into a dark, brooding, somewhat gruesome tale. Ichabod Crane, played ever so awkwardly by Johnny Depp, is now a constable, not a school teacher. He travels to Sleepy Hollow to investigate a string of murders using his highly unorthodox scientific methods of discovery.
The story is perfectly catered to a filmmaker like Tim Burton. Everything has a dark Burton touch, from eerily shaped trees in the forests down to the cold, yet exquisite, costume and set design to the murder scenes, which were actually somewhat graphic for a Tim Burton film.
8. Beetlejuice (1988)
Say it once, say it twice, three times’ a charm. Beetlejuice brought Tim Burton into the filmmaking big leagues with a quirky story and an even more off-color cast. Adam and Barbara Maitland, played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, tragically die young and find out that their ghosts are bound forever to their home, which, to their dismay, later becomes inhabited by the eccentric Deetz family. The daughter of this family, Lydia Deetz, played by a young Winona Ryder, can see The Maitlands and is curiously not afraid of them. In order to rid their home of the living nuisances, The Maitlands call upon the one and only Beetlejuice, played by Michael Keaton, who is “the afterlife’s leading bio-exorcist.”
This film had so much going for it, especially for its time. The 1980’s were full of excess and greed. This film was light-hearted and fun. Not to say it didn’t have its scarier, darker moments, but for the most part, it was pleasant.
7. Big Fish (2003)
What is real and what is fantasy blends so magnificently in this film. Tall tales and imaginative, embellished stories hide the reality of exactly who the terminal Ed Bloom, played by Albert Finney, really is and was. His estranged son, played intensely by Billy Crudup, comes to make amends with his father and find the fact within the fiction before the inevitable happens.
This film was expertly cast and all of the actors emit fine performances. But, what really sets this film apart from most other Tim Burton films is the story. The screenplay, written by John August, was almost flawlessly adapted for film from the novel, ‘Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions,’ written by Daniel Wallace. The stories that Ed Bloom disproportionately exaggerates are translated to film imagery ever so beautifully. Careful cinematography from Phillipe Rouselot (Dangerous Liasons, Planet of the Apes) adds to the tone of the film and softer feel of the story. This results in much more than a feast for the eyes. The film is truly a genuine, intimate look into the bond between a father and his son.
6. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Edward, played by Johnny Depp, is a truly gentle soul. His “father,” played by Vincent Price, passed away before Edward had a chance to be “finished.” Pieced together, Edward is missing his hands, which are crudely fashioned by scissors. One day, Peg, a kind Avon lady, played by Dianne Wiest, happens upon Edward at his home and discovers that he is all alone. She takes him into her home in normal suburbia, where Edward finds that he truly doesn’t belong.
The love story between Edward and Peg’s daughter Kim, played by Winona Ryder, is incredibly beautiful. Depp and Ryder had amazing on-screen chemistry, which was probably due to their off-screen romance at the time. Also, this was Vincent Price’s last appearance on screen before his death in 1993. The role of The Inventor, Edward’s “father,” was written by Tim Burton specifically to be played by Vincent Price.