It can be said that Tim Burton is a director who has generated all kinds of opinions through his career. While some love him and consider the man a “visionary”, others have said he is a “substance over content” director. Whatever the case may be, Burton has become a director with a very distinct style, in both content and visual elements.
Dark gothic settings, bizarre (but likable) characters, and recurring collaborations are what could be considered his trademarks. While this has earned him divided opinions from critics and viewers, it cannot be said that some his works aren’t iconic. In fact, some of his films (especially his earliest) have created cult followings, even approaching new fans decades after they were released.
Here we present you the 10 best works by this brilliant gothic director.
10. Frankenweenie (2012)
After a couple of films that received divided opinions from critics and fans, Burton decided to go back to his roots and make his second stop-motion directed film. With “Frankenweenie”, Burton takes again several of his earlier trademarks, such as his love for 1950s B-movies and the horror genre in general, and combines them with his talent in stop-motion filmmaking, putting aside all the CGI that was used in his latest works.
This, with the help of terrific black-and-white photography (quite unusual in the stop-motion genre, but undoubtedly accurate for this work) and great voice casting (that doesn’t feature neither Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter, but several actors from his earliest films including Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara) made the film an small but lovely nostalgic piece, which reminded critics and audiences of the old Burton, and how he can create great projects without needing an big production set.
9. Big Eyes (2014)
Just like with “Frankenweenie”, “Big Eyes” was another return for Burton to his classic style. While there certainly aren’t any dark or gothic elements in this film, it used a heavy 1950s love theme to tell the small but strange story of painter Margaret Keane.
In this case, while Burton re-teamed with screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, he didn’t use any of his frequent actors. Instead, he cast A-list actors Amy Adams (who even won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Keane) and Christoph Waltz, which made the film itself a very refreshing entry in Burton’s filmography.
Once again avoiding any CGI use, the film only required an unusual true story and the charismatic performances of its cast (though Jason Schwartzman and Krysten Ritter should have got bigger roles) to be interesting.
8. Corpse Bride (2005)
After his success with stop-motion art in “The Night Before Christmas” (which wasn’t actually directed by him and therefore won’t be in this list) and those bizarre settings from “Beetlejuice”, Burton finally got to made his very own stop-motion film. A strange, dark and bittersweet love story, it again features the director’s love of the horror genre, but with a charming and funny story that makes the film watchable for all ages.
While the film may not have the cult following that “The Night Before Christmas” received, it became an instant classic, due to Burton’s talent with stop-motion art and an excellent voice work from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.
7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Perhaps the most underrated Burton-Depp collaboration, this adaptation of the classic horror story of a rider with no head is one of Burton’s darkest films. There aren’t many comedic elements in this film (aside from Ichabod Crane’s investigation methods), but it has a dark gothic setting that makes it an artistic horror film.
Why is this film underrated as a Burton-Depp collaboration? Well, this can be considered Johnny Depp’s least bizarre character in a Burton film.
Unlike his other roles for Burton, he is not playing a man with scissors for hands, an eccentric movie director, the quirky owner of a candy factory, a vengeful barber, or a vampire in the 1970s. As inspector Ichabod Crane, Depp creates his most natural performance in a Burton film. It’s still eccentric while not bizarre, making it one of the most interesting exercises between the director and the actor.
In other aspects, the film features an charming and well-cast Christina Ricci and excellent cinematography by three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki, who helps create a big part of the scary setting. I also want to give a special mention to Christopher Walken as the Headless Horseman, for even though he appears for just five minutes in the entire film, he created one of Burton’s creepiest characters.
6. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
This could be Burton’s darkest film to date. Adapted from Stephen Sondheim’s play by the same name, the film (the only musical Burton has directed thus far) follows the search for vengeance by Benjamin Barker, a barber who now goes by the name of Sweeney Todd, against Judge Turpin, who unjustly sent him to prison years ago in order to approach Barker’s wife.
With a powerful performance by Johnny Depp (this is his only collaboration with Burton that has earned him an Oscar nomination), the film features an excellent soundtrack, choreography, set design, and great supporting performances from Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Sacha Baron Cohen, making it one of Burton’s most detailed and complex works.