Ranked: Tim Burton Films From Worst to Best

With Dark Shadows out this week, we're looking at the canon of America's most-loved goth.

By Molly Horan

Tim Burton's films are polarizing affairs: you're typically either a fan of his meticulous vision or you're not. But there's no denying that he's left a unique stamp on American film. With his latest, Dark Shadows, out this week, we're reviewing Burton's entire filmography from worst to best.


14. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

In Disney 3-D, the awfulness that was this film really jumped out at you. Unable to decide whether he was making a children's movie or a dark-minded teen movie, Burton delivered a re-imagining of Alice that was confused and poorly lit and did unspeakable things to Johnny Depp's eyelashes.

 

13. Planet of the Apes (2001)

Burton's Planet of the Apes is all concept, no story. Within twenty minutes, the apes' flying-leaps are no longer interesting, and the cultural inversions (Apes treat us like animals! Some apes are like animal-rights activists, but they're human-rights activists!) are no longer provocative. That leaves you an hour and forty minutes to enjoy Mark Wahlberg's stunned-realization face.

 

12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Any movie that messed with our memories of the Gene Wilder Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory was bound to get some backlash, but this repackaging, with its completely unnecessary back story for Mr. Wonka and its techno Oompa-Loompas, was enough to induce cries of, "What have you done to it?"

 

11. Mars Attacks! (1996)

It can be hard to pinpoint the line that divides terrible movies and movies so terrible they're good. Wherever it is, Mars Attacks! is on the wrong side of it. Though it means to parody bad sci-fi, you'll probably have less fun with Mars Attacks! than you would with the films it tries to skewer.

 

10. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Sleepy Hollow can best be enjoyed with the volume off. A visually stunning example of Burton's graveyard aesthetics, it's deflated by clunky dialogue and the utter lack of chemistry between Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp. It does win bonus points for cleverly incorporating steampunk design well before that look became a cliche.

 

9. Corpse Bride (2005)

A decent kid's movie that will always live in the shadow of the far superior The Nightmare Before Christmas (which Burton wrote but didn't direct). Corpse Bride seemed to come less from any desire to tell a story and more out of a need for new Hot Topic sweatshirts. The stars are Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and some dancing skeletons; it's like Burton went to the supply closet and took out the first things he could find.

 

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

A film based on a bloody musical that was truly in Burton's wheelhouse. Though you'd think a movie about a mad barber slitting people's throats would require some gore, Burton lets the blood wash out the character development, making Sweeney Todd feel less like the complicated story of a good man driven to evil acts, and more like a slasher movie with some singing.

Commentarium (35 Comments)

May 10 12 - 2:45am
Luke

I prefer Ed Wood as #1, but it's a fair and balanced list.

May 10 12 - 8:48am
Kevin

" But Beetlejuice's scene of yuppies forced to dance to "Jump in the Line" seems to be in no danger of getting old."

Perhaps the reason it;s in no danger of getting old is that it never happened. Winona Ryder dances to "Jump in the Line". The yuppies dance to Bannana Boat Song.

May 10 12 - 10:24am
PeterSmith

Whoops, good catch. We fixed it--thanks.

May 10 12 - 9:16am
Eh

Big Fish should be on the first page.

May 10 12 - 9:43am
What The Hell?

"Boring" for Pfeiffer as Catwoman?! Ok. You can pick out many flaws from BATMAN RETURNS, but if there were flaws on Pfeiffer's performance as Catwoman, you'd have to be blind or deaf to label her "boring" as the major flaw of her performance. If being "Boring" was her major flaw, very few people would remember her look and performance today. This isn't to say that Anne Hathaway may (or may not) create a better performance than her, but I wouldn't even come close to calling Pfeiffer's work the most "boring" element of BATMAN RETURNS. Really Nerve? That's the most creative flaw you could find with her?

May 10 12 - 10:59am
catonroot

Well put.

May 13 12 - 6:31am
sigtunafish

Agreed. Only a straight woman could consider Michelle Pfeiffer in skintight black latex "boring."

May 14 12 - 11:33pm
AlexT

Hardly. I think straight women everywhere were thinking, "I gotta get me one of those..."

May 16 12 - 12:36pm
guy

Watching that scene, I said, "I gotta get me one of those" - but I was referring more to the woman than the outfit... Michelle Pfeiffer was the only part of that movie that got the blood pumping... definitely not boring...

May 10 12 - 12:36pm
nyrajaid

My list would have been very different.
Alice in Wonderland
Sweeny Todd
Charlie & Choc Factory
Planet of the Apes
Big Fish
Corpse Bride
Batman
Sleepy Hollow
Mars Attacks
Ed Wood
Pee Wee
Batman Returns
Beetlejuice
Edward Scissorhands

There fixed it for ya!

May 12 12 - 5:17pm
Kelly

Agreed.

May 10 12 - 4:06pm
Gaby

Big Fish was awful, treacly garbage, and the beginning of the end for Burton's artistic abilities. I'm sad for you if you think that film was better than Beetlejuice.

May 11 12 - 1:09pm
moops

Agreed.

May 11 12 - 8:18pm
Ahem

Agreed.

May 13 12 - 11:23pm
Injest

Agreed.

May 10 12 - 4:39pm
Dani

Big Fish is my favourite movie. I'll defend it til the day I die, though I'm surprised I have to.

May 10 12 - 6:05pm
LM

Yeah I pretty much ignore all the movies on the first page. I would have put Big Fish a space or two higher also...seriously, I love Big Fish. I didn't even know people thought it was treacly. And I am generally VERY sensitive to treacly.

May 10 12 - 9:17pm
M

Looking at the list in full, it seems evident that Burton needs to take a break from dark, dreamy fantasy films and Depp needs to take a break from Burton.

May 10 12 - 10:13pm
wellduh

Pretty much almost toally agree with the ranking,except that I think Ed Wood should have been #1.

May 11 12 - 1:54am
Kia

Corpse Bride should be behind Mars Attacks. I loved Sleepy Hallow

May 11 12 - 6:32am
hampton

This may be the Nerve "Ranked" list I agree with the least. I liked Alice in Wonderland, aware of its shortcomings though I was, and I liked Mars Attacks.

May 15 12 - 12:55am
PP

Dude, Futterwacken. Seriously.

May 11 12 - 9:37am
Holly

You know, all that Ooompa Loompa backstory was actually in the book. I've alway found it kind of annoying that Burton gets criticized for sticking much much closer to the original text than the first movie did, like he should have been adapting Gene Wilder and not Roald Dahl.

May 13 12 - 3:29am
Wes

Pretty sure he's talking about the back story for Wonka and his Dentist-dad, which does not appear in the book.

May 13 12 - 9:38pm
CM

I love original version with Wilder but I do appreciate the fact that Burton's version is closer to the Dahl book.

May 14 12 - 9:14am
moops

I love the oompa loompa change: In the original book they were black, but because of people's reactions in later editions they were changed to be fair skinned with red hair. So I guess slavery is wrong unless you enslave the Irish.

May 13 12 - 3:27am
Wes

Seriously. Big Fish sucked. Way more boring than Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman.

May 13 12 - 3:07pm
Randy

Wow how did nightmare before christmas not make this list at all??!?!?!

May 13 12 - 7:36pm
Drew412

Because he didn't direct it

May 13 12 - 9:20pm
kateldg

Neither did James and the Giant Peach

May 14 12 - 9:16am
moops

Why did you omit his porn movies? Edward Dildohands was a masterpiece!

May 15 12 - 10:53am
cal

What about The Nightmare Before Christmas?!? Shoulda been #1!

May 15 12 - 12:48pm
Albert <(^.^)>

My first Burton film was Ed Wood so it will always be my favorite over others however, I haven't seen a film of his yet that I ever dislike ... and I don't think I ever will :D

May 24 12 - 4:11am
PJL1701

Reading over this list reminded me of why I dislike Tim Burton so much. You summed it up already: he's become a parody of himself. I've never been particularly fond of his aesthetic or direction, but since the early 90s he really has pulled a Lucas.

Jul 07 12 - 2:15am
Kelsonic

This list reminded me that Burton was once made really good movies. Interesting the two movies with "Ed" in the title and the role made the top spots.