Critic's Picks: Tim Burton's Films Ranked Worst to Best

1:48 PM 9/29/2016

by Stephen Dalton

From the ridiculous (a major misfire of a remake) to the sublime (a freaky fairy tale starring Johnny Depp), THR film critic Stephen Dalton ranks the iconic director's work as his latest fantasy spectacular, 'Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children,' hits theaters.

Courtesy of Photofest; Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

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    Planet of the Apes

    2001

    Photofest

    An ungainly twist on a simian sci-fi classic, Burton’s effects-driven reboot lacks the originality and cult appeal of its 1968 blueprint. Mark Wahlberg does a decent job filling Charlton Heston’s shoes as an astronaut who crash-lands on a post-apocalyptic monkey world. But Burton’s quirky, visionary voice gets lost in the mechanics of a boorish action blockbuster.

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    Dark Shadows

    2012

    Photofest

    Based on a schlocky late 1960s TV soap, Burton’s overstuffed family saga stars Johnny Depp as the recently reawakened vampire patriarch of a dysfunctional New England dynasty. Despite ace work from a stellar cast including Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Grace Moretz and Miss Peregrine star Eva Green, Burton struggles to balance campy humor and morbid horror

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    Alice in Wonderland

    2010

    Photofest

    Burton’s muddled but hugely lucrative Lewis Carroll adaptation stars Mia Wasikowska as Alice, a 19-year-old Victorian debutante escaping creepy suitors by fleeing into a phantasmagorical underworld. This all-star adaptation is a triumph of psychedelic CGI effects over emotional heart and narrative logic, but it still earned two Oscars and over a billion dollars, Burton’s biggest box-office haul to date.

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    Big Eyes

    2014

    Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

    Burton smuggles some of his favorite themes and stylistic tics into this modest but appealing biopic about the enduring allure of bad art. Amy Adams earned a Golden Globe for playing Margaret Keane, whose kitsch paintings became a huge success in 1950s California, while her suave but unscrupulous husband Walter (Christoph Waltz) claimed credit.

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    Pee-Wee's Big Adventure

    1985

    Photofest

    Burton’s offbeat feature debut is a playfully surreal vehicle for comedian Paul Reubens and his childlike alter ego Pee-wee Herman. A feast of dayglo kitsch and movie-buff in-jokes pepper the slender, cheerfully goofy plot. Reubens fell from grace after being arrested in a porn cinema in 1991, but he remained part of Burton’s ensemble company.

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    Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

    2016

    Jay Maidment/Twentieth Century Fox

    Burton’s latest fantasy spectacular gives the beloved Ransom Riggs novel a dazzling 3D remix, with mixed results. The visual effects are state-of-the-art while the ensemble cast boasts heavyweight names including Eva Green, Samuel L. Jackson, Terence Stamp, Judi Dench and Alison Janney. But the story walks an uneasy line between action thriller and Harry Potter-ish magicfest.

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    Sleepy Hollow

    2000

    Photofest

    Based on Washington Irving’s much-filmed short story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Burton’s handsome supernatural retro-thriller stars Johnny Depp as a scientifically minded detective attempting to explain a string of ghostly killings by a headless horseman. Shooting in England for the first time, Burton delivers stylish visuals but gets lost in a confused, choppy plot.

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    Mars Attacks!

    1996

    Photofest

    Inspired by a series of vintage collector cards, Burton’s sprawling all-star parody of 1950s alien-invasion movies is an ungainly, overblown but sporadically hilarious grand folly that earned mixed reviews and modest commercial returns. Relishing his twin roles, Jack Nicholson heads an all-star ensemble cast including Glenn Close, Annette Bening, Pierce Brosnan and Natalie Portman.

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    Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

    2005

    Photofest

    With strong hints of Michael Jackson, Johnny Depp plays disturbingly child-like chocolate tycoon Willy Wonka in Burton’s eye-watering remake of Roald Dahl’s beloved children’s classic. Sprinkled with Danny Elfman’s witty songs, this sumptuous pageant is overstuffed with digital razzle-dazzle, but it earned mostly positive reviews and almost half a billion dollars.

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    Corpse Bride

    2005

    Photofest

    Returning to the stop-motion style of The Nightmare Before Christmas, this time as co-director with Mike Johnson, Burton shot this ghoulish romantic fable in London back to back with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Regular collaborators Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter provide the voices for a newlywed couple whom death cannot part.

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    Big Fish

    2003

    Photofest

    Following his disastrous Planet of the Apes reboot, Burton clawed back some goodwill with a colorful, heart-warming literary adaptation about an ailing Deep South patriarch struggling to reconnect with his estranged son. Originally earmarked for Spielberg, this Forrest Gump-style fantasy for adults co-stars Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney and Billy Crudup.

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    Frankenweenie

    2012

    Remaking and expanding his 1984 short film debut, Burton plays to his signature strengths with a monochrome 3D stop-motion animation about young Victor Frankenstein and his re-animated bull terrier Sparky. Paying stylistic homage to Universal’s classic monster movies, this darkly funny Oscar nominee features Burton regulars Martin Landau and Winona Ryder in the vocal cast.

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    Batman Returns

    1992

    Photofest

    Burton’s second Bat-film again stars Michael Keaton as the dysfunctional superhero alongside Michelle Pfeiffer’s mentally unhinged Catwoman and Danny DeVito’s cackling, waddling, cartoonish Penguin. Granted more creative freedom after the huge success of Batman, the director amps up both the comedy and the violence, earning a critical backlash but creating a more definitively Burton-esque mood.

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    The Nightmare Before Christmas

    1993

    Photofest

    Not directed by Burton, but conceived by him and a key part of his neo-Expressionist canon, this visually striking collaboration with stop-frame animation veteran Henry Selick is a deliciously macabre musical ghost story. Based on one of Burton’s poems, The Nightmare Before Christmas is now an alternative seasonal classic and the first stop-motion feature to be entirely converted to 3D.

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    Batman

    1989

    Taking the caped crusader back to psychological basics, Burton laid the groundwork for Christopher Nolan with this hugely lucrative symphony in comic-book noir. Michael Keaton’s caped crusader is a brooding introvert, leaving Jack Nicholson to steal the film (and a hefty chunk of its $400 million take) as a larger-than-life Joker, prancing and preening to a gloriously funky Prince score.

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    Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

    2007

    Photofest

    Burton was the natural choice to bring fellow Anglophile Stephen Sondheim’s macabre musical bloodbath to the screen in this rousing, full-blooded adaptation. Regular leading man Johnny Depp channels David Bowie as the homicidal hairdresser on a razor-wielding rampage of revenge through Victorian London, aided by Helena Bonham Carter’s gleefully cannibalistic pie-shop owner.

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    Beetlejuice

    1988

    Warner Bros./Photofest

    A breakthrough critical and commercial hit for Burton and his future collaborators, Michael Keaton and Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice began as a much darker drama about a dead newlywed couple. But Burton reworked the story into an irreverent afterlife slapstick farce, helping to define his signature style. Keaton’s scene-stealing title character only occupies less than 20 minutes of screen time.

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    Ed Wood

    1994

    Photofest

    A love letter from one Hollywood oddball to another, Ed Wood stars Depp again as the infamous 1950s trash director, alongside an Oscar-winning Martin Landau as ailing horror legend Bela Lugosi. Burton’s ravishing monochrome biopic is a much slicker movie than anything Wood ever produced but, appropriately enough, it died at the box office.

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    Edward Scissorhands

    1990

    Photofest

    A tragicomic contemporary fairy tale about a metal-fingered misfit looking for love in brightly painted suburbia, Burton’s most personal film remains a near-perfect distillation of his creative obsessions. The first in a career-spanning run of collaborations with Johnny Depp also features Depp’s then-girlfriend Winona Ryder and a fitting swansong role by Burton’s screen hero, Vincent Price.

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