Best of the Best: Tim Burton’s Films


After more than 30 years of work, not only as a director but also as a producer and a writer, Tim Burton presently has six television episodes, seven short films and 22 full length films. While there is of course no accounting for taste, out of all the movies Burton has cranked out during his considerable career, these are the top five, in no particular order, that are most highly recommended.

Sleepy Hollow:  Burton expands on the sinister fairytale written by Washington Irving in 1820. It’s a cross between a Halloween story and a riveting supernatural mystery. Burton’s old friend Johnny Depp stars as Ichabod Crane, a nervous New York City detective and self-proclaimed campaigner for the use of emerging forensic science, such as autopsies.  Crane goes to the small upstate New York town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate three killings where the victims were found with their heads cut off. Crane arrives at the town and is skeptical of the explanation the locals give him of the Headless Horseman, an undead Hessian mercenary who had his head cut off during the Revolutionary war and now rides around on his black steed at night searching for his head. Crane eventually believes the tale when he sees the Headless Horseman.  Crane works furiously to find a way to end the Horseman’s reign of terror as he takes out one victim after another. Crane seeks the assistance of Young Masbath, whose father was killed by the Horseman, and Katrina, the lovely daughter of Baltus Van Tassel, for whom he develops feelings.  The film keeps you guessing until its shocking and dramatic conclusion

Edward Scissorhands:  This provocative fantasy film with a Beauty and the Beast vibe to it represents the first of a long list of illustrious works of collaboration between Burton and actor Johnny Depp. The highly original storyline in the beginning is framed as a bedtime story from a granddaughter to her grandchild. In the story, the “Inventor” creates a boy named Edward but dies before he is able to give Edward real human hands, leaving him forever unfinished. After living alone for many years in the Inventor’s mansion, a saleswoman named Peg Boggs discovers Edward and brings him to her home.  Although initially apprehensive, the rest of the Boggs family soon befriends Edward and cherish him as a full member of the family. The boyfriend of the Boggs’ daughter, Kim, creates trouble for them when he takes advantage of Edward’s child-like innocence and later accuses him of attacking Kim. Overall, the movie is a clever and sensitive fable about not judging a book by its cover.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: Based on the classic Roald Dahl novel of the same title, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory delights its viewers with wonderful graphics and the light-hearted absurdity that comes with childhood. The central storyline is not unfamiliar to even young adult viewers; Charlie finds one of the coveted golden ticket which, along with four other children, grants him a tour of Willie Wonka’s famous and fanciful factory which, despite the title, makes much more than just chocolate.  However, a quirky yet slightly more sentimental new twist develops near the end, which includes Willie Wonka reconciling with his father, an astute and serious dentist played by Christopher Lee. Other new details are revealed, such as where Willie Wonka first met the Oompa-Loompas and scenes of the Oompa-Loompas dancing to techno music.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure:  Burton’s very first full length film is truly a classic. Although it was the first Pee Wee Herman movie, the character of Pee Wee Herman was not new to the big screen as actor Paul Reubens had portrayed him in The Pee Wee Herman Show. Reubens co-wrote the script and was inspired to ask Burton to be the director after he saw Burton’s short film Frankenweenie. The movie is a comedy adventure film about Pee Wee’s quest to recover his beloved bicycle which is stolen from a bicycle shop. Pee Wee visits a psychic who tells him his bicycle is hidden in the basement of the Almo Mission in San Antonio, Texas.  His long and wacky adventure to recover his bicycle leads him to encounters with a jealous boyfriend, a biker gang, an advertisement sign and seemingly every prop, actor, and staff member at Warner Bros. Studio.  The movie was a huge success and set the stage for the rest of Burton’s career.

Beetlejuice:  After the success of his first film, Burton received a number of scripts to choose from for his next movie.  Among them, Beetlejuice stood out to Burton because of its creativity and originality. The star-studded cast included Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder and Michael Keaton.  The story is about a young couple, Barbara and Adam Maitland, who decide to spend their vacation decorating their beautiful country home.  On their way, they crash their car into a river. They drag themselves out and return home, but begin to suspect they are in fact dead since they can’t see their reflections in the mirror. They also discover a Handbook for the Recently Deceased. They are informed by their afterlife case worker, Juno, that they must stay in the house for 125 years. This becomes a very daunting prospect after an obnoxious family with terrible interior design taste moves into the house. After haunting the house in an unsuccessful attempt to scare the new inhabitants away, the Maitlands enlist the help of a ghost named Betelgeuse, and eventually get more than they bargained for. The success of this film and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure prompted Warner Bros. to hire Burton to direct the 1989 “Batman” film.

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