Johnny Depp as Edward Scissorhands
20th Century Fox

Ranking Tim Burton’s Movies from Worst to Best

During his career as a director, Tim Burton has made some of the most magical films ever created. But not all of them stand the test of time.
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Is there anything more disappointing than being a thirty-something Tim Burton fan? His earliest films were gothic love letters to the weirdos and outsiders of the world. Burton made his mark as one of the most talented and innovative directors of his era. Then, well… something happened.

You could argue that the schtick got old or that Burton simply sold out. I’m of the mindset that his sense of whimsy worked better when it was constrained by the use of practical effects; once he got his hands on CGI, his films seemed to lose their way.

I was tempted just to list Burton’s films in reverse chronological order, but that’s not really fair to the director. If I wanted to be gossipy about it, I might point out that the quality of his movies does seem to drop off right around the time that he split from his partner and muse, Lisa Marie, whom he dated from 1992 to 2001. After Burton left Lisa Marie for Helena Bonham Carter, the model and actress sold all his stuff at auction. Drama!

Regardless, Tim Burton made some of the most wonderful movies of the last 30 years. Here are all his feature films, ranked!

Dark Shadows (2012)

The original Dark Shadows is a strange artifact of the gleefully macabre 60s, which gave us not just the soap opera about the Collins family but also The Munsters and The Addams Family TV shows. While The Addams Family made a triumphant translation to the screen in the 90s–it’s too early to judge Rob Zombie’s reboot of The Munsters–Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows was a disappointment. If you want to watch a movie about vampires living in the wrong era, go for Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows.

Dumbo (2019)

In Disney’s relentless pursuit to make live-action adaptations of every single animated film in the vault, it was inevitable that they’d reach Dumbo eventually. Like most of Burton’s latter-day movies, it was all spectacle and no heart. When you compare the poignancy of a film like Edward Scissorhands with this middling CGI circus, it’s even more of a letdown.  

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Ransom Riggs’ young adult book seemed tailor-made for Tim Burton, given its atmosphere of creepy whimsy. A middling box office and mixed reviews prevented this film from being a triumph. It starred Eva Green—who is, if you think about it, kind of like a female Johnny Depp—in the title role. She runs a spookier version of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. Changes from the book and several dangling plot threads make this one of Burton’s lesser films.

Planet of the Apes (2001)

What happens when you force a notoriously quirky auteur to make a big-budget action movie? You end up with Tim Burton’s remake of Planet of the Apes. Anyone could have directed this movie. Despite its issues, the picture made a decent amount of money at the box office. However, it did not perform well enough for Fox to greenlight a sequel. Instead, the franchise would be more successfully rebooted ten years later with Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I won’t mince words: I despised Tim Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. This soulless CGI abomination represents everything wrong with his more recent movies. It’s an overstuffed production that disguises its lack of heart under a metric ton of elaborate wigs and offputting CGI. Over the years, it became increasingly difficult to connect with Tim Burton’s movies on an emotional level, and for me, Alice is one of his very worst. Yes, this movie made a literal billion dollars at the box office, but it’s dreadful.

Mars Attacks! (1996)

I have a soft spot for Mars Attacks!, which is basically an Ed Wood movie with a bigger budget. Warner Bros. hoped that this movie—which is an adaptation of a trading card game—would be a hit because of the all-star cast. Instead, it bombed at the US box office and divided critics. It didn’t help that Independence Day premiered the same year. Audiences were much more interested in seeing Will Smith battle invading aliens, but if you grew up on Mystery Science Theater 3000, you’ll get a kick out of Mars Attacks!

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

So the thing about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is that there’s no way it could possibly be better than the original movie. To go from Gene Wilder’s Wonka to this is… well, let’s just say I wasn’t a fan. I’m not sure why Johnny Depp decided to play Willy Wonka as Michael Jackson, but it didn’t work for me. That being said, the majority of critics and audiences enjoyed it at the time. I can’t, in good conscience, rank it lower on this list, but I have no desire ever to watch this movie again.

Paramount Pictures via GIPHY

Sweeney Todd (2017)

Adapting the work of beloved Broadway composer Stephen Sondheim is no easy feat, but Tim Burton did an admirable job. The cast features Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman, led by Johnny Depp. They didn’t butcher the musical, but Sondheim is notoriously difficult even for seasoned Broadway performers. Although critics enjoyed the film and it did okay at the box office, the marketing department seemed determined to hide the fact that Sweeney Todd is a musical.

The Corpse Bride

Despite the popular misconception, The Nightmare Before Christmas was NOT directed by Tim Burton. He produced the film and heavily influenced the story and production design, but it was the work of Henry Selick (Coraline). The Corpse Bride is Burton’s stab at stop-motion animation, and it’s hard not to see it as his attempt to prove that he didn’t need Selick. Although it’s pretty good, it never quite reached the cult classic status of Nightmare, nor did it have the charm of Frankenweenie.

Big Fish (2003)

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish stars Ewan McGregor in a fantastical drama where it’s impossible to tell truth from lies. This was supposed to be a Steven Spielberg project, which would have led to a very different film. Burton’s take on the novel, which is told through a series of interconnected stories, tacks on “Southern” to his usual Gothic sensibilities. It’s a good movie that’s nothing like the rest of his work.

Big Eyes (2014)

Amy Adams stars in this biopic of Margaret Keane, the artist responsible for those paintings of creepy, big-eyed children that were inexplicably popular during the 50s and 60s. The role earned Adams a Golden Globe and a BAFTA; her costar Christoph Waltz was nominated for a Globe award but did not win. Big Eyes is one of the least Burtony movies on this list, proving that he can challenge himself when he wants to.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

If I’m being honest with myself, Sleepy Hollow should probably be ranked lower on this list. But I’ve got a great deal of fondness for this movie, which is basically “CSI: Sleepy Hollow.” Johnny Depp stars as Ichabod Crane, a socially awkward but brilliant police constable who is sent to uncover the truth when bodies start turning up in the quaint little town. The plot is on the thin side, and the CGI hasn’t aged incredibly well. But it seems like everybody in this movie is having a really good time—especially Christopher Walken.  

Frankenweenie (2012)

Frankenweenie was Burton’s chance to remake his first short film. It’s easily his best movie of the last ten years. It draws on his unique art style and uses the same stop-motion techniques made The Nightmare Before Christmas great. It’s a surprisingly touching movie about a young Dr. Frankenstein who dearly loves his creation instead of shunning it as a boy named Victor brings his beloved dog back to life.

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985)

Tim Burton’s very first movie remains a charmingly chaotic relic of a different era. It’s the kind of picture that just wouldn’t get made these days. It follows Paul Reubens’ famous man-child character as he searches for his stolen bicycle. It made more than $40 million on a $7 million budget, which opened the door for Burton to get Beetlejuice greenlit. I don’t know that I’d enjoy this movie very much as an adult, but I remember it fondly. Except for Large Marge, of course.

Ed Wood (1994)

Ed Wood is Tim Burton’s biggest box office flop, bringing in just under $6 million on a budget three times that size. Ed Wood was the legendary director of terrible B-movies, including Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda. Making a good movie about a man who directed bad ones would be a challenge for anyone, and I can understand why people didn’t flock to see Ed Wood. Critics and film buffs loved it, though, and Martin Landau even won an Oscar for his performance as Bela Lugosi. Ed Wood also treats its subject with more empathy than the trailer suggests.

Batman (1989)

Batman wasn’t the first blockbuster superhero film, but I’d argue that it left a bigger impression on the genre than Richard Donner’s Superman (1978). Burton’s Batman was a huge gamble; at the time, Michael Keaton was best known for the comedy Mr. Mom. Drawing inspiration from Alan Moore and Frank Miller, the film proved that comic book movies weren’t just for kids. The practical effects on display have aged a lot better than some of the CGI on this list!

Batman Returns (1992)

That’s right: I think Batman Returns is the better of the two Burton Batmans! The movie is darker, weirder, and more audacious. That’s probably why it didn’t make nearly as much money at the box office. That’s a shame because Michelle Pfeiffer gave the performance of a lifetime as Catwoman. Perhaps having bought himself some leeway with the success of Batman, Burton created something unique and disturbing with this movie.

Read More: All the Actresses Who Have Played Catwoman

Beetlejuice (1988)

Beetlejuice is my personal favorite of Burton’s films, although I don’t think it’s quite his best. It’s one of the most original movies I’ve ever seen, inventing an entire cosmology straight from one man’s imagination. Michael Keaton is outstanding in every scene, but the rest of the cast is equally strong. As a kid, I desperately wanted to be Lydia Deetz, and I still love the song “Jump In the Line” because of the final scene of this movie.

Given Tim Burton’s recent track record, I’m very nervous about what the sequel to this classic might look like. There’s also a pretty good musical adaptation.

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands wasn’t Tim Burton’s biggest box office hit. It didn’t win him the most awards. But it’s such a beautiful, magical film. It highlights Johnny Depp’s gifts for physical comedy and vulnerability, conveying so much emotion through his eyes. Winona Ryder is fantastic here, too, as is Dianne Wiest as her kindhearted, Avon-selling mother.

The sequence with the Inventor is a short film in itself, serving as the tenderest tribute to Vincent Price, a very sweet man who almost exclusively played sinister villains onscreen. It would be his final film role.

Finally, I have to give credit to Burton’s longtime collaborator Danny Elfman for his ability to provide the perfect score for almost all of his films. I can’t hear this soundtrack without feeling a bittersweet pang of nostalgia.