Tim Burton has been writing, producing, and directing Halloween-themed films since the 1980s. He has had many hits, and has especially found a niche in animated films. He is best known for his gothic style stylized in the likelihood that his characters will have painted white faces with dark black eyes. His animation is so unique and recognizable that most can look at one of his films and immediately know it is a Burton. He will often create characters that are reminiscent of his other films (the eccentric, the outcast, the hopeless romantic), and will often use the same actors (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, etc), but always manages to find a way to set them apart from past films. The great thing about Tim Burton is that there is a place in his collection for everyone; come Halloween time Tim Burton will have something for every viewer, whether you like mild gore, creepy comedy, or festive movies with a family feel. So, with that in mind, I’ve set out to rank the 8 best Burton movies to watch while in the Halloween spirit.
8. Dark Shadows
This film was over-hyped, to say the least. The box office results were disappointing, and there was not a lot of critical acclaim. While the style of the film was true to Tim Burton, with its Gothic visuals and striking effects and costumes, the plot itself left much to be desired. The characters were hard to sympathize with, and the story line was even harder to get into with its flat jokes and multiple sub-plots. The stone isn’t being cast at Burton for the poor plot, as he was not the writer of this film, however, even his stunning visuals were not enough to get this film moved higher on the list, but it does maintain that trademark Burton Halloween feel.
Beetlejuice is a cheesy film in all of the best ways. Michael Keaton performs fantastically as the gross, narcissistic, “bio-exorcist” leech you can’t help but love. The film features excellent make-up, provocative comedy, and creepy moments with a cheery feel. In fact, this film won “Best Make-up” at the Academy Awards. This film is not quite as visually striking as Burton’s other films, but the visual effects were good for its time. Beetlejuice was well received and is entertaining to watch, but is certainly not one of his best.
6. Corpse Bride
Tim Burton wrote, directed, and served as one of the producers of this film. And the film is absolutely stunning to watch. Many of Burton’s animated films have a dark color palette, but Corpse Bride utilizes rich blues that are reminiscent of moonlight. Corpse Bride is whimsical, yet deals with love and loss in a true, harsh way, all while managing to throw in some fun musical numbers for children. This is definitely a Burton film made for the entire family. The film was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Animated Film. While reception was pretty good for this film, it did not perform as well at the box office as the films at the top of the list. It’s beautiful and well-made, but Burton took on a little too much with the storyline, and maybe this is more of a fault with marketing. This film was marketed as another family animated film, but the story itself is much deeper and darker, reminiscent of a Poe narrative, and does not fit as well into the genre for which it was created.
5. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
While some of Burton’s films feature musical numbers, he took a new turn with Sweeny Todd by directing a full musical film. Many musicals run the risk of feeling somewhat childish and tacky, but this one took a different path, which is expected considering the plot. Watching this, you get a feel like you are actually watching a Broadway play, which is not an easy feat to accomplish on the silver screen. The casting is impeccable and the musical numbers are incredibly engaging. The musical is dark in nature and the visuals remain true to this, which makes the gore and desolate streets seem all the more lifelike. This film is much grittier than most of Burton’s film and features quite a bit of uncharacteristic violence. Considering Burton has a flair for making films with similar characters, taking on a new challenge was a good move in his career. Sweeney Todd was nominated at the Academy Awards for Best Costume design, and won for Best Art Direction.
4. Sleepy Hollow
Many are familiar with Irving’s tale of the headless horseman, and Burton does an excellent job in bringing this story to life. Burton opted out of using too many digital effects for this film, preferring to use more special effects instead, which made the movie feel more realistic. The headless horseman looks incredibly life-like and the costume design and town setting is hauntingly true to the time period of the film. At the Academy Awards, it was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, and won Best Art Direction. While Burton had began to unleash his cinematic style prior to the release of Sleepy Hollow with films such as Batman and Nightmare Before Christmas, this was the first film in which his style became not just dark and desolate, but also twisted and scary. For that reason, and for selfish reasons on my part, this film ranks higher, despite having received less critical acclaim.
Tim Burton’s most recent animated film was based off a short he wrote years prior and also has roots in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenweenie is done in black and white and is a true family friendly film. The tale is heartwarming and much more engaging than some of his previous animated efforts. Despite dealing with death and loss, Frankenweenie manages to stay energetic and lighthearted at its core. There are no effects that make this film stand apart from other Burton animated films, apart from the lack of color, and the characters’ appearances are similar to past characters. However, the film is still very striking and was well received (it was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the Academy Awards).
2. Edward Scissorhands
Edward Scissorhands, which was made just two years after Beetlejuice, has a similar style and tone. While Edward is similar to the more gothic films, the movie itself has a much lighter vibe. Burton was one of the writers of the film, and the movie dealt with moral issues and had multiple themes, such as isolation and human cruelty. Burton utilizes more vibrant colors in this film, and the make-up is much less daunting and much more realistic (apart from Edward). This is another Burton film in which most viewers can find at least parts of themselves, due to the wide range of human emotion shown through the characters. This film certainly feels like Halloween, but lacks any brutality or gore, which makes the film open to a wider audience base. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Makeup and has created a legacy for itself, as it is noted often in pop culture and has had a comic book sequel created.
1. Nightmare Before Christmas
Yes, I know, this film deals with Christmas, but it does take place in Halloweentown and is filled with monsters! Therefore, it still fits under the Halloween umbrella. In terms of plot, the number two slots are hard to decide. However, when thinking about following and popularity, The Nightmare Before Christmas certainly takes the cake. Also, the visual effects in the film certainly outweigh those in Edward Scissorhands. Tim Burton created the original story and the characters of this film, and the film completely encompasses all the aspects of Burton cinematics that we have come to love. There is a wide range of characters, which allow viewers to see more monsters than most Halloween-themed films. Like Scissorhands, this film also comes with moral implications, like lessons of self-acceptance and societal norms. Plus, while the film may be creepy, it is unquestionably a family friendly experience. The animation is visually pleasing, and the visual effects are excellent for their time (it was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects). While it may be true that Corpse Bride is more aesthetically succinct, Nightmare Before Christmas was created before the digital effects movies now utilize were implemented and, for the time, Nightmare is just as enjoyable to the viewer. The following this film has accumulated is staggering. There is a never-ending supply of merchandise and viewers of all ages continue to love this film, despite it being created two decades ago. The Nightmare Before Christmas cemented Tim Burton’s fame and allowed him to continue to make beautiful, weird, and unique films.