The Top 5 Films of Tim Burton

I am excited about this particular posting, because it is the first one on the Magic Lantern Film Blog by a contributing writer, William Buhagiar. Last week, I posted a review of Alice in Wonderland and in it I mentioned that Tim Burton’s films are hit-or-miss with me. Of course he remains one of America’s most visually stylistic directors and there are certainly a number of his films which I greatly admire and enjoy. However, in my opinion, there are too many that miss the boat and I personally cannot put him in the upper echelon of today’s filmmakers. Mr. Buhagiar though feels quite differently, as Burton remains his most favorite film director, which is why I am so thrilled that he decided to write a list of the Top 5 Tim Burton Films. He certainly can speak to Burton’s films better than I can, so it makes complete sense that he’s the one creating the list here and not me.

Buhagiar is a film student (New York Film Academy) and is a serious movie buff of films both past & present and in a variety of genres. I am also pretty sure he knew more about film than his own H.S. film teacher, as I’m not entirely sure how much you can learn about cinema from reading Us Weekly. In any case, I always enjoyed speaking and debating with William about movies, actors, & directors. I hope that he will enlighten us with another film List or article in the near future. Here it is….Tim Burton’s Top 5 Movies from contributing writer, William Buhagiar:

#5. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Two words that immediately make me shudder: horror movie. At this point, it’s common sense that the genre is a barren wasteland overflowing with generic and repetitive cinematic trash. Yet Sleepy Hollow actually accomplishes what a successful horror film ought to: it startles, haunts and thrills the audience. Johnny Depp gives yet another brilliant (and highly amusing) performance as Ichabod Crane alongside Christina Ricci, Michael Gambon and a stellar ensemble cast. With a clever script written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), Burton’s gift for projecting psychological phobias in visual fantasy ultimately delivers a wonderfully entertaining, eerie and unforgettable story. And believe it or not: it’s a horror movie.

#4. Big Fish (2003)

Many critics argued upon its release that this was Burton’s finest. With great performances by a strong cast, (Albert Finney being the terrific lead) Big Fish is another Tim Burton classic; a story of father-son relationships that balances all of the fantasy elements you would anticipate in a Burton feature along with contemporary family drama that had previously been a genre he hadn’t yet ventured into.

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

Considering the more recent stage-to-screen musical adaptations, Sweeney Todd is arguably one of the most unique. Burton couldn’t have been a more appropriate candidate to bring the story of the murderous, revenge-obsessed barber and his cannibalistic meat pie-baking Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter, one of modern Hollywood’s finest scene-stealers) to the screen. Naturally, the title role went to Johnny Depp, who was subsequently nominated for an Oscar for his haunting performance. For the many movie-goers who are biased against the typical dull cinematic musical, and prefer to spend their $10 on films sans show tunes, Sweeney Todd is a picture that may shift their perspective. Surprisingly thrilling, highly entertaining and visually gorgeous, Burton’s artistic vision was well-executed for this project. Let’s face it: what other movie features throat-slitting and human meat pies accompanied by song?

#2. Ed Wood (1994)

Tim Burton’s biggest failure, and also his greatest triumph. Ed Wood was a box-office disaster and yet the critics raved. Why Burton chose to create the biopic of Edward D. Wood, Jr., unanimously considered the worst film director of all time, is obvious. Burton grew up on his movies. He describes Wood’s films as “incredibly dreamlike…personally, I wouldn’t call them ‘bad,’ they had a very unique otherworldly quality about them.”

Johnny Depp (naturally) plays the wide-eyed and relentless Ed Wood, who continues to pursue his artistic dreams despite a series of absolute failures. During one particular sadly-comical scene, Wood stands at a payphone waiting for feedback regarding his directorial debut, Glen or Glenda, (an homage to Wood’s actual affinity for dressing in women’s clothing) and Depp, with a madly enthusiastic smile on his face, states: “Really? Worst film you ever saw? Well, my next one will be better!” The most astonishing aspect of that scene is Wood’s smile is never erased, despite the critical opinion of his film.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking and inspiring focus of the story is that of the relationship between Ed Wood and Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau, who scored the “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar for his performance. When Wood and Lugosi coincidentally meet while Lugosi is shopping for his ideal coffin (“This is the most uncomfortable coffin I’ve ever been in!”),  Wood is beyond star-struck, pestering him with questions, offering him a ride home, constantly expressing his admiration and discussing the roles Lugosi played that captivated him as a child. (Allegedly, Burton’s focus on the Lugosi-Wood friendship was an homage to the relationship between Burton and his own childhood hero, Vincent Price.) Wood constantly wrote roles (in putrid B-movies) for Lugosi, who was, at the time, considered by Hollywood to be a washed-up has-been heroin addict. He was removed from rehabilitation numerous times due to his inability to pay for treatment. Ultimately, Lugosi’s addictions led to his death, which Burton couldn’t have depicted with any more respect.

Although Wood holds the reputation of being the “worst film director” of all time, Burton crafted a film that ultimately pays great respect to the man rather than mock him. Sure, his eccentricities are showcased in comedic fashion, but really, don’t they deserve to be laughed at?

#1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands is the closest we’ll ever come to a Tim Burton autobiography. Burton has very often described growing up in Burbank, California as being a desolate, lonely and frustrating environment. He claims to have had a certain disability in properly communicating his twisted, fertile imagination to those he was surrounded by with mutual understanding from others. The adolescent Tim Burton spent most of his time in complete solitude, privately viewing marathons of sci-fi B-movies, old Hammer horror movies, along with the 1930’s Universal horror classics dominated by Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney, Jr., among others. Despite his efforts, Burton could never quite get his message across to the prim, “Crabtree & Evelyn” suburbite residents that he was surrounded by. He was certainly a misunderstood outsider, unable to communicate, and desperate for acceptance. But he was an extraordinary artist. And thus, Edward Scissorhands was born. Beginning as a sketch drawn when he was fifteen, Burton conceived the idea of a man with scissors for hands, an obvious symbol of his communicative handicap (the original sketch is now on display at the Museum of Modern Art).

In a suburban world parallel to the one Burton was raised in (only dramatically cartoonized into a visual environment of pastel houses, perfectly trimmed lawns and neighbors who spend the majority of their days gossiping about others), a kind Avon saleswoman, Peg Boggs, (Dianne Wiest) seems to be having a difficult morning selling her make-up products. Dismissed by a housewife who is in the midst of seducing a plumber and a teenage girl who happily applies toenail polish then admits to having no money, she decides to drive up to a ghoulish mansion atop an enormous hill out of desperation.

Here, Peg discovers a timid, lonely “creation” named Edward (Johnny Depp), who to her great shock has scissors for hands. When she inquires about this, he quietly whimpers, “I’m not finished.” Peg asks about his mother…and receives no response. When asked about his father, Edward once again barely gets the words out, “He didn’t wake up.” So Peg decides to take Edward home and introduce him to civilization – with an ultimately heartbreaking outcome.

The film is no tear-jerker; it’s not a melodramatic “Nicholas Sparks” story where an over-the-top tragedy is inevitable. And yet I can remember being 4 years-old and openly weeping by the end of the movie. Sure, it may be a bit ridiculous, but this is simply one of those movies that are guaranteed to generate a few tears from me every time I watch it.

Edward Scissorhands is Tim Burton’s magnum opus. Burton created a story that perfectly channeled his feelings of isolation and of misunderstanding. Essentially, Tim Burton is Edward. The film remains a universal classic to those of us who grew up watching it. Such a unique piece of imaginative artwork is absolutely unforgettable, and when it comes to the best of Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands has the market cornered.


32 Responses to The Top 5 Films of Tim Burton

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  3. Heather says:

    I didn’t add Ed Wood to my list *gasp*. I LOVE that you gave Sleepy Hollow a mention. One of my Burton favorites as well and made it into my top five as well.

    No mention of either Batman or Pee-Wee?

    And of course Ed Scissorhands belongs at one. One of my favorite films ever.

    Here’s my list:

    • FRC Ruben says:


      5. Batman
      4. Edward Scissorhands
      3. Pee Wee
      2. Beetle Juice
      1. Mars Attacks

      • I have to ask….are you serious about Mars Attacks? And if so, I’d love to hear why! Everyone is mentioning Pee Wee. I must say I loved it – thought it was very funny. I did not put my Top 5, but I think it would have to be:
        5- Pee Wee’s Big Adventure
        4- Batman
        3- Ed Wood
        2- Big Fish
        1- Sweeney Todd

        • Heather says:

          There is some serous love for Sweeney Todd out there but I’d have a hard time managing it as his best film ever.

          And Ruben? Seriously Mars Attacks? You are one of those guys?

          I know a lot of people dig that film Peter, and Ruben is the horse of a different color so no big shocker here.

          • I can’t take Mars Attacks seriously or anyone who would seriously put that as #1. Are there really people that flip over this movie, Heather? I did love Sweeney Todd, yes. I have a hard time putting that number one as well, but I couldn’t see one better. This is why I had William do the list – he is not one of my favs or close to it.

  4. Amy says:

    I never put much thought into his movies, to me they were always just kind of fun films to watch and thats it…but the way William can add more is truly amazing…can we get more from him on other movies?

  5. richie says:

    yeah i have to ask also, does he have his own blog? if so, name/link?

  6. Claire says:

    Wow…how old is this guy that he’s a student who writes like this? This is remarkable writing. When can we get more from him? Does he have his own blog?

    • He WAS a student of mine a few years ago when he was in high school. He is in college now. He was also a part of the school productions I directed there, including “The Crucible” where he played an awesome Herrick! I think he graduated in 2007, but not entirely sure about the year….

  7. Aaron Weiss says:

    My list would contain Batman and PeeWee’s Big Adventure over Sweeny Todd and Sleepy Hollow.

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  9. Nora says:

    William, I think you picked the perfect #1!! LOVE Edward Scissorhands! The rest could be shuffled around any way, in my opinion.. but I may have moved Big Fish to #2. Was Nightmare Before Christmas under consideration? I think it’s better than Sleepy Hollow…

    • Nora says:

      I know he didn’t direct it, but he wrote & produced – does that not count?

      • William says:

        First off, thank you for advocating my number one choice. Secondly, Nightmare Before Christmas was certainly something I considered putting on the list (because I adore it, of course) but I decided to stick with only films that were his directorial projects. Had he directed it, it certainly would’ve been on this list.

  10. I’m not a fan of Sweeney Todd.

    My top 5 would be:

    1. Beetlejuice
    2. Edward Scissorhands
    3. Batman
    4. Ed Wood
    5. Big Fish

  11. William says:

    Thank you very much, Kellie. And thank you, Sir Eramo, for the publicity.

  12. kellie says:

    Wow that guy william can really review a flick! He not only gives movie insight but reveals more than meets the eye. I want to hear more from this guy. I’ll watch a few of these now!

  13. CORPSE BRIDE!!!!!!! Replace Scissorshands with that and replace Ed Wood (maybe) with his Batman flick and that would be mine.

  14. Corey says:

    I’m not a fan of what he’s done recently, but I still like watching his older films.

    1. Ed Wood
    2. Beetlejuice
    3. Edward Scissorhands
    4. Batman
    5. Big Fish

    • William says:

      Beetlejuice was definitely a serious consideration and of course one of my favorites (as is Batman) but the two of them sadly didn’t make the cut.

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