Tim Burton’s graveyard cabaret — career highlights for the filmmaker who turns 51 today

Aug. 26, 2009 | 12:07 a.m.

Tim Burton, 2006

Happy birthday today to Tim Burton, who long ago pulled filmgoers down into the rabbit hole into his own singular imagination.

Burton is 51 today and enjoys a rare status in Hollywood as one of very few contemporary directors who are as big as the films they make and truly unique in the sensibility and vision they put on the screen. Martin ScorseseWoody Allen and Quentin Tarantino, in their own ways, would make that list, as would Guillermo del Toro and Hayao Miyazaki, but none of those masters has made blockbusters on the scale of Burton. (The 13 Burton-directed feature films to date have grossed $1.3 billion in the U.S. alone.)  Love his work or hate it (and there are plenty of outspoken advocates for both points of view), it’s impossible not to recognize a Burton film at this point and anyone who loves film pays attention to each of his releases.

Burton is back next year with “Alice in Wonderland” (check out the trailer if you haven’t already seen it) but today we’re taking a look back at some of his previous work. Since this is the Hero Complex, let’s start with Burton’s highest-grossing film, “Batman” from 1989, and its underrated sequel, “Batman Returns.” Hard to believe it has been 20 years since Jack Nicholson brought the Joker to life and even harder to believe that it’s now only the second most-celebrated portrayal of the greatest comic-book villian ever. Ever wonder what Burton thought of “The Dark Knight“? I asked him, and his surprising answer is here.

My favorite Burton movie? I know this is going to be jeered by many of you, but I adoreEd Wood.” There’s a spirit to the film that is so playful and loving and bittersweet — I think it may be the most human of all his films. Depp is amazing in the movie, and it has the role of a lifetime (and an Oscar winner) for the great Martin Landau. Along with Woody Allen’s darkly sublime “Crimes and Misdemeanors” in 1989, this gave Landau two marvelous touchstone films in the third decade of his career, which got an early jump start with Alfred Hitchcock’s “North By Northwest” in 1959. Burton, Hitchcock and Allen? Pretty good directors there, Mr. Landau. “Ed Wood” was a commercial bomb and I remember that I coaxed a group of friends to go see it at late show and (after too much beer) a few of them were dozing off by the end. I don’t care, I thought it was genius that night in 1994 and I still think so today.

Burton likes to stick with actors who understand his vision. Apparently, no one understands it better than Johnny Depp, who has been in six of Burton’s films and stars in “Alice” as the Mad Hatter. Here are the trailers for their first collaboration, 1990’s “Edward Scissorhands,” and the most recent, 2005’s “The Corpse Bride.

Not every Burton movie works. I thought “Mars Attacks!” was, well, unwatchable, and the ending of “Planet of the Apes” still has me scratching my head. When they click, though, they can be magic. Take a look back at “Beetlejuice,” which (along with the “Ghostbusters” films) really created the template for special-effects comedies that would follow, among them films as varied as “Men in Black” and “Night at the Museum.” I was never fully won over to the idea of Michael Keaton as Batman (although he was a good Bruce Wayne) but he was perfect in this ghost movie that has become one of my kids’ favorite films despite the 21 years since its release. (And look how skinny Alec Baldwin was!)

What do you think, what’s Burton’s best film? Leave a comment or, better yet, a birthday wish. I know Tim has checked out the blog in the past and he may see your message.

–Geoff Boucher



“Alice” will be a big part of Disney’s D23 Expo

Tim Burton on past “Alice” films: “There wasn’t anything underneath”

Tim Burton on Comic-Con of the 70s: “The last time I was here…”

Meet the cast: Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland”

Tim Burton on working with Depp on a darker “Alice”


23 Responses to Tim Burton’s graveyard cabaret — career highlights for the filmmaker who turns 51 today

  1. Julie says:

    Hey Geoff – what was the name of that short Tim Burton did…wayyyy in the beginning, in the early '80s before he was "Tim Burton," that was part of a movie called "Creepshow" or something….the one Burton did had this kid stuck in a house with a bunch of old cartoon characters from the '20s….nightmarish and memorable! I can't remember the name of the movie, but I distinctly remember checking out the name of the crazy genius who put that particular short together….Tim Burton.
    Anyone out there remember what I'm talking about?

  2. Tim Burton has a way of tapping into my subconscious and creating images and themes that penetrate deeply and awaken my creative mind. I have found a connection to EVERY film he has touched… and have yet to be disappointed!
    May you live many happy and creatively productive years to come!

  3. peter says:

    I love "Ed Wood" too and totally agree with your opinion of it. Alice should be great.

  4. Arnelle on Cape Cod says:

    Happy birthday, Tim! I agree with the author about Ed Wood.
    It stands apart. Sweeney Todd is a close second.

  5. Loved Ed Wood, I think that's a big one for every Burton fan. I really liked the unmentioned and underrated Sleepy Hollow (Darth Maul was the Horseman!) but my favorite is still the 50's fairy tale Edward Scissorhands. Danny Elfman's music has always been a huge part of the draw of his movies (which rates an article itself) and Scissorhands was his masterpiece.
    Maybe his work isn't a much of a new thing as it was when he first started, but damned if I'm not excited about Alice In Wonderland.
    And I LIKED Mars Attacks!

  6. Ina says:

    Happy Birthday!!!!
    And thank you for all those wonderful movies you already gave and will give us. Your best movie? Well …um..there are so many……!!! I really love Corpse Bride and Sweeney Todd.

  7. Colby says:

    It's a close race between Edward Scissorhands and Big Fish for me. But, in the end, I'd probably go with Big Fish. It resonates due to unresolved issues I have with my late father. But I love the performances, I love the sadness, the whimsy. I think it was underrated at the time, but has found a following among 20-30 something guys, and for good reason.

  8. Terrence says:

    I agree, Ed Wood is his best. Beetlejuice a close second.

  9. Jeff says:

    I have to agree with you, Geoff, Ed Wood was Burton's best. I remember feeling "proud" of it as I left the theater, an unusual feeling to get after watching a movie.
    Maybe not his best but Pee-Wee's Big Adventure was hilarious to me.

  10. My last comment isn't posted.
    Great article.
    Congrats to Tim.

  11. Dom says:

    I think Ed Wood and Beetlejuice are his best. The rest of his films are completely overrated!

  12. awfulstink says:

    You won't get any complaints about Ed Wood from me–all Burton's work is great, but Ed Wood has to be one of the 10 best films ever made. People who don't like Burton's work generally seem to just not get it. I get really tired of folks wanting him to be more like other directors… well, if he were, he wouldn't be Tim Burton, DUH! Seems like Tim IS Edward Scissorhands–he's this rare and beautiful spirit with a mob of mindless conformists always trying to chase him down and force him through the machine. God knows how he's managed to keep his vision in this town all these years, but I'm mighty grateful that he has. The only reason I still go to movies at all is for artists like him.

  13. Morgan says:

    Hoorah! Happy Birthday Mr Burton, sir!
    I absolutely love his movies! My favourites would have to be Sweeney Todd, Edward Scissorhands and definitely Nightmare Before Christmas!
    I'm so excited about Alice in Wonderland. It looks amazing!

  14. Milly H. says:

    My favourite Burton movie has to be the ever lovely Edward Scissorhands. You have this perfect society and then one day your just like hey I need to do something different. That's what Diane Wiest does in this movie and Johnny Depp plays the freak trying to fit into this perfect society while everyone just stares at him, tries to get along with him and then spreads rumors about him. It's an everyday Cinderella type story and I take the story line to heart. Happy Birthday Tim, I can't wait for more to come out of the beautiful head of yours.

  15. EVELYN GARVER says:

    ED WOOD is a masterful biopic. It is sly and stylish as well as touching. Tim Burton is a hero of my 16 year old daughter Nell. We were thrilled to hear Burton and Bonham Carter named their daughter Nell also.

  16. michel simon says:

    I am 60 years old and i can not imagine having dreams which do not include some pieces of Tim BURTON's films.
    I hope he lives a long, healthy and happy personal and professional life.
    Happy Birthday Maestro Tim BURTON
    Michel Simon

  17. James E B says:

    Happy B-Day Mr Burton. Your movies rock. Love Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Batman, and Ed Wood with a passion! And although it seems to be more urban legend than anything else, thanks for being a puppeteer in the Muppets movie finale (that movie is the$#it).
    @ JULIE – I think that you mean this…Luau…http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0367989/ I've never seen it but it looks way interesting.

  18. Geoff Boucher says:

    Hey Julie you're talking about "Frankenweenie" sorry for the tardy reply!

  19. Mike says:

    Geoff, you're right on about "Ed Wood" being Burton's best film. A close second is "Pee Wee's Big Adventure."

  20. KRZYTEE says:

    I love every Tim Burton flick… they are all special… and so is he…. HAPPY BIRTHDAY! and look forward to your continued work making us Live and Laugh and Feel Good for a day from life's kookooness hahahha

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