Tim Burton has been keeping the film industry weird since the ’80s. Known for his quirky and gothic style, he has never been afraid to cross any boundaries. His feature debut, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure gave audiences a small sample of his originality. Then, he dove right in with Beetlejuice and gave us a strange yet hilarious horror comedy.
Most of Burton’s movies follow his signature style: sharp arches, dark palettes, and a Danny Elfman soundtrack. These elements complement each other and usually create an eerie atmosphere. In each consecutive film, Burton tries to outdo himself in terms of weirdness. First he gives us a glimpse of the Afterlife, then he introduces a man with scissors for hands and so on. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it takes away from the rest of the film.
Even in his most serious pictures, Burton always has to be unpredictable. Whether it’s recreating iconic characters or making up odd dances, there is no room for normality in his world.
Here are Tim Burton’s 15 Weirdest Movie Moments.
15. Edward Scissorhands – Joyce Seducing Edward
Burton has stated multiple times that Edward Scissorhands is partly based on his own experiences growing up in suburban California. A man with only scissors for hands, Edward is an outcast, lost in a realm of pastel colors and cookie-cutter houses. When he is brought in to a local neighborhood, he is welcomed with judgmental slurs and stares. But when the women find out that he is skilled in hair cutting, he suddenly becomes the most popular guy in town.
While the neighbors mostly accept him, there are others who welcome him a little too warmly. Joyce, the stereotypical “hot mom,” becomes attracted to Edward and attempts to seduce him in the back room of a hair salon. She climbs on top of him and uses his scissors to cut her top off, revealing a sexy, black corset underneath. Her lap dance goes a little overboard and causes them to both topple to the floor, leaving only an awkward silence between them.
In terms of weirdness, Edward Scissorhands is one of Burton’s tamer films. But watching a woman try to flirt with someone who clearly has not had social interactions is awkward in any film. It’s even a little funny especially since Edward has no idea what Joyce is trying to do. When asked how his day went later, Edward just casually mentions that she took her clothes off.
14. Ed Wood – Criswell Narrating From the Coffin
Burton’s first biopic, Ed Wood, proved that he was able to helm more serious pictures. The film was loosely based off of events surrounding Wood’s determination to get on Hollywood’s radar. It showcases his friendship with Bela Lugosi and their hardships of trying to get funding for their (terrible) movies.
One of Wood’s frequent actors was Criswell, a television psychic known for his wildly inaccurate predictions. He usually delivered the introductions and set the scene in Wood’s films. Burton decided to structure his film similarly to a Wood film by including an introduction as well. It opens with Criswell (played by Jeffery Jones) coming out of a coffin and greeting the audience with his speech:
“Greetings, my friends! You are interested in the unknown. The mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing you the full story of what happened. We are giving you all the evidence based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, places. My friends, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr.?”
13. Sleepy Hollow – Ichabod’s Mother
Burton loves to shock the audience but, sometimes, it’s not warranted. Sleepy Hollow had no problem following Ichabod and this mystery, but Burton had to burden his character with worthless back story. To explain why he doesn’t believe in the supernatural, Ichabod recalls his mother’s murder by his father.
“Murdered to save her soul, murdered by a black tyrant behind a mask of righteousness. I was 7 when I lost my faith.” He says to Katrina.
This confession is accompanied by a dream sequence where we see disturbing glimpses of this murder taking place. We see some markings that suggest his mother practiced witchcraft.
While it was interesting to show how women were treated in the Puritan times, the segment just consisted of excessive violence and pointless symbolism. There could have been any reason for Ichabod to not believe in the supernatural, but this was forced, unnecessary sympathy for the character.
12. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- Willy Wonka’s Welcome Song
When it was announced that Burton was going to remake Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, folks were a little nervous about his style affecting the story. On paper, this is right up his alley, but Burton focuses on mainly visuals and not much on substance. Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka was obviously a strange man, but he was portrayed as more of a fatherly figure; Johnny Depp’s Wonka was flat-out insane. The environment was stunning, but it lacked the subtlety that the 1971 film had.
An example would be the introduction of the famous candy maker himself. In 1971, the children are awaiting at the gate, eager to get inside the factory. It’s pure silence when Wonka is limping down the runway. Suddenly he falls into a somersault, introducing the world to his vivid personality.
In Burton’s film, the participants are let into a colorful display of animatronic children introducing Willy Wonka. It’s a set taken right out of Disneyland with its cheerful singing and sickly happiness . While everyone is giddy over the song, it begins to malfunction and catch on fire. The shots focus on the animatronics with their faces melting off and their garbled voices resembling screams.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has plenty of strange moments, but the welcome song is the first clue that Burton got the character wrong. It’s clear that he was just trying to be different rather than tell the story.
11. Batman – Joker’s museum romp
In 1989’s Batman adaptation, the “Burtonisms” keep the comic’s grittiness to a bare minimum and spend more time on Joker’s ridiculous antics. Jack Nicholson’s Joker is one of the favorites in the DC universe because he truly nails the character’s insanity. Whether it’s killing a congressman with a feather or forcing his mistress to jump into acid, Nicholson shows that he can be both sadistic and unpredictable.
One of his odder tactics was his “date” with Vicki Vale. After tricking her into meeting him at a museum, The Joker makes quite the flamboyant entrance. With Prince blasting on a purple boombox, Joker and his minions vandalize the works of art with graffiti and smashing. It captures the “brutally fun” side of the Joker and how he caused harm through gags. Instead of focusing on action sequences, Burton created scenes like this to put the spotlight on the villains.
10. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Willy Wonka’s Origin Story
When we watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory as kids, we fell in love with the candy and the magic. We were mystified by this fascinating man who created such iconic products such as the Everlasting Gobstopper and Fizzy Drinks. But did we ever wonder how Willy Wonka became this famous candymaker? Some things are just better left unsaid. Unfortunately, Burton didn’t get the hint and provided his Willy Wonka with a reason as to why he became a confectioner.
Growing up, Wonka was the son of a dentist (Wilbur Wonka) and was forbidden to have candy of any type and wore torture-like braces on his teeth. After secretly trying chocolate for the first time, he left home to become a chocolatier and hadn’t spoken to his father since. Charlie Bucket helps Wonka locate his father so they can become a happy family again. After an “intimate” dental procedure, they finally reconcile.
9. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – Pee Wee’s Clown Dream
There’s a reason why everyone is so afraid of clowns; with those ugly faces and maniacal laughs, they’re the product of people’s nightmares. They squeeze people’s noses, throw pies, and, apparently, steal bikes. When Pee Wee is on the hunt for his bike, he’s slowly running out of places to look. When he gets a concussion from bull-riding, he starts having nightmares about his broken bike being operated on by clowns. Burton takes it one step further and has the bike taken into “Hell” by Satan himself.
It’s amazing to see how Burton could take a simple phobia and make it so unnerving. The classic Elfman soundtrack has a playful, haunting tone that toys around with the common fear.We know that Pee Wee is a child at heart but Burton gives people a chance to relate with him. We may not all ride bikes, but it’s an objective fact that clowns are the spawn of Satan.
8. Batman Returns – Selina Kyle’s Transformation
Gotham has really got to do something about their feral cat problem. After digging up a dirty secret on her boss, Max Shreck, Selina Kyle is thrown out of a multiple story window. When it looks like she died, dozens of alley cats come up to her body and lick her, as if preparing her for a meal. By doing so, they gave her eight more lives and badass martial art skills. The transformation continues when she goes back home, unhinged and furious that her boss would try to kill her. When she hears a perfume advertisement from her boss’s company, Selina has a psychotic breakdown. She brutally stuffs her plush animals into the garbage disposal and sews together a leather catsuit— similar to a dominatrix costume.
Selina’s transition from awkward to sexy is very quick and doesn’t really give the audience anything to connect to. While we do love to see a woman become confident and get revenge on her abusive boss, Selina had to become “beautiful” to do so. Instead of giving her a proper backstory, Burton uses feral cats to create some cheap metaphor. It’s definitely not the weirdest plot in that film, but it is the most underdeveloped.
7. Sleepy Hollow – Death of the Hessian Soldier
Sleepy Hollow was certainly a pretty film to look at, but there’s only so much that you can do with a short story. To fill up an hour and 45 minutes, Burton decided to bloat the film by adding in excessive exposition. One of those instances was explaining the death of the Hessian Horseman. In Washington Irving’s story, the legend of the Hessian horseman was simple: he was just a mercenary who was beheaded by a cannonball.
But we all know that Burton isn’t known for his subtlety, so he creates an unnecessary backstory. Apparently, the Horseman successfully leads a band of men into battle and is killed when soldiers chop off his head with his own sword. That’s fine, but Christopher Walken’s getup makes it hard to take seriously. His spiked black hair with monster-like teeth makes his character look borderline ridiculous. Even though he was a ghost, Burton tried too hard to make him look supernatural instead of a normal human.
6. Batman Returns – The Penguin Eating a Raw Fish
If Heath Ledger is the definitive Joker, then Danny Devito is the definitive Penguin. We don’t have many versions of Oswald Cobblepot, and the few that we’ve seen have been portrayed as maniacal billionaires. In Batman Returns, Burton decides to take the literal route and make him “Penguin-like.”
Thrown into the sewer as an infant, Oswald Cobblepot was literally raised by penguins. After living out most of his life in a freak show, he goes back to Gotham to try to live among the normal people. In order to do so, he collaborates with businessman Max Shreck, who uses his influence to get Oswald’s name out there. He puts together an election campaign for Oswald to run for mayor. However, living amongst freaks and penguins gave him a different set of manners; when he’s getting a tour of his campaign, Oswald is ravenously scarfing down a raw fish in his hands. With guts hanging out of his mouth, he doesn’t even try to put on a good impression. And in case eating a raw fish whole wasn’t bad enough, he also bites off part of a staffer’s nose after being insulted.
5. Mars Attacks! – Blowing Up Congress
A parody of science fiction B-movies, Mars Attacks! is based off of a cult trading card game. It has elements of political satire and mocked the conventions that blockbusters take so seriously. Despite that, there are many science fiction influences present such as: Barbarella, Doctor Strangelove, and Ed Wood’s filmography.
What’s so great about this scene from Mar Attacks! is that it’s all based around a misunderstanding. After confusing a dove as a sign to attack, the martians start slaughtering the humans as an act of defense. When asked to sign a truce with members of Congress, they vaporize them with their ray guns, leaving only their scorched skeletons. It’s so strange that you can’t help but laugh at the absurdity.
Though there are problems with the film, you have to give credit where it’s due. Burton created something that was fun and over the top. It combines everything that we love about the B-movie culture and puts it into a modern blockbuster. And even with a bigger budget, it still looks like something that came out of Ed Wood’s head.
4. Alice in Wonderland – The Futterwack Dance
Even though it could be argued that his decline started earlier, Alice in Wonderland is when many people started to feel the Burton fatigue. It seemed like Lewis Caroll’s story was made for him to adapt, but Burton couldn’t have been more off the mark.
Because Johnny Depp has to be center stage of everything, Burton puffed up the Mad Hatter’s role to the point of it not making sense. The character was already set up for failure, but Burton had to keep up the nonsense until the very end. When it looks like the film is finally concluding, Depp has to put more fuel in the fire by performing some strange breakdance called the “Futterwack.” The music and environment made it feel like the Burton version of the Ewok celebration party. It was at that moment that Burton’s credibility as a director went down the drain. Depp is known for his cartoonish roles, but this felt over the top, even for him. Top that off with the unnecessary sexual tension between him and Alice, and you have one of the worst performances in Depp’s career.
3. Beetlejuice – Barbara and Adam Getting Exorcised
Even though it was a comedy, Beetlejuice got very depressing at times. One of the most emotional moments is when the Deetzs are trying exorcise Barbara and Adam from the house. From what we saw earlier in the film, exorcised ghosts go to the “lost souls room”—a very bleak area where ghosts spend eternity forgotten. In most horror films, we usually are cheering for the humans to exorcise the demons from the house, but it’s different when the spirits are actually likeable. When Barbara and Adam are summoned, we watch them slowly start to disintegrate. This scene is hard to watch not only because it’s disturbing but also because of the emotional impact. Adam and Barbara are in their wedding attire and holding hands (even when they’re literally crumbling apart). They died together the first time and will so again.
When he’s not focusing on the quirky settings, Burton can create some pretty touching moments. Even though the scene is grotesque, underneath it shows what Adam and Barbara will do for love. And when they finally see the type of spirits they’re dealing with, the Deetzs start to see that love as well.
2. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure – Large Marge
In his debut film, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Burton introduced his audience to a bit of his famous touch before going overboard in later films. If there’s one thing that people remember about Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, it’s Large Marge. On his way to the Alamo, Pee Wee hitchhikes with a semi truck driver simply named “Large Marge.” Just seconds after Pee Wee gets into the truck, Marge goes on about how she witnessed the worst accident of her life on that very highway. Pee Wee dismisses her as a kooky person but then suddenly sees her face warp into a nonhuman creature.
Whether you’re a Pee Wee veteran or newbie, this scene never fails to make you jump. It comes completely out of left field and leaves us both scared and confused. And to make the meeting even more questionable, Pee Wee learns that Large Marge had been dead for years from a semi truck accident. So whose truck was he riding in?
1. Beetlejuice – The Day-O Dance
The ’80s was the start of Burton’s career and featured two of his most notorious films: Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. While the former is now considered a cult classic, Beetlejuice is just a damn classic. It’s the epitome of Burton’s weirdness and relied a lot on stellar practical effects. This whole list could be dedicated to Beetlejuice alone, but since there are so many other strange scenes in Burton’s filmography, we’ll have to go with one of the best scenes in the film: The “Day-O” dance.
There have been many great haunted houses in cinema history such as: The Shining, The Haunting, and The Conjuring. Unlike those films, Beetlejuice isn’t seriously scary. It’s more of a black comedy that takes the haunted house trope to a brand new level. Desperate to rid a strange family (the Deetzs) out of their home, “newlydeads” Barbara and Adam try to haunt them. But when the cliche jump scares don’t work, they resort to their own type of possession. When the Deetzs are having a dinner party, they begin to spontaneously dance to Harry Belafonte’s version of “The Banana Boat Song (Day-O)“.
At first, this scene was going to be cut out entirely because the producers thought it was out of place in the film, but that’s part of the appeal. It came out of nowhere and kept the audience entertained for the whole sequence. Burton even decided to surprise us more by making their shrimp cocktails come alive at the end. So while it may have felt out of place structurally, it was tune with the rest of this wonderfully weird movie.
What moment from a Tim Burton’s weird catalogue stands out to you? Let us know in the comments!