Following the success of his directorial debut, Burton was dissatisfied with the scripts sent his way, until a horror-comedy called Beetlejuice landed on his lap. After extensive rewrites, Burton managed to bring on board a top notch cast, even though many of them had no idea what to expect from such a strange story. The end result is a hilarious pastiche of classic horror and the poltergeist sub-genre that blends slapstick with stop-motion strangeness with ease. At the heart of the Tim Burton movie is the comedic tornado that is Michael Keaton's performance as the title character. He doesn't so much chew the scenery as tear it to shreds, spewing out one liners and reveling in the sheer oddness of his character. While the parody of 1980s yuppies moving to the countryside is well-worn by now, the jokes still land, and Catherine O’Hara once again reminds viewers why she is a comedic national treasure.
2. Ed Wood
At the height of his powers, when the whole world knew what a Tim Burton movie looked like, Burton did the unexpected and made a conventional biopic. Granted, this is still very Burtonesque and there’s no better subject for such a tale than Ed Wood, oft-declared to be the world’s worst director. His second film with Johnny Depp, Burton took the story of Wood and told a celebratory tale of a scrappy underdog who fights the system to make art with his band of ragtag friends. Rather than mocking a very easy target, Burton finds a kindred spirit in Wood, avoiding parody and meanness in favor of genuine warmth for a man he believes to have been misunderstood by history.
Instead of leaning into Lynch and Universal monster movies for his cinematic inspiration, Burton goes full Frank Capra with his enriching approach. The cast are uniformly strong, but it’s Martin Landau’s quietly tragic turn as Bela Lugosi that won the lion’s share of praise upon Ed Wood's release (as well as an Oscar). On top of being one of Tim Burton’s best, Ed Wood may be his most uplifting movie.
1. Edward Scissorhands
If people were required to give an example of the title that best exemplifies what it means to be a Tim Burton movie, then they would look no further than Edward Scissorhands. Made after Burton gained A-List status following the success of Batman, the film is a love letter to everything he holds dear - from gothic romance and Universal monster movies to fairy-tales and parodies of suburbia. His re-imagining of Frankenstein makes the monster a fragile young man with scissors for hands who wants nothing more than to fit in with the "normal world" but is quickly fetishized them ostracized by those he wants to please.
Even close to 29 years later and following countless parodies, Edward Scissorhands remains startlingly effective and deeply moving. It's the film that changed the game for Tim Burton and made him who he is, as well as its star Johnny Depp. The film was a commercial success, critics loved it, and it cemented the beginning of Burton's most enduring partnership with an actor. With all of that in its favor, how could it not be the best Tim Burton movie?