Tim Burton is one of those directors with a style that is so distinct, his films can be spotted a mile away. Whether it’s a creepy stop-motion horror movie or an adaptation of a Roald Dahl book, Burton’s personal stamp is on it. His style is characterized by dark, gloomy visuals, German expressionist influences, and gothic-inspired storytelling. Along with that style comes a very specific type of character.
Across his career, Burton has brought many quirky creations to the screen (most of them played by Johnny Depp). So, without further ado, here are the 10 most memorable Tim Burton characters, ranked.
10 Willy Wonka In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Gene Wilder gave a career-defining turn as Willy Wonka in the original adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, so Johnny Depp had his work cut out for him when Tim Burton cast him in the remake. Depp’s Wonka is vastly different than Wilder’s, but he’s also arguably as iconic. It was a tough sell, bringing Burton’s gloomy, gothic visual style to a family movie about a tour of a chocolate factory, but it’s fair to say that he succeeded admirably. The movie has an utterly unique quality, anchored by its lead character being beyond quirky – not to mention unforgettable.
9 The Penguin In Batman Returns
Lately, there’s been talk of the Penguin taking on Robert Pattinson’s recently cast Batman in his DCEU solo movie, and fans have been naming their top choices for the role. But let’s be honest, no one will ever be as perfect for the role as Danny DeVito. He has the look, the maniacal attitude, and the acting chops to portray Oswald Cobblepot as a criminal mastermind as well as a flamboyant, monocle-wearing penguin enthusiast. The Penguin was the Batman villain that most suited the bleak, melancholic visual style of Burton’s films, so the two went hand-in-hand to deliver one of superhero cinema’s all-time great villains.
8 The Headless Horseman In Sleepy Hollow
Originally, Kevin Yagher was set to direct Sleepy Hollow as a low-budget, run-of-the-mill slasher film. But when Tim Burton came aboard, it ballooned into a sumptuous $100 million gothic romance (with all the horror left intact). Washington Irving’s short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” which the film is based on, has long been considered the first truly great work in the comedy-horror subgenre, but Burton’s film drops the comedy in favor of creating a sense of straight-up terror in the audience. Burton’s Headless Horseman, played by both Christopher Walken and Ray Park, is as memorable a foe on the screen as he is on the page.
7 Sweeney Todd In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
In this day and age, it’s not easy to make musical movies work – especially if they revolve around barbers who slit people’s throats and then bake their flesh into pies and serve those pies to the public – but if anyone could walk that line between the whimsical and the gruesome, it’s Tim Burton.
He faithfully adapted the Stephen Sondheim stage musical while bringing his own cinematic flair to it. But of course, this would all be meaningless if the title character himself was poorly represented. Fortunately, Johnny Depp brought a seldom-seen passion to the part of the cold-hearted, murderous Mr. Todd.
6 Miss Alma Peregrine In Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
With Johnny Depp’s public image crumbling and the director’s relationship with Helena Bonham Carter coming to an end, Tim Burton recently found himself in need of a new muse. Fortunately, he found that muse in the form of Eva Green. Green has the mystique and dark charm to pull off a Burton role, and she clearly relished that opportunity as the lead in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, the movie that solidified their collaboration. While the film’s narrative is a little weak and promises more than it delivers, Green’s performance as Miss Peregrine more than makes up for it. She’s also brilliantly drawn by Burton’s direction and Jane Goldman’s script.
5 Sparky In Frankenweenie
Tim Burton’s feature-length remake of his spooky stop-motion animated 1984 short of the same name was an unusual little movie that didn’t make a huge splash at the box office, or get a lot of attention from fans, but it was a lot of fun. It was a lighthearted take on the Frankenstein story. Instead of a mad scientist reanimating various corpses mashed together, a boy who misses his pet dog Sparky brings him back to life. And while the boy, Victor, is technically the lead character of the film, it’s his reanimated canine that makes the greatest impression on the audience.
4 The Joker In Batman
While the definitive screen version of the Joker will always be Heath Ledger’s turn in The Dark Knight, Jack Nicholson’s iteration from Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman movie is a close second. This version of the Joker was given an origin story: he’s a gangster who falls into a vat of chemicals that permanently stains his skin in the colors of clown makeup.
In a shocking third-act twist, he’s also revealed to be the guy who murdered Bruce Wayne’s parents. From waking up in a dark room and laughing at his appearance in the mirror to dancing with Vicki Vale in the pale moonlight, Nicholson’s Joker has a ton of iconic moments.
3 Edward Scissorhands In Edward Scissorhands
Inspired by a picture Tim Burton drew as a teenager growing up in a sunny suburban town, Edward Scissorhands might be the director’s quirkiest film. But it’s also one of his sweetest and most heartfelt works. The sight of a pale-skinned man with messy hair and blades for fingers would traditionally suggest a monster, but Burton flipped that expectation on its head and gave us a character that we could feel sorry for. It’s not Edward’s fault that he’s different, but at the same time, the fact that he has scissors sticking out his hands inherently presents a real danger, so there’s a double-edged conflict (no pun intended) to his very existence.
2 Jack Skellington In The Nightmare Before Christmas
Tim Burton didn’t direct The Nightmare Before Christmas – that distinction goes to Henry Selick – but he did work on the story and act as producer, so it’s fair to say that Jack Skellington is a Tim Burton character. He’s also the ultimate antihero, as the crowned “Pumpkin King” of spooky Halloween Town who stumbles into Christmas Town and falls in love with the pageantry and festivities of Christmas, then tries to bring the two towns together. This is a guy whose whole existence and occupation is built around instilling fear into people and a fascination with the macabre, and yet he just wants to introduce his friends to the wonders of Christmas. It’s actually pretty adorable.
1 Betelgeuse In Beetlejuice
It’s not easy to make a parasitic ghoul who takes glee in tormenting the recently deceased a likable character, but trust Michael Keaton to do just that. Whereas someone like Robin Williams or Jim Carrey would go way over-the-top with their performance in a role like Betelgeuse, Keaton walks the fine line between nuanced and wacky to deliver a character who is absurd without ever getting annoying. Plus, the work of the costume designers and makeup artists can’t be discredited, since they created a look for the character that audiences would never forget. Like all the best movie characters – Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Freddy Krueger etc. – Betelgeuse is instantly recognizable.