Collaborators: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp Movies Ranked

Collaborators is a celebration of some of the best pairings in entertainment. From directors and actors that worked together to create classics to game studios that found success with a specific publisher, these collaborations are beloved thanks to both sides bringing out the best in each other.

Few Hollywood collaborations produce the success achieved by the wide array of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp movies. To date, the pair have teamed up on eight films, often with tremendous results. While we’ll likely see Depp attached to another of Burton’s quirky adventures down the line, we thought it’d be fun to rank their collaborations from worst to best.

Take a gander at the list below of Tim Burton and Johnny Depp movies ranked from worst to best, and then let us know your preferred order in the comments section.

8. Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I’m not one to call anything terrible, but Alice in Wonderland possesses few redeeming qualities beyond Mia Wasikowska’s star-making turn in the lead role. Burton takes a swing with CGI and captures an innovative image here and there. Mostly, Alice looks fake — a cacophony of random ideas tossed at the screen with all the grace of a third grader learning to finger paint for the first time.

There’s little joy beyond the terrific cast, namely Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman, and Crispin Glover. You can tell Burton had full reign on this one and didn’t know when to stop, which is the only explanation for the excess, including the famed Futterwacken dance. At least Elfman’s score packs a punch and works overtime to guide the picture across the finish line.

7. Dark Shadows (2012)

Ah, Dark Shadows. What should have been a perfect marriage of director and content somehow resulted in a complete mess with few redeeming qualities. Based on the obscure 1960s TV series of the same name, Dark Shadows wastes its fantastic ensemble on dumb jokes and tired pratfalls.

Depp stands out as Barnabas, a vampire attempting to reconcile with his family. Eva Green ramps up the sexuality and runs away with the show as Angelique, a witch who lusts after Depp’s character, while a strong supporting cast, namely Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Bella Heathcote, do their best in underwritten roles.

Burton leans on his usual bag of visual flourishes with pleasing results. Still, he never finds anything interesting to do with this odd collection of misfits, resulting in a hollow mess stuck somewhere between Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow.

Dark Shadows is watchable but ultimately several notches below Burton and Depp’s best work. In fact, it might be better to skip the film altogether and just tune into Burton’s far superior TV series Wednesday, a superior combination of gothic horror and comedy.

6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

The hype for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was real. Following that goofy teaser that gave us a peak of Depp’s deranged Willy Wonka, followed by the immortal words “A Tim Burton Film,” audiences flocked to the family adventure hoping to enjoy a darkly humorous, whimsical experience in the vein of Batman Returns and/or Edward Scissorhands.

While Charlie and the Chocolate Factory delivers eye-popping visuals, nothing else really works. Including Depp’s bizarre Willy Wonka, who lacks the charm and sardonic nature of Gene Wilder’s interpretation and plays more like a nightmare version of Michael Jackson than a beloved owner of a chocolate factory. 

Charlie has moments — “Everything in this room is edible. I’m edible. But that’s called cannibalism, my dear children, and is frowned upon in most societies.” — but never fully justifies its existence. Don’t worry, Hollywood is giving Roald Dahl’s novel another go soon with Timothée Chalamet.

5. Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Occasionally thrilling but frustratingly generic, Sleepy Hollow starts with a bang and goes out with a whimper. Depp stars as Ichabod Crane, a 1799 detective obsessed with scientific techniques who journeys to the spooky town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate a series of gruesome murders thought to be committed by a headless ghost. Crane’s investigations lead to a sinister cover-up far more significant than he could have imagined.

Sleepy Hollow’s set design and art direction are top-notch, as is Danny Elfman’s majestic score. Depp delivers one of his best performances as Crane, a man who rises to the challenge but isn’t beyond fainting while performing his civic duty — he’s equal parts Angela Lansbury from Murder, She Wrote and Don Knotts from The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Other positives include Christopher Walken, who plays the headless horseman like a deranged lunatic, Christina Ricci as Katrina, and a talented supporting cast of vets led by Michael Gambon. A few set pieces strike a nerve, and a few subtle nods to the famous 1940s Disney cartoon are amusing.

Unfortunately, the script by Seven scribe Andrew Kevin Walker fails to live up to its clever premise and only produces a few surprises. The plot often feels like an adult-oriented episode of Scooby-Doo, down to the bad guy’s climactic long-winded explanation. Rather than go-for-broke, Burton ends his film on a generic chase sequence that feels more obligatory than necessary.

It’s fair to say Sleepy Hollow does its job and entertains in spades, primarily due to Depp’s performance and Burton’s unbelievable visuals. Considering the talent involved, however, this should have been so much more.

4. Corpse Bride (2005)

Corpse Bride is a gorgeous stop-motion adventure with delightful characters, fabulous designs, and plenty of imagination to spare. Depp plays Victor Van Dort, a young man who bungles a wedding, rushes out to the woods, and accidentally raises the spirit of a dead woman. Together, the pair rush off to the land of the dead, a universe bursting with color and radiance — compared to the world of the living, here depicted as a drab, lonely place of dark blues and greys — to enjoy their accidental relationship. 

What’s surprising about Corpse Bride is how lively it is. While drenched in macabre, this is a surprisingly vibrant affair with delightful tunes (courtesy of Danny Elfman), snappy dialogue, and an abundance of heart. There’s nothing here you haven’t seen before — visual or storywise — but Burton coats each scene, line of dialogue, and song with an infectious quirky charm; it’s hard not to fall under the Bride’s spell.

Delightful, enchanting, weird, and surprisingly emotional, Corpse Bride represents the best of Tim Burton.

3. Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Edward Scissorhands works so well for much of its runtime that it’s a shame when the picture falls to pieces in its third act. Burton’s film, his first truly Tim Burton-y effort, begins as a whimsical tale full of gentle humor and strange but lovable characters, then (for whatever reason) spirals into darkness and ends on a bittersweet note that undermines all that came before.

The ending isn’t terrible, just routine.

Edward Scissorhands works best as an exploration of everyday life and all of its redundancies. Here we have neighborhoods painted in lavish pastels, populated by bored housewives and detached husbands. Nobody questions why a dark castle lingers at the end of the street until an Avon salesman (Diane Wiest) dares to break the routine and cross its rusted gates. There she finds Edward, a boy brought to life by a lonely inventor (Vincent Price), who died before he could complete his creation. As such, Edward has scissors for his hands, a deformity that initially revitalizes the locals, who flock to take a peek at his immense talents.

Unfortunately, the neighborhood tires of Edward’s talents, culminating in a rather mean-spirited third act that sees our hero banished and forgotten by all but the love of his life, Kim (Winona Ryder).

Imagine if Edward attained real hands and succumbed to ordinary life, where he becomes just another guy in another suburban town? On my first watch, that’s where I expected the picture to go. Instead, Burton opts for a storybook ending that makes little sense but at least provides composer Danny Elfman plenty of opportunity to spin his incredible operatic score.

Burton deserves plenty of praise for his efforts and certainly delivers an original motion picture bursting with captivating ideas. Performances are sound. Depp brings warmth and humor to Edward so that we love and pity him equally. Alan Arkin is superb as a father-knows-best type who speaks in cliches but offers nothing of value to anyone, while Ryder is charming as a teenage girl who is both frightened and intrigued by Edward’s dark spell.

I admire Edward Scissorhands more than I love it, but still rank the picture high on the list of Burton/Depp collaborations, if only for its originality and sheer ambition. 

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

I’m not much for musicals, but Sweeney Todd delivers. This is the tale of a begrudged barber, Benjamin Barker (played by Depp), who sets out to murder Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman), the man who ruined his life. What follows is a series of grisly murders set amidst lavish musical numbers expertly brought to life by Burton’s elegant direction and some truly incredible visuals. 

This is one dark film, and it’s all the better for it. Burton doesn’t shy away from the gore or placate the violence as he did in Sleepy Hollow. In Sweeney Todd, bad people do bad things without remorse and only realize the error of their ways when it’s too late for reconciliation — revenge has never been sweeter.

Don’t misunderstand: Sweeney Todd isn’t the type of film you plop in on a random Saturday afternoon. It’s gruesome, violent, and bloody as Hell. The tunes aren’t the type you walk away blissfully humming, and one won’t walk away with happy thoughts. Here we have a film that takes audiences straight to Hell. So while a morsel of redemption occurs in the operatic closing moments, the journey to salvation is steeped in horror. Burton crafts the darkest imagery of his career, leading to one hell of an experience that might best be described as a nightmare. 

Criminally underrated.

1. Ed Wood (1994)

The most successful collaboration between Depp and Burton arrived in 1994’s Ed Wood, a dark (though often hilarious) true-life tale about, well, Ed Wood — the iconic director who crafted some of Hollywood’s biggest stinkers.

For those unaware — and there are several, according to the film’s box office receipts — Edward Davis Wood, Jr. is recognized for classics such as Glen or GlendaBride of the MonsterNight of the Ghouls, and Plan 9 from Outer Space, often viewed as the worst film ever made. Burton chronicles Wood’s early struggles as an aspiring director whose love for motion pictures is rivaled only by his affinity for women’s clothing. He’s a peculiar lad but also full of energy and spirit, enough at least to lure iconic actor Bela Lugosi out of forced retirement for one last go at fame and fortune.

As played by Depp, Wood is a lovable loser, a man so enraptured by the glitz and glamor of Tinseltown that he fails to see his weaknesses as a filmmaker. He fails to notice when cheaply designed props fall over on his sets and ignores obvious gaffs in his pictures, such as when a scene suddenly shifts from night to day between shots. He just wants to make movies, you see? And was at least fortunate enough to live a version of his dream for a time before alcohol and depression led to his early death.

Burton doesn’t judge the man or any of his strange cohorts — played by Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, and Bill Murray, among others. In fact, he empathizes with them. There’s a scene where his long-suffering girlfriend stumbles into a party packed with these B-movie misfits and shouts, “You’re wasting your life making shit! These movies are terrible!” Wood, dressed in drag and surrounded by dead meat, is perplexed by her comments — he doesn’t see what she does. Later, he bumps into Orson Welles at a bar, who tells him not to surrender his vision to anyone. Emboldened, Wood completes his masterpiece — Plan 9 from Outer Space — and, in the film’s closing moments, states unironically: “This is the one I will be remembered for.”

Ed Wood tells the tale of a flawed man with a lust for life and movies whose abilities never matched his ambition. Burton paints his life as an adventure coated with darker textures Ed doesn’t seem (or want) to comprehend. For Ed, it’s always about the next screenplay, the next film … he’s Burton’s most unconventional hero. Ed Wood is a celebration of the man’s life and legacy and a sad tale of an outsider who crashed and burned en route to fulfilling his dream.

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