No pair has brought more pale weirdos and loners to life on the big screen in such visually-stirring, innovative ways quite like Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. They’ve made eight films (and counting) together over the last 26 years, establishing a collaborative partnership that makes the morbid and strange blithely beautiful and bleakly sad at its best — and maddeningly quirky and over-the-top at its worst. Burton and Depp’s joint filmography is certainly mixed, but it can never be said they haven’t always given us something interesting to see. With Charlie and the Chocolate Factory currently airing on IFC, we decided to rank their collaborations from worst to best. Where do your favorite Burton/Depp films fall on our list? Read on to find out.
8. Dark Shadows
Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s most recent collaboration also happens to be their worst. The film, based on the melodramatic gothic soap opera of the same name, peddles in camp and quirk without much substance behind it. Its flimsiness isn’t helped by the film’s uneven tone since Burton can’t decide if he’s making a comedy or a horror. As per usual, Burton assembles a great supporting cast, but much like vampire Barnabas Collins’ (Depp) victims, the film leaves both the audience and the casting feeling lifeless.
7. Alice in Wonderland
On paper, Alice in Wonderland and Tim Burton seem like a match made in surrealist heaven, but the final product proves otherwise. Burton fills the screen to almost bloating with arresting visuals, but seems to have forgotten to also include a coherent narrative. (Case in point: a sudden appearance by Anne Hathaway as the White Queen who has no apparent purpose other than to wear Goth-inspired makeup and a wig that looks like it came from a Halloween store.) Depp’s Mad Hatter, meanwhile, is perhaps the pinnacle of the eccentric actor’s obsession with outrageous wigs, makeup, and bizarre accents. What once felt fresh in previous Depp/Burton collaborations seems tired here as Mad Hatter and Alice zip through Wonderland on the world’s dullest acid trip.
6. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Burton takes the definition of “candy-colored” at its most literal in his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic novel, employing CGI to oversaturate each frame of Willy Wonka’s factory. Depp, meanwhile, shows up in an insane bobbed haircut, dental veneers, and with a speaking voice based, in part, on Carol Channing. His Wonka is far odder than Gene Wilder’s quirky 1970 portrayal, but no less strangely alluring; when he’s onscreen, you can’t tear your eyes away from his manic portrayal. Despite a lovely performance from Freddie Highmore as the poor but sweet Charlie Bucket, the rest of the film (which follows Dahl’s source material far more closely than the 1970 family favorite) could have used more of that same manic energy. Burton’s Charlie & the Chocolate Factory is a bit like Wonka’s candy: it looks great, and you’ll gobble it up, but you’ll ultimately feel a little empty when it’s over.
5. Sleepy Hollow
Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (Gravity, Birdman) is the real star of Tim Burton’s (loose) film adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Utilizing dense fog and dim lighting, the film has a stunning, Hammer horror film-inspired look that pairs nicely with Colleen Atwood’s Oscar-nominated costumes. In Burton’s considerably bloody version of Washington Irving’s classic tale, Ichabod Crane (Depp) is a police constable from Manhattan rather than a local teacher, which in typical Burton/Depp fashion, makes him an outsider to the tight-knit townspeople of Sleepy Hollow. For once, Depp gets to play the handsome straight-man (albeit one with some minor eccentricities), embracing Ichabod’s inquisitive, scientific nature with an aplomb usually reserved for his stranger characters. Unfortunately the script, penned by Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, starts out as a taut thriller before collapsing under the weight of its overstuffed plot. A solid outing, but nothing worth losing your head over.
4. Corpse Bride
In an animated collaboration that perfectly dovetails with their live-action work, Burton and Johnny Depp continue their exploration of misfits seeking love and acceptance. This time it’s about a shy Victorian gentleman, Victor (Depp), mistakenly marrying a literal corpse bride named Emily (an enchanting Helena Bonham Carter) while practicing his fumbled vows meant for his living bride-to-be (Emily Watson). The stop-motion animation, a notoriously time-consuming medium (and Burton’s favorite), is spectacularly gorgeous and spooky, and Depp’s subtle voice work is just right for the film’s graceful tone. Corpse Bride may be meant for children, but adults will take to its edgy bittersweet tone.
3. Sweeney Todd
Johnny Depp’s Oscar-nominated performance as murderous barber Sweeney Todd is one of his most understated; you can feel Todd’s long-simmering rage boiling just below the surface of his pained yet stoic facade as he sets about trying to take revenge on the corrupt judge (the late Alan Rickman in a delightfully slimy performance) who locked him up, stole his wife, and covets his daughter. Calculated, elegant restraint is not necessarily something for which Burton or Depp are particularly known, but both are in full control of Stephen Sondheim’s 1979 Tony Award-winning source material, forgoing theatricality in favor of a bleak color palette and a chilly Victorian sensibility. Depp’s singing voice is strong where Helena Bonham Carter’s is weak, but they complement each other nicely especially when set against the lush sounds of a full orchestra. Murder has never looked (or sounded) so intoxicating.
2. Ed Wood
In choosing to do a biopic about the laughable-yet-lovable director of B-movies like Plan 9 From Outer Space, Burton and Depp reinvented themselves yet again; this time making a 1950s-set film whose tone falls somewhere between Capra and Corman. Their loving depiction of Wood presents a man whose indefatigable optimism and delusions of grandeur are both infectious and damning. Martin Landau won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as horror legend Bela Lugosi, stealing every scene in which he appears. Like many Burton/Depp projects, Ed Wood is ultimately a sweet, satisfying film about outsiders finding acceptance and blazing their own trails…sometimes while wearing fuzzy pink sweaters.
1. Edward Scissorhands
A sweetly surreal suburban fairy tale about a gentle loner with scissors for hands who is taken in by a Leave It to Beaver-esque family, Burton and Depp’s first and finest collaboration has the kind of magical alchemy that made the filmmaker’s early work so visionary: wondrous design and cinematography, fascinating characters, an ethereal score from composer Danny Elfman, and a great cast. Depp famously took the role of Edward as a means of rebelling against his 21 Jump Street heartthrob persona, transforming himself and his career in the process. Despite the crazy hair and makeup, he does some very subtle, lovely work, which is echoed by the doe-eyed Winona Ryder as Kim, the object of Edward’s affections, and the marvelous Dianne Wiest as his chipper and sympathetic mom who takes the outcast in. Suburbia proves to be less than idyllic for the lonely Edward, and Burton’s film brilliantly shows us that terms like “beautiful” and “ugly” are relative. Edward Scissorhands is the rare film that still feels fresh and magical with repeat viewings, imbuing viewers with a sense of wonder they’ve only felt upon seeing (or like Kim, dancing in) snow for the first time.