11. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L Jackson, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp
Plot: A lonely outcast boy, on a quest from his grandfather, finds his way to a time-locked mansion home to children with special powers, but dark forces are seeking the mansion and their peculiar inhabitants for sinister purposes.
The final battle in this Hollywood fantasy movie takes place on Blackpool Pier. As laughably ordinary as that seems to a British viewer, this is unquestionably a VFX high point of Burton’s career, gleefully referencing Ray Harryhausen as an army of skeletons scrap with creepy Slender-Man-looking monsters on the aforementioned tourist attraction. This is Burton revelling in producing something really gruesome and macabre for young audiences – after all, the baddies eat the eyes of children to keep themselves from turning into monsters.
It retains its impact in a magical-realist way, setting out to “separate fantasy from reality” in terms of the plot but doing quite the opposite by the end. Eva Green is a highlight as a kind of mad goth Mary Poppins and the kids are all given distinct moments to shine.
10. Big Eyes (2014)
Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, Terence Stamp
Plot: In the 1960s, “Keane” became a household name from mass-produced kitsch artworks depicting big-eyed waifish children, but the wrong person received the credit. This is the story of lonely outsider artist Margaret Keane and her charlatan husband Walter.
Amy Adams is wonderful at playing the artist (Margaret) ruled by her heart for better or worse, her emotional vulnerability exacerbated by her psychology growing increasingly fractured as her work is taken from her. Margaret’s sense of reality starts to warp and Burton’s style breaks through the otherwise low-key realism in surrealist flashes. Unfortunately, in comparison to Adams’ nuance and restraint, Waltz plays her plagiarising husband increasingly as a cartoon character. When Burton forces quirky humour on proceedings, or doesn’t direct his cast to pick a consistent performance style, the film loses you, especially in the final act where every effort seems to be aiming towards making what actually happened seem less believable.
9. Batman Returns (1992)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Michael Gough
Plot: Batman once again battles to save Gotham, this time facing a pair of unstable, lonely outsider villains with animal themes, Penguin and Catwoman.
For years this had a reputation as the film that terrified studios to take another chance on Burton at the head of a blockbuster. No kid wanted toys based on oil-leaking deformed child-killers or murder victims returning from beyond the grave in S&M attire, apparently. I’m not sure if Burton ever really cared much about Batman, which is perhaps why in both of his outings with the Caped Crusader the adversaries steal the limelight. It is in conjunction with this attention that Danny DeVito is able to put together a career-high performance as The Penguin, a go-for-broke grotesque portrayal that is both tragic and funny (best line: “A lot of a tape and a little patience make all the difference!”). Michelle Pfeiffer is also instantly iconic and her take on Catwoman really deserved another outing in a sequel that never came. Even so, the film drives off a cliff in a massive rubber duck in the final act, eschewing darkness and theme for cartoony hokum.
Recommended for you: Live-Action Batman Movies Ranked
8. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall, Sacha Baron Cohen
Plot: A disgraced barber returns to London to have his revenge against the judge who had him falsely imprisoned and tore his family apart.
Burton’s trademark tracking shots get a CG boost through smokey Victorian London and he has scarcely ever told such a dark, ultraviolet and pessimistic tale. It’s a crime that Johnny Depp got the Oscar nomination and Helena Bonham Carter didn’t as the British actress is the clear MVP as Mrs Lovett: hilarious but fragile, and full of pathos; she also has an admirable go at Stephen Sondheim’s famously hard to sing musical numbers. No, Depp and Alan Rickman can’t really sing, but they play their parts with gusto and the whole ensemble brings this gruesome musical melodrama to life. The darkly comic “A Little Priest” featuring Todd and Lovett sizing up passers by as appropriate pie fillers is the undoubted highlight, closely followed by Depp stifling his gag reflex as he tries a suspicious pie.
Recommended for you: Video – 30 Greatest Musical Numbers from Movie Musicals