7. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Miranda Richardson, Michael Gambon, Casper van Dien
Plot: A modern-minded police inspector, a lonely outsider in life and in his profession, investigates a string of apparently supernatural murders in an isolated backwater.
I’m not saying that Sleepy Hollow is high art (it really isn’t) but, Batman aside, it’s Burton’s most enjoyable and re-watchable film; a real crowd-pleaser.
A supernatural whodunnit with style, splatter and thespians overacting in the fine tradition of Hammer, not many films can boast Michael Gambon, Michael Gough, Richard Griffiths and Iain McDiarmid in the same room, simply to provide exposition, and sound really good while doing it. The central mystery itself and how the story unfolds is never top-drawer but, of course, being an oddball Burton protagonist, Depp’s Ichabod Crane’s cynicism doesn’t win out and he isn’t able to prove the superstitious, backward locals wrong. He does however get to fight the supernatural with all the earthly means at his disposal, with reason and logic against forces of the the occult, which is pretty nifty.
6. Batman (1989)
Starring: Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle
Plot: The city of Gotham is protected from criminals by the mysterious Batman, the secret identity of lonely outcast billionaire Bruce Wayne, until he meets his match in a depraved mobster with a gimmick and a link to his past.
I know a lot of people prefer the Burton-off-the-chain sequel, but the first modern superhero blockbuster is a thing of purity. The best Batman/Bruce Wayne combo in Keaton (everyone else did one or the other better), the best Batman joke (criminals standing over a prone Batman: “Who do you think he is? Check his wallet!”) and Jack Nicholson having the time and the payday of his life as a cruel and calculating Joker. No, the tweaks to the origin story and the hero-villain relationship weren’t necessary, nor was quite so much Prince music on the soundtrack, but hear the crescendo of the Danny Elfman theme, gawp at Burton’s gothic cityscape or revel in Nicholson’s perfectly deranged one-liners and you’d be hard-pressed to have more fun at a comic book movie.
Recommended for you: Live-Action Batmen Ranked
5. Ed Wood (1994)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bill Murray, Jeffrey Jones
Plot: An ambitious but talentless director, a lonely outcast “artist”, aims to make a name for himself in Hollywood, befriending a faded horror icon along the way.
If you were going to watch Ed Wood for one thing, it would be for Martin Landau’s poignant turn as an ailing and melancholy Bela Lugosi, who is “planning on dying soon” and measures himself for coffins to prove it.
This is the most affectionate tribute to cinema’s ultimate outsider, a man who wasn’t lacking in passion or drive but unfortunately fell rather short in the talent department. Edward D Wood Jr was absolute crap at his job, and made the same (have you actually seen Plan 9 from Outer Space?). Some of the characterisation don’t really scratch beyond the surface but generally this is stylistically restrained, grown-up filmmaking; perhaps only one of a handful of examples of such in Burton’s long career.
4. Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Kathy Baker, Vincent Price
Plot: The loneliest of outcasts, an artificial man with scissors for hands, is adopted by a suburban family and becomes the talk of the town.
The quintessential Burton picture – white picket fences, luridly coloured and shallow small-town America, a fatherless and pale outcast who is quite literally unable to touch anyone or anything without causing damage and pain.
A lot of people have seen this as a heightened Burton autobiography, and there’s probably some truth to that. What keeps it tugging at the heartstrings is Depp’s gentle performance, his chemistry with an unusually blonde Winona Ryder and the way Burton wraps Edward in a plausible world that will never accept him, framing the whole thing as fable with an essential lesson to impart on the world.