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Ranking Tim Burton/Johnny Depp Films 1-7

I've been a movie enthusiast my whole life and been writing movie reviews for over 15 years.


In his first major motion picture lead role since forcing himself off the series 21 Jump Street, Johnny Depp starred in Edward Scissorhands as the titular Edward with scissors for hands. Previous Depp starring roles included John Waters’ Cry-Baby and the 1985 teen comedy Private Resort (which emphasized the T and the A in Private). Based on his previous headlining movies as well a mediocre TV series, would you have believed Depp would be such a huge star considering how insular and far from center his artistic choices seemed at the time? If you did, you knew something most of us didn’t.

In his eagerly awaited follow up to the global box office smash Batman, director Tim Burton released a more personal movie, Edward Scissorhands, starring Depp and Winona Ryder, who was Depps's paramour at the time and had previously worked with Burton on Beetlejuice.

Edward Scissorhands had middling monetary returns and mixed to positive reviews. But it doesn’t matter because a film marriage was born. From 1990 to 2012, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have made seven movies together, and most of them have been…okay. One of them has been great. But all of them have been at the very least watchable. I think we can all agree on that.

Am I a huge fan of the Burton/Depp movies? Well, I’m not NOT a fan, but their newer movies have gotten tedious and visually monotonous, considering what came before it.

If you’ve clicked on this, it’s more than likely you’ve seen all of the Burton/Depp movies and have your own ranking. Please vote on your favorite Depp/Burton film below and enjoy the list. Or make one of your own.


1) Ed Wood (1994)

This is not only the best Burton/Depp collaboration but it is also the best Tim Burton movie ever and the only one that should have been nominated for Best Picture. This features one of Depp’s five best performances yet the movie allows room for the excellent stable of supporting characters. From Landau’s Oscar-winning role (his final shot brought tears to your eyes back in ’94) to Patricia Arquette’s very understanding girlfriend to Bill Murray’s wonderfully named Bunny Breckenridge, every member of the cast has at least a scene to shine. Many scenes of Ed Wood’s have been so lovingly recreated that you forget how awful those movies actually were. Ed Wood’s movies may have been failures, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t loved. “That was perfect,” Ed Wood says throughout the movie. For Tim Burton and Johnny Depp, it was.

Oscar Wins:

  • Best Supporting Actor - Martin Landau
  • Best Makeup - Rick Baker, Ve Neill, and Yolanda Toussieng

2) Sleepy Hollow (1999)

Though Ed Wood is my favorite Burton/Depp film, I know I’ve seen Sleepy Hollow more times than I can count. It’s a comfort movie I can count on through thick and thin, when I’m doing my taxes and when I’m driving on the freeway and want to look at something besides the road.

In a career full of idiosyncratic characters, Ichabod Crane is one of Depp’s effortlessly comedic performances. At first Depp plays Crane like a scared little ninny, but as the movie goes on, you buy that he can handle himself in a swordfight against the Headless Horseman (Christopher Walken, screaming a lot). You don’t even mind that Christina Ricci’s role is underwritten because she’s so good in it. The movie has more gore than you initially expect, but it’s never mean or exploitative. More of a gothic thriller than a horror movie, Sleepy Hollow is the most entertaining Depp/Burton movie as the two hours just breeze by.

Oscar Wins:

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  • Best Art Direction-Set Decoration - Rick Heinrichs and Peter Young

Oscar Nominations:

  • Best Cinematography - Emmanuel Lubezki
  • Best Costume Design - Colleen Atwood

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

Though the final 20 minutes are muddled and take forever to get to, Burton’s adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim musical is mostly a triumph. Most of the Todd is paced well enough and there’s more than enough visual flair so the movie never feels static or that you’re watching a filmed play. As songs should in a musical, they move the story along and it rarely feels like the movie stands still while you wait for someone to finish a song. Johnny Depp has a more than capable singing voice but Helena Bonham Carter steals almost every scene she’s in as Mrs. Lovett.

Oscar Wins:

  • Best Achievement in Art Direction - Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo

Oscar Nominations:

  • Best Actor - Johnny Depp
  • Best Achievement in Costume Design - Colleen Atwood

4) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

Kudos to Johnny Depp for not even trying to recreate Gene Wilder’s iconic Willy Wonka. Depp’s Willy Wonka carries the movie even when it falls into generic family movie traps. Depp frequently acts like he’s in a different movie, which is for the best as Chocolate Factory is pretty average family fare when Depp isn’t speaking. Depp feels anarchic, while the movie itself is trapped by its own genre and PG rating.

You wonder what would have happened had Burton been allowed to push Roald Dahl’s source material into even darker territory. It probably would have been a better movie, or at least one with fewer cliches and saccharine moments.

Oscar Nominations:

  • Best Achievement in Costume Design - Gabriella Pescucci

5) Edward Scissorhands (1991)

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s first collaboration is a wonder to behold, visually speaking. The story itself, in retrospect, would serve as a template for a good portion of Johnny Depp’s future roles and a lot of the visuals would be repeated (ad nauseum) in Burton’s future movies. If you were never told who directed the movie, you’d say, “This looks like Tim Burton movie.” If you’re not a huge Burton fan and have been considering watching this again, the late great Vincent Price’s cameo may put you over the top. You don’t even mind that the climax of the movie pretty much matches Batman. It’s been years since you’ve seen it as and you might have been a kid. You as a kid would have liked this more than you as an adult does now.

Oscar Nominations:

  • Best Makeup - Ve Neill and Stan Winston

6) Dark Shadows (2012)

Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, and Michelle Pfeiffer were huge fans of the Dark Shadows television show. You’d think such fandom might have translated into a better movie than this toothless and marginally entertaining film adaptation. Depp has some nice moments when he vamps out, but he’s neither funny nor scary enough to carry the movie through its many dead spots. The 70s camp can only provide so many laughs before it gets repetitively dull. It’s Eva Green that provides the movie’s real bite as the villain Bouchard. Green looks like she’s having fun chewing scenery with most of the movie’s best lines. Too bad the audience isn’t sharing in her excitement.

Having never watched the show I don’t know how closely it adheres to it, but as a movie it only works intermittently at best. You'll wish these shadows were darker.

This film got a well-deserved nomination for nothing.


7) Alice in Wonderland (2010)

Tim Burton was trapped by the Disney empire. The result is too much of everything, a color-gasm that shouts at you with every frame and never knowing when to level off. We also see Johnny Depp doing whatever the hell he wants and an unfunny dance to boot. Speaking of shouting, Helena Bonham Carter screams the same dialogue continually, thinking repetition will somehow make it less annoying. Alice (Mia Wasikowska) in a generic heroine storyline that you could set your watch to so you’re not late for a very important date to not sit through this again.

Only Anne Hathaway brings some measure of calm to the proceedings. Her White Queen is the most interesting character in the movie in that it’s not as one-note as pretty much everyone else. With everyone else screaming, her stilted line readings are at least something different to watch. Plus, she’s super white while everybody else is a rainbow explosion. The sequel (which Burton didn’t direct) is slightly better, but that’s not really saying much.

Oscar Wins:

  • Best Achievement in Costume Design - Colleen Atwood
  • Best Achievement in Art Direction - Robert Stromberg and Karen O' Hara

Oscar Nominations:

  • Best Achievement in Visual Effects - Ken Ralston, David Schaub, Carey Villegas and Sean Phillips


With the latter Burton/Depp collaborations are unexceptional at best, it’s probably good that Depp and Burton haven’t worked together (as of this writing) for more than eight years. Maybe the next time they do make a movie they won’t indulge in each other’s weakest tendencies. Until that day, at least there’s Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow.

Remember to vote!


Noel Penaflor (author) from California on October 24, 2020:

Thank You! And Sleepy Hollow is a good one.

Ivana Divac from Serbia on October 24, 2020:

This is an interesting article. "Sleepy Hollow" is probably my favorite. It's been nice to see someone else's honest opinion!

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