Top 10 Tim Burton Characters!

Last Updated on August 3, 2021

Say friends, what should we make of Tim Burton these days? Do we still consider him a fine filmmaker? A first-rate artist? An unparalleled visionary? Or at this stage in his seemingly safe and family-oriented career, are the man’s most fecund creative days long behind him? It’s a tough question. On that should, in part, be answered when Burton’s new film MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN drops into theaters next Friday (September 30th). Speaking of, how many of you are actually stoked to see Burton adapt this PG-13 YA novel written by a dude named Ransom Riggs? That’s another tough one!

But one thing we can always count on in a Burton film – no matter how big or small, original or adapted – is the wonderful array of colorful characters. Granted, many of them portrayed by Johnny Depp in towering titular roles, but even the ancillary characters in Burton’s films are often weirdly winning. Delia Deetz, Otho, Peg Boggs, The Headless Horseman, on and on. Not sure you agree? Feel free to scope out what we think are Tim Burton’s Top 10 Movie Characters above!

#1. BEETLEJUICE (1988)

“We’ve come for your daughter, Chuck…AHAHAHAHA!” That Michael Keaton only appears on screen for like 17 minutes and still managed to create such a memorable character in BEETLEJUICE, well, it’s not only a testament to the comedic chops of the actor, but to the oddly imaginative originality of Burton’s brain. Seriously, have you ever seen a character like the Ghost with the Most, before or since? Hardly. The sleazy quips, the greasy one-liners (mostly ad-libbed), the rotting green skin, raccoon eyes and thinning blonde bozo wig…we hereby declare ol’ Beetlejuice as the preeminent pimp of purgatory. Dude puts the mac in macabre!


At its center, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS is a soft and sentimental fairytale…an allegory about an outcast desperate for acceptance, even when resembling not a single person around him. Johnny Depp lends a tremendous turn, one of his earliest, giving an almost silent performance under pounds of makeup, expressing more than words could ever do with his frightened eyes and nervous, jittery body language. It’s a delicate balance between fish-out-of-water humor and sadomasochistic horror. Of course, it starts on the page of an original story conceived by Burton himself, a responsibility he’s given up as the years have passed. That’s why EDWARD is one of Burton’s best…it’s wholly original, born from the mind of a master.

#3. ED WOOD (1994)

It’s next to unfathomable to think this crazy bastard really existed once upon a time. Oh but he did. ED WOOD, the eccentric, idiosyncratic, cross-dressing, no-talent hack of a sci-fi B-movie director – realized brilliantly by top-form Johnny Depp – is the certified subject of what we here at AITH believe is Burton’s best overall movie. Hell, Bill Murray in the film alone is worthy of a spot in the Top 5. Too damn funny! As for Wood, Depp imbues the character with such a eupeptic grin and indomitable spirit of positive vibrations that you can’t help gravitate toward him…even when he makes absolutely no sense. The interplay between his obliviously chipper character and the stoic Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi couldn’t be more amusing. Stranger than fiction indeed!


It’s hard to argue the global impact Jack Skellington has had since being introduced to the world in 1993. Hell, dude has his own Halloween time Disneyland attraction. That’s baller! Thing is, many don’t realize that Tim Burton was not the director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, that honor belongs to Henry Selick. Burton did hatch the story however, produced, presented and ultimately lent his visual style of ghastly claymation. My favorite part of Skellington though, that the character’s singing was voiced by Oingo Boingo front-man and longtime Burton composer Danny Elfman. Do you know who voiced the additional speaking parts for ol’ Jack? Yup, Jerry Dandridge himself, Chris Sarandon.


Anyone else tucking a boner right now? Don’t lie. Okay, so Selina Kyle may not rank among most’s Top 10 Burton characters, but forgive me, I so need my daily fix of Pfeiffer to get me through the week that I couldn’t conscionably leave her fine feline ass out of the mix. I mean, look at her! Sure, we could have gone with Devito’s creepily inspired turn as the Penguin or even Walken’s sweet pompadour as Max Schreck (notice how the name is that of the guy who played Nosferatu back in ’22), but in the end, I cannot omit the object of my pubescent affection that is the Pfieffer. Don’t make me go Cool Rider on your ass. I want a devil in skintight leather…

#6. ICHABOD CRANE (1999)

Jeffrey Jones, Ian Holm, Chris Walken…all worthy candidates as memorable SLEEPY HOLLOW characters. But come on, the oddly effeminate turn Depp gives as NYC constable Ichabod Crane – the alabaster skin, the squeaky high-pitched voice, the dainty physical peccadilloes – all of these attributes coalesce to cement this most unreliable of narrators among Burton’s best. It’s certainly one of the most compelling. Depp’s as well. Said to have based his interpretation of the character on the holy triad that is: Roddy McDowall, Angela Lansbury and Basil Rathbone – Depp’s uptight Ichabod is both awkwardly humorous and weirdly disturbing.

#7. CORPSE BRIDE (2005)

We had to squeeze in the ol’ ball and chain somewhere, right? Indeed, Burton’s longtime flame Helena Bonham Carter has appeared in many of her beau’s films, often playing multiple larger than life, multicolored characters…quite literally in ALICE IN WONDERLAND. But CORPSE BRIDE, the 2005 semi-sequel, at least aesthetically, to THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, Bonham Carter got to take center stage opposite Johnny Depp for the first time of many. Okay, so it was mere voice work, but the deft blend of morbid humor and heartfelt pathos elicited from the title character, inflected beautifully by Bonham Carter. It’s one of Burton’s most compelling female characters, one that, despite decaying into flesh-rotting putrescence, has a spirit bursting with life.

#8. LYDIA DEETZ (1988)

“I am…utterly…alone.” I always found it funny how grammatically obsessed poor little Lydia Deetz was concerning her faux-suicide note in BEETLEJUICE. Luckily, she didn’t have to go through with taking her own life, thanks to her ghoulish run-ins with Adam and Barbara Maitland. Still, you get the sense that in Lydia, Burton is expressing the teenage version of himself, a dour, depressed, too-smart-for-their-own-good artist type draped in all black. Of course, the irony of needing a dead couple to imbue her with newfound zest for life in the end – Shake, Shake, Shake Senora – is all part of the grand sense of comedic morbidity Burton has made a staple of in his entire career.


If ever there was a musical perfectly suited to Burton’s warped sensibilities, oh yes, it had to be the Broadway hit SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET. He bakes, he shears, he prunes, he croons, he moonlights as a fiendish slaughterer. The kind of fella who, along with his accomplice of a wife (I swear, Deep and Bonham Carter look like twins in that flick), crams the fetid remains of his victims into his succulent meat pies and sells the hell out! You can see why Depp shreds guitar in his bands, not a lead singer, but the character is clearly rich and textured enough to be adapted from the stage – big and broad – to the screen, which requires the countervailing small moments as well. Depp handles them deftly, like most of his work with Burton, and for horror fans, we can’t think of a better musical that caters to our liking.


We almost kicked it off with a flurry of MARS ATTACKS! honorable mentions, Nicholson in particular, but in the end, that Burton himself felt strong enough about the title character of FRANKENWEENIE to adapt it from a short film he made in 1984 to a full feature in 2011 – yeah, that speaks volumes to us. Besides, look at that little bastard. Poor guy. In what I think is Burton’s last really good movie (didn’t see BIG EYES), the simplicity of a-boy-and-his-dog story, adhering to a classic Universal monster movie template that you know Tim has a genuine affection for, actually came off more emotionally impacting than you might have expected. Not quite Old Yeller up in here, but in a classic movie sort of way, not too far off either.

Tags: Hollywood

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