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Tim Burton Filmography: His early works as a filmmaker (1971 to 1990)

Filmmaker Tim Burton is widely known for his dark, quirky, and expressionist films.

Early on, Tim Burton’s exposure to classic horror movies reflected the kind of works he would eventually do as a Hollywood filmmaker.

His early career was filled with luck and opportunities, but not necessarily inspiring and fulfilling ones for the young, promising artist. He hailed from Burbank, California, an area where many television and movie studios are located. He received a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). His first job was with Disney. However, struggle was always imminent, especially during his early career. Although he was able to work on his own personal projects while working as a mainstream animator, his actual job of drawing sweet Disney characters was not within his artistic sensibilities. His personal works didn’t get released by Disney as they were judged to be unsuitable for children.

For his years of artistic struggles as a young professional, what kept him in the media industry were his unique taste that made him stand out and his passion for telling stories. As more people saw his earlier films, the talented artist soon received the break he needed to shoot films that were within his domain and his interests.

“The Island of Doctor Agor” (1971)

Burton was 13 years old when he made this Super 8mm film, an adaptation of the classic H.G. Wells story entitled “The Island of Doctor Moreau.” This short film was filmed around Burbank and other nearby areas around California.

“Stalk of the Celery” (1979)

Also known as the “Stalk of the Celery Monster,” Burton made this animated short while he was a student at the CalArts.

“Doctor of Doom” (1979)

Featuring a doctor’s creepy lab, this black-and-white animated short was shot when Burton was still a student. Another renowned filmmaker who was his classmate at CalArts during the late 70s, the Pixar director Brad Bird, starred in this film as Don Carlo.

“Hansel and Gretel” (1982)

Featuring some animation elements, this live-action short featured Japanese actors and striking set designs reminiscent of Burton’s later works for “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.” The story was a Japanese spoof of the fairy tale and its animation elements were also reminiscent of his later work for “Nightmare Before Christmas.” Shot during Burton’s employment at Disney, he made the film in between working on his professional Disney projects. “Hansel and Gretel” was aired at the Disney Channel, along with Burton’s animated short “Vincent.”

“Luau” (1982)

“Luau” explored the tale of a quirky party-going main character who met many other weird but interesting characters along the way.

“Vincent” (1982)

The story revolved around the boy named Vincent Malloy who dreamed of being just like Vincent Price. Losing himself in his macabre daydreams, this annoyed his mother. Vincent Price himself narrated this film.

“Frankenweenie” (1984)

Starring many famous names including Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, Barret Oliver, and Sofia Coppola, “Frankenweenie” delves around the tale of young Victor’s pet dog Sparky who gets hit by a car, then Victor decides to bring him back to life. Although not recognized for original release by Disney after Burton utilized the company’s resources to create the film (it was scheduled for release on the same program as the 1984 re-release of the 1940 film “Pinocchio,” but pulled out after test screenings upset children), Disney finally released its censored version on VHS format by the time Burton‘s filmmaking career already took off in Hollywood. In the 1993 release of “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the first uncensored copy of “Frankenweenie” was also released in home video.

“Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)

After watching “Frankenweenie,” the impressed Paul Reubens hired Burton to direct his pet project entitled “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.” The film was about the eccentric man-child Pee-Wee Herman who embarked on the big adventure of his life by traveling across the United States. Burton found both creative freedom and commercial success in this project. During this time, as a fan of the eccentric musical group Oingo Boingo, the filmmaker asked songwriter Danny Elfman to provide the music for the film. This started a thriving partnership between the director and the music composer through the years.

“Alfred Hitchcock Presents” (1986)

Burton shot one episode (“The Jar”) for the TV program “Alfred Hitchcock Presents,” an anthology series modeled after and frequently based on the original series from the 1950s to the 1960s.

“Faerie Tale Theatre” (1986)

Inspired by an earlier 1958 children’s program entitled “Shirley Temple Theatre,” actress Shelley Duvall hosted this high-quality classic entertainment program for children. Burton shot the TV episode entitled “Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp” for the show.


“Beetlejuice” was a supernatural comedy horror film about a young couple forced to cope with life after death. This comic book adaptation featured up-and-coming Hollywood performers Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, and Winona Ryder. With a relatively low budget, it grossed $80 million and won an Oscar. Not too long, it was adapted as a cartoon series where Burton worked as executive producer.

“Batman” (1989)

The hype for Burton’s “Batman” movie was such a big event during its release. From the controversy of casting Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight to the biggest studio merchandising and marketing machinery ever utilized in a movie during its time, Burton rose into superstardom as a Hollywood director for this new “Batman” franchise. He made his stamp in this mainstream project amidst the interference and creative clashes with the movie studio. The film grossed over $250 million, one of the highest in the studio’s history. It also grossed about $400 million worldwide and it won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction. This motion picture also made a mark on Jack Nicholson’s career after playing the role of the Joker.

“Edward Scissorhands” (1990)

“Edward Scissorhands” was the creation of an eccentric and old-fashioned inventor (played by Vincent Price). Although he looked human, Edward’s hands were made of scissors. The film was seen as an autobiography of Burton’s childhood in the suburbs of Burbank. Reuniting with Winona Ryder from “Beetlejuice,” he also met Johnny Depp in their first director-actor movie tandem. Later on, their fruitful partnership would result to more blockbuster hits that further pushed their marks in Hollywood.

“Tim Burton Biography,”
“Biography for Tim Burton,” IMDb.
“Great Directors: Tim Burton,” Senses of Cinema.
“Tim Burton: Biography,” TV Guide.

Rianne Hill Soriano
Rianne is a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions. From mainstream essentials to independent flair, she knows the drill in making entertaining and well-meaning productions. She can lead a pack passionate about extreme action and technological edge; she can breathe an endearing and sentimental style for a team with a sweet disposition.

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