W

hen Tim Burton – born August 25, 1958 – started his career behind the camera, he was mostly known for being a guy with a hairstyle almost as freaky as his directorial sensibilities. Now that we're 22 years down the road from his feature film debut (1985's "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"), Burton's hair has changed surprisingly little, but his reputation as a director with a unique sense of style is virtually unparalleled in mainstream Hollywood.

Born in Burbank, California, Burton grew up watching monster movies and listening to punk rock, and his unique artistic sensibilities came forth in his artwork at the time. He earned a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts, where he studied animation for three years; he was subsequently hired by Walt Disney Studios as an animator apprentice, where he worked on "The Fox and the Hound." Disney reportedly declared that his character designs made the title character look like "roadkill," but Burton managed to thrive creatively during this period by designing the characters that would go on to appear in "The Nightmare Before Christmas." He also managed to make a short film for Disney – "Frankenweenie," about a boy who manages to reanimate his dead dog – that the studio opted not to release because they thought kids would be too disconcerted by it. (Unsurprisingly, they changed their tune when Burton's career took off.)

Burton's feature-length directorial debut was "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure." Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-Wee, had seen "Frankenweenie," which inspired him to hire Burton; similarly, when it came time to score the film, Burton hired Danny Elfman, whom he'd seen countless times while Elfman was fronting the band Oingo Boingo. The collaboration between Burton and Elfman has been one of the most consistent since that of Steven Spielberg and John Williams; Elfman has scored every Burton film except "Ed Wood" (the pair apparently got into a squabble during "The Nightmare Before Christmas," but, clearly, they patched things up not long afterwards).

After "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," Burton made a few behind-the-camera appearances for the small screen, earning enough of a reputation to secure him the job of directing "Beetlejuice." With this, people finally began to take notice of Burton's work, and Warner Brothers gave him a major feather in his cap: the opportunity to direct "Batman." This in turn led to "Edward Scissorhands," arguably the first time Burton had really had the opportunity to bring one of his own visions to the screen (he co-wrote the screenplay with Caroline Thompson); it also gave Burton the chance to repay one of his heroes, Vincent Price, for all the scares he'd given him over the years, providing Price with what would prove to be his final onscreen role.

Burton's career has proven to be one full of commercial ups and downs. "Batman Returns" was widely (and, arguably, wrongly) panned for being too dark, but Burton followed it with the critical success of "Ed Wood," his bio-pic of the (in)famous director of "Plan 9 from Outer Space." Later works such as "Sleepy Hollow" and "Mars Attacks!" received mixed reactions, despite being true to his directorial vision, but Burton's remake of "Planet of the Apes" was universally sneered at. (To be fair, it had a tough act to follow.) With "Big Fish," however, Burton received the sort of acclaim he hadn't seen since "Ed Wood," and while his interpretation of Roald Dahl's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" left many fans of the '70s musical with a bad taste in their mouth, there was little question that Dahl would've liked it.

After having written and produced the aforementioned stop-motion animation of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in 1993, Burton returned to the genre in 2005 when he directed "Corpse Bride," which teamed him with Johnny Depp for the fifth time…and as of this writing, he's preparing to make it an even half-dozen with "Sweeney Todd." Beyond that, the future of Tim Burton remains mostly unwritten – the only persistent rumor is his desire to film a bio-pic of Robert Ripley, of "Believe It Or Not" fame – but one thing's for certain: whatever films he does go on to make, they'll almost certainly be recognizable as Tim Burton films.

The Best of the Best

"Pee-Wee's Big Adventure"

Pee-Wee's Big  AdventureWhen this movie first came out, it was impossible to tell where Pee-Wee's vision ended and Burton's began, since both were pretty much unknown commodities at the time. Nowadays, however, picking out the Burton bits is like shooting fish in a barrel.

"Batman"

It's still a bit surprising that Warner Brothers was willing to hand over a major franchise opportunity like the adventures of DC's Dark Knight to Burton, but his vision of Gotham City was the one to beat. Plus, it's hard to imagine that anyone else could've envisioned Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, but damned if it doesn't work.

"Edward Scissorhands"

It was a toss-up between including this one or "Beetlejuice," but given that there was never a Saturday morning cartoon starring Edward, "Scissorhands" ultimately has the advantage. Somewhere, an aged Hollywood executive still can't wrap his head around the general concept of this film, but that's only because he never went back to watch how Burton made his very own "Beauty and the Beast" tale.

"Ed Wood"

Big FishA relatively straightforward bio-pic of everyone's favorite angora-wearing director of bad movies, the film tends to be remembered (and reasonably so) for Martin Landau's tour de force as Bela Lugosi, but if you thought Johnny Depp's comedic delivery began with Jack Sparrow, you need to see "Ed Wood."

"Big Fish"

It's inexplicable that this film's only Oscar nomination was for its Danny Elfman score. As the years pass, count on this story about a man coming to grips with the life and death of his father to be remembered as one of Burton's greatest and most poignant films.

The Most Underrated

"Batman Returns"

Batman ReturnsAnother toss-up here – the other major contender was "Mars Attacks!" – but you really have to give the edge to what's arguably the darkest superhero film in recent memory. Too dark…? Ridiculous. Burton got the opportunity to put a bit more of his own style into the "Batman" sequel, as well as put Michelle Pfieffer into a leather catsuit. Meow, indeed. If you remember it as disappointing, go back and watch "Batman Forever" and "Batman & Robin" first, then watch "Batman Returns." You'll wonder why Warner Brothers even let Burton go…and wish they hadn't.

What Were You Thinking?

"Planet of the Apes"

Planet of the ApesThere are so few Tim Burton touches to this film that the few that do occur can just about be written off as the occasional homage to the man's style; if someone went into the theater without the knowledge of who was helming the movie, they'd never suspect it was the work of Burton himself. It's hard to scream "sell-out" about a guy whose vision has always been so unique, but one does have to wonder at what point Burton realized that the studio was far more in control of the film than he was.

Famous Last Words

Talk to any independent filmmaker and they can't wait to make a studio film, while a studio person can't wait to go independent. You've got to be careful, because the bottom line is, film is a hard one, it is a lot of money and you're dealing with a lot of issues…so maybe that's the nature of it, no matter where you are. (Iofilm.co.uk)

Because of the nature of the technical problems that arise, I can't imagine that anybody could walk into (a film) feeling like it's a picnic. Those are the people who should be hauled away. (minadream.com)

Each (movie) is a personal thing. It has to be, because you spend so much time on it, you have to personalize it. But yeah, after doing a big movie, it's, like, you do kind of get traumatized by it a little bit. (ign.com)

I always liked to draw, as probably every kid does, and make Super 8 movies, like a lot of kids did. And, weirdly, I never had the real goal to do that until in school. I was such a bad student, and I remember having to do a report where you had to read a book and write a 50 page essay on it. And I said, 'I can't read,' and so I made a Super 8 film on Houdini. It was a book we had to read, and I remember not reading the book, not having to write it, and getting an A+ on the project. I thought this might be a good living to try and do. (about.com)

('Planet of the Apes') is probably one of those films where…I like the challenge of doing things you know that you maybe shouldn't do. There's something about taking a classic movie that people love and doing another version of that, you're setting yourself up for a mistake. But, you know, I try not to go back in retrospect and say, oh, I shouldn't have done this or shouldn't have done that. You make your decisions and you live by them. It made money, it got a critical drubbing, but every project that you do…I never sort of really regret anything because you make your choices and I like to stand by them. (chud.com)

You can follow us on Twitter and Facebook for content updates. Also, sign up for our email list for weekly updates and check us out on Google+ as well.

Around the Web