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Discuss: After Two Flops In Six Months, What's Next For Tim Burton?

by Oliver Lyttelton
October 8, 2012 1:30 PM
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Tim Burton Frankenweenie

Two years ago, it seemed like Tim Burton could do no wrong. Reteaming once again with frequent collaborator Johnny Depp, the pair took "Alice In Wonderland" to over a billion dollars worldwide, surfing the 3D wave in the aftermath of the success of "Avatar," and demonstrating once again that the pair were perfectly placed to bring the weird to the mainstream. A host of similar other projects were lined up for the filmmaker, but he settled on two that seemed to be close to his heart: an adaptation of supernatural soap "Dark Shadows" starring Depp, set for a plum summer release, and a stop-motion animated remake of the short film that made his name, "Frankenweenie."

Unfortunately (and despite "Frankenweenie" picking up the director's best reviews in years), 2012 has not treated Burton kindly: "Dark Shadows" was buried back in May, opening to a disappointing $30 million, and topping out at $80 million domestically. It did manage to make over $200 million worldwide, but given the film's reported $150 million cost, that's not going to make anyone happy, not least those who expected bigger things from the first Burton/Depp project after 'Alice.' And "Frankenweenie" might have been even more disappointing when it opened this weekend: at $11 million, it fell well behind both Burton's 2005 film "The Corpse Bride" and this year's similarly-themed "ParaNorman." Hell, when you take inflation and 3D subsidies into account, fewer people saw it than "The Nightmare Before Christmas" 18 years ago, and that was considered a flop at the time (it also played on half the screens, just to rub salt in the wound).

Dark Shadows Johnny Depp

Now, the failure of each could be put down to a number of factors -- mostly involving poor timing. "Dark Shadows" was the first major release in the aftermath of "The Avengers," which had opened to record-breaking numbers a week earlier, and it was a property that meant little to audiences. "Frankenweenie" also got shafted by the competition, landing only a week after another horror-tinged (but much more kid-friendly) 3D animation, "Hotel Transylvania," which also broke records, and had both big names (Adam Sandler & co), and a bright, family-friendly look -- two things that "Frankenweenie" was lacking. Now toss in this summer's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter," another flop, produced by Burton and sold on his name, and the director is likely eager for 2012 to end.

Burton has had disappointments in the past, but for the first time since "Ed Wood" and "Mars Attacks" both underperformed in the mid 1990s, one starts to question whether one of the few brand-name directors around can still draw an audience in the same way. Have diminishing creative returns (everyone saw "Alice in Wonderland," but it's tough to find many who actually liked it) made the Burton aesthetic more of a warning than a promise?

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  • Angelica | December 10, 2012 9:06 PMReply

    I really like Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. I don't know why the people who don't like his movies think that he should make movies for them. That doesn't make sense. He makes movies for people who like the things that he likes. If he stopped, what would they watch?

  • Candyman | October 21, 2012 7:34 PMReply

    Burton's a quintessential example of how studio work can ruin an artist. He went from being the voice of a generation to...nothing; a maker of inconsequential, bloated CGI remakes.

  • maryrachelkate | October 21, 2012 1:21 AMReply

    *Burton's name was linked to "Pirates of the Caribbean 5"*

    GOD PLEASE NO MORE! I don't care who directs it, just make it stop!

    ~yeah I just gave away which company I was speaking of below.

  • MaryRachelKate | October 21, 2012 1:18 AMReply

    I need to qualify this by saying I'm a huge Tim Burton fan and no one is sicker of Johnny Depp than I am (having worked for a company that made way too many of his films). I could NOT sit through Dark Shadows. It was appallingly boring. I love the Frankenweenie short but I did not see the point in remaking it. I loved the book "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" and thankfully I do not think there is a role in it for Johnny Depp. However, I do not see how it could be a hit movie. I can see it being a good odd movie like Big Fish but not a hit.

  • Moon Patrol | October 15, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    Most artists have a great deal of success in their careers. They get better as time goes on. But there is a peak for most and Burton seems to have reached that years ago. Only the real great artists keep growing. Look at Beethoven, his work was timeless up to the end of his life.

  • aldershot | October 12, 2012 10:57 PMReply

    he needs to stop, he needs to stop right now. never have i've ever seen an artist ruin his own name as much as burton. It would be fine if it was just his name that's being ruined, but it's not. he's tarnishing his previous successes and cult favorites with his current terrible reputation.

    He needs to take a 5-10 yaer break, then maybe... MAYBE come back with a low budget passion film, as this article suggested.

    as of now, if burton released a movie that is all raves from critics and friends a like, my faith in him has been crushed so much, i'd still not bother watching it.

    Pay attention ladies and gent, tim burton is demonstrating exactly how to commit career suicide.

  • Dan | October 10, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    A couple of things,

    Like it or hate it Alice in Wonderland was a huge audience winner and made a lot of mula.

    Dark Shadows opened just as much as some of Burton's projects (more than Sweeney Todd and Big Fish) but it had a ridiculous high budget for some reason.

    Plus Frankenweenie is stop motion and those have had a pretty poor box office returns as of lately.

    Plus I doubt Tim Burton will be reading this blog. So it probably won't make much of a difference in the end.

  • jon | October 9, 2012 5:19 PMReply

    What's next? How about more crap?

  • spassky | October 9, 2012 11:04 AMReply

    'Jack the Bear' remake...?

  • kitcon | October 9, 2012 8:13 AMReply

    Alice and Clash of the Titans benefited from the public's post-Avatar fascination with 3D -- and both also helped end that fascination. Without the tail wind fr Avatar neither would have done as well -- as we can see w/ Wrath of the Titans and Dark Shadows. Depp is a legitimate billion $ draw in a Pirates costume but much less outside that franchise.

  • Dan | October 10, 2012 4:06 PM

    What? Alice and Wonderland and Dark Shadows are nothing alike.

    Alice in Wonderland was more marketed towards kids (although it had a lot of adults theme) and Dark Shadows was marketed towards adults.

    Regardless of Avatar Alice in Wonderland would have still made the same amount.

    Wrath of the Titans did poorly because it was a sequel that no one was asking for. The Clash of the Titans remake had mixed reception, so it was only naturally the sequel would do worse.

  • Jonathan | October 9, 2012 6:46 AMReply

    Burton's "Dark Shadows" flopped domestically because he turned it into a puerile, vapid, and stupid comedy. Had he gone with John August's script and not with the very awful one provided by Seth Grahame-Smith, he wouldn't have alienated a lot of the fan base of the original series. As a result, the movie was a detestable piece of S#$t. That is why it flopped at the box office. Apologists for this movie can't use the "it opened of such and such weekend" excuse. It did a belly flop because Burton and Depp took the convenient route and wound up with a $150 million dollar, two hour case of attention deficit disorder. Burton and Depp have only themselves to blame for this.

  • Padre | October 8, 2012 6:26 PMReply

    Tim Burton can do no wrong! All the yippy haters should be ignored. The box office has not smiled on him lately, but visionaries sometimes suffer for being out of tune with the market.

  • Alphabet | October 9, 2012 7:12 PM

    He's become boring. What once seemed visionary has shifted towards tunnel vision. New Burton films are just too easy to dismiss at the trailer stage with a "Yeah, I get it." I'm glad some folks still enjoy the work but what would impress/interest me would be him trying to make a film a bit more outside his wheelhouse, something we could consider challenging and subversive in a 'post-Burton' world.

  • cattt | October 8, 2012 5:48 PMReply

    Maybe Burton should just play it safe. For once he could do a stylish burtonized version of an existing book-, film or tv-franchise and have Johnny Depp star in it. That'll be new.

  • Nathan | October 8, 2012 2:50 PMReply

    Wait, which thing do you want him to do? Make blockbusters? Or serious films about human beings with only the barest production design?

    Unfortunately for those who share the Oliver Lyttleton's sentiments, Tim Burton is likely just fine. Dark Shadows grossed somewhere in the region of $238 million, taking foreign markets into account, and I don't imagine Frankenweenie is expected to do a whole lot more than break even. Is there any scenario where a black and white, stop-motion film grosses more than $40 million (the production budget of the film)?

    Burton seems to more or less have "tenure" with WB and Disney and it's unlikely any film "catastrophe" is going to ruin his ability to make the films he wants to.

  • MJ | October 10, 2012 4:38 PM

    Nathan, Dark Shadows was not in any way a bargaining chip for Depp re:more Pirates movies, it was a Warner Brothers project.

  • Huffy | October 8, 2012 10:33 PM

    What profits? Seriously, the film cost 150 million and like you said grossed almost 250 worldwide. Studios see less than half of that once theaters take their cut. Add in the fact that the film likely had a heafty marketing budget and you'll see that the article was right to label it a flop; not a massive one but a money-losing film none-the-less. They might break even down the road on DVD but that's never something studios want to do with a film they spent a lot of money on in the here-and-now, especially one where the director is getting compensated so generously. Like it or not this is going to affect Burton's brand; probably not dramatically but it has definitely shown studios that he doesn't quite have the Midas touch when it comes to keeping the general public interested. He's not going to be exiled or anything but he isn't going to have Jim Cameron leverage either.

  • Nathan | October 8, 2012 3:14 PM

    It's definitely a head-scratcher. My guess is that Dark Shadows functioned as something of a bonus for Depp/Burton after Alice in Wonderland. I'd imagine each of the players involved were very well-compensated. I don't think it takes a genius to realize that even with Depp, a remake of a 1970's soap opera isn't probably going to make $300 million at the box office. I imagine the studio must have known that the profits would be modest. Dark Shadows could also have been a piece in the negotiations toward a sixth Pirates of the Caribbean movie for Depp.

    Kudos on seeing Dark Shadows more than once. I have as well.

  • Michael | October 8, 2012 3:00 PM

    Agreed. One last thought about Dark Shadows - WHY did that film cost $150 to make? And what dumbass thought it could recoup on such a budget? I've seen it twice and the money sure as hell wasn't put on the screen (so to speak).

  • joe | October 8, 2012 2:49 PMReply

    Frankenweenie is the best animation in this year.

  • DG | October 8, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    All of those developing projects so terrible, just more of the same old. Dude needs to take a few years off and reconsider what he's doing, then come back when he has something worthwhile. This is not the path he is likely to take though he should.

  • Michael | October 8, 2012 2:36 PMReply

    Dark Shadows was terrible! It's really quite amazing it made as much $ as it did. As for Frankenweenie, which is charming, it's purely a victim of being released mere weeks after ParaNorman and Hotel Trans. But that's Disney's hubris for you.

    I also have to place a lot of the blame on Seth Grahame-Smith. The screenplays for both AL:VH and Dark Shadows are woefully mediocre.

  • Erick | October 8, 2012 3:43 PM

    I couldn't agree more with you Michael. Seth Graham-Smith did a flimsy job with those two scripts. Makes me worried that he's writing the script for Beetlejuice 2. Hope Tim stays away from him and sticks to John August instead. Tim really needs to choose his scripts carefully from now on. Alice in Wonderland was also ruined by a weak script by Linda Woolverton.

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