The 10 best songs from Tim Burton movies

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With his new Wednesday series premiering this fall and a sequel to beetle juice on the horizon, Tim Burton continues to dazzle audiences with his unique vision. Often known for his influence on German Expressionism and Gothic design, Burton is also good at infusing his work with pop imagery and music.

Along with longtime collaborator Danny Elfman, Burton doesn’t use music passively; the songs from his films play a vital role in the narrative, either advancing the plot or reflecting the innermost thoughts of his enigmatic characters. Whether sung directly or used in a non-diegetic way, all of these songs add something singularly burtonesque to unforgettable moments in the visionary’s filmography.


“Mike Teavee” – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

All the naughty children in Roald Dahl’s beloved book get their just dessert at the end. To underscore this, Burton and Elfman gave Oompa Loompas songs to be lamented – or rather to celebrate – their disappearances with styles that encapsulate each child’s vile personalities. Elfman talks about his inspirations in this Los Angeles Times article.

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Mike Teavee, a vapid know-it-all whose fame is watching endless hours of television, is treated to a hard rock clip reminiscent of Queen and glam metal. Elfman’s music is only enhanced by the visual of Deep Roy rocking around in fringed leather jackets and zebra print jumpsuits.


“By the Sea” – Sweeney Todd

Burton could have chosen Broadway stars with powerful voices for his version of Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece, but he avoided classically trained actors for non-singers. The result is a film with music rather than a traditional musical, an idea that can be attributed to playwright Bertolt Brecht of The Threepenny Opera celebrity.

This delicate piece gives the singer very little room to breathe – likely suggesting Ms Lovett’s desperate need to believe in her fantasy. Longtime Burton collaborator Helena Bonham Carter pulls it off admirably while humorously providing insight into her character.

“Face to Face” – Batman Returns

The masquerade scene between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle in Return of Batman works on several levels. Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer imbue every word with subtext, adding to the writing’s heavy innuendo; under both is this sexy, skintight pop number from Elfman and Siouxsie and the Banshees.


With lyrics about longing for the unattainable, suppressing desire, and hiding behind disguises, no other song has captured the Batman/Catwoman relationship so well. The full song can be heard during the end titles.

“Augustus Gloop” – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Augustus Gloop, greedy and addicted to sugar, is the first of Wonka’s candidates to fail his test. After sliding down the chocolate river and getting sucked into a pipe, he’s rewarded with a Bollywood musical number complete with jubilant percussion and brass.

Related: 10 Kids Movies Made By Unlikely Directors

In the Los Angeles Times article, Elfman admits he had a blast recording the various voices of the Oompa Loompas and it shows; between its music and vocal performance, Deep Roy’s acting, Roald Dahl’s acerbic lyrics and Burton’s tongue-in-cheek direction, it’s easy to see why this clip has more than 17 million views on Youtube.


“Oogie Boogie’s Song” – The Nightmare Before Christmas

This jazz number features villainous Oogie Boogie in the much-loved stop-motion classic directed by Henry Selick (although it’s still a Burton film). According this anime research articleBurton and Elfman were inspired by Cab Calloway, particularly her song “Minnie the Moocher” and the Betty Boop cartoon she is in. The similarities between Calloway’s and Oogie’s moves are uncanny, and the songs are stylistically similar.

Ken Page has skillfully infused Oogie’s vocals with a powerful yet tremulous quality that accentuates the jazz and hints that his burlap sack of a body is about to unravel.


“Remains of the Day” – Corpse Bride

No other film captures Burton’s obsession with the macabre so perfectly; the protagonist learns the lessons of life among the dead to lead a more colorful life, fueling Burton’s message to enjoy life to the fullest before it’s too late.

The jazzy track not only introduces Victor to the afterlife, but also serves as an exposition device to explain the titular character’s backstory – and foreshadows subsequent events. The song and the visuals paint a clear picture that “down” is more fun than “up”. Elfman wrote and performed it, infusing his voice with a gritty, raspy quality.

“Reveler” – Batman

Michael Keaton’s interpretation of Batman continues to win over new fans. Modern adaptations of the Joker and Batman are getting darker and darker, but the beauty of both characters is in the myriad ways to interpret them.

Showcasing Burton’s gift for combining goth and pop, Jack Nicholson’s Joker and his henchmen dance and obliterate a museum as Prince’s flippant pop hit (written for the film) explodes on a boombox; it’s funny, satirical and oddly accurate. Had Prince’s chart-topping “Batdance” made it into the movie, it would no doubt be on this list as well.


“O-Day!” – Beetle Juice

The dinner scene in beetle juice is one of the most iconic in all of cinema. In a failed attempt to scare away the pretentious new owners of their home, ghosts Adam and Barbara possess hosts and guests, forcing them to dance and lip-sync to Harry Belafonte’s hit Calypso while goth Lydia watches with fun.

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The moment comes unexpectedly and slowly builds – first with just Delia until all the other adult characters join in. The gimmick wouldn’t have worked without great actors; all of the performances are fun, but Catherine O’Hara’s expressions as she battles possession are pure movie magic.

“What is this?” – The Nightmare Before Christmas

Anyone who’s been a kid on Christmas morning can relate to Jack Skellington’s exuberant discovery of the titular party. Elfman’s joyous piece begins with a bang, then gradually soars as Jack discovers all the delightful aspects of this strange new land. This is a key scene in the film and essential to the development of Jack’s character.

Elfman’s uninterrupted delivery adds so much vitality and emotional depth to the lifeless puppet. The song also contains some of Jack’s most memorable quotes in Nightmare (they’re busy building toys/and absolutely no one died!) With such a catchy melody, clever lyrics and energetic performance, it’s easy to see why it’s a fan favorite.

“Ice Dancing” – Edward Scissorhands

The one song on this list without lyrics is arguably the most iconic. Not only is the choral piece hauntingly beautiful, but it also highlights a pivotal scene in the film.

As Kim falls in love with Edward, she rejects societal norms and expectations, choosing to live a life filled with love, joy, and freedom – far from the boring, cookie-cutter lives of adults who surround it. Kim’s celebratory dance is a perfect symbol for a recurring theme in Burton’s work; she grows and embraces the weird and the different, both of which are more honest than normal.

Next: 10 Non-Tim Burton Movies For Fans Of The Director’s Work


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