Why Ed Wood Is Still Tim Burton’s Best Movie

Tim Burton has made a lot of movies. Since the beginning of his career as a Disney animator in the early 1980s to his box office ascendancy in the past few decades serving as a reinventor of superheroes, stop-motion magician, and fairy tale king, Burton has reliably contributed to the pop culture landscape with his aesthetically distinct, instantly recognizable films. But there is still one that stands out from the rest – it’s his very best film, 1994’s Ed Wood. The Oscar-winning film, released by Disney’s Touchstone division, remains the highwater mark for Burton. And right now it’s available on Movies Anywhere and eligible users can send a Screen Pass*. That means, if you have the movie in your Movies Anywhere collection, you could choose to send a Screen Pass to a very worthy friend or relative, which would allow them to watch Ed Wood for a limited time at no additional cost. Read on to find out what makes Ed Wood the undisputed champion within Tim Burton’s enviable filmography.

Its Script Is Absolutely Peerless

Ed Wood 1994 Movie Cast
Image via Touchstone Pictures

Ed Wood is bolstered by a genuinely incredible script by two of the hardest working, most talented screenwriters in Hollywood – Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Longtime friends and collaborators (they were first roommates at USC), they had come off a pair of broad studio comedies, but were clearly capable of more. They wrote Ed Wood, a skewered biopic of the legendary Z-movie and infamous crossdresser director Edward D. Wood, Jr. (who made the perennial so-bad-it’s-good midnight movie Plan 9 From Outer Space), and persuaded Burton to direct.

Instead of focusing on Wood’s slow decline towards the end of his life, they focused on the production of Plan 9 from Outer Space and the boundless energy and enthusiasm that defined him for much of his life. It’s that wild spirit – in both the screenplay and the movie – that helps make Ed Wood so special. The screenplay is funny and tragic and so, so sharp, oscillating effortlessly between extreme slap-stick comedy and deeply felt humanity. (They were nominated for a WGA Award for Best Screenplay but bafflingly were not nominated for the Oscar.)

Ed Wood allowed Alexander and Karaszewski to make more of their richly research, left-of-center biopics, charting the lives of pornographer Larry Flynt, outré comedian Andy Kaufman and American artist Margaret Keane (and her lousy husband Walter Keane), reuniting them with their Ed Wood director Burton. At one point Alexander, Karaszewksi and Burton had also been working on a film about the life of Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not fame, which sadly never came to be.

This Is the Closest Tim Burton Came to Making an Autobiographical Film

Ed Wood Johnny Depp
Image via Touchstone Pictures

Of all the words to describe Tim Burton, “personal” isn’t at the top of the list. He makes films filled with oddball outsiders, psychologically damaged superheroes, and skittering stop-motion creatures. Even if the movies are emotional, which they sometimes are, it’s hard to really connect with them because they are full of such colorful, outsized characters. And yet, with Ed Wood, he let his guard down. He made a movie that was actually personal to him.

Much of Ed Wood follows Wood’s friendship with Bela Lugosi (played by Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his performance). At this point in his life Lugosi, a horror movie icon, was washed up, destitute, and suffering from addiction. Wood befriended the star and put him in some of his movies, and their connection provides Ed Wood with its beating heart. And the relationship between Wood and Lugosi eerily mirrors Burton’s own relationship with Vincent Price, who Burton adored and whose friendship he deeply cherished. Burton also befriended Price towards the end of his career and gave him work in his films; he was also extremely close to the star as he neared the end of his life. At the time of Price’s death in 1993 (he had Parkinson’s but ultimately died of lung cancer), Burton was working on a documentary about Price’s life and about their friendship.

Burton was so distraught by Price’s death that he canceled the documentary, but a year later Ed Wood was released. Shot in velvety black-and-white, just like many of Price’s classic chillers, you can feel that Burton was processing something while making the film. And that heartache can be felt in every frame. It’s beautiful.

Peak Depp

Ed Wood Johnny Depp
Image via Touchstone Pictures

It can’t be overstated just how important the creative partnership between Johnny Depp and Burton has been over the years, leading to some of the most memorable films in either man’s oeuvre. And Ed Wood, made at the peak of their combined powers, marks Depp’s very best performance and his best collaboration with the director.

As Wood, Depp is totally unhinged – he’s got fake teeth and a slicked-back pompadour. But he’s a lovable weirdo, someone who you are constantly rooting for even if you are sure, as pretty much everyone was, that Wood was a talentless, self-destructive hack. Depp’s Wood sees the possibility of everything and is excited by the slightest hint of success. In one of the more memorable sequences, Depp is rallying his actors after a disastrous review of one of his stage plays. He was always looking for the silver lining and encouraging others that even the most dismal notices aren’t so bad. It’s an inspiring, tender, incredibly well-drawn performance and watching it again makes you a little bummed out that Depp wasn’t able to keep that level of quality in all of his roles. But on its own, Depp in Ed Wood is absolutely jaw-dropping. This is a performance for the ages.

Other Stuff

Image via Touchstone Pictures

There’s too much to go into detail with, but there is so much else that is incredible in Ed Wood. There are the superb supporting performances by Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Bill Murray, Juliette Landau and Vincent D’Onofrio (as Orson Welles!) And this is without even mentioning Rick Baker’s make-up effects that turned Landau into Lugosi, Howard Shore’s Theramin-filled score or Stefan Czapsky’s moody, evocative black-and-white photography. Ed Wood really is an embarrassment of riches. Why not share it with somebody who deserves it? Or maybe just somebody who needs a big goofy smile plastered from ear to ear for the entire 127-minute runtime.

Ed Wood is currently available on Movies Anywhere and is Screen Pass eligible.

*Registration with Movies Anywhere required. Open to U.S. residents 13+. Screen Pass-eligible movies are subject to change without notice.

This article is presented by Movies Anywhere. Movies Anywhere and Screen Pass are trademarks of Movies Anywhere, LLC. © 2020 Movies Anywhere.

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