Question p Art, Media & Literature

How is Tim Burton an auteur director?

How is Tim Burton an auteur director?

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The term ‘auteur’ is French for ‘author’ - ‘auteur theory’ in film criticism contends that the director of a film is the primary creative force behind it, and that the films of an auteur director bear a distinctive creative ‘signature’. Bassil-Morozow (2010) defines an auteur as a director who possesses both control over the majority of film-making processes and a distinct ‘voice’ (e.g. recurring themes, stylistic features, techniques). In terms of the latter, she asserts that ‘[t]here is no doubt that Tim Burton has a unique cinematographic style’ (Bassil-Morozow, 2010, p.8), citing his traditionally Gothic mise-en-scènes, dramatic visuals and rich artificiality in sets, costumes and make up as examples of this (p. 10). However, regarding the former point of creative control, Burton is still in many ways a mainstream director: where most ‘modern auteurs’ are firmly placed in the Arthouse cinema scene, Burton, with his films clearly geared towards a mass audience, has ‘carved out a niche for himself in Hollywood’ (McMahan, 2014, n.p.) His artistic style does permeate his movies, but he is only able to do this within the constraints of the studio system who fund and distribute them to the masses. However, his relationship with these studios is often tense due to his determination to ‘fight for his creative vision’ (Bassil-Morozow, 2010, p.10), privileging this over commercial success, though ordinarily achieving both. Burton’s status as an auteur is something of a paradox, then, but it can be concluded that Burton can be deemed an auteur to some extent because of the instantly recognizable hallmarks – cinematography, dark plotlines and recurring use of the same actors, for example – that his work bears.


Bassil-Morozow, H. (2010). Tim Burton: The Monster and the Crowd – A Post-Jungian Perspective. London: Routledge.

McMahan, A. (2014). The Films of Tim Burton: Animating Live Action in Contemporary Hollywood. London: Bloomsbury.