Did Tim Burton Actually Direct ‘Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas’?

For decades, fans of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas have debated whether the film is a Halloween movie or a Christmas movie. Even composer Danny Elfman has weighed in on the matter. However, there’s a bigger question surrounding The Nightmare Before Christmas: is it really a Tim Burton movie?

'Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas'
‘Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas’ | Touchstone Pictures/Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Disney’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ has become a classic

When it was released in October 1993, The Nightmare Before Christmas turned out to be a modest box office hit. On a production budget of $18 million, the movie earned roughly $50 million domestically. However, over the years, the film has evolved from a cult favorite to a more mainstream classic. 

In the mid-2000s, The Nightmare Before Christmas even became an annual re-release during the holiday season. As it stands, it’s securely in the pantheon of beloved Disney movies alongside another 1993 sleeper hit, Hocus Pocus. Perhaps part of the movie’s success is Burton’s name in the title. But is he really responsible for the finished product?

How Tim Burton was really involved in the stop-motion animated movie

As it turns out, The Nightmare Before Christmas is partly Burton’s baby. The film is based on a poem he wrote in 1982. And Burton started developing the project as perhaps a short film or TV special. When it came to the movie itself, Burton serves as a producer and has a story credit. But contrary to popular belief, he did not direct The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Instead, Henry Selick directed the film, though he admittedly did aim to match Burton’s style. Selick — who later went on to direct Coraline — once told The Daily Beast about Burton’s role in the production, including a few set visits. “It was a great relationship because [Tim] utterly showed faith in what we were doing, and trusted us,” Selick said.


Is Tim Burton’s ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Available for Streaming on Disney+?

The director went on to direct 2 more stop-motion animated movies

At the time Selick made The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton was busy on Batman Returns and Ed Wood. But the director eventually got around to directing stop-motion animation. After producing Selick’s own James and the Giant Peach, he co-directed 2005’s Corpse Bride with Mike Johnson.

Then in 2012, Burton expanded his short film Victor into a feature-length version. Frankenweenie did fine at the box office but earned mostly positive reviews. Even so, none of Burton’s stop-motion animated projects have measured up to the legacy left behind by The Nightmare Before Christmas.