Tim Burton Doesn’t Deserve The Credit For Nightmare Before Christmas?

Tim Burton gets most of the credit for The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was actually directed by Henry Selick.

By Nathan Kamal | Published

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a modern holiday classic, perfectly calibrated to appeal to fans of Halloween, Christmas, the songs of Danny Elfman, and the golden age of swing jazz showmen. It is also generally thought of as part of the oeuvre of filmmaker Tim Burton, despite actually being primarily the work of animator Henry Selick in his directorial debut. According to a recent interview with The AV Club, Henry Selick is pretty used to people thinking Tim Burton made the movie, but he is not all that happy about it.

Here is what Henry Selick had to say on the subject:

Tim is a genius—or he certainly was in his most creative years. I always thought his story was perfect, and he designed the main characters. But it was really me and my team of people who brought that to life. 

It really does not help that the movie was initially marketed as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, which completely makes sense for a film released in 1993, perhaps the height of Burton’s fame and creative output. However, as Henry Selick puts it, that was a decision that was made only weeks from release and not what he had signed on for when he agreed to direct the film. While Selick seems to have made relative peace with Tim Burton getting the lion’s share of the credit, he is firm that it was he and his team that actually made the film, while Burton wrote the original story and designed some of the characters. 

tim burton

Amusingly (for us, anyway), Tim Burton is not the only one getting more credit for The Nightmare Before Christmas than Henry Selick really thinks is factual. In the interview, he also relates an anecdote in which Danny Elfman (who wrote the songs and voiced Jack Skellington’s singing parts) sincerely thanked him for doing “a wonderful job illustrating my songs!” At least in the Batman composer’s mind, the movie was essentially his creative endeavor, which just goes to show how differently people can see things.

All this said, film is inherently a collaborative medium and many different people bring many vital elements to a finished movie. In this case, Tim Burton provided the original story and design, Henry Selick executed it, Danny Elfman provided music and lyrics, Caroline Thompson wrote the screenplay, and our collective sense of gothic wonder provided its commercial success. While Tim Burton disproportionately receives credit, it is fair to say many people contributed to the success of the film. 

That success has led to rumors of a potential Nightmare Before Christmas 2 for years, which seem to be picking up as of late. Considering that Tim Burton seems to be in the mood to revisit past successes with Beetlejuice 2 in the works with Michael Keaton and potentially a Sleepy Hollow 2 with Johnny Depp, this could finally be the moment when he throws his weight behind a Skellington sequel.

Whether Henry Selick would join his old collaborator Tim Burton for The Nightmare Before Christmas 2 is another story. While he is generally full of praise for Burton’s work (or at least his work in the 1990s), Selick also seems to have quite a lot of animosity for the Walt Disney Company. When someone uses the phrase “rot in hell” in an interview, it’s safe to say there’s some bad blood.