Nightmare Before Christmas Fans Are Only Just Realising Tim Burton Didn’t Direct Film

The Nightmare Before Christmas fans are only just realising that Tim Burton wasn't the director of the classic movie.
Credit: Alamy & Disney

Nightmare Before Christmas fans are only just realising that Tim Burton was not the director of the iconic film.

The festive stop-motion movie follows the misadventures of Jack Skellington, the beloved pumpkin king of Halloweentown. 

Jack becomes bored of frightening people every year and becomes obsessed with Christmastown after he accidentally stumbles across it.

He therefore decides to kidnap Santa Claus and take over the role himself – and chaos ensues. 

Although some fans think of it as a Halloween movie, many have called it ‘the greatest festive film ever made’.

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When it was released in 1993, it was marketed as Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

This is because the director was riding a wave of popularity due to the success of films such as Batman, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands.

But despite popular belief, Burton did not actually direct the movie and he had very little involvement in the film’s production.

Reportedly, it wasn’t even called Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas until ‘three weeks’ before the film came out. 

The movie is based on a poem and sketches that Burton created while working at Disney in 1982.

He came up with the basic story and character designs and co-produced the film.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
Many people falsely believe that The Nightmare Before Christmas was directed by Tim Burton. Credit: Disney

But the movie we know and love was actually created by a dedicated team of people who rarely get any credit.

Henry Selick was hired to direct the film as Burton was busy writing and directing Batman Returns.

Burton entrusted Selick with the movie because he did not want to deal with the ‘painful process of stop motion’.

Meanwhile, Beetlejuice writer Michael McDowell was hired to write the script and Danny Elfman was brought in to write the film’s songs.

Elfman began writing the tracks for the movie based on discussions he and Burton would have.

The pair would briefly discuss the events of the movie while reviewing his drawings, and Elfman would then write songs.

He and Burton didn’t talk too much, as Elfman would just get the ‘gist’ of what Burton was saying before hanging up to go and write the songs.

Henry Selick
Henry Selick directed the festive classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Credit: Alamy

Elfman finished his task, but McDowell was unable to complete his work on the script and Edward Scissorhands writer Caroline Thompson was brought in to finish it.

Because of this, Selick started filming before the script was finished using Elfman’s songs.

It was an ‘insane’ thing to do, Selick told The Hollywood Reporter: “We knew the story well. The first songs came in, and we basically just blindly, but very confidently, went into production.”

Thompson, who was dating Elfman at the time, completely reimagined the character of Sally and even put in aspects of her own life in the story.

She also fought for the character to be redesigned as she originally looked like a buxom ‘femme fatale’, while Thompson saw her as an outcast.

“I was like, well, I don’t understand that kind of girl,” she explained. “So we redesigned her.”

While Elfman later provided Jack’s singing voice in the film and its original soundtrack.

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Speaking about how Burton always gets the credit, Selick told AV Club: “That was a little unfair because it wasn’t called Tim Burton’s Nightmare until three weeks before the film came out.

“And I would have been fine with that if that’s what I signed up for.

“But Tim was in LA making two features while I directed that film, and I mean, 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.”

Selick also joked that ‘if you ask Danny Elfman, well, that’s his movie’, in reference to the composer’s iconic songs.

The Nightmare Before Christmas
The Nightmare Before Christmas is based on a poem and sketches that Burton created while working at Disney. Credit: Disney

He explained: “When we finished the film, it was so funny because [Elfman] came up to me and shook my hand.

“‘Henry, you’ve done a wonderful job illustrating my songs!’ And he was serious, and I loved it!”

Fans of the film have only just realised this and have shared their reactions on social media.

“Omg Tom Burton didn’t direct that movie? I’m shook,” said one person.

Someone else commented: “No because same, I always thought it was Tim Burton himself doing the s***.”

“The marketing worked too well. They only slapped Tim’s name on it to boost box office sales.” added a third.

Another viewer posted: “People not knowing that Henry Selick directed Nightmare Before Christmas and NOT Tim Burton is a perfect example of how bigger names swallow rightful credit.”

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Written by Rosario Monachino

Rosario is a content editor at IGV who specialises in film, TV and entertainment news. He has a degree in English and Film from the University of Salford and a masters in Journalism from Liverpool John Moores University.