Ed Wood is a 1994 American biographical comedy-drama film directed and produced by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as the eponymous cult filmmaker. The film concerns the period in Wood's life when he made his best-known films as well as his relationship with actor Bela Lugosi, played by Martin Landau. Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Lisa Marie, and Bill Murray are among the supporting cast.
The film was conceived by writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski when they were students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Irritated at being thought of solely as writers for family films with their work on Problem Child and its sequel, Alexander and Karaszewski struck a deal with Burton and Denise Di Novi to produce Ed Wood. Initially, Michael Lehmann was chosen to direct the project, but due to scheduling conflicts with his work on the film Airheads, he had to vacate the director's position, which was taken over by Burton.
Ed Wood was originally in development at Columbia Pictures, but the studio put the film in "turnaround" over Burton's decision to shoot in black-and-white. Ed Wood was taken to Walt Disney Studios, which produced the film through its Touchstone Pictures label. The film proved financially unsuccessful, returning only $5.9 million against an $18 million budget, but was met with critical acclaim upon release. It eventually became a cult classic and won two Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor for Landau and Best Makeup for Rick Baker (who designed Landau's prosthetic makeup), Ve Neill and Yolanda Toussieng.
In 1952, Ed Wood is struggling to enter the film industry. Upon hearing of an announcement in Variety magazine that producer George Weiss is trying to purchase Christine Jorgensen's life story, Ed meets with Weiss to direct a now fictionalized film titled I Changed My Sex! but isn't hired. Ed then meets his longtime idol, horror film actor Bela Lugosi, with whom he becomes friends. Ed persuades Weiss to let him direct the film by convincing him that having a star in the film would sell tickets, and they could sign Lugosi for a low price. During production for Glen or Glenda, Ed and Weiss argue over the film's title and subject matter but Weiss eventually plays by Ed's rules, albeit reluctantly. Filming gets going, with the story now about a transvestite. Ed takes to film production with an unusual approach; shooting only one take per scene, giving actors very little direction and using stock footage to fill in gaps. The movie is released to critical and commercial failure, preventing Ed from getting work at Weiss' Screen Classics or making a partnership with Warner Bros. executive Feldman. On the advice of his girlfriend, Dolores Fuller, Ed decides to finance his next film independently. Ed is unsuccessful in finding money for Bride of the Atom, but is introduced to a psychic called The Amazing Criswell who gives him advice on how to sell himself better. During this time, Ed has discovered that Lugosi has developed a morphine addiction.
Ed meets Loretta King, whom he mistakes for a wealthy heiress and asks her to fund the film and ends up casting her as the lead instead of Fuller as planned with Fuller being assigned a more menial role. Filming begins, but is halted when it is revealed that Loretta is actually poor, so Ed convinces meat packing industry tycoon Don McCoy to continue funding the film, who agrees as long as his son is cast as the lead and the film ends with an explosion. When filming wraps up, with the title being changed to Bride of the Monster, Dolores breaks up with Ed after the wrap party because of his circle of misfit friends. Lugosi attempts to conduct a double suicide with Ed after the government cuts off his unemployment benefit, but is talked out of it. Lugosi checks himself into rehab to cure his drug addiction, and Ed meets Kathy O'Hara, who is visiting her father there. He takes her on a date and reveals to her his transvestism, which she accepts. After Lugosi is checked out of rehab, he and Ed shoots a film with Lugosi outside his home. Ed and company (along with TV horror icon Vampira) attend the premiere for Bride of the Monster, an angry mob chases them out of the theater.
Afterwards, Lugosi passes away, leaving Ed without a star. After learning that his landlord, Reynolds' church is struggling to produce several religious films about the twelve apostles, Ed convinces him to allow his church to fund his script for a sci-fi film, Grave Robbers from Outer Space, which could result in a box-office success and generate enough money for Reynolds' dream project. Ed hires Vampira and Kathy's chiropractor Dr. Tom Mason to star in the film (the latter being a stand in for Lugosi) and also has conflicts with the Baptists over the title, script content and Ed's B movie directing style, eventually renaming the film Plan 9 from Outer Space. Ed soon leaves the set out of frustration to go to the nearest bar, where he has a fictional encounter with filmmaker Orson Welles, who rekindles Ed's inspiration by advising him to assert his vision and resist artistic changes imposed onto him by sponsors. Filming finishes with Ed taking action against his producers' wishes. After attending the premiere, Ed and Kathy go to Las Vegas to get married.
- Johnny Depp as Ed Wood
- Sarah Jessica Parker as Dolores Fuller
- Patricia Arquette as Kathy O'Hara
- Lisa Marie as Maila Nurmi / Vampira
- Jeffrey Jones as The Amazing Criswell
- Max Casella as Paul Marco
- Brent Hinkley as Conrad Brooks
- Bill Murray as John "Bunny" Breckinridge
- George "The Animal" Steele as Tor Johnson
- Juliet Landau as Loretta King
- Ned Bellamy as Tom Mason
- Mike Starr as George Weiss
- Stanley DeSantis as Mr. Feldman
- Rance Howard as Old Man McCoy
- Vincent D'Onofrio as Orson Welles
- G. D. Spradlin as Reverend Lemon
- Korla Pandit, credited as "Indian Musician"
The film also includes cameos from actors who worked with Wood on Plan 9 from Outer Space, Gregory Walcott and Conrad Brooks.
Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski conceived the idea for a biopic of Ed Wood when they were students at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Alexander even proposed making a documentary about Wood, The Man in the Angora Sweater, in his sophomore year at USC. However, Karaszewski figured, "there would be no one on the planet Earth who would make this movie or want to make this movie, because these aren't the sort of movies that are made." Irritated at being thought of solely as writers for family films for their work on Problem Child and Problem Child 2, Alexander and Karaszewski wrote a 10-page film treatment for Ed Wood and pitched the idea to Heathers director Michael Lehmann, with whom they attended USC film school. The basis for their treatment came from Rudolph Grey's Nightmare of Ecstasy, a full-length biography, which draws on interviews from Wood's family and colleagues. Lehmann presented their treatment to his producer on Heathers, Denise Di Novi. Di Novi had previously worked with Tim Burton on Edward Scissorhands, Batman Returns and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and a deal was struck with Lehmann as director and Burton and Di Novi producing.
Burton began reading Nightmare of Ecstasy and some of Wood's letters. He was taken by how he "wrote about his films as if he was making Citizen Kane, you know, whereas other people perceived them as, like, the worst movies ever". Burton admits to having always been a fan of Ed Wood, which is why the biopic is filmed with an aggrandizing bias borne of his admiration for Wood's work, rather than the derisive attitude of Wood's detractors. The relationship between Wood and Lugosi in the script echoes closely Burton's relationship with his own idol and two-time colleague, Vincent Price. He said in an interview, "Meeting Vincent had an incredible impact on me, the same impact Ed must have felt meeting and working with his idol." Meanwhile, Burton had been asked to direct Mary Reilly for Columbia Pictures with Winona Ryder in the title role.
However, Burton dropped out of Mary Reilly over Columbia's decision to fast track the film and their interest with Julia Roberts in the title role instead of Ryder. This prompted Burton to become interested in directing Ed Wood himself, on the understanding that it could be done quickly. Lehmann said, "Tim wanted to do this movie immediately and direct, but I was already committed to Airheads." Lehmann was given executive producer credit. Alexander and Karaszewski delivered a 147-page screenplay in six weeks. Burton read the first draft and immediately agreed to direct the film as it stood, without any changes or rewrites. Ed Wood gave Burton the opportunity to make a film that was more character-driven as opposed to style-driven. He said in an interview, "On a picture like this I find you don't need to storyboard. You're working mainly with actors, and there's no effects going on, so it's best to be more spontaneous."
Initially, Ed Wood was in development with Columbia, but when Burton decided he wanted to shoot the film in black-and-white, studio head Mark Canton would not agree to it unless Columbia was given a first-look deal. Burton said black-and-white was "right for the material and the movie, and this was a movie that had to be in black-and-white". He insisted on total creative control, and so in April 1993, a month before the original start date, Canton put Ed Wood into turnaround. The decision sparked interest from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures and 20th Century Fox in optioning the film rights, but Burton accepted an offer from Walt Disney Studios, who had previously produced The Nightmare Before Christmas. Similar to Nightmare, Disney released Ed Wood under their Touchstone Pictures banner. With a budget of $18 million, Disney did not feel the film was that much of a risk, and granted Burton total creative autonomy. Burton also refused a salary, and was not paid for his work on Ed Wood. Principal photography began in August 1993, and lasted 72 days. Despite his previous six-film relationship with Danny Elfman, Burton chose Howard Shore to write the film score. Under the pressure of finishing the score for Batman Returns, Burton's relationship with Elfman became strained and Burton admitted he and Elfman experienced "creative differences" during The Nightmare Before Christmas.
The movie was filmed at various locations in and around the Los Angeles area.
When describing the film's accuracy, Burton explained, "it's not like a completely hardcore realistic biopic. In doing a biopic you can't help but get inside the person's spirit a little bit, so for me, some of the film is trying to be through Ed a little bit. So it's got an overly optimistic quality to it." Burton acknowledged that he probably portrayed Wood and his crew in an exaggeratedly sympathetic way, stating he did not want to ridicule people who had already been ridiculed for a good deal of their life. Burton decided not to depict the darker side of Wood's life because his letters never alluded to this aspect and remained upbeat. To this end, Burton wanted to make the film through Wood's eyes. He said in an interview, "I've never seen anything like them, the kind of bad poetry and redundancy– saying in, like, five sentences what it would take most normal people one ... Yet still there is a sincerity to them that is very unusual, and I always found that somewhat touching; it gives them a surreal, weirdly heartfelt feeling."
According to Bela G. Lugosi (his son), Forrest Ackerman, Dolores Fuller and Richard Sheffield, the film's portrayal of Lugosi is inaccurate: in real life, he never used profanity, owned small dogs, or slept in coffins. Additionally, contrary to what was presented in the film, Bela did not struggle performing on The Red Skelton Show.
Burton biographer Ken Hanke criticized the depiction of Dolores Fuller. "The real Fuller is a lively, savvy, humorous woman," Hanke said, "while Parker's performance presents her as a kind of sitcom moron for the first part of the film and a rather judgmental and wholly unpleasant character in her later scenes." During her years with Wood, Fuller had regular TV jobs on Queen for a Day and The Dinah Shore Show, which are not mentioned. Fuller criticized Parker's portrayal and Burton's direction, but still gave Ed Wood a positive review. "Despite the dramatic liberties, I think Tim Burton is fabulous. I wished they could have made it a deeper love story, because we really loved each other. We strove to find investors together, I worked so hard to support Ed and I."
Ed Wood had its premiere at the 32nd New York Film Festival at the Lincoln Center. The film was then shown shortly after at the 21st Telluride Film Festival and later at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival, where it was in competition for the Palme d'Or.
The DVD edition of Ed Wood initially had difficulty reaching store shelves in the United States and Canada due to unspecified legal issues. The initial release had a featurette on transvestites — not relating to the film or its actors in any way — which was removed from subsequent releases. An initial street date of August 13, 2002 was announced only to be postponed. A new date of February 3, 2003 was set, only for it to be recalled again without explanation, although some copies quickly found their way to collectors' venues such as eBay. The DVD was finally released on October 19, 2004.
Ed Wood had its limited release on September 30, 1994. It went into wide release on October 7, 1994 (just three days before what would have been Wood's 70th birthday) in 623 theaters. The film grossed $1,903,768 in its opening weekend. The film went on to gross $5,887,457 domestically, much less than the production budget of $18 million.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 7.94/10. The website's critical consensus states, "Tim Burton and Johnny Depp team up to fête the life and work of cult hero Ed Wood, with typically strange and wonderful results." On Metacritic the film has a weighted average score of 70 out of 100, based on 19 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Roger Ebert gave a largely positive review: "What Burton has made is a film which celebrates Wood more than it mocks him, and which celebrates, too, the zany spirit of 1950s exploitation films, in which a great title, a has-been star and a lurid ad campaign were enough to get bookings for some of the oddest films ever made." Ebert and Gene Siskel gave the film "Two Thumbs Up" on Siskel and Ebert, with Siskel calling it "a tribute to creative passion and also to friendship" and "one of the year's very best".
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised Burton's decision to not make a direct satire or parody of Wood's life. "Ed Wood is Burton's most personal and provocative movie to date," he wrote. "Outrageously disjointed and just as outrageously entertaining, the picture stands as a successful outsider's tribute to a failed kindred spirit."
Janet Maslin, writing in The New York Times, thought Johnny Depp "proved" himself as an established "certified great actor". "Depp captures all the can-do optimism that kept Ed Wood going, thanks to an extremely funny ability to look at the silver lining of any cloud." Todd McCarthy from Variety called Ed Wood "a fanciful, sweet-tempered biopic about the man often described as the worst film director of all time. Always engaging to watch and often dazzling in its imagination and technique, picture is also a bit distended, and lacking in weight at its center. The result is beguiling rather than thrilling."
Richard Corliss, writing in Time magazine, gave a negative review. "The script by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski posits Wood as a classic American optimist, a Capraesque hero with little to be optimistic about, since he was also a classic American loser. That's a fine start, but the film then marches in staid chronological order." Corliss continued, "One wonders why this Burton film is so dishwatery, why it lacks the cartoon zest and outsider ache of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or Batman Returns."
- 1st – Dan Craft, The Pantagraph
- 3rd – Gene Siskel, The Chicago Tribune
- 4th – Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
- 4th – Joan Vadeboncoeur, Syracuse Herald American
- 5th – National Board of Review
- 5th – Scott Schuldt, The Oklahoman
- 5th – Michael Mills, The Palm Beach Post
- 6th – Glenn Lovell, San Jose Mercury News
- 6th – David Elliott, The San Diego Union-Tribune
- 7th – Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
- 7th – Robert Denerstein, Rocky Mountain News
- 7th – Christopher Sheid, The Munster Times
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically, not ranked) – Mike Clark, USA Today
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically, not ranked) – Mike Mayo, The Roanoke Times
- Top 10 (listed alphabetically, not ranked) – William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
- Top 10 Runner-ups – Bob Ross, The Tampa Tribune
- Best "sleepers" (not ranked) – Dennis King, Tulsa World
- Top 10 runner-ups (not ranked) – Janet Maslin, The New York Times
- Honorable mention – Betsy Pickle, Knoxville News-Sentinel
- Honorable mention – George Meyer, The Ledger
- Honorable mention – Bob Carlton, The Birmingham News
Ed Wood was nominated for three Golden Globes: Best Musical or Comedy, Johnny Depp for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy and Martin Landau for Best Supporting Actor. Landau won in his category, while Depp lost to Hugh Grant (for Four Weddings and a Funeral). Landau and Rick Baker won Academy Awards for their work on the film. Landau also won Best Supporting Actor at the first Screen Actors Guild Awards. Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski were nominated for Best Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen by the Writers Guild of America, which was a surprise as few predicted that it would be considered.