The nightmare before christmas poster

The poster for the film's original theatrical release.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas is a 1993 stop-motion fantasy film, directed by Henry Selick and produced/co-written by Tim Burton. The movie originated as a poem written by Tim Burton in 1982, while he was working as a Disney animator. It was filmed in 1992.


In a magical place called Halloween Town, all of the town's citizens have gathered to celebrate their holiday and success after terrifying the world. However, Jack Skellington, the pumpkin king and most-acclaimed citizen of the town, a de-facto leader, has become tired of this holiday and no longer sees the point of scaring people. The night after the celebration he takes a long walk through the forest with his ghost dog Zero (who has a glowing pumpkin for a nose), where he finds doorways to other holidays. Intrigued by one showing a bright green tree with decorations, Jack opens the door and falls down a hole leading into Christmas Town. Amazed by the snow, color, and wonder he sees, Jack becomes fascinated with Christmas. Jack returns to Halloween Town and shows the citizens examples of Christmas items. He shows them Christmas trees, stockings, and the whole routine of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The townspeople are excited, but Jack worries they don't fully grasp the concepts he's trying to explain to them. In the crowd is Sally, a rag doll brought to life by the town scientist Dr. Finkelstein. She is secretly in love with Jack and too is awestruck by Christmas, but sees a vision of a burning Christmas tree and worries it is a bad sign. She informs Jack of her vision but he simply shrugs it off his shoulders and goes ahead in his plan.

Jack secludes himself in his lab, leaving the citizens of Halloween Town in troubled thoughts of what Jack is up to and if he's okay, and performs various experiments on Christmas-themed items in an attempt to find a way to explain it to his citizens. Jack's obsession escalates as his experiments fail, and he ultimately comes to the conclusion that not only could he imitate Christmas perfectly, but that he could improve upon it, and announces to the town they are taking over Christmas. Jack rallies the town to begin making Christmas presents, hires Dr. Finkelstein to animate skeletal reindeer for a sleigh, and charges Sally with knitting him a red and white Santa coat. As Christmas approaches and both Halloween Town and Christmas Town prepare for Christmas, Jack puts three tricks-or-treaters (Lock, Shock and Barrel) in charge of kidnapping Santa Claus from Christmas Town, but warns them not to include their master Oogie Boogie in any of their affairs. On Christmas Eve, everything is almost set when the three return with Santa. Jack tells Santa to "take the night off" and has the three take Santa back to their lair to keep him contained for the night. Instead, the three send Santa to Oogie Boogie, who plots to gamble with his life at stake.

Sally attempts to stop Jack by creating a thick fog, but Jack uses Zero's glowing red nose to light the way and directs the dog to the head of the sleigh. Jack takes off around the world and begins to deliver his terrifying presents with disastrous results, though he mistakes their screams for joy. A warning is put out on the news of a Santa Claus impersonator, and the citizens of Halloween Town rejoice, believing their Christmas a success. Sally rushes to save Santa Claus, but is captured by Oogie Boogie as well. Artillery cannons fire on Jack, destroying his sleigh, and both the police and the people of Halloween Town assume him dead. Waking up in a graveyard, Jack realizes his plans have ruined his Christmas, but is newly inspired about Halloween. Jack tears off his Santa suit and declares himself the pumpkin king again, then hurries back to Halloween Town to release Santa.

Jack enters Oogie Boogie's lair just as he's about to kill Santa and Sally. He is able to pull open a stitch in Oogie Boogie's clothing (for his skin is made out of cloth) and all the bugs that are inside Boogie's body start to fall out, rendering him helpless. Jack apologizes to Santa, who then races off to fix Christmas. Jack confronts Sally about her attempt to save Santa and realizes her feelings for him, as Lock, Shock and Barrel lead the Mayor to find Jack. Santa Claus is shown flying around the world, giving out real presents and removing the evil toys Jack had given out. Jack returns to his townpeople as Santa flies overhead. Santa and Jack wish each other "Happy Halloween" and "Merry Christmas" as Santa brings snow to the town. The residents of Halloween Town begin playing in the snow, and Jack follows Sally out of town. She climbs and sits atop a snow covered hill, and Jack joins her singing. They sing to each other and realize that they were meant to be together. As their hands touch, they embrace and kiss each other as Zero looks on. Then Zero flies up into the night, transformed into a star.


As director Tim Burton's upbringing in Burbank, California was associated with the feeling of solitude, the filmmaker was largely fascinated by holidays during his childhood. "Anytime there was Christmas or Halloween, [...] it was great. It gave you some sort of texture all of a sudden that wasn't there before", Burton would later recall. After completing his short film Vincent in 1982, then-Disney animator Burton wrote three-page poem titled The Nightmare Before Christmas, drawing inspiration from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and the poem A Visit from St. Nicholas. Burton intended to adapt the poem into a television special with the narration spoken by his favorite actor, Vincent Price, but also considered other options such as a children's book. He created concept art and storyboards for the project in collaboration with Rick Heinrichs, who also sculpted character models; Burton later showed his and Heinrichs' works-in-progress to Henry Selick, also a Disney animator at the time. After the success of Vincent, Disney started to consider developing The Nightmare Before Christmas as either a short film or 30-minute holiday television special. However, the project's development eventually stalled, as its tone seemed "too weird" to the company. As Disney was unable to "offer his nocturnal loners enough scope", Burton left the studio in 1984, and went on to produce the commercially successful films Beetlejuice and Batman.

Over the years, Burton's thoughts regularly returned to the project. In 1990, Burton found out that Disney still owned the film rights; he and Selick committed to produce a full-length film with the latter as director. Disney was looking forward to Nightmare "to show capabilities of technical and storytelling achievements that were present in Who Framed Roger Rabbit." Nightmare marked Burton's third film in a row to have a Christmas setting. Burton could not direct because of his commitment to Batman Returns and he did not want to be involved with "the painstakingly slow process of stop motion". To adapt his poem into a screenplay, Burton approached Michael McDowell, his collaborator on Beetlejuice. McDowell and Burton experienced creative differences, which convinced Burton to make the film as a musical with lyrics and compositions by frequent collaborator Danny Elfman. Elfman and Burton created a rough storyline and two-thirds of the film's songs, while Selick and his team of animators began production in July 1991 in San Francisco, California with a crew of over 120 workers, utilizing 20 sound stages for filming. Joe Ranft worked as a storyboard artist, while Paul Berry was hired as an animation supervisor. In total there were 109,440 frames taken for the movie.

Elfman found writing the film's songs as "one of the easiest jobs I've ever had. I had a lot in common with Jack Skellington." Caroline Thompson still had yet to be hired to write the screenplay. With Thompson's screenplay, Selick stated, "there are very few lines of dialogue that are Caroline's. She became busy on other films and we were constantly rewriting, reconfiguring and developing the film visually." The work of Ray Harryhausen, Ladislas Starevich, Edward Gorey, Charles Addams, Jan Lenica, Francis Bacon and Wassily Kandinsky influenced the filmmakers. Selick described the production design as akin to a pop-up book. In addition, Selick stated, "When we reach Halloween Town, it's entirely German Expressionism. When Jack enters Christmas Town, it's an outrageous Dr. Seuss-esque setpiece. Finally, when Jack is delivering presents in the 'Real World', everything is plain, simple and perfectly aligned."

On the direction of the film, Selick reflected, "It's as though he [Burton] laid the egg, and I sat on it and hatched it. He wasn't involved in a hands-on way, but his hand is in it. It was my job to make it look like "a Tim Burton film", which is not so different from my own films." When asked on Burton's involvement, Selick claimed, "I don't want to take away from Tim, but he was not in San Francisco when we made it. He came up five times over two years, and spent no more than eight or ten days in total." Walt Disney Animation Studios contributed with some use of second-layering traditional animation. Burton found production somewhat difficult because he was directing Batman Returns and in pre-production of Ed Wood.

Character design

The filmmakers constructed 227 puppets to represent the characters in the movie, with Jack Skellington having "around four hundred heads", allowing the expression of every possible emotion. Sally's mouth movements "were animated through the replacement method. During the animation process, [...] only Sally's face 'mask' was removed in order to preserve the order of her long, red hair. Sally had ten types of faces, each made with a series of eleven expressions (e.g. eyes open and closed, and various facial poses) and synchronised mouth movements."

The stop motion figurine of Jack Skellington was reused in James and the Giant Peach (also directed by Selick) as a dead pirate captain.


The owners of the franchise have undertaken an extensive marketing campaign of these characters across many media. In addition to the Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland featuring the film's characters, Jack Skellington, Sally, Pajama Jack and the Mayor have been made into Bendies figures, while Jack and Sally even appear in fine art. Moreover, Sally has been made into an action figure and a Halloween costume. Jack is also the titular character in the short story "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: Jack's Story".

Oddly enough, Jim Edwards actually contends that "Tim Burton's animated movie The Nightmare Before Christmas is really a movie about the marketing business. The movie's lead character, Jack Skellington, the chief marketing officer (CMO) for a successful company decides that his success is boring and he wants the company to have a different business plan."


The film's soundtrack album was released in 1993 by Walt Disney Records. For the film's 2006 re-release, a special edition of the soundtrack was released, featuring a bonus disc which contained covers of five of the film's songs by Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, and She Wants Revenge. Four original demo tracks by Elfman were also included.

In celebration of the film's 15th anniversary, on September 30, 2008, Disney released a cover album titled Nightmare Revisited, featuring artists such as Amy Lee, Flyleaf, Korn, Rise Against, Plain White T's, and the All-American Rejects.

American Gothic rock band London After Midnight featured a cover of "Sally's Song" on their 1998 album Oddities.

LiLi Roquelin did a French cover of "Sally's Song" which was released on her album Will you hate the rest of the world or will you renew your life? in 2010.

Another soundtrack released in 2003 was the Disneyland Haunted Mansion Holiday CD. Although most were not original songs from the movie, one song provided on the CD is a medley of "Making Christmas", "What's This?", and "Kidnap the Sandy Claws". Other songs included are original holiday songs changed to incorporate the theme of the movie. The last song on the list, however, is the soundtrack for the Disneyland Haunted Mansion Holiday ride.


The film's soundtrack album was released in 1993 by Walt Disney Records. For the film's 2006 re-release, a special edition of the soundtrack was released, featuring a bonus disc which contained covers of five of the film's songs by Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, Marilyn Manson, Fiona Apple, and She Wants Revenge. Four original demo tracks by Elfman were also included.

In celebration of the film's 15th anniversary, on September 30, 2008, Disney released a cover album titled Nightmare Revisited, featuring artists such as Amy Lee, Flyleaf, Korn, Rise Against, Plain White T's, and the All-American Rejects.


Critical response

The film has gone on to receive overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. Based on 72 reviews collected by Rotten Tomatoes, 96% of the critics enjoyed The Nightmare Before Christmas with the consensus of "a stunningly original and visually delightful work of stop-motion animation." By comparison, Metacritic calculated an average score of 77/100, based on 16 reviews. Roger Ebert gave a highly positive review for Nightmare. Ebert believed the film's visual effects were as revolutionary as Star Wars, taking into account that Nightmare was "filled with imagination that carries us into a new world".

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone called it a restoration of "originality and daring to the Halloween genre. This dazzling mix of fun and fright also explodes the notion that animation is kid stuff. ... It's 74 minutes of timeless movie magic." James Berardinelli stated "The Nightmare Before Christmas has something to offer just about everyone. For the kids, it's a fantasy celebrating two holidays. For the adults, it's an opportunity to experience some light entertainment while marveling at how adept Hollywood has become at these techniques. There are songs, laughs, and a little romance. In short, The Nightmare Before Christmas does what it intends to: entertain." Desson Thomson of The Washington Post enjoyed stylistic features in common with Oscar Wilde, German Expressionism, the Brothers Grimm and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Michael A. Morrison discusses the influence of Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas on the film, writing that Jack parallels the Grinch and Zero parallels Max, the Grinch's dog.[1] Philip Nel writes that the film "challenges the wisdom of adults through its trickster characters", contrasting Jack as a "good trickster" with Oogie Boogie, whom he also compares with Dr. Seuss' Dr. Terwilliker as a bad trickster.[2]Entertainment Weekly reports that fan reception of these characters borders on obsession, profiling Laurie and Myk Rudnick, a couple whose "degree of obsession with [the] film is so great that ... they named their son after the real-life person that a character in the film is based on."[3] This enthusiasm for the characters has also been profiled as having spread beyond North America to Japan.[4]

Yvonne Tasker notes "the complex characterization seen in The Nightmare Before Christmas".[5] Most recently, the film ranked #1 on Rotten Tomatoes' "Top 25 Best Christmas Movies" list.

Danny Elfman was worried the characterization of Oogie Boogie would be considered racist by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Elfman's predictions came true; however, director Henry Selick stated the character was inspired by the Betty Boop cartoon The Old Man of the Mountain. "Cab Calloway would dance his inimitable jazz dance and sing 'Minnie the Moocher' or 'Old Man of the Mountain', and they would rotoscope him, trace him, turn him into a cartoon character, often transforming him into an animal, like a walrus," Selick continued. "I think those are some of the most inventive moments in cartoon history, in no way racist, even though he was sometimes a villain. We went with Ken Page, who is a black singer, and he had no problem with it".

Box office

Around the release of the film, Disney executive David Hoberman was quoted, "I hope Nightmare goes out and makes a fortune. If it does, great. If it doesn't, that doesn't negate the validity of the process. The budget was less than any Disney blockbuster so it doesn't have to earn Aladdin-sized grosses to satisfy us." Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas was given a limited release on October 15, 1993, before being wide released on October 29. The film earned $50 million in the United States on its first theatrical run.

On October 20, 2006, Walt Disney Pictures reissued Nightmare (no longer under Touchstone) with conversion to Disney Digital 3-D. Industrial Light & Magic assisted in the process. It made a further $8.7 million in box office gross. Subsequently, the 3-D version of Nightmare has been re-released annually in October.[6] The 2007 and 2008 reissues earned a $14.5 million and $1.1 million, respectively, increasing the film's total box office gross to $74.7 million. The El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California showed the film in 4-D format from October 21–31, 2010. The reissues have led to a reemergence of 3-D films and advances in RealD Cinema.


The film was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects and the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Selick and the animators were also nominated for their work.

The American Film Institute nominated The Nightmare Before Christmas for its Top 10 Animated Films list.

Home video

With successful home video sales, The Nightmare Before Christmas achieved the ranks of a cult film. Touchstone Pictures released the film on DVD for the first time on December 3, 1997. It contained no special features.

The film was released on DVD again on October 3, 2000, this time as a "special edition" DVD release. This release included an audio commentary by director Henry Selick and cinematographer Pete Kozachik, a 28-minute making-of documentary, a gallery of concept art and storyboards, test footage, and deleted scenes. Burton's films Vincent and Frankenweenie were also included as bonus features.

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment released the film on DVD (again) and on Blu-ray (for the first time) on August 26, 2008, as a two-disc digitally remastered "collector's edition." Disney later released the film on Blu-ray 3D on August 30, 2011. This release was a 4-disc combo pack including a Blu-ray 3D disc, Blu-ray Disc, DVD, and digital copy of the film. For the film's 20th anniversary, Disney released new Blu-ray/DVD and Blu-ray 3D/DVD/Digital Copy combo packs of the movie on September 10, 2013. For the film's 25th anniversary, Disney released a new Blu-ray Of the movie on September 4, 2018.


In 2001, Walt Disney Pictures began to consider producing a sequel, but rather than using stop motion, Disney wanted to use computer animation. Burton convinced Disney to drop the idea. "I was always very protective of Nightmare not to do sequels or things of that kind," Burton explained. "You know, 'Jack visits Thanksgiving world' or other kinds of things just because I felt the movie had a purity to it and the people that like it... Because it's a mass-market kind of thing, it was important to kind of keep that purity of it." In 2009, Selick said he would do a film sequel if he and Burton could create a good story for it.

In 2005, The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie's Revenge, a sequel game developed by Capcom, was released for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Another game, a prequel titled The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Pumpkin King, was developed by Tose Co., Ltd. and was released for the Game Boy Advance around the same time. Characters from the film have also had prominent roles in Square Enix's Kingdom Hearts role-playing game series. In the majority of these games, Jack acts as a partner to the main character. A Jack Skellington figure was also released for use with Disney Infinity.

At Halloween, Disneyland decorates its streets in a Nightmare Before Christmas theme, and the Haunted Mansion attraction is redesigned with characters from the movie. This new attraction is called the Haunted Mansion Holiday, and remains in operation through Christmas. It takes ride goers on a what-if adventure of if Jack, as "Sandy Claws," had visited the Haunted Mansion on Christmas Eve, leaving holiday chaos in his wake.


Voice actor Character
Chris Sarandon Jack Skellington (speaking)
Clown with the Tear-Away Face
Danny Elfman Jack Skellington (singing)
Catherine O'Hara Sally
William Hickey Dr. Finkelstein
Patrick Stewart Narrator
Glenn Shadix The Mayor of Halloween Town
Ken Page Oogie Boogie
Ed Ivory Santa Claus
Paul Reubens Lock
Susan McBride Big Witch
Debi Durst Corpse Kid
Corpse Mom
Small Witch
Gregory Proops Harlequin Demon
Sax player
Kerry Katz Man Under the Bed
Corpse Dad
Carmen Twillie Man Under the Stairs
Undersea Gal





  1. Michael A. Morrison, Trajectories of the Fantastic: Selected Essays from the Fourteenth International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts (Greenwood Publishing Group, 1997), 154.
  2. Philip Nel, Dr. Seuss: American Icon (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004), 95.
  3. "Obsessive Fans of the Week!" in Entertainment Weekly 909 (12/1/2006): 6.
  4. Stephen Jones, The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror (Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2002), 75.
  5. Yvonne Tasker, Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers (Routledge, 2002), 76.
  6. "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas", Releases, Box Office Mojo, retrieved 18-09-2009

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