Film: Ed Wood

"Greetings, my friends! You are interested in the unknown. The mysterious. The unexplainable. That is why you are here. And now, for the first time, we are bringing you the full story of what happened. We are giving you all the evidence based only on the secret testimony of the miserable souls who survived this terrifying ordeal. The incidents, faces. My friends, we cannot keep this a secret any longer. Can your heart stand the shocking facts of the true story of Edward D. Wood Jr.?"

Ed Wood (1994) is a biopic directed by Tim Burton about the career of Edward D Wood Jr., generally acknowledged as being the worst film director in the history of Hollywood. It focuses on a brief period in Wood's life, going from his early days of putting on terrible plays, to the completion of his magnum opus Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Despite being a movie about a terrible director, the film is notable for portraying Wood as a highly sympathetic character, helped immensely through Johnny Depp's portrayal of Wood as a wide-eyed, endearingly optimistic naif. Wood's experiences also echo those of most artists, and the film depicts Wood struggling to retain his artistic vision (as myopic as it is) despite interference from various, unlikely financial backers. It also deals with Wood coming to terms with his own closet transvestism.

This film is also notable for its depiction of the friendship between Wood and fading Horror star Bela Lugosi, memorably played by Martin Landau. Landau would go on to bag a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.

The film was written by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski and was the first of their three "Anti-Great Man" movies, followed by The People Vs Larry Flynt and Man on the Moon, about Andy Kaufman.


  • Adapted Out: The movie makes no mention of Alex Gordon, who co-wrote Bride of the Monster with Wood. Nor does it mention Jailbait, a thriller also co-written with Gordon that Wood made between Glen or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster and was also the film debut of the late Steve Reeves, the ruggedly handsome champion bodybuilder who went on to become a B-movie cult icon thanks to his portrayal of the mythical demigod hero Hercules in Hercules and Hercules Unchained (which helped kick off the sword and sandal boom in Italy in the late 50s and early 60s).
  • The Alleged Car: Wood's car, complete with dieseling effects at shutdown.
  • Associated Composer: Averted. This is one of only two Tim Burton films that Danny Elfman did not score (the other is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street).
  • Bad Bad Acting: This being a film about the life and work of Ed Wood, you can expect plenty of this.
    • The supreme irony, of course, being the critical acclaim heaped on the cast, most notably Martin Landau who would win the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for playing Bela Lugosi - an honor the real Lugosi, never mind anyone else associated with Ed Wood's films in the 1950s - never attained.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Bela and Ed Wood's friendship started with Bela being flattered by Ed's enthusiasm and admiration for him as an actor. What cemented it was despite how bad Ed's films are, he was willing to do it to at least help Bela get work.
  • Be Yourself: The point of the film is basically "love what you do, do what you love". Yeah Ed may be bad at making films, but it's a passion he undeniably loves doing and, even with all the setbacks, he still plows on.
  • Berserk Button:
  • Buxom Is Better: Bela on Vampira:
    Bela: I think she's a honey. Look at those jugs.
  • Camp Gay: Bunny.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ed Wood, through and through.
  • Death by Adaptation: Bela's wife Lillian was quite alive when Ed offered Bela work. In real life, Bela turned down Ed's $500 offer, but Lillian influenced him to accept the role in Glen or Glenda? for $1000.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: As a tribute to Ed Wood's movies. This creative decision met a lot of resistance from the studio suits.
  • Determinator: Wood is, if nothing else, a man of unparalleled drive and ambition, not letting anything up to and including complete lack of budget, dead actors, reluctant sponsors, or sheer lack of talent get in his way of portraying his artistic vision completely faithfully.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Ed towards movies.
  • Doing It for the Art: In-universe, a big reason of why Ed Wood grabs the audience's sympathy is his conviction that what he is doing is Art with a capital A. Being played by Johnny Depp helps too, obviously.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Lugosi's drug addiction.
  • Executive Meddling: In-universe: Ed Wood has to give in to the demands (sometimes reasonable, sometimes stupid) of whoever gives him the money for his pictures. Discussed and lampshaded during his meeting with Orson Welles, who suffers from the same problem.
  • Fat Idiot: Although the real-life Tor Johnson may not have been similar to the lumbering mooks he played in Wood's movies, this film portrays him as particularly dimwitted.
  • Giftedly Bad: The Movie of the trope.
  • Going Cold Turkey: Morphine withdrawal is not pretty.
  • Graceful Loser: No degree of failure can undermine Wood's artistic ambition.
  • Happily Ever Before: It ends at the premiere of Wood's "masterpiece" Plan 9, thus not cutting into his decay into exploitation, porn and alcoholism.
  • Historical In-Joke / Genius Bonus: Welles complaining about having to cast Charlton Heston as a Mexican is a reference to Touch of Evil, though its kind of anachronistic since Welles never had issues with the casting (none of the Mexican characters are played by Mexicans) and he was not a film-maker who went for Method Acting detail anyway.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Dolores Fuller comes off the worst in the movie. In real life, she lived with Ed out of wedlock (scandalous even in Hollywood back in the 50's) and adored Bela Lugosi (she was of Hungarian descent herself), cooking him goulash the way he liked it. She only left Ed because his alcoholism and transvestism were obviously not going to get better and wound up with a more successful entertainment career than the rest of his posse.
  • Hypocritical Humor:
    • Before Bela arrives to shoot Glen or Glenda, Wood tells the rest of the team to try not to be star-struck and just treat him like a normal guy. Once Bela actually enters, Ed gleefully shouts his name and races over.
    • During his conversation with Orson Welles, Ed rants that "And they always want to cast their buddies—it doesn't even matter if they're right for the part!" That, despite the fact that he's been casting out of his own social circle for his entire career.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Vampira is portrayed as something of a snob, but one can't help but see her point about not wanting to feature in an Ed Wood film.
  • Keet: Ed Wood.
  • Large Ham: Bela Lugosi is just as hammy when played by Martin Landau as he was in Ed Wood's real films, especially the "POOOOL DE STREEENK!!! POOOOL DE STREEEENK!!!" monologue in Glen or Glenda.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: On the scene when Loretta wants Ed to choose a dress, he can't decide, so she says to choose which one, the red or the green. Ed asks the director of photography to choose the red or the green dress, but he says he can't see the colors. And not because the movie is in black and white, but because he's colorblind.note  The look on Wood's face is priceless.
  • Magnetic Hero: Despite his films being bad, Ed attracted a close knit crew willing to stand by him - bordering on Manipulative Bastard.
    Bunny: How do you do it, Ed? How do you convince all your friends to get baptized just so you can make a monster movie?
  • Mistaken for Gay: A Running Gag. Each time Ed Wood's transvestism is brought up, he has to explain that he is "not a fruit" and "loves ladies".
    Vampira: I thought you were a fag.
    Ed: I'm not a fag, just a transvestite.
    • Truth in Film as transvestism is not necessarily related to homosexuality, a point Wood in real life tried to get across in Glen or Glenda.
  • invokedMoney, Dear Boy/Awesome, Dear Boy: Bela Lugosi's motivation for starring in Ed Wood's flicks goes from earning a quick buck to rediscovering the sheer joy of acting.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Lisa Marie as Vampira. Somewhat invoked in-movie by Bela's reaction to seeing her on TV.
  • MST3K Mantra: Wood attempts to invoke this in regard to the flaws of his films. It falls flat, since there's something of a difference between telling audiences not to worry about minor plot holes or technical problems, and telling them not to worry about obviously fake sets and unexplained day/night transitions.invoked
  • Nepotism: The meatpacker whom Ed gets to produce Bride of the Monster puts his son in the lead role.
  • Nice Guy: Ed is extremely generous and goodhearted, desperately trying to help his idol get back into the limelight.
  • Noodle Incident: "If it hadn't been for these men... I don't know... how I would've... survived."
  • invokedNo Budget: Par for the course for Ed's movies.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: Among other things, the infamous flying saucers from Plan 9.
  • Phony Psychic: Criswell.
  • The Pollyanna: Ed Wood, again.
  • Precision F-Strike: See "Berserk Button" above.
  • invokedProduction Posse: Each new Ed Wood film is made with more or less the same cast and an unchanging crew.
  • Professional Wrestling: Ed and friends attend a match, leading to Ed recruiting Tor Johnson for Bride of the Monster.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Wood's ersatz family of actors and crew become this as they go to sometimes ridiculous lengths to get their movies made, whether it's undertaking a group baptism or even going on a stealth mission at night to steal a prop octopus.
  • Real Person Cameo:
    • Conrad Brooks, an actor in Ed's company played in the movie by Brent Hinkley, himself appears as a bartender when Wood meets Orson Welles.
    • Gregory Walcott, the lead of Plan 9 from Outer Space, shows up as a potential backer of Bride of the Monster in the second go-round of fundraising.
  • Running Gag: Ed assuring people that Bela Lugosi is still alive. Though it ultimately turns serious when it happens again after Lugosi really is dead.
  • Same Language Dub: Maurice LaMarche, who is well-known for his Orson Welles impression (including in Pinky and the Brain), dubbed over Vincent D'Onofrio's dialogue, purportedly because Burton was dissatisfied with D'Onofrio (who certainly looked the part, but apparently didn't sound it). As a result, this is probably LaMarche's straightest-ever performance of Welles. D'Onofrio, meanwhile, shared Burton's dissatisfaction with his performance and would later release a short film (in which he does voice Welles) in order to improve on it.
  • So Bad, It's Good/Horrible: In-universe reactions to Ed Wood's work boil down to these two.
  • Stylistic Suck: Again, this was pretty much inevitable.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: Bela, when informed he'll have to wrestle with a rubber octopus that won't even move on its own.
    (sigh) "You know I turned down Frankenstein? ...After I did Dracula, the studio offered me Frankenstein, but I turned it down. That wasn't "sexy" enough. Too degrading for a big star like me...."
  • Took the Bad Film Seriously: In-universe: Ed Wood is unshakably convinced that his creations are fine cinema.
  • True Companions: By the end of the film you wonder whether Ed Wood's cast and crew stick with him because they genuinely believe in his vision, or because for them it's almost as if they are some deranged form of extended family.
  • Truth in Television: The colorblind stagehand being asked his opinion on the two dresses is intended to be a Medium Awareness gag about the film's black-and-white photography (actually used because nobody knew what Bela Lugosi looked like in color), but in the early days of black-and-white studio films, colorblind people were hired to determine how colored objects appeared in greyscale.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Ed listening to Bela fixing himself a heroin snack in his kitchen.
  • The Unintelligible: George "The Animal" Steele had to work with a voice coach to imitate Tor Johnson's voice (although the strange, booming voice he ended up using is somewhat removed from the genuine article). Tor's combination of Swedish accent and jowelly enunciation means he practically mangles every line that Ed Wood writes. Not that comprehension is a particularly great loss.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Various facts are manipulated throughout, with Wood's alcoholism and porno-making only brought up in the "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue. But fans of Wood still like this film on the grounds that, well, it comes across as the biopic he would have filmed about himself.
    • The film also implies that Bela didn't have the resources to get over his drug addiction and dies penniless and alone. In reality, Frank Sinatra helped finance his drug treatment and Bela married a woman who gave him emotional support during his stint at the hospital.
  • Viewers Are Morons: Subverted; while Wood shows a blatant disregard for things like visual continuity and set quality, and justifies this by saying that no-one really pays attention to the smaller details, he does so because he's projecting his own way of watching films onto the audiences, rather than considering them to be... well, morons.
  • Villainy-Free Villain: In the DVD commentary, even Burton himself points out that though the Baptist producers are antagonists in the film their point of view is entirely sympathetic and justifiable: They're justly concerned that Wood is spending their money making...well, Plan 9.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • White Dwarf Star: Bela Lugosi.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Ed is this all over.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Lampshaded by Ed Wood.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Johnny Depp in an angora sweater. Not many people are going to have a problem with that.