Follow TV Tropes


Film / Ed Wood

Go To

"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 is a 1994 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.

Often described as "the kind of biopic Ed Wood would make about himself," the film is notable for depicting cinema's most famously bad director 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 win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor 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).

Compare The Disaster Artist, a similarly comedic biopic about a similarly inept director.


  • 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 (1958) and Hercules Unchained (which helped kick off the sword and sandal boom in Italy in the late 50s and early 60s). Wood's first wife, Norma McCarty (who he was actually married to during filming of Plan 9 from Outer Space) did appear in earlier drafts of the script, but her subplot was cut from the final version.
    • Only two policemen appear in Plan 9 (Paul Marco and Conrad Brooks), and leaves out, among others, Lieutenant "Reckless Gun Usage" Harper (played by Duke Moore.)
  • The Alleged Car: Wood's car, complete with dieseling effects at shutdown.
  • Arc Words: "Gives/gave me the willies"- Vampira says it to describe Bela when presenting White Zombie, and later a nurse tells Bela this (not realizing who he is) when he commits himself for drug addiction.
  • Artistic License Film Production: Subverted, as he does do all those "simple mistakes". Except that he is shown shooting scenes out of order. He must have been awake that day in film school.
  • Artistic License History: And this is something Bela Lugosi's family took umbrage with. Despite how Martin Landau portrays him, Bela Lugosi was NOT prone to fits of swearing, especially in front of women.
    • The same could probably be said regarding his opinion of Boris Karloff. It's said that Lugosi occasionally became jealous of Karloff's greater success, but the two were at worst friendly rivals who enjoyed working together.
    • In the movie, Lugosi's funeral is only attended by Wood and his cohorts. In reality, it was attended by the likes of Karloff, Vincent Price and Peter Lorre (apparently, Tim Burton either didn't know, or forgot, that Price and Lorre are known for an Urban Legend where they discuss staking Lugosi's corpse just in case). Also, the movie leaves out the fact that Frank Sinatra quietly paid for his funeral and skips the burning of Lugosi's body (something he had specified in his will), instead showing his coffin going into the ground during his burial (in real life, he would've gone into the ground in an urn). At least Burton got the detail about him being dressed as Dracula right.
    • Sinatra also sent Lugosi money in hospital so he could finish his recovery treatment. In the movie, Lugosi is forced to leave the hospital early because his insurance doesn't cover the treatment.
    • Paul Marco and Bunny Breckenridge are both present from the opening of the film, with Wood meeting Criswell around the halfway point. In reality, it was Criswell who introduced Paul to Ed, and in turn introduced Wood to Bunny - his roommate at the time.
  • Associated Composer: Averted. This is one of only three Tim Burton films that Danny Elfman did not score, the other being Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Howard Shore used music from Wood's films, especially Glen or Glenda (which provides Wood's Leitmotif). note 
  • Audience Surrogate: The Baptists that finance Plan 9 from Outer Space are the most as they are baffled by Ed's directing ineptitude, bad casting, and point out blatant leaps in logic that everyone will notice.
  • 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:
  • Book Ends: The film begins and ends with Criswell.
  • Brutal Honesty: Ed of all people has a few moments in the movies. Always to reveal the shortcuts or desperation in his moviemaking process.
    Ed: Bela. I have 90 scenes to shoot tonight.
    Ed: Dolores, I have two days to complete this picture. Don't get goofy on me.
    Ed: Look, Lugosi's dead and Vampira won't talk. I had to give somebody the dialogue!
  • Buxom Beauty Standard: Bela on Vampira:
    Bela: I think she's a honey. Look at those jugs.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Ed Wood, through and through.
  • Color Blind Confusion: The film has Ed being forced by Loretta to choose between a red and a green dress, but when he can't decide asks the director of photography to choose one or the other, only for him to reply that he can't tell them apart. Doubles as both a Breaking the Fourth Wall joke as the movie is Deliberately Monochrome and a reference to Wood's real-life director of photography Bill Thompson, who was actually color blind.
  • Comedic Work, Serious Scene: This is less of a straight biopic and more of a comedy about making a B-movie. After learning his friend Bela Lugosi has died, Ed mourns him by watching and rewatching the last few minutes Ed filmed of him outside his house for Plan 9 from Outer Space. It's a very poignant moment, especially when Ed asks the projectionist to run the film again.
  • Crazy Dog Guy: Bela's "children of the night" are his many pet dogs. (...though in real life, Bela owned large, frightening, wolfhounds—-Rule of Funny?)
  • Death by Adaptation: Or separation rather; 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.
  • Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend: Orson Welles and Ed Wood commiserate over this, among other trials of the independent filmmaker, in a (sadly, probably apocryphal) classic scene.
  • 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. (In fact, Johnson was already an accomplished bit actor before Wood met him, and had lost his Swedish accent long ago).
  • Foreshadowing: Early in the movie, notice Ed Wood has movie posters of Dracula (1931) and Citizen Kane in his apartment. Ed ends up meeting both Bela Lugosi and Orson Welles.
  • Frying Pan of Doom: After Ed has given the leading actress role to Loretta King for his next movie Bride of the Monster, Dolores throws dishes and glasses at him. She even throws a frying pan on Ed's head for giving her as the role for the file clerk.
  • Gentle Giant: Tor Johnson is pretty imposing but comes off as a sweet guy, especially when he asks Bunny what happened to his operation.
  • 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.
  • High Hopes, Zero Talent: The writers described Ed Wood as "a man with all the drive and ambition of Orson Welles, but none of the talent".
  • 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. In addition, it was Welles who made the choice to change the character's nationality when Heston had already been cast.
  • 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 '50s) 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. His last words to Wood? "Ed-die, take good care of Do-lor-es." (They had broken up by that time.)
  • 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.
    • Bela has a low opinion of Boris Karloff's talent because of his portrayal of Frankenstein's monster. Bela had himself played the monster at least once.
  • In the Style of: Howard Shore's score recreates many of the musical cues from Ed Wood's films, such as the sweeping music from Glen or Glenda.
  • It Will Never Catch On: The Baptist producers suggest that since graverobbing is immoral, he should change the name of the film to Plan 9 From Outer Space. Wood's response? "That's ridiculous."note 
  • It's All My Fault: Bela confesses that he turned down Frankenstein because the role wasn't "sexy" enough; Ed callously ignores him and just tells him to start acting.
  • 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. On the DVD Commentary, the writers theorize that Ed not only didn't know his movies were bad but didn't even care. He just had so much fun making them.
  • 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.
  • Lighter and Softer: Closer with Tim Burton's earlier comedy films than his more recent Batman films. At least part of this is because of the backlash he received from how borderline nihilistic Batman Returns was.
  • 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?
    Ed: It's not a monster movie! It's a supernatural thriller!
  • Mirror Character: When Ed meets Orson Welles, it turns out that the two share similar problems with Executive Meddling, unreliable funding, Nepotism-driven casting decisions and people who think they know best.
  • 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: No, I'm just a transvestite.
    • Truth in Film: transvestism is not homosexuality, the point Wood 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.
    Bela: I think she's a honey. Look at those jugs!
  • MST3K Mantra: Wood attempts to invoke this in regard to the artistic 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 to overlook obviously fake sets/props 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: Bunny describing his disastrous trip to Mexico and the mariachi band he brought back with him: "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.
  • Only Sane Woman: Dolores, in a relative sense. Most so at the wrap party for Bride of the Monster when she finally calls everyone out, storms off, and tells Ed she's leaving him.
  • 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.
  • Rags to Riches: Subverted; Ed and crew are in poverty and Ed always expects riches to come out of his movies, but anyone who has watched his terrible (albeit amusing) movies knows that riches would never come. That doesn't stop Ed from being perpetually hopeful and upbeat throughout the movie.
  • 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 after people initially assumes he was dead. Though it ultimately turns serious when it happens again after Lugosi actually dies.
    • Lugosi's apparent jealousy of Boris Karloff.
    • As the movie progresses, Ed's car sounds more and more like it will break down at any moment.
  • Same Language Dub: Maurice LaMarche, who is well-known for his Orson Welles impression (including 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, but in the early days of black-and-white studio films, colorblind people were hired to determine how colored objects appeared in greyscale.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Bela Lugosi was the first celebrity to publicly announce that he admitted himself to rehabilitation for substance abuse. By 1994, however, tabloid stories of drugged-up celebrities getting clean were so common that the truncated "rehab" entered the public vernacular, while "rehabilitation" more often referred to people recovering from severe injuries. Because there were concerns about whether modern audiences would know the difference between the two, the film compromises by having Bela start to say "The first celebrity to be admitted to rehab-," before cutting himself off with a coughing fit.
  • 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.
    • Lugosi was very successful under Wood in another arena that wasn't shown in the film: Wood produced a popular Vegas stage show called The Bela Lugosi Revue. It had a scheduled limited run of 8 weeks; Lugosi doggedly worked three shows a day. Unfortunately, the Revue's true intention — to get Bela more film roles — didn't work out.
    • Depp's performance as Ed Wood — in terms of voice, mannerisms, and overall personality — has very little in common with the real Ed Wood. Burton told Depp to base his performance on Andy Hardy or Ronald Reagan, rather than studying actual footage of the man himself. Compare the parts of the film meant to represent Glen or Glenda with the actual film and it's pretty much night and day.
  • 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.
  • Wham Shot: When Bela Lugosi actually dies.
  • When Props Attack: The notorious rubber octopus incident from the filming of Bride of the Monster is dramatised within the film.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Well, White Dwarf Star: Bela Lugosi.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Ed is this all over.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Sorry, Ed, this doesn't excuse things like your low production values being painfully obvious onscreen or Plot Holes such as it being daytime one minute and the middle of the night the next.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Johnny Depp as Ed Wood in an angora sweater. Not many people are going to have a problem with that.
  • Your Costume Needs Work: A weird version, as a rehab nurse is startled by Bela, saying he looks like that Dracula guy.


Video Example(s):


Touchstone Pictures

Like the D.O.A., Dick Tracy and Ransom variants, the logo is in B&W. However, the animation is altered to have lightning strike the ball, forming the logo. The animation also appears to be much smoother, almost like it's shot on camera.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

Example of:

Main / LogoJoke

Media sources: