Old School Americana & Nostalgia


‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Director Reflects on Film’s Surprising Rise to Popularity

‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Director Reflects on Film’s Surprising Rise to Popularity

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a holiday classic in 2023. But when director Henry Selick first began working on the project, it faced several roadblocks that could’ve ruined its now infamous name. 

Creator Tim Burton spent more than a decade hoping to get the spooky tale to the screen. The concept originally came to his mind in 1982, when he was working as an animator with Disney Studios, according to CBR. The now legendary producer wrote the story as a poem and pitched it as a children’s TV special to his bosses. But they thought it was too scary and odd to sit under the Disney name, so they declined. 

Fast forward several years, and Burton had moved on from Disney and was creating hits like Edward Scissorhands and Beatlejuice. So he thought he’d earned some credibility, and he asked the studio to reconsider, and it did—very hesitantly. 

Despite Burton’s popularity, the studio was still worried The Nightmare Before Christmas would clash with its wholesome branding. But the execs recognized that Burton had a massive fanbase. So, they agreed to take on the project. But they hid it under the Touchstone name, which Disney owned at the time.

The Nightmare Before Christmas is Enjoying a 30th Anniversary Re-Release 

When the movie hit theaters, Disney didn’t spend much to back it. But when it started drawing crowds, everything changed. 

“There was very little merchandising at first, but then Disney realized the film’s growing in popularity, and they capitalized on that,” Selick told PEOPLE on October 13. “And then finally, Disney called it a Disney film because originally, they were afraid it was too strange, it would damage their brand, and it was released as a Touchstone film.” 

Interestingly, The Nightmare Before Christmas didn’t actually gain most of its fanbase until it left theaters and went to VHS. It was an instant critical success, but it earned a somewhat modest $50 million at the box office. By 2020, it had several more limited-time re-releases, which brought it over $90 million, reports Forbes. And it is currently enjoying a 30th-anniversary re-release that should push that number significantly higher. 

By all standards, the animated film is considered a cult classic today. And it is enjoying a new round of fame because its original fans are now sharing it with their own kids. 

“A lot of young people come up to me and say, ‘This was a movie that made me feel like I belonged,’ because it was so strange and at the same time so beautiful, and its message was so positive,” Jack Skellington actor Chris Sarandon told the publication. “And as it turns out, they, in turn, now are watching it with their children.”