In 1958, Margaret leaves her husband and takes her young daughter Jane to North Beach, San Francisco. Supporting her daughter alone, Margaret gets a job painting illustrations at a furniture factory. While creating portraits at an outdoor art show, Margaret meets Walter Keane, who is selling his Parisian street scene paintings. Soon, Walter proposes to her and they marry.
Walter goes to a popular jazz club and tries to convince the club's owner, Enrico Banducci, to purchase the couple's paintings. He only agrees to rent out the walls to Walter. A drunk woman is touched by one of Margaret's paintings and buys it. Walter fights with Banducci and ends up on the front page of the local newspaper. When Walter goes to the club again it is packed with curious people. Dick Nolan, a celebrity gossip columnist (who serves as the film's narrator), wants to know more about Walter's art, but is only interested in Margaret's paintings. Afterward, Walter shows Margaret all the money they have made from the sales. He tells her they are a great team: she can stay at home painting and he will sell her works.
Walter opens up his own Keane gallery, promoting the art as his own work, and sells reproductions. Margaret, however, is upset about Walter taking credit for her art, and feels guilty about lying to Jane about who is the real artist. Margaret decides to paint in a different style with elongated features and small eyes, so that she can honestly tell people she is also a painter.
Margaret and Walter move into a mansion. While going through a crate Margaret finds a stack of paintings of Parisian street scenes, but they are all signed by S. CENIC. She realizes Walter paints over the name of the original artist and claims the paintings as his own. When Margaret confronts Walter, he says he always wanted to be an artist, but never had the talent.
Walter learns of the New York World's Fair and demands Margaret paint something to put on display; she refuses and Walter threatens to have her killed. Jane discovers her mother working on the World's Fair painting "Tomorrow Forever". Jane tells her mother she always knew that she was the real artist.
At a party, Walter is angered after reading John Canaday's scathing review of the "Tomorrow Forever" exhibit and confronts Canaday. Back at home, Walter starts drunkenly throwing lit matches at Margaret and Jane. They run into the studio and lock the door, but Walter nearly sets the house on fire. Margaret runs away with Jane.
One year later, Margaret and Jane have settled in Honolulu, Hawaii. Walter will not agree to a divorce unless Margaret signs over the rights to every painting, and produces 100 more. Margaret agrees and continues sending paintings to California. Margaret is visited by two Jehovah's Witnesses who convince her that honesty is important. The next time Walter receives the paintings, they are signed "MDH Keane". On a Hawaiian radio show, Margaret reveals she is the real artist behind the paintings attributed to Walter, making national news. Nolan publishes Walter's claims that Margaret has "gone nuts". Margaret sues both Walter and the newspapers that printed his version of the story for libel and slander.
At the trial, reporters swarm the courthouse in Honolulu. The court quickly dismisses the libel lawsuit against the newspapers. Without a lawyer, Walter defends himself against slander, even cross-examining himself as a "witness". The judge directs both Margaret and Walter to create a painting in one hour to prove who is the real artist. Margaret paints steadily, but Walter is hesitant, claiming his arm hurts too much to hold a paintbrush. Margaret completes her painting and wins the lawsuit. Outside the courthouse, Margaret says she doesn’t care about money and just wants credit for her paintings. A fan asks her to sign a copy of "Tomorrow's Masters" and she does, finally autographing her own work.Amy Adams as Margaret Keane
Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane
Danny Huston as Dick Nolan
Jon Polito as Enrico Banducci
Krysten Ritter as DeeAnn
Jason Schwartzman as Ruben
Terence Stamp as John Canaday
Madeleine Arthur as Jane
Delaney Raye as a young Jane
Writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski negotiated over the life rights with Margaret Keane, and wrote Big Eyes as a spec script. In October 2007, it was announced that development was moving forward with Alexander and Karaszewski directing their script, and nightclub operator Andrew Meieran fully financing an under-$20 million budget, through his Bureau of Moving Pictures banner. Kate Hudson and Thomas Haden Church were set to star, and filming was to begin in June 2008, but was pushed back over prospects from a new Screen Actors Guild contract.
In September 2010, it was announced that Tim Burton had also become involved as producer for the film. Principal photography was scheduled to start in April 2012, with Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Reynolds attached to star. By 2013, Burton had taken over directing and Big Eyes was set up at The Weinstein Company, with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz starring. Filming began in July 2013.
Big Eyes is Burton's first film since Edward Scissorhands to be edited by someone other than Chris Lebenzon, who had other commitments with Maleficent the same year.
It was reported in November 2014 that singer Lana Del Rey would contribute with two original songs to the soundtrack. The songs "Big Eyes" and "I Can Fly", which Lana Del Rey wrote and performed, were leaked in December 2014; the soundtrack album and both songs were officially released on December 23, 2014.
Big Eyes earned $3 million during its opening weekend and grossed $14.5 million in North America and $14.8 million internationally, for a worldwide total gross of $29.3 million.
Big Eyes received positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 72%, based on 167 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. The site's consensus reads: "Well-acted, thought-provoking, and a refreshing change of pace for Tim Burton, Big Eyes works both as a biopic and as a timelessly relevant piece of social commentary". On Metacritic, the film has a score of 62 out of 100, based on 40 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".