An elderly woman tells her granddaughter the story of a young man named Edward who has scissor blades for hands. As the creation of an old Inventor, Edward is an artificially created human who is almost completed. The Inventor homeschools Edward, but suffers a fatal heart attack before he could attach hands to Edward.
Some years later, Peg Boggs, a local Avon door-to-door saleswoman, visits the decrepit Gothic mansion where Edward lives. She finds Edward alone and offers to take him to her home after discovering he is virtually harmless. Peg introduces Edward to her family: her husband Bill, their young son Kevin, and their teenage daughter Kim. Despite their initial fear of Edward, they come to see him as a kind person.
The Boggs' neighbors are curious about their new house guest, and the Boggs throw a neighborhood barbecue welcoming Edward. Most of the neighbors are fascinated by Edward and befriend him, except for the eccentric religious fanatic Esmeralda and Kim's boyfriend Jim. Edward repays the neighborhood for their kindness by trimming their hedges into topiaries. This leads him to discover he can groom dogs' hair, and later he styles the hair of the neighborhood women. One of the neighbors, Joyce, offers to help Edward open a hair salon. While scouting a location, Joyce attempts to seduce Edward, but scares him away. Joyce tells the neighborhood women that he attempted to seduce her, reducing their trust in him. The bank refuses to give Edward a loan as he does not have a background or financial history.
Jealous of Kim's attraction to Edward, Jim suggests Edward pick the lock on his parents' home to obtain a van for Jim and Kim. Edward agrees, but when he picks the lock, a burglar alarm is triggered. Jim flees and Edward is arrested. The police determine that his period of isolation has left Edward without any sense of reality or common sense. Edward takes responsibility for the robbery, telling a surprised Kim he did it because she asked him to. Edward is shunned by the neighborhood except for the Boggs.
During Christmas, Edward carves an angelic ice sculpture modeled after Kim; the ice shavings are thrown into the air and fall like snow, a rarity for the neighborhood. Kim dances in the snowfall. Jim arrives and calls out to Edward, surprising him and causing him to accidentally cut Kim's hand. Jim accuses Edward of intentionally harming Kim, but Kim, fed up with Jim's jealousy, breaks up with him. Edward runs off in a rage, destroying his works until he is calmed by a stray dog. Kim tells her parents what happened, and they set out to find Edward. Edward returns to the Boggs home to find Kim and Kevin there. Kim tries apologizing for Jim's behavior and asks him to hold her, but Edward fears he will hurt her. Jim drives around in a drunken rage and nearly runs over Kevin, but Edward pushes Kevin to safety, inadvertently cutting him. Jim tells those witnessing the event that Edward is attacking Kevin, and he tries attacking Edward. Edward defends himself, cutting Jim's arm, and then flees to the mansion.
Kim races after Edward, while Jim obtains a handgun and follows Kim. In the mansion, Jim ambushes Edward and fights with him; Edward refuses to fight back until he sees Jim slap Kim as she attempts to intervene. Enraged, Edward stabs Jim in the stomach and pushes him from a window of the mansion, killing him. Kim confesses her love to Edward and kisses him before departing. As the police and neighbors gather, Kim leads them to believe that Jim and Edward killed each other.
The elderly woman finishes telling her granddaughter the story, revealing that she is Kim and saying that she never saw Edward again. She prefers not to visit him because decades have passed and she wants him to remember her as she was in her youth. She thinks Edward is still alive, immortal because he is artificial, and because of the "snow" which Edward creates when carving ice sculptures.
The genesis of Edward Scissorhands came from a drawing by then-teenaged director Tim Burton, which reflected his feelings of isolation and being unable to communicate to people around him in suburban Burbank. The drawing depicted a thin, solemn man with long, sharp blades for fingers. Burton stated that he was often alone and had trouble retaining friendships. "I get the feeling people just got this urge to want to leave me alone for some reason, I don't know exactly why." During pre-production of Beetlejuice, Burton hired Caroline Thompson, then a young novelist, to write the Edward Scissorhands screenplay as a spec script. Burton was impressed with her short novel, First Born, which was "about an abortion that came back to life". Burton felt First Born had the same psychological elements he wanted to showcase in Edward Scissorhands. "Every detail was so important to Tim because it was so personal", Thompson remarked. She wrote Scissorhands as a "love poem" to Burton, calling him "the most articulate person I know, but couldn't put a single sentence together".
Shortly after Thompson's hiring, Burton began to develop Edward Scissorhands at Warner Bros., with whom he worked on Pee-wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice. However, within a couple of months, Warner sold the film rights to 20th Century Fox. Fox agreed to finance Thompson's screenplay while giving Burton complete creative control. At the time, the budget was projected to be around $8–9 million. When writing the storyline, Burton and Thompson were influenced by Universal Horror films, such as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931), and Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), as well as King Kong (1933) and various fairy tales. Burton originally wanted to make Scissorhands as a musical, feeling "it seemed big and operatic to me", but later dropped the idea. Following the enormous success of Batman, Burton arrived to the status of being an A-list director. He had the opportunity to do any film he wanted, but rather than fast track Warner Bros.' choices for Batman Returns or Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, Burton opted to make Edward Scissorhands for Fox.
Although Winona Ryder was the first cast member attached to the script, Dianne Wiest was the first to sign on. "Dianne, in particular, was wonderful", Burton said. "She was the first actress to read the script, supported it completely and, because she is so respected, once she had given it her stamp of approval, others soon got interested". When it came to casting the lead role of Edward, several actors were considered; Fox was insistent on having Burton meet with Tom Cruise. "He certainly wasn't my ideal, but I talked to him", Burton remembered. "He was interesting, but I think it worked out for the best. A lot of questions came up". Cruise asked for a "happier" ending. Gary Oldman and Tom Hanks turned down the part, the latter in favor of critical and commercial flop The Bonfire of the Vanities. Oldman declined as he found the story absurd, but said of the finished film: "Literally two minutes in, I went, 'Yeah, I get it'. I just got it too late." Jim Carrey was also considered for the role, while Thompson favored John Cusack. Elsewhere, William Hurt, Robert Downey Jr. and musician Michael Jackson expressed interest, although Burton neglected to converse with Jackson.
Though Burton was unfamiliar with Johnny Depp's then-popular performance in 21 Jump Street, he had always been Burton's first choice. At the time of his casting, Depp was wanting to break out of the teen idol status which his performance in 21 Jump Street had afforded him. When he was sent the script, Depp "wept like a newborn" and immediately found personal and emotional connections with the story. In preparation for the role, Depp watched many Charlie Chaplin films to study the idea of creating sympathy without dialogue. Fox studio executives were so worried about Edward's image, that they tried to keep pictures of Depp in full costume under wraps until release of the film. Burton approached Ryder for the role of Kim Boggs based on their positive working experience in Beetlejuice. Drew Barrymore previously auditioned for the role. Crispin Glover auditioned for the role of Jim before Anthony Michael Hall was cast.
Kathy Baker saw her part of Joyce, the neighbor who tries to seduce Edward, as a perfect chance to break into comedy. Alan Arkin says when he first read the script, he was "a bit baffled. Nothing really made sense to me until I saw the sets. Burton's visual imagination is extraordinary". The role of The Inventor was written specifically for Vincent Price, and would ultimately be his final feature film role. Burton commonly watched Price's films as a child, and, after completing Vincent, the two became good friends. Robert Oliveri was cast as Kevin, Kim's younger brother. Nick Carter from The Backstreet Boys plays an uncredited role as the blond boy playing on the Slip 'n Slide as Edward rides in Peg's car through suburbia.
Burbank, California was considered as a possible location for the suburban neighborhoods, but Burton believed the city had become too altered since his childhood so the Tampa Bay Area of Florida, including the town of Lutz and the Southgate Shopping Center of Lakeland was chosen for a three-month shooting schedule. The production crew found, in the words of the production designer Bo Welch, "a kind of generic, plain-wrap suburb, which we made even more characterless by painting all the houses in faded pastels, and reducing the window sizes to make it look a little more paranoid." The key element to unify the look of the neighborhood was Welch's decision to repaint each of the houses in one of four colors, which he described as "sea-foam green, dirty flesh, butter, and dirty blue". The facade of the Gothic mansion was built just outside Dade City. Filming Edward Scissorhands created hundreds of (temporary) jobs and injected over $4 million into the Tampa Bay economy. Production then moved to a Fox Studios sound stage in Century City, California, where interiors of the mansion were filmed.
To create Edward's scissor hands, Burton employed Stan Winston, who would later design the Penguin's prosthetic makeup in Batman Returns. Depp's wardrobe and prosthetic makeup took one hour and 45 minutes to apply. The giant topiaries that Edward creates in the film were made by wrapping metal skeletons in chicken wire, then weaving in thousands of small plastic plant sprigs. Rick Heinrichs worked as one of the art directors.
Edward Scissorhands is the fourth feature film collaboration between director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. The orchestra consisted of 79 musicians. Elfman cites Scissorhands as epitomizing his most personal and favorite work. In addition to Elfman's music, three Tom Jones songs also appear: "It's Not Unusual", "Delilah" and "With These Hands". "It's Not Unusual" would later be used in Mars Attacks! (1996), another film of Burton's with music composed by Elfman.
Burton acknowledged that the main themes of Edward Scissorhands deal with self-discovery and isolation. Edward is found living alone in the attic of a Gothic castle, a setting that is also used for main characters in Burton's Batman and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Edward Scissorhands climaxes much like James Whale's Frankenstein and Burton's own Frankenweenie. A mob confronts the "evil creature", in this case, Edward, at his castle. With Edward unable to consummate his love for Kim because of his appearance, the film can also be seen as being influenced by Beauty and the Beast. Edward Scissorhands is a fairy tale book-ended by a prologue and an epilogue featuring Kim Boggs as an old woman telling her granddaughter the story, augmenting the German Expressionism and Gothic fiction archetypes.
Burton explained that his depiction of suburbia is "not a bad place. It's a weird place. I tried to walk the fine line of making it funny and strange without it being judgmental. It's a place where there's a lot of integrity." Kim leaves her jock boyfriend (Jim) to be with Edward, an event that many have postulated as Burton's revenge against jocks he encountered as a teenager in suburban Burbank, CA. Jim is subsequently killed, a scene that shocked a number of observers who felt the whole tone of the film had been radically altered. Burton referred to this scene as a "high school fantasy".
Test screenings for the film were encouraging for 20th Century Fox. Joe Roth, then president of the company, considered marketing Edward Scissorhands on the scale of "an E.T.-sized blockbuster," but Roth decided not to aggressively promote the film in that direction. "We have to let it find its place. We want to be careful not to hype the movie out of the universe," he reasoned. Edward Scissorhands had its limited release in the United States on December 7, 1990. The wide release came on December 14, and the film earned $6,325,249 in its opening weekend in 1,372 theaters. Edward Scissorhands eventually grossed $56,362,352 in North America, and a further $29,661,653 outside North America, coming to a worldwide total of $86.02 million. With a budget of $20 million, the film was declared to be a box office success. The New York Times wrote "the chemistry between Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, who were both together in real life at the time (1989–1993), gave the film teen idol potential, drawing younger audiences."
Edward Scissorhands received acclaim from critics and audiences. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that the film holds an 89% approval rating, based on 56 reviews, with an average score of 7.7/10. The site's consensus reads: "The first collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Edward Scissorhands is a magical modern fairy tale with gothic overtones and a sweet center." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 77 (out of 100) based on 19 reviews from mainstream critics, considered to be "generally favorable". CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a "A-" grade.
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised the piece by stating, "Burton's richly entertaining update of the Frankenstein story is the year's most comic, romantic and haunting film fantasy." He continued by praising Depp's performance stating, "Depp artfully expresses the fierce longing in gentle Edward; it's a terrific performance" and the "engulfing score" from Danny Elfman. Staff of Variety spoke highly of the film, "Director [Burton] takes a character as wildly unlikely as a boy whose arms end in pruning shears, and makes him the center of a delightful and delicate comic fable."
Marc Lee of The Daily Telegraph scored the film five out of five stars, writing, "Burton's modern fairytale has an almost palpably personal feel: it is told gently, subtly and with infinite sympathy for an outsider who charms the locals but then inadvertently arouses their baser instincts." whilst additionally adding praise to Depp's performance, "[Depp] is sensational in the lead role, summoning anxiety, melancholy and innocence with heartbreaking conviction. And it's all in the eyes: his dialogue is cut-to-the-bone minimal."
Desson Thomson of The Washington Post wrote, "Depp is perfectly cast, Burton builds a surrealistically funny cul-de-sac world, and there are some very funny performances from grownups Dianne Wiest, Kathy Baker and Alan Arkin." Rita Kempley of The Washington Post granted the film praise, "Enchantment on the cutting edge, a dark yet heartfelt portrait of the artist as a young mannequin." She too praised Depp's performance in stating, "... nicely cast, brings the eloquence of the silent era to this part of few words, saying it all through bright black eyes and the tremulous care with which he holds his horror-movie hands.
Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A-" rating and praised it in "The romanticism has a personal dimension – for Edward is, of course, Burton's surreal portrait of himself as an artist: a wounded child converting his private darkness into outlandish pop visions. Like Edward, he finds the light." He also commented very positively on character of Edward, "... who is Burton's purest achievement as a director so far." Of Depp he wrote, "Depp may not be doing that much acting beneath his neo-Kabuki makeup, but what he does is tremulous and affecting." As well as Eflman's score of the piece by saying it to be, "[A] lovely, storybook score highlights the pop romanticism of Burton's conception. The romanticism has a personal dimension."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Burton invests awe-inspiring ingenuity into the process of reinventing something very small."
Stan Winston and Ve Neill were nominated the Academy Award for Best Makeup, but lost to John Caglione, Jr. and Doug Drexler for their work on Dick Tracy. Production designer Bo Welch won the BAFTA Award for Best Production Design, while costume designer Colleen Atwood, and Winston and Neil also received nominations at the British Academy Film Awards. In addition, Winston was nominated for his visual effects work. Depp was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy, but lost to Gérard Depardieu of Green Card. Edward Scissorhands was able to win the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Fantasy Film. Danny Elfman, Ryder, Dianne Wiest, Alan Arkin, and Atwood received individual nominations. Elfman was also given a Grammy Award nomination.
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:2005: AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
2008: AFI's 10 Top 10:
Nominated Fantasy Film
Burton cites Edward Scissorhands as epitomizing his most personal work. The film is also Burton's first collaboration with actor Johnny Depp and cinematographer Stefan Czapsky. In October 2008, the Hallmark Channel purchased the television rights. Metal band Motionless in White have a song entitled "Scissorhands (The Last Snow)", with its lyrics written about the film in homage to its legacy and impact on the gothic subculture. Scottish indie rock band The Twilight Sad named a mini-album Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did after a line spoken in the final scene of the film.
An extinct lobster-like sea creature called Kootenichela deppi is named after Depp because of its scissor-like claws.
Between 2014 and 2015 IDW publishing released an Edward Scissorhands series which serves as a sequel and takes place several decades after the film. The series consists of ten issues which have been collected in two trade paperbacks, it was written by Kate Leth and the art was done by Drew Rausch.
A theatrical ballet adaptation by the British choreographer Matthew Bourne premiered at Sadler's Wells Theatre in London in November 2005. After an 11-week season, the production toured the UK, Asia and the United States.
The British director Richard Crawford directed a stage adaptation of the Tim Burton film, which had its world premiere on June 25, 2010, at The Brooklyn Studio Lab and ended July 3.