In a village in Victorian England, Victor Van Dort, the son of nouveau riche fish merchants, and Victoria Everglot, the neglected daughter of snobbish yet impoverished aristocrats, are preparing for their arranged marriage, which will simultaneously raise the social class of Victor's parents and restore the wealth of Victoria's penniless family. Both have concerns about marrying someone they do not know, but upon meeting for the first time, they fall for each other. After the shy Victor ruins the wedding rehearsal by forgetting his vows, he flees and practices his wedding vows in the nearby forest, placing the wedding ring on a nearby upturned tree root. The root turns out to be the finger of a murdered woman in a tattered bridal gown named Emily, who rises from the grave claiming that she is now Victor's wife. After fainting, Victor wakes up and finds himself spirited away to the Land of the Dead. The bewildered Victor learns the story of how Emily was murdered years ago by an unknown perpetrator on the night of her secret elopement.
Wanting to reunite with Victoria, Victor tricks Emily into taking him back to the Land of the Living by pretending he wants her to meet his parents. She agrees to this and takes him to see Elder Gutknecht, the kindly ruler of the underworld, to return Victor and Emily temporarily to the Land of the Living. Once back home, Victor asks Emily to wait in the forest while he rushes off to see Victoria and confess his wish to marry her as soon as possible, to which she gladly returns his feelings. Just as they are about to share a kiss, Emily arrives and sees the two of them together. Feeling betrayed and hurt, she angrily drags Victor back to the Land of the Dead. Victoria tells her parents that Victor has been forcibly wed to a dead woman, but no one believes her. With Victor gone, Victoria's parents decide to marry her off against her will to a presumed-wealthy newcomer in town named Lord Barkis Bittern, who appeared at the wedding rehearsal.
Victor apologizes to Emily for lying to her, and the two reconcile. Shortly after, Victor's recently deceased family coachman appears in the afterlife and informs Victor of Victoria's impending marriage to Barkis. He also overhears that, in order to validate Victor and Emily's marriage, Victor must repeat his vows in the Land of the Living and willingly drink the Wine of Ages, a poison, thus joining her in death. Fretting about having lost Victoria to another man, Victor agrees to die for Emily. All of the dead go "upstairs" to the Land of the Living to perform the wedding ceremony for Victor and Emily. Upon their arrival, the town erupts into a temporary panic until everyone recognizes their loved ones from the dead, and they have a joyous reunion.
After a quarrel with Barkis, and realizing he was only after her supposed wealth, Victoria follows the procession of dead to the church. Emily notices Victoria and realizes that she is denying Victoria her chance at happiness the same way it was stolen from her. She stops Victor from drinking the poison and reunites him with Victoria. Barkis interrupts them, and Emily recognizes him as her former fiancé, who is revealed to be the one who murdered her for her dowry. Barkis tries to kidnap Victoria at sword point, but Victor stops him and the two men duel; the dead townspeople are unable to interfere with the affairs of the living. Emily intercedes to save Victor, and Barkis mockingly proposes a toast to Emily, unknowingly drinking the cup of poison. The dead, able to intercede upon Barkis's death, eagerly take retribution against him by dragging him to the underworld where he will atone for his crimes. Victoria, now a widow, is once again able to marry Victor.
Emily frees Victor of his vow to marry her, giving the wedding ring back to Victor and her wedding bouquet to Victoria before exiting the church. As she steps into the moonlight, she transforms into hundreds of butterflies as Victor and Victoria look on wrapped in each other's embrace.
- Johnny Depp as Victor Van Dort, a shy and gawky young man who is engaged to Victoria Everglot for social and financial reasons.
- Helena Bonham Carter as Emily the Corpse Bride, a beautiful and charismatic young zombie woman with a passion for music and dance.
- Emily Watson as Victoria Everglot, Victor's pretty, sweet-natured, yet timid and soft-spoken fiancée.
- Tracey Ullman as two characters:
- Nell Van Dort, Victor's socially ambitious mother who holds contempt for her son
- Hildegarde, the elderly, hunchbacked maid of the Everglot household
- Paul Whitehouse as three characters:
- William Van Dort, Victor's absent-minded and tactless father
- Mayhew, the Van Dorts' coachman
- Paul the Head Waiter, literally a severed head.
- Joanna Lumley as Maudeline Everglot, Victoria's snide, unloving mother.
- Albert Finney as Finis Everglot, Victoria's grim, toad-like, and avaricious father.
- Richard E. Grant as Barkis Bittern, a charming yet murderous con-artist, later revealed to be Emily's former fiancé and killer.
- Christopher Lee as Pastor Galswells, a haughty and bad-tempered priest who is hired to conduct Victor and Victoria's marriage.
- Michael Gough as Elder Gutknecht, an ancient and rickety skeletonwho rules benevolently over the underworld.
- Jane Horrocks as two characters:
- Black Widow, an affable black widow spider seamstress
- Mrs. Plum, the zombie chef working at the Ball and Socket Pub.
- Enn Reitel as two characters:
- Maggot, a sarcastic, green maggot who lives inside Emily's head and acts as her conscience, parodying Austrian-born actor Peter Lorre
- the Town Crier, who alerts the Van Dorts and Everglots about Victor and Emily's marriage
- Deep Roy as General Bonesapart, a diminutive skeleton in a military uniform with a sword stuck in his chest. He is a parody of Napoleon Bonaparte.
- Danny Elfman as Bonejangles, a vivacious, one-eyed, lounge singing skeleton.
- Stephen Ballantyne as Emil, the Everglots' long-suffering butler.
The film is based on a 19th-century Russian folktale, which Joe Ranft introduced to Burton while they were finishing The Nightmare Before Christmas. The film began production in November 2003, while Burton was completing Big Fish. He continued with production on his next live-action feature, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was produced simultaneously with the film. Co-director Mike Johnson spoke about how they took a more organic approach to directing the film, saying: "In a co-directing situation, one director usually handles one sequence while the other handles another. Our approach was more organic. Tim knew where he wanted the film to go as far as the emotional tone and story points to hit. My job was to work with the crew on a daily basis and get the footage as close as possible to how I thought he wanted it."