Once upon a time, Johnny Depp was synonymous with artistic integrity, a heartthrob who counterintuitively evolved into a superstar by resisting his matinee-idol looks in favor of whacked-out character-actor roles that sparked his imagination. And then Pirates of the Caribbean happened, and the rest is Bruckheimer-produced history Depp’s descent into self-parody has certainly been lucrative
We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Academy Award nominee Johnny Depp. Known for his dashing good looks and quirky character choices, the actor has had a long and fruitful career, often teaming up multiple times with the same directors such as Gore Verbinski, Terry Gilliam and, most notably, Tim Burton. Withmore movies on the horizon it is time to take a look at Depp’s ten best performances.
Adapted from Bruce Portner’s 1993 book of the same name, the movie follows the story of American cocaine smuggler George Jung in the 1970s. Though the film performed decently at the box office, it earned mixed reviews from critics, many of whom found problems with Jung as a subject. Still, Depp’s individual performance was much more well-received, with reviewers calling his depiction of the character “engaging” and “spellbindingly naturalistic.” His portrayal remains an audience favorite, with moviegoers giving the movie an 87% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Easily one of Johnny Depp’s most compassionate roles, as he “fathers” a small family of precocious children, forges a strong bond with the young Freddie Highmore (they’d quickly reunite for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), and writes one of the most inspirational children’s stories of all time. Depp isn’t a conventional leading man. But when he chooses to play it straight, he can conjure the warmth and heart it takes to sell a winning family dramedy like this. Easily one of Depp’s most likeable roles.
It’d be irresponsible not to observe that one of Depp’s best performance resulted from him playing a man who enthusiastically deludes himself into thinking that he’s making great movies. But it’d be off-base to suggest that Ed Wood’s penchant for delusion is what made the actor perfect for reanimating him from the depths of Hollywood lore. On the contrary, Depp is the ideal person for the part because — as this film makes clear — the actor works from a place of love. (The fact that he hasn’t deviated from that approach is what makes his performance as Whitey Bulger so fascinatingly screwed). Delivering even the most pitiable lines with a smile that stretches across his entire face and a voice that never dips below its cheeriest octave, the star shows palpable affection for the Worst Filmmaker of All Time.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a character that dates back to 1846 and has a lot of history behind it. Even the musical that the film is based on is over 30 years old. Basically, Depp had a lot to live up to, and he didn’t disappoint. The combination of horror and music is unique and allowed the actor to balance the dark aspects of a serial killer with the lightheartedness of a lead in a musical. His cold performance was exactly what the film needed and garnered him the Golden Globe for Best Actor, plus an Oscar nomination.
It’s rare that Depp is outshined in a film. It was the case in this one, but that’s actually a compliment to Juliette Binoche and Judi Dench, who were nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively. Depp’s talents as a supporting character (though he eventually becomes a central one) and ability to blend into a great cast are commendable. As Roux, the romantic gypsy, the actor’s sensuality was subtly a major driving force of the film that often gets overlooked.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Depp again is able to illustrate his versatility in director Terry Gilliam’s fantastical motion picture based on Hunter S. Thompson’s semi-autobiographical novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The film follows the drug-fueled adventures of Raoul Duke (Depp) and his attorney, Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro) on the way to Las Vegas as they pursue hedonism and hullucinations.
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Before the character became a tired joke, Captain Jack Sparrow was a drunken breath of rum-soaked fresh air that blew through Gore Verbinski’s bloated high-seas adventure. Before we knew that Depp was cribbing his physical turn from Rolling Stones icon Keith Richards, his boozy twirl captivated audiences and blew critics through the back of the theater like a cannonball aimed at a pirate ship. Sadly, the joke of Jack has worn thin… even though Depp keeps playing him over and over. But I’ll stand by Curse of the Black Pearl, and Depp’s wonderful turn in his garish pirate garb.
Donnie Brasco, Donnie Brasco
Easily one of the favorite Johnny Depp films, and the second-best performance of his career to date. It’s not just that Depp holds court with the great Al Pacino (giving a tremendous performance). It’s that he plays both sides of Brasco’s coin so well… the dutiful undercover cop who sacrifices his family, and the “budding” Wise Guy who needs to make inroads with a criminal organization if he hopes to succeed. Again, ever time Depp dabbles in a genre that could be conventional, he puts just enough of a spin on the material to instantly elevate it. If you somehow haven’t seen Donnie Brasco yet, rent it… now.
The very first of many collaborations between director Tim Burton and Depp remains a fan favorite and one of their most critically acclaimed works. Depp stars as an artificial man named Edward, who is uncommonly gentle, despite having a creepy appearance and scissors for hands. He is taken in by a suburban family and ends up falling in love with their daughter (played by Winona Ryder). While Depp’s career may now be defined by the countless transformations he’s undergone and costumes he’s donned for various films, Edward Scissorhands is one of most memorable — and for good reason. In addition to receiving an overwhelmingly positive critical response (the film currently holds a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and solidifying the careers of both Depp and Burton, the 1990 film has continued to have an influence on modern movies.