Greetings, Glancers! Ladies keep your pants on as today we look at my favourite 10 Johnny Depp movies. I’ve been a big Depp fan since as long as I can remember. I’m not sure what the first movie of his I saw was, but I’m farily positive it is something from this list. Depp has been a megastar since the early 90s and a star long before then, and he was my personal pick for that wonderful hetero-male schoolyard question – ‘if you had to shag one man, who would it be’. Kids these days.
Johnny Depp is known (increasingly so in recent years) for picking offbeat characters to portray, usually those on the fringes of society, or quirky, or with romantic burdens. These are the roles which he seems to enjoy, but he has also featured as more serious, straight types – most performances though he gives himself entirely over and even though you know it’s Johnny Depp you can feel the character rather than the actor. Below are my top ten Johnny Depp films – a mixture of performances that I think are his best while also thinking of my enjoyment of the whole film, with a greater focus on the performance. This top ten is actually fairly interchangeable – Number 1 is the only 1 that remains fixed, while the others are all essentially the same ranking, and quite a few other films not included are roughly similar in quality in my eyes.
10. A Nightmare On Elm Street
Depp’s first major appearance was in my favourite horror movie of all time. A Nightmare On Elm Street sees the young star playing a typical teen boyfriend and his role doesn’t go much further than the tropes and expectations of the genre. This is Nancy’s and Freddy’s movie, but everyone remember’s Depp for his failure to stay awake and his gloriously bloody demise. He doesn’t quite have the look yet, or the star power, but the film is so good and he is an integral part, so it has to make my top ten.
9. The Libertine
Has anyone even seen this movie? I feel like nobody has because nobody ever talks about it. Sure, it isn’t the best movie in the world, and is probably in the lower half of Depp’s filmography if we’re talking about good movies, but Depp’s performance is excellent – dirty, horrific, and with the venomous charm of a street addict looking for a final fix. Depp stars as the Earl Of Rochester, The Libertine of the title, a notorious pleasure seeker and dandy. As the film progresses, the hedonism comes back to bite the character in the body, if not the soul, and he begins to wither to an emaciated husk. Even as he falls to bodily corruption, he flies his singular flag, acting like a 17th Century punk hero who burned brightly for a few moments, then was snuffed out – except here he portrays the character as mostly unlikable and dastardly. It’s one of his bravest, most visceral performances.
8. Donnie Brasco
I’ve spoken about this movie before, covering it in my favourite Al Pacino performances. Depp and Pacino work well together, and while Pacino’s weary, fading performance grabs the eye, it is Depp who goes through the changes – the loving cop husband seduced by the darkside. People never gave Depp’s ‘serious’ performances the credit they deserved at the time, and now moan about how every film now is some bizarro freakshow. You can’t have it both ways! Or more accurately where Depp is concerned – of course you can. Depp can play any sort of role, and here it is one of his finest straight shots. He gets to play a normal human, flawed and wretched like the rest of us, but without the need for grandiosity or make-up, and with all of that stripped away he still knocks it out of the park.
7. Pirates Of The Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl
As everyone knows, the sequels drastically went downhill while becoming increasingly convoluted, but the original Pirates Of The Caribbean Movie is as perfect a popcorn movie you’re ever likely to see. A fun adventure filled with larger than life scoundrels, daring escapades, laughs, romances, and good performances all around. Depp steals the show entirely in what may now be regarded his most famous role. Jack Sparrow is more of a Pirate to the public conscience now that Blackbeard or Long John Silver or Old No-Eyed Skip Stumpy Stump. His maniacal performance deservedly got an Oscar nomination, probably should have got the win, and is brimmed with swaggering confidence and anxious ticks.
6. Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
After some time away from bestie Tim Burton, Depp joined forces with his sullen goth pal once more to bring this musical to stinking life. I was genuinely shocked at how dark and depressing the film actually was, and that was after me already knowing the story since childhood. It’s one of the few instances where I felt kind of shaken leaving the Cinema, and that is as much down to Depp as it is the denouement and the gorgeous look and feel of the thing. Depp channels and then exorcises his Ichabod Crane and merges it with some malevolent, swamp monstrosity. The Demon in the title is key – this is a man, and a performance, possessed by something unspoken and arch, a foul parasite that destroys whatever it comes into contact with – and yet you still somehow manage to feel sorry for him.
5. Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
Going full Depp, is that a thing? It is now. Yes, Depp goes full Depp in Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, chewing the scenery as much as his own face, and making merry with Del Toro and go as they ravage Vegas to pieces in their quest for half-assed gonzo reporting and the finest highs the world can offer. It’s well documented that Depp and Hunter S Thompson were pals, and Depp takes his look, mannerisms, and speech, mangles them in a stoned haze, and tosses them through the looking glass to craft another colourful character and performance that can never be forgotten once seen.
4. Benny And Joon
This was pretty much ignored at release and beyond, except for a few years after the turn of the century when everyone remembered it existed. Since then it has vanished from people’s minds once more. Or so it seems to me. It’s a gentle comedy, a quiet romance, and features Depp being just off centre enough to still be adorable but not off-putting. The film is never laugh out loud funny, or heartbreaking, or anything extreme – it is light and airy, without becoming preachy or sentimental. It’s simply a sweet story, with Depp showing us a different side to what he was known to at the time, recalling the physical comedians of the past.
3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
It’s Johnny at his most hearthrobby, whatever that means. DiCaprio rightly gets the plaudits for his performance, but Depp, Lewis,and all the rest all give it a damn good go to complete a touching portrayal of daily struggles. Depp is able to carry a lot of the film as the ostensible lead, and he doesn’t have the suit of armour or make-up to hide behind as in his previous hit. There is nothing inherently quirky about his character, name aside, but it is the situation he finds himself in which borders on the unusual. Depp is a strange mixture of passive, accepting, and keen – willing to be the father figure and brother, yet accepting of his lot even as he hopes for more.
2. Ed Wood
Depp’s other film of 1993 allowed him to unleash his more madcap and exuberant side as he plays the title character in the cult biography. Teaming up with Burton after their earlier success, Ed Wood was a much smaller movie and for many years remained that Tim Burton or Johnny Depp movie that no-one had seen. Even with the critical acclaim which was given to the film and its stars, it was a commercial failure which has luckily found a cult audience in the years since. What is key to the success of the film is that it does not outright mock or laud its titular figure – it simply presents a captivating story of people with a dream and a will – people who will never succeed, people who have already succeeded but been spat out, and people who remain enamored by an industry that doesn’t care about them. Depp’s Wood is stellar, ably backed by a terrific Martin Landau – another instance of the supporting performer getting the plaudits over Depp when both performers deserve all the praise. Depp’s character is child-like in both enthusiasm and despair, a most human Peter Pan, and is just out of place and time enough to be noticeable – he is someone for the powerful to swat away and the needy to cuddle and protect.
- Edward Scissorhands
Once again my Number 1 should not surprise anyone – Edward Scissorhands is in my mind a flawless film and one of my all time favourites. The only criticism I have ever been able to lay at its feet is that it just isn’t long enough. This is a star-making performance by Depp, creating an emphatic 90s outsider and anti-hero, and showcasing his ability as a physically expressive actor and someone who is able to play the audience for laughs and tears in equal measure. Much of the credit of the film goes of course to Burton – the ideas of isolation, the frivolous horrors of suburban America, and the bizarre realities and feelings of the outcast are his – but all of these are portrayed through the script, the colours, and the performances, with Depp at his best as Edward.
Ten great films and ten great performances – 10 films every film fan should see. I think seven of these performances are worthy of Oscar nominations/wins, so once I get to the 90s in my Oscars rundown, you’ll see most of these popping up. Let us know in the comments what your favourite Johnny Depp films and performances are!