It’s over 35 years now since Johnny Depp made his movie debut playing Glen Lantz in a Nightmare on Elm Street. Since then, we have been treated to 70 films featuring the chiselled star. Sure, there have been a few missteps and the headlines he generates today are more likely to be about his personal life, but he is a damn fine actor and has an incredible body of work to look back on. Indeed, if we look at his most recent outing in Minamata, it seems Depp has much more to give.
But which have been his best roles? Below we steam through 10 times Depp most captivated us on screen:
When you talk about roles actors were born to play, Depp and Edward should spring to mind. The doll-like visage and sparkling eyes of the film’s titular character seem tailor-made for Depp. The studio apparently wanted Tom Cruise for the role, but, thankfully, we got Depp, and Tim Burton got his muse for countless subsequent movies.
Finding Neverland perhaps came at the height of Depp’s stardom, and it would yield his second Oscar nomination in the space of a year. Indeed, if we go back to the Roger Ebert review of Finding Neverland, the headline “Depp delivers another remarkable performance” sums up where the actor was at the time. Like many of Depp’s roles, it called for subtlety as well as ostentation – and he managed to get the right balance again. He also succeeds where so many American actors have failed in the past – by pulling off a Scottish accent.
Criminally overlooked in Depp’s acting achievements, his portrayal of James “Whitey” Bulger deserves much praise. Easily shedding the skin of the go-to actor for kooky roles, Depp is frightening as Bulger to such an extent the film almost comes off as a horror flick.
Does Al Pacino’s “Lefty” overshadow Depp’s performance as the title character? Perhaps. However, that should not take away from what is a fine coming-of-age performance from Depp. In cinema, the concept of a character losing his or her sense of identity is not uncommon. But it can be difficult to pull off, sometimes requiring subtlety and other times directness. Depp manages to achieve it while doing both here.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas deserves much more credit than it gets through its framing as a stoner movie today. If you look past the debauchery and drug-taking, there is a sensitive movie trying to come out, one that honors the brilliance of Hunter S. Thompson’s source material. Depp is outstanding in the role of Duke/Thompson. While some critics believe it was over the top (a common criticism of Depp), it’s, nevertheless, mesmerizing.
It’s hard to believe that there have been fice PotC movies, and a sixth one is on the way. Frankly, we would rather play pirate’s battle themed bomb slots than sit through another couple of hours of fluffy Disney buccaneers. However, the first performance from Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow was ground-breaking and electrifying. Lest we forget, Depp got nominated for an Oscar as Sparrow. We just didn’t need the endless sequels.
The second collaboration with Tim Burton is often cited as the best example of the pair’s work together. Ed Wood is a fascinating film, and there are performances – Martin Landau as Bela Lugosi, for example – that stand out just as much as Depp’s. But it is arguably the film that really showed Depp was a special talent, and it set him on his way to superstardom.
Blow was a disappointment at the box-office, and it was not a big hit with critics either. The main issue with the latter was that many felt the life of drug smuggler Jung was not worthy of celebration on the silver screen. But you have to admire what Depp did with the character, portraying Jung’s journey from naïve hippy teenage to drug kingpin, finishing off as a washed-up tragic mess.
The third and final Best Actor Oscar nomination for Depp, and yet another tie-up with Tim Burton, Sweeney Todd is the perfect vehicle for both actor and director, and the role allowed Depp to demonstrate his singing chops too. It’s a gruesome tale, of course, but one where humor is around every corner. You can tell that Depp is enjoying himself, and that’s certainly not the case for some of his later work.
Based on Alan Moore’s graphic novel of the same name, From Hell was to provide audiences with the first proof that Depp was the go-to guy for Victorian macabre. Moore criticized Depp’s performance, suggesting that Abberline was supposed to be a bit rougher and tougher. Yet, Depp brought something different to the role, and most critics agreed it worked very well.