Chameleon, maverick, teen idol, Hollywood Heartthrob. These are just some of the names synonymous to Johnny Depp. Johnny Depp’s career has spanned longer for someone who never dreamt of acting. He originally wanted to be a rock n’ roll star. He was a member of a rock band back when he was a teenager, struggling to make it big in the fame hungry lifestyle in Hollywood.
When Depp was in his early 20’s, he was introduced to actor, Nicholas Cage. Cage persuaded Depp to give acting a try. Depp, who was broke at that time, gave it a shot. He only wanted to “pay his rent, and feed his dog.” With the help of an agent, Depp read for a part in the Wes Craven horror classic hit, A nightmare On Elm Street. That was Depp’s first ever film, playing the jock boyfriend of the lead female actress. The film was huge success.
Thinking that this might actually work, Depp would pursue the acting “career”—a term he’s uncomfortable using when talking about his craft, and he would work with some of the most creative and innovative directors in the business; Oliver Stone, Tim Burton, Roman Polanski, Emir Kusturika.
Depp would became wildly known and labeled as a rebel and bad boy (terms he also hated) when he starred in the 80’s cop drama, 21 Jump Street. He played Officer Tom Hanson, a cop so young he could pass as a high school student. Depp was thankful that this television series opened many doors for him. But he would later make this as an avenue to make fun of himself, to erase all that label once and for all by starring in indie projects like the John Waters direct campy-comedy film Cry Baby.
It wasn’t until the early 90’s, fresh from his Jump Street days, that Depp would meet eccentric director Tim Burton. Burton gave him the role of Edward Scissorhands. Now a film classic, this is the film where Depp showed his sensitive and loving acting rage. Johnny Depp is a method actor.
Most of the time, he goes unrecognizable for the parts that he play. It’s a signature move that everyone grew to love. Here are the top 20 films that proved why Johnny Depp is definitely one of the greatest actors of his generation.
20. Public Enemies (Michael Mann, 2009)
Depp plays notorious but charismatic bank robber, John Dillinger in this American biographical crime drama directed by Michael Mann. The film is set during the Great Depression. It recounts Dillinger’s finals days as he was pursued by FBI agent Melvin Pervis (Christian Bale). Marion Cotillard plays Billie Frechette, Dillinger’s love interest.
Some parts of the film are shot in certain exact locations depicted historically, but it wasn’t purely accurate. Depp’s performance took a slight recall to his role in Donnie Brasco– tough, dedicated, and self-absorbed. Though he shared no screen time with Christian Bale, their chemistry, separately, was obvious and they actually make a good pair.
Depp’s Indiana accent, his side glances, and smirks, took his character to a more grounded level. Though not the best gangster drama out there, it is still a well-polished, technically good movie.
19. Benny and Joon (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1993)
Benny and Joon is a story of two oddball characters that fell in love in the most unexpected of circumstances. Benny, (Aidan Quinn) is left to look after his agitated younger sister, Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson) after their parents died.
On the look-out for a permanent housekeeper to help Joon when Benny is away, the siblings took home a 26-year old man, named Sam (Johnny Depp) who acts like Buster Keaton. Joon grew fond of Sam’s uncommon and funny personality that they both fell in love with each other. Despite Benny’s objections, he realized that he can no longer control Joon, something he has been doing since they were little.
This is one of Depp’s indie projects that he chose to satisfy his own creativity. It’s a shame that there might be only a few people who saw and loved this movie. Depp studied and did his own stunts in the film, including the diner and park scene where he does some tumbling and plate re-arranging. Depp’s performance was gentle and adorable. A description that truly fits his character.
18. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is adapted from a book of the same name written by Hunter S. Thompson rooted from autobiographical incidents. It tells the story of Raoul Duke (Depp), a journalist who travels to Vegas with his lawyer, Dr. Gonzo (Del Torro) to cover the Mint 400 motor cycle race.
The film is a strange depiction of reality vs. hallucinations when under the influence of different psychedelic drugs. It is a visual spectacle of creativity and convincing performances both from Depp and Del Torro. Depp channels his inner Thompson through mannerism; tone of voice and even shaved his head to look the part.
Despite the film being a failure, it is still a bizarre but utterly alluring film that can sometimes be difficult to watch and understand. In the end, Depp’s portrayal of a drug induced, undercover journalist pushes the envelope and offers a wide array of how the audience sees him and how good he can be in method acting.
17. Arizona Dream (Emir Kusturica, 1992)
Depp plays Axel, a young man who travels to Arizona to attend his uncle’s wedding. He is coaxed to look after the family business selling Cadillacs. He reluctantly agrees. There he met two eccentric women; Elaine (Faye Dunaway), who always wanted to build planes and her step daughter, Grace (Lili Taylor) who dreams of reincarnating as a turtle.
Arizona Dream is a surrealist- comedy film that has a lunacy feel to it but made in all the right way. Watching the film will feel like a dream that only Yugoslavian director Emir Kusturica can bring. Depp shows a seductive but tender performance along with Dunaway’s magnetic and buoyant portrayal of an outlandish woman. This is one of those films that is difficult to understand at first but only gets better and timeless in years to come.
16. The Libertine (Laurence Dunmore, 2004)
Depp plays John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester in this British Drama film directed by Laurence Dunmore. The film also stars Elizabeth Morton, Rosamund Pike and John Malkovich as King Charles II.
The story revolves around Wilmot’s desires for drinks, penchant for sex, corruption and pursuit for hedonism. The film recounts the affair that happened between Wilmot and the young stage actress he trained (Morton), to the slanderous play he wrote, making fun of King Charles II that eventually led to Wilmot’s early downfall.
The Libertine is an avenue for a great and unforgettable acting by Depp. Despite the low technical quality of the film, it showcased Depp in a mature role after being seen in movies safe for kids, one after the other. He also showcased the claustrophobic sadness that his character is facing that led him to his early death. It’s a difficult film to watch but is still worth seeing and exploring the more varieties that can be found in Depp’s talent.
15. Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005)
Corpse Bride is a charming stop-motion animated film directed by Tim Burton. Depp plays Victor Van Dort who is about to wed Victoria Everglot, a daughter of a “rich” family. Nervous and scared to practice his wedding vows, Victor flees the night, walks alone and decides to practice his lines. He ended up in the woods and accidentally proposed to a Corpse Bride who took him to the world of the dead.
Again, a Tim Burton signature film with weird characters, Depp gives an almost unrecognizable voice to his character. Soft spoken, gawky, and gentle, even with just a voice, Depp knows how to channel his inner young self. The film is eerie good with a blue, black, and white as its resonating color. It is visually stunning, and the story is heartbreakingly sad. It is an adorable tale of love gone wrong but told in a whimsical kind of way.
14. Secret Window (David Koepp, 2004)
Depp plays Morton Rainey, a down on his luck fiction writer whose world got complicated when he was accused of plagiarism by a man named John Shooter (John Torturro). David Koepp who’s known for writing great suspense films like Panic Room, Mission Impossible, Death Becomes Her to name a few, directed Secret Window based from a Stephen King novella.
Morton Rainey is going through a tough divorce and is suffering from writer’s block so he spends his days locked away in his lake cabin, sleeping. The paranoia in this movie is heightened after Morton Rainey feels like everyone is after him. His expensive home got burned down, his dog was killed, and his friend who’s a private investigator, was murdered.
Depp’s performance is eerie and uncomfortable scary. The way he talks to himself, and the way he feels scared adds suspense to the film. Depp is seen rarely in an edge-of-your-seat kind of suspense thriller, so this was a welcome change for someone who’s used to playing fun, alive, and colorful roles.
13. Before Night Falls (Julian Schnabel, 2000)
Before Night Falls is about the life of openly gay Cuban writer, Reinaldo Arenas, (Javier Bardem) based from his autobiography of the same name. It recounts the story of Reinaldo as an open gay writer exploring his ambitions as well as his sexuality. During the 1970s, the political issues in Cuba grew difficult and Reinaldo was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting minors and publishing works abroad without permission. He was then diagnosed with AIDS in 1980’s and dies with the help of his lover.
Javier Bardem receives an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for his role as Arenas. Depp, on the other hand, plays two small roles in the film. One is Lt. Victor, a sadistic prison warden, second, a transvestite named Bon Bon. Both were equally good and very different.
The latter, Depp shows how much he’s comfortable with his masculinity and his versatility– wearing red lipstick, pink furs, and a blonde wig, it’s one of those forget-me-not performances seen for only just a few minutes into the movie. Get ready to lock this in your film memory bank forever.
12. Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999)
Sleepy Hollow is a film adaptation loosely based on the horror classic short story of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow written by Washington Irving. Depp plays inspector Ichabod Crane who was sent to a strange, quiet town of Sleepy Hollow to investigate murders by a mysterious Headless Horseman. Ichabod Crane is a dedicated inspector but was shaken and skeptical by the idea that a supernatural being is lurking amidst this small town and murdering people.
This is a classic Tim Burton film: Dark, gothic, funny, and scary, this adaptation is a celebration of the classic horror genre. Depp’s portrayal of Ichabod Crane is almost comedic in a way. He’s like a fish out of water, trying to understand the strange phenomenon surrounding the town, the people and their secrets. He moves with a feminine and careful grace, even his voice is modulated. Depp fits right in in Burton’s world. He made Crane funny, sweet, and heroic at the same time.
11. The Brave (Johnny Depp, 1997)
The Brave is Johnny Depp’s first directorial debut based from a very dark novel from the same title by Gregory McDonald. Depp plays Raphael, a Native American struggling to fight poverty for a better life for his family. Raphael was offered to play a part in a snuff film by a mysterious man (Marlon Brando) for a large amount of money. In desperation, he accepted it. Given only a week to live, Raphael spends his final days with his family until he gets tortured and killed in front of the camera.
Depp’s brother, D.P. Depp, co-wrote the film with music by Iggy Pop, one of Depp’s personal friends. All though some critics praised Depp for directing, co-writing, and starring in his own movie, the film failed to showcase any innovative style from the actor. This is Depp and Brando’s second film together. The first being Don Juan De Marco. It’s a gritty and tough film to sit-down to. But Depp managed to make the film touching, almost vexing (in a positive way) for a film debut.