Ranked! Johnny Depp’s Best Movies (Before The Sinking Ship)
When Captain Jack Sparrow first appears onscreen he’s about to dock a sinking ship. One of the best character introductions of all-time saw the eccentric anti-hero confident despite his lackluster circumstances. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl marked the end of indie Depp and perhaps best symbolizes the current state of the beloved actor’s career. After a string of allegations and being dropped from the Fantastic Beasts franchise, Johnny Depp’s stock requires the Gamestop treatment. Still, he remains one of the most unique character actors to ever grace our screens—from Elm Street to the Caribbean. As an ode to the past 40 years of multiple personalities, we’ve ranked Depp’s best.
Cover Photo: Walt Disney Pictures
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Depp’s role in John Waters’ campy musical was his first defiance of the teen heartthrob persona he cultivated on 21 Jump Street. Part Romeo and Juliet, part Grease, Cry-Baby may not be for everyone but it’s utterly ridiculous and definitely for us.
17. 'Black Mass'
Depp plays Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger in Scott Cooper’s Black Mass. For many, this film signified a new era for the character actor, ditching youthful-looking characters and derivative tendencies for menace.
16. 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory'
If anyone were to follow Gene Wilder’s inimitable 1971 performance, it would be Depp. Him and Tim Burton team up to create a more accurate adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic—it’s more flamboyant and disturbing, Depp producing a layered performance as the Candy Man that’ll make your daddy issues feel insignificant.
15. 'Public Enemies'
Michael Mann’s crime epic starring Depp as legendary gangster John Dillinger, a bank robber of the people who answers to no man (especially not Christian Bale’s Melvin Purvis).
In a story about a woman, her child, chocolate, and a village stubbornly rooted in tradition, Depp shows up as the love interest. It was an unexpected (but welcome) development in Depp’s increasingly rebellious career.
13. 'Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street'
Depp sings in Burton’s adaptation of Sweeney Todd. Compile that with the duo’s once-consistent prowess with the brilliance of Helena Bonham Carter and this one works.
12. 'A Nightmare on Elm Street'
One of the greatest slashers of all-time and Depp’s big break as crop-top-wearing Glen Lantz, the jock boyfriend of heroine Nancy Thompson (up until his mattress swallows him whole).
11. 'Benny & Joon'
Depp embraces physical comedy, paying tribute to silent movie stars of old as Sam. The character’s artistic idiosyncrasies compare and contrast themselves with that of Joon, a mentally ill woman who’s largely dependent on her brother, Benny. The result: a warm heart.
10. 'Sleepy Hollow'
Depp plays Ichabod Crane investigating a series of beheadings that occur in Sleepy Hollow. Channeling Angela Lansbury, combined with Burton’s Gothic style, Crane marked Depp’s first action/comedy role before the Pirates franchise.
9. 'Dead Man'
Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man follows Depp as a Cleveland accountant on the run after murdering a man. He then meets a Native American named Nobody who prepares him for the spiritual world.
8. 'Finding Neverland'
Wanna Cry? Watch Finding Neverland. A film where Depp plays J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan whose friendship with Sylvia Llewelyn Davis and her four sons inspired the land where no one wants to grow up.
7. 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas'
Depp met and hung out with pioneering gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson in preparation for Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp plays a version of the author in the film as he goes on a legendary drug binge with his lawyer. Although it bombed in theaters, it has since become a cult classic and is the reason for Thompson and Depp’s iconic friendship.
Depp has a proclivity for playing real-life outlaws; none of his portrayals more iconic than that of Blow’s George Jung—the guy who almost single-handedly brought cocaine to America courtesy of airports and Ram Jam’s “Black Betty.”
5. 'Donnie Brasco'
Depp as real-life undercover FBI Agent Joe Pistone aka Donnie Brasco and Al Pacino as the aging mobster Lefty. Nuff said.
4. 'Ed Wood'
One of the most acclaimed and perhaps overlooked Depp-Burton collaborations sees the former play schlock master aka “the worse (and most tenacious) director that ever lived,” Ed Wood. Depp’s charismatic performance brought a lot of attention to a man a lot of people didn’t know about. Kudos.
3. 'What's Eating Gilbert Grape'
Depp doesn’t always have to play eccentric characters to display his acting chops, and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a perfect example of this. Portraying the titular character, Depp’s role as a conflicted young man caring for his sister, overweight mother, and disabled brother is one of his most affecting.
2. 'Edward Scissorhands'
Edward Scissorhands. Quite possible Depp’s best film. The gothic fairy tale (as well as Depp’s titular performance) was as off-the-beaten-path as one could imagine, paving for Depp-Burton collabs and the actor’s future at large.
1. 'Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl'
It’s been 18 years since Depp decided to star in Disney’s adaptation of a theme-park ride. Eighteen years since he nearly gave the studio a heart attack with his vaguely gay and drunk Cap’n Jack. Eighteen years since his Jack Sparrow became a pop culture phenomenon that sparked a franchise and, in turn, Depp became a full-fledged A-lister. Like it or not, the current state of Deppism is thanks in large part to the cheeky fellow above.
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