Johnny Depp is an anomaly, an acting genius, a true artist who manages to maintain his integrity while making fistfuls of money. Johnny Depp doesn’t need to take breaks between big blockbusters to re-establish his street cred as a serious actor by doing some pitiable little indie movie. Instead, the guy’s just as genius in those big money Hollywood flicks as he is in smaller ones. Every character Johnny takes on is an icon in the making. Whether it’s Jack Sparrow or Willy Wonka, everyone, and I do mean everyone loves Johnny Depp. When you’ve got both indie snobs and soccer moms on your side, you have to be doing something pretty special.
With the third installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise sailing over the horizon this week, I piled the Cinema Blend staff into a dingy, dropped them in the middle of the ocean, surrounded them with sharks, and made them hand me a list of their favorite Johnny Depp characters before I’d hitch them to my speedboat and tow them home. Some of them fell overboard, but those who made it back alive helped determine this: Another CB Top 5.
Think you’ve seen Johnny Depp at his best? Well check our list and scope out what we think, are his very finest performances.
5. Ed Wood
STUART WOOD: Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s second collaboration is just as bizarre as their first. Bringing to life the history of the worst movie director of all time might not sound interesting at all, indeed I can think of nothing more painful than the prospect of an Uwe Boll biopic. However, Depp brings the bizarre and off-kilter character and world of Ed Wood to life. He makes Wood in to a tragic wide-eyed character, a man with no talent whatsoever but so much conviction and belief and optimism in what he’s doing, you can’t help but feel sorry for his ultimate utter failures. Depp’s performance as Wood is so on-the-mark that even through all the absurdity that goes on, it never seems less than natural, even when he is approaching Orson Welles in a bar while in full drag. It would be easy for an actor in a role like this to go over the top, to create another scenery chewing caricature. Johnny Depp in Ed Wood actually makes you believe in this very real and very unique character.
DANIEL SOLOMON: For Ed Wood, Depp had to show the world how "camp" was invented. It didn't come from garish cartoon-people who made fun of themselves by existing; it came from those who genuinely wanted to make something good, but had absolutely no talent to offer. Johnny understood that, and gave his portrayal of the infamous cross-dressing hack Ed Wood the kind of childlike honesty that would've been used for sad laughs if some mugging asshat had attempted it. Thanks in part to this subtle, outstanding performance, society became able to understand the true nature of kitsch icons like Joan Crawford and Pet Rock Guy.
4. Raoul Duke
MACK RAWDEN: Raoul Duke is a madman. He weaves in and out of Hunter S. Thompson writings like a crazed psychotropic vision bleeding onto each page with the type of chaotic calm normally reserved for the eye of a hurricane. Astoundingly, Depp was able to embody all of the man’s contradictions, creativity, and calamities. Raoul Duke exists in an alternate reality that happens to coincide with the time and place of our own. I’d call him a near-constant fish out of water, but sadly, I’ve never seen a fish ingest two handles of tequila, swallow six Tylenol, snort two lines of Altoids, have sex with your wife, and mace a police officer all while finding the time to write some of the best fiction of the twentieth century. Suck on that, Dan Brown.
DANIEL SOLOMON: Johnny Depp as Hunter Thompson's literary alter-ego is about as good as it gets in movies. Depp may have once rubbed some white powder on his gums during a taping of "21 Jump Street," but he had to use all his acting chops to be convincing as the drug-blending gonzo journalist Duke. Luckily, he was more than up to the task in hilarious scenes like the one where he loses all physical dexterity and walks like a creepy marionette due to excessive ether-huffing. No one else could have brought this tough role to life. As the man said: "This was bat country."
3. J.M. Barrie
ED PERKIS: Not as showy as his roles in Pirates or Ed Wood, Depp is actually understated as playwright J. M. Barrie, who meets a widowed woman and her four young sons and creates “Peter Pan.” He infuses his specialty, the child-man, with a dose of reality that is sometimes missing from his other roles. Barrie is a tender and compassionate man who gets more out of the child-like fantasies he plays out with the boys than his relationship with his frigid wife. It’s a scene early on which best embodies his performance: when Barrie and his wife retire to separate bedrooms; his is a sunny wonderland that is briefly flashed into view. Depp gives flashes of that sunny wonderland brimming below the surface of his mind while he plays the part of a grown-up. He’s the real Peter Pan here.
MACK RAWDEN: Everything about Johnny Depp’s performance in Finding Neverland is brilliant. He perfectly portrays the cold distance between himself and his wife Mary Ansell. His eyes light up with the perfect twinkle at seeing the Llewyelyn Davies’ boys. His perfectly crafted turn as the famous writer really reminds me of Kevin Spacey’s performance in The Usual Suspects. Upon repeated viewings both dramatically improve as you can actually see Spacey scanning the room and responding and Depp figuring out little trinkets to throw into Peter Pan. The subtle complexities of J.M. Barrie could have only been captured by one man, and that was Johnny Depp.
2. Captain Jack Sparrow
RAFE TELSCH: By all accounts, Jack Sparrow never should have worked. If anyone had put down on paper that Depp’s portrayal of a pirate would wear mascara and flail about like a drunken sailor… well, even the most devoted Depp fan would have trouble buying it. Again Depp shows his skill by bringing to life an unthinkable creation, and doing it in such a way that he leaves the audience wanting more. Now we’ve gotten more Sparrow than anyone could have imagined – including a Depp-tastic audio-animatronic character integrated in the original ride, insuring Captain Jack Sparrow will remain as proof of Depp's skill for some time to come.
FRANCK TABOURING: Can Johnny Depp get any better than this? Maybe. But I can’t think of a single other actor in this world who could play Captain Jack Sparrow with such phenomenal finesse and eccentricity. For many, Depp has become the sole reason to watch the sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean, and that’s quite an achievement. The unique character of Jack Sparrow supplies Depp with all the peculiarities he so wonderfully masters on the big screen, and gives him the perfect opportunity to get lost in his role and ensnare his viewers. Oh yes, and he’s a great source for many laughs too.
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: The fact that the campy but hysterical Captain Jack Sparrow earned Johnny Depp his first Oscar nomination is reason enough to place him on our list – not to mention reason enough to believe in the aptitude of the Academy. Inspired by the slurring rocker Keith Richards (who makes a cameo in Pirates 3), Depp's swashbuckling, rum-drinking pirate alone made the trilogy the box office success it is today. Not only did Depp introduce several new words into common jargon like, "savvy," "parley," and of course, "yo-ho," but he also managed to remain incredibly sexy beneath a weirdly braided beard and golden teeth.
1. Edward Scissorhands
LEXI FEINBERG: Right after ’21 Jump Street’, Johnny Depp was determined to get away from his pretty boy image and unleash his inner, character-driven freak. Mission accomplished with Edward Scissorhands, one of his best performances (and movies) to date. By coating himself in layers of thick makeup, big hair and razor-sharp appendages, Depp tapped into the fragile beauty of his child-like, ostracized character. And he even got to destroy a waterbed in the process--how fun would that be? Depp is never afraid to take risks or embarrass himself, which is why he’s still a drug people can’t get enough of.
ALEXANDRA CALAMARI: Director Tim Burton had to go to great lengths to make Johnny Depp unattractive for Edward Scissorhands, but even with crazy black hair, no eyebrows, scars all over his face and a wardrobe straight out of an S&M club, the fabulous actor still managed to be arguably one of the most romantic leads of all time. As a film character, Edward Scissorhands embodied the archetype of an outcast trying to fit in with a prejudiced society. As a Johnny Depp character, Edward was a defining role for the actor, proving in less than 170 words that Johnny was going to be the actor to watch for years to come. From Edward's hilarious attack on a waterbed, to his tragic vulnerability in love, Depp infused so much life and emotion into a character that was literally black and white, earning Edward the top position on our list.
RAFE TELSCH: Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands was a modern day look at Frankenstein, but the monster never quite acted like this. In Johnny Depp’s skillful hands, Edward quickly became a character the audience could become invested in and care about. Actually, the actor's hands had nothing to do with it since they were just scissors. Instead Depp gave life to the adage that the eyes are the window to the soul, communicating a wealth of desire and sadness behind the pale brow of a creature who desperately wants to belong to a world he’s set apart from.
Nominated but didn’t make the cut: Agent Sands (Once Upon A Time Mexico), Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Sam (Benny & June), George Jung (Blow), Wade “Cry Baby” Walker (Cry Baby), Roux (Chocolate), Mort Rainey (Secret Window), Gilbert Grape (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape), Donnie Brasco (Donnie Brasco)
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