Johnny Depp turns 55 today—yeah, we find it hard to believe, too. Anyway, that's as good a reason as any to dig back into his career as a leading man in several blockbuster movies.
Depp's seemingly endless collaborations with Tim Burton to his fascinating takes on historical figures to his riskier indie work, our appreciation for Depp’s work grows with every new film to his credit. Here's a review of his 15 best roles.
Depp originally had a larger role with two major dialogs with Willem Dafoe but his role as Lerner the translator was cut down significantly as a result of Oliver Stone’s rigorous editing. Instead, Depp has only one major moment in
Platoon and is then airlifted out, presumably to die off-screen. Still, it’s an early role in a classic movie so we’ll give credit where credit is due.
Depp has never shied away from the weird in his career and that started early on when he starred in John Waters’ teenage musical as the titular character. If you’ve never seen it, we wouldn’t be surprised, but we’d bet money that your girlfriend has and that she LOVES it.
Depp and Burton’s collaborations go back to the beginning of both of their careers and have resulted in some truly fantastic movies. While we’re not huge fans of musicals, it’s undeniable that Depp slays, both literally and figuratively, as the murderous barber in the movie-version of the classic stage play.
Tommy guns, jailbreaks, bank heists and more, Depp’s turn in the role of John Dillinger, one of America’s most infamous and oddly beloved criminals was a good one.
Public Enemies is a fictionalized historical movie, something Depp has excelled at over his career, and remains entertaining to this day.
Also one of John C. Reilly’s best movies,
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is an unusual movie that feels like it could only have been made in the odd era that was the early 90s. Depp’s role, again as the titular character, is yet another exhibition of his talent in this movie that’s touching and personal and weird enough to stick out in your head forever.
It takes some serious stones to take on a role that was made famous by a genius like Gene Wilder but Depp did an admirable job of bringing his own unique interpretation to the role. Combine that with Burton’s visual style and this version of the Roald Dahl story might be better now than when it came out in 2005.
Continuing his fluctuations between Burton’s dreamscapes and playing hardened criminals, Depp stepped into the shoes of Whitey Bulger just a few years ago in the sleeper hit, Black Mass. It’s a haunting role for Depp to play and a testament to how well the affable actor can switch on his dark side.
Johnny Depp has taken several turns in voice acting but none are as beloved as a groom who gets cold feet only to wind up with an equally cold bride. You know, because she’s dead. It’s the sort of dark fairy tale you’d expect from the guy who gave us
A Nightmare Before Christmas and captures that same dark humor and whimsy like only a Depp/Burton collab can.
Depp’s closeness with the madman, Hunter S. Thompson, led to one of his most twisted movies ever. The cinematic version of Thompson’s groundbreaking book was a drug-fueled exercise in weirdness that is as quotable as it is memorable as it is funny. That is to say, very, on all counts.
The stunning disaster of Terry Gilliam’s take on Don Quixote is a thing of legend at this point, one that has been plagued by every disaster filmmakers find in the nightmares. Ironically, Gilliam’s vision has finally made it to the screen featuring Adam Driver in the lead but that was a lead that, at one time, was meant for Depp.
Lost in La Mancha is not the movie Gilliam set out to make but, instead, a documentary about the film that no one ever thought would get made.
Like every other Burton/Depp collaboration on this list,
Edward Scissorhands is a haunting, highly stylized film that may sound like a fairytale at the outset but will lodge itself in the public memory as something much more sinister. Depp’s take on the boy with scissors for hands is utterly perfect, introverted, well-meaning and deeply sad and misunderstood. It was a breakout role for Depp and one that would launch him into leading man status for the rest of his career.
Depp’s take on the cocaine pioneer, George Jung, is a thrilling cautionary tale of bad decisions and excess that plays out in a most heartbreaking way. Like many of Depp’s roles that are based on true stories,
Blow feels like an eerily accurate portrayal of an era and a person that are equal parts terrifying and exciting and Depp, yet again, proves he’s a master of toeing that line.
The Z-list filmmaker couldn’t have any less to do with an A-list celebrity like Johnny Depp except for that fact that Depp played him to perfection in this early 90s biopic that breathed new life into Wood’s awful movies. If you’re a movie lover, you may want to avoid Ed Wood’s work but you must see this movie about his life and career.
Credit: getty images
Capturing the grandiosity of the pirate movies from the golden age of Hollywood and yet doing it with a fresh take an a modern spin, Depp has turned a character into an absolute icon. Fun, funny, wildly over the top and absolutely perfect, Depp’s Captain Jack makes these movies.
Donnie Brasco is equal parts gangster movie in the vein of Goodfellas and a tale of a fed in too deep. Whichever way you like to think about it, there’s no denying that Depp’s role as the government mole within the mob is a high point of his career. It’s a role in which he goes toe to toe with a legend like Pacino and more than holds his own, firmly making Depp a legend in his own right.