Johnny Depp began his acting career in Wes Craven’s 1984 masterpiece of horror, “A Nightmare On Elm Street”, as a teen who ultimately is murdered by our dear friend Freddie Kruger. But starting with a small role in “Platoon” and then the “21 Jump Street” TV series, Depp quickly became one of the most accomplished actors of our time, creating some of the most indelible characters in film.
In honor of Friday’s opening of “Transcendence”, let’s look back at the ten best performances of Johnny Depp’s career.
10. FINDING NEVERLAND (2004)
Depp portrays novelist J.M. Barrie, whose relationship with a London family is the inspiration for “Peter Pan”. His on screen chemistry with young Freddie Highmore is truly endearing. One of Depp’s more understated roles, proving he doesn’t need to dress up in a pirate costume to give an unforgettable performance.
9. RANGO (2011)
Yes, I’m aware this is an animated film and Depp only provides the voice of our hero. But he gives an intimacy and honesty to the character that enables us to see beyond the 2D.
8. BENNY AND JOON (1993)
The fact that Depp steals this film from the rest of the cast (check out the roster of players in this movie and you’ll see how difficult that actually was) provides us a first glimpse into the characters he would become throughout his career. Wide eyed and innocent, Depp is the perfect partner for the unstable Mary Stuart Masterson.
7. DONNIE BRASCO (1997)
Again, this isn’t Depp’s most “showy” performance but he spent time learning the accents of real life mobsters to train for this role along side Al Pacino. There’s a certain sense of foreboding in all the characters, but especially Depp’s, in this very underrated film.
6. FROM HELL (2011)
Talk about underrated, Depp stars as a troubled police investigator, who has been given the unenviable job of bringing Jack The Ripper to justice. The Hughes Brothers did a marvelous job of creating a vision of 1800’s London and Depp simply took it from there.
5. CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (2005)
Depp had enormous shoes to fill, making a character that was beloved by all (Gene Wilder in the original) his own. The film was inconsistent and sometimes just downright mean, but Depp was wonderfully wicked while still maintaining a childhood twinkle in his eye. Wonka, in a purple suit and ridiculous glasses, turning to Julie Winter’s Veruca Salt character, and proclaiming “you’re weird!” is priceless.
4. PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL (2003)
Hey, who knew Keith Richards could act? Depp single-handedly (ok, with some help from Gore Verbinski) made pirate movies fun again. The performances became even more hammy as the POTC franchise continued, but at least in this first outing Depp developed a wonderfully wicked character, that would be known the world over.
3. EDWARD SCISSORHANDS (1990)
Depp’s first role after “21 Jump Street” is his first, and possibly finest, collaboration with legendary director Tim Burton. Depp superbly portrays a kind soul who, oh by the way, just happens to have scissors for hands. His interaction with love interest Winona Ryder is subtle yet heart tugging. Try not to well up when Winona Ryder asks him to hold her and he simply responds “I Can’t”.
2. ED WOOD (1994)
Think of this pitch meeting. Tim Burton walks in and announces his next film will be a black and white comedy/drama about an obscure movie director from the 1950’s and he wants to cast the guy from “Cry-Baby” and “21 Jump Street”. Thanks for coming in, Tim, we have some lovely parting gifts for you. Yet somehow this got made and it remains a classic. Depp is marvelous as the overly enthusiastic director, Ed Wood, who believes he is always just one step away from making a masterpiece and who revels in his own idiosyncrasies. With one exception, Depp has never as good as he is here and no one in film history ever rocked a pink angora sweater better
1. WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE (1992)
This remains my favorite. Depp plays a young man saddled with caring for his emotionally challenged brother and his obese mother, living in a house in the heartland that’s falling down all around them. The love that he conveys for his family is visible in every scene of this Lasse Hallstrom film and Depp’s poignant performance is a lesson in fine acting.