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Johnny Depp has had a long and varied career of ups and downs, hits and misses, but how do his movies rank from worst to best? Beginning his career as a teen heartthrob in films like A Nightmare on Elm Street and the hit TV show 21 Jump Street, Depp quickly graduated to leading roles, eventually fostering a relationship with director Tim Burton.
It’s with Burton that he developed a movie star persona that would become uniquely his, a mix of eccentric oddities and deeply-felt soulfulness. This peculiar presence would go on to shine in films like Edward Scissorhands and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, leading inevitably to his instantly-iconic turn as Captain Jack Sparrow. Currently, he’s become embroiled in controversy, dropped from his role as the main villain in Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts franchise.
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Though his future acting prospects look dire at the moment, Depp’s filmography remains a vast and varied collection, overflowing with lonesome outsiders, grim-faced gangsters, and pounds upon pounds of white makeup. A note for completionists, Minamata has not been included, as it’s currently only in theaters with no streaming options announced. Also missing is City of Lies, which due to a lawsuit was pulled from its 2018 release date with no replacement announced. That said, here are the Johnny Depp’s major films, ranked from worst to best.
Misguided from conception to execution, Mortdecai is one of the most torturously unfunny movies one could possibly sit through. An action comedy without thrills or laughs, this Wes Anderson-wannabe is an extreme low point in the actor’s career.
49. Lone Ranger
Johnny Depp playing the Lone Ranger’s Native American sidekick Tonto is a piece of casting that feels more and more tone-deaf by the hour. Even despite that, this 2013 update from Pirates director Gore Verbinski and co-starring Armie Hammer is a fairly rote, uninspired piece of blockbuster filmmaking.
48. Private Resort
Depp’s second film is a sophomoric sex comedy about two boys in Miami prowling for women when they encounter a jewel heist. It’s an incredibly crass and laugh-deficient film that gives a peek at the wrong turn the actor’s career could’ve taken had things not gotten more interesting.
47. The Tourist
Still one of the most bizarre films to be able to claim “multiple Golden Globe nominee” status, this barely-burning sizzler is a magic trick that transforms two of the most charismatic movie stars of their day into a screen couple with zero chemistry. The plot attempts to be a Hitchcockian game of cat and mouse. However, an overall lack of suspense or pace renders the whole film as mostly a banal exercise in watching attractive people in beautiful settings and little else.
46. Sherlock Gnomes
Sherlock Gnomes is the 2018 follow-up to Gnomeo and Juliet. As one can imagine, it’s a Toy Story-esque twist on literary characters where instead of toys, the protagonists are garden gnomes. In this one, Depp voices a statuary version of Sherlock Holmes solving a missing persons case. This is squarely aimed at kids, with not much generation-crossing charm. Colorful but trite, no one is hailing this as an animated classic.
45. Alice Through the Looking Glass
Johnny Depp’s first trip to Wonderland was already a muddled, Tim Burton-directed eyesore. This sequel makes the original look masterful by comparison. Swapping out Burton for James Bobin, this paint-by-numbers follow-up to the live-action remake ticks along on auto-pilot, with generic characterizations by Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, bland visual effects sequences, and a seemingly-checked-out Mia Wasikowska as Alice.
44. The Man Who Cried
This overwrought drama about a Russian Jewish girl in 1927 who escapes to England and meets a handsome horseman wavers dangerously close to self-parody. With a soapy plot, flat characters, and wooden dialogue, not even Christina Ricci and Johnny Depp can save this movie from itself.
43. The Astronaut’s Wife
Depp and Charlize Theron give fine performances in this box office bomb. However, its story of an astronaut who returns from space a changed man has undoubtedly been done before and after with far more interesting and engaging results. Boring and derivative, this melodramatic slog never even remotely blasts off.
42. Alice in Wonderland
If one is looking for the point at which Johnny Depp’s “I play pale weirdos” vibe crossed over into total tedium, his Futterwacken-ing turn as the Mad Hatter is definitely Exhibit A. While the prospect of Burton taking on Lewis Carroll’s surreal classic at first seemed potentially tantalizing, the result sacrifices the original text’s charm for a CGI-ridden “chosen one” narrative. While the film was a huge box office success, eventually picking up Oscar wins for Costume and Production Design, this is mostly the Burton-Depp collaboration at its most indulgent.
Wally Pfister, cinematographer of The Dark Knight and Inception, tried his hand at directing with this 2014 sci-fi film about a genius whose consciousness is uploaded to the Internet. It’s a good-looking movie, but its intellectual depth is fairly shallow, and any attempts at emotional intimacy are impeded by thinly-drawn characters and generic performances. Overall, it falls far short of its titular goal.
40. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
Take a long last look, for Grindelwald will bear Johnny Depp’s face no more. Appearing briefly at the end of this series’ first installment, Depp’s villainous wizard came into full authoritarian power in this sequel. The irony of ironies is that he and Jude Law may be the best parts of a film so frustratingly cluttered and wildly incomprehensible one wonders where the magic went.
39. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
The good news is, more Captain Jack Sparrow. The bad news? Well, this was all getting a bit tired even nearing the end of the original trilogy. The fifth installment casts Javier Bardem as yet another barnacle-esque baddie with yet another army of dead pirates. Even with a random Paul McCartney cameo, one can’t help but feeling like Johnny Depp is the last one at a party that ended a long, long time ago.
38. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
This fourth installment sees the reins handed from Gore Verbinski to Chicago director Rob Marshall. It’s less cluttered and noisy than its predecessor, At World’s End, but in the process a lot duller, with a barely present Depp. A lumbering plot that trades in Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom for an undercooked mermaid romance doesn’t help matters.
37. The Ninth Gate
More than 30 years after Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski returned to the subject of Satanism with this Depp-led chiller. It’s a typical display of the director’s style and visual panache, but the scares are limited and Depp is left playing a fairly one-note character. More forgiving audiences may make it through the first and second acts intrigued, but the film ultimately goes off the rails in a climax that verges on the ludicrous.
36. The Libertine
Johnny Depp is actually quite dazzling as the Earl of Rochester, in a performance that fully embraces the downward spiral of a life spent reveling in debauchery. It’s a shame the surrounding film can’t quite hold a candle, at times lit so darkly one can scarcely see what’s happening in the frame. As far as period dramas go, this one winds up a bit of a drag.
35. Corpse Bride
Burton’s 12-years-later spiritual sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas lacks pretty much everything that makes that film so eminently charming. Depp’s vocal performance feels entirely tossed off, as do the rest of the cast’s. Danny Elfman songs and almost expressionless facial animation round out a film that, while praised at the time, holds up unforgivingly to second viewings.
34. Nick of Time
A Johnny Depp and Christopher Walken screen pairing seems like a good time, and the prospect of Depp playing an action hero who has 75 minutes to kill the governor of L.A. is admittedly intriguing. The resulting film is by no means a total disappointment, a fairly rote ’90s action thriller with a bonkers plot but solid pace. However, with actors as unique and admirably odd as Depp and Walken, this can’t help but feel like a bit of a disappointment.
33. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End
After the surprise sensation of the original and a sequel which deepened the mythology but maintained most of the buoyancy of its predecessor, the third entry in the Pirates franchise makes the bizarre choice to drown its audience in a muddy mess of side characters, subplots, and set pieces for nearly three hours. Its main appeal is a Lynchian interlude with multiple Depps, crabs, and a peanut.
32. The Rum Diary
Aside from the cringey context of being the film where Depp and Amber Heard met, this ode to Hunter S. Thompson is a fairly sweet offering. A spiritual sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Rum Diary eschews that film’s surreal Gilliam-isms for a more reserved sense of whimsy. The result is a film that’s inherently more forgettable, but still far from the actor’s worst work.
31. From Hell
Based on a graphic novel long before comic book movies became de rigeur, From Hell is a spin on the legend of Jack the Ripper. Depp plays Scotland Yard detective Fred Abberline in a delightful performance that mildly foreshadows the full-blast whimsy he’d embrace two years later as Captain Jack Sparrow. It’s not a particularly frightening film, but there’s a cleverness bubbling under this gruesome procedural that makes it solid midnight fare.
30. Black Mass
This 2015 crime drama was definitely pitched as an Oscar-play comeback for the actor, but it has a hard time forging its own path in the oft-treaded footfalls of the gangster genre. Depp’s performance isn’t bad, but his makeup-caked, thinned-hair look verges a bit on caricature. Beneath those added layers of artifice, there’s something interesting going on, arguably one of his most dropped-in and committed performances in the latter portion of his career.
Blow wants desperately to be as gripping a rise-and-fall story as GoodFellas or Boogie Nights. Depp is in fine form as George Jung, the high-school football star turned premiere cocaine importer, and the initial parts of the film concerning his rise are a fun enough ride. Alas, when the inevitable fall sets in, the film becomes overly-sentimental, ultimately revealing that Blow doesn’t have much new to say.
28. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
The first 30 minutes of Tim Burton’s controversial remake of the 1971 classic are so jam-packed with witty sight gags and Dahlian cheekiness that one might actually think he’s gone and made a film that surpasses the original. Alas, it all comes to a crashing halt once the gang steps foot into the factory. Johnny Depp certainly deserves credit for not imitating the brilliance of Gene Wilder’s iconic performance as Willy Wonka, but his intellectually-interesting choice of playing the amazing chocolatier as a grown man in a state of arrested development comes off mostly as obnoxiously unfunny. It may start strong, but it winds up as anything but the golden ticket.
27. Murder on the Orient Express
Kenneth Branagh’s 2017 update of the Agatha Christie story doesn’t match up to the fun of the Sidney Lumet original, but Depp is one of the more watchable parts. Branagh himself gives a giant performance, with an equally-giant mustache as detective Hercule Poirot. The rest of the cast, which includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Penelope Cruz, and Judi Dench, is hit-or-miss, but Depp sketches in all the right shades for gangster Edward Ratchett.
26. Into the Woods
This long-awaited screen adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim tuner is hardly Rob Marshall’s finest. While it runs into trouble by softening the dark second act of its source material, there are plenty of solid performances, including Depp’s underrated turn as the Big Bad Wolf. His earthy vocals are a nice match for the jaunty “Hello, Little Girl,” even if his costume jars stylistically with the surrounding film.
25. Before Night Falls
A gorgeously-shot, beautifully-realized look at the life and writings of Cuban author Reinaldo Arenas, Before Night Falls is a brilliant performance showcase for a pre-No Country For Old Men Javier Bardem. Depp’s twin performances as the flamboyant Bon Bon and a sadistic prison warden may come off as a bit problematic nowadays. Nonetheless, the actor makes the most of his five minutes of screen time, adding his distinct flavor to Julian Schnabel’s stunning film.
Chocolat is the kind of multiple Oscar nominee that might have audiences rolling their eyes nowadays, but it’s light and frothy enough, with a typically entrancing performance from Juliette Binoche. The title is apt, as there’s something almost dessert-like about this film’s graceful style and old-fashioned romanticism. It goes down smooth, but may leave one wondering if it ultimately wasn’t a bit disappointingly slight.
23. Secret Window
After Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean comeback, it seemed like there was nothing more fun than going to the movies and seeing Johnny Depp have a ball piling on the quirks. Secret Window is definitely bargain-bin Stephen King, but the actor’s rapidly unraveling performance is still great fun.
22. Dark Shadows
By the time Dark Shadows rolled around, the Burton-Depp collaboration had almost become a parody of itself. Depp would don another dousing of white-cake makeup, and Burton would continue to endlessly copy his original films, with rapidly diminishing returns. It’s a bit surprising, then, that this is actually one of their best offerings in years, with Depp giving a wonderfully funny performance and Burton reveling in the sort of deviant humor that made his early work so engaging.
21. Once Upon a Time in Mexico
Robert Rodriguez’s loopy and nonsensical spaghetti Western is good campy fun. Taking a cue from his future Grindhouse collaboator Quentin Tarantino, the film gleefully abandons plot and embraces a wild succession of over-the-top violence underscored with lots and lots of guitar-strumming. It’s all quite fun, albeit a bit one-note, but Depp undoubtedly steals the whole show with a hysterically ridiculous performance as a rogue C.I.A. agent in Mexico.
20. The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus
After Heath Ledger’s death, his final role in Terry Gilliam’s 2009 fantasy film was re-conceived as a series of transformations between Jude Law, Colin Farrell, and Depp himself. After a slew of disappointing failures, Gilliam got close here to recapturing the magic of his early career masterpieces Brazil and Time Bandits. While it’s not a top-tier entry in the director’s filmography, its typically imaginative visuals are underscored with a somber memorial to Ledger’s undeniable talent.
Depp voices the title character in this Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature. A coming of age story about a chameleon taking on the responsibilities of town sheriff, this oft-forgotten oddity also features vocal performances by Isla Fisher and Abigail Breslin. It’s a wonderfully weird surprise of a film, with plenty of nods to the Western genre and a richly-detailed style of animation that isn’t quite like anything else out there.
18. Arizona Dream
Johnny Depp stars opposite Faye Dunaway in this bizarrely charming film about a young man named Axel who strikes up a relationship with an eccentric older woman and her stepdaughter. Thoroughly unpredictable and wonderfully absurd, the film finds Bosnian-born director Emir Kusturica focusing on America with surreal results. It’s an early film that confirmed Depp as one of the most tender heartthrobs in cinema.
17. Don Juan DeMarco
This goofy comedy is admittedly plenty slight, but it’s bolstered considerably by Depp’s performance. A bit of a genius blending of his sexy swagger and inherent goofiness, Don Juan DeMarco sees him playing a delusional man who believes he is the world’s greatest lover. Marlon Brando’s turn as his psychiatrist feels checked out, but Depp is always delightfully committed.
16. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
This up-scaled second installment is something of a victory lap for Depp. The Looney Tunes antics of the character are turned up to 11, and the actor is clearly having a ball revisiting a character now christened a cinema icon. Some of the surrounding mythology becomes ponderous and the bloated length is questionable, but this sequel also features a veritable tidal wave of richly-imagined action set pieces and Bill Nighy as Davy Jones, one of the best performances by a CGI character this side of Gollum.
15. A Nightmare on Elm Street
The one that started it all may only let then-teenager Johnny lounge around in a crop-top jersey before sucking him into a bed and spitting out a tsunami of blood, but it’s still a totally iconic funhouse of a movie, filled with inventive practical effects and a wicked sense of humor. Frightening, disturbing, and pretty funny, this is Wes Craven at his absolute best.
The only Best Picture winner on the list, Platoon was the first Hollywood film to be written and directed by a Vietnam veteran. Although Depp only plays a small role, its immersive depictions of battle and bloodshed clash admirably with the God’s eye view of Full Metal Jacket or the psychological odyssey of Apocalypse Now. Anchored by two dynamite performances from Willem Dafoe and Tom Berenger, it’s a haunting meditation on man’s duality and the ultimate cost of war.
13. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Diehard fans of the stage musical may decry it for its bountiful cuts or for the lack of singing chops in the principal cast, but Burton’s take on Sweeney is its own, wonderful beast. Depp acquits himself well in a heavy-singing role, but his moody, staring-out-of-windows performance pales in comparison (forgive the pun) to delightful turns by Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman. The surrounding production is top-notch, a Hammer horror throwback awash in showers of crimson blood, and one of the best movie musicals of the 21st century.
12. Sleepy Hollow
Tim Burton’s spin on Washington Irving’s short story is maybe his best-looking movie to date, thanks largely in part to his collaboration with three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. It’s also just such a blood-soaked romp, as the director gleefully beheads seemingly every British character actor over the age of 50, and Depp serves a delicious rack of ham as Ichabod Crane, in a performance he reportedly based off Angela Lansbury in Murder, She Wrote.
11. Finding Neverland
Marc Forster’s take on J.M. Barrie, the man behind Peter Pan, often gets a bad rap for being overly-sentimental. While it’s true the film could probably further explore the shadows of its subject, what’s on display is incredibly heartfelt, with a three-hanky weeper of a finale and a graceful, restrained performance from Depp.
This rockin’ rollercoaster from king of camp John Waters is a wonderfully loopy Romeo and Juliet-with-greasers romp. Somewhere between the cuddliness of Hairspray and the full-on raunch of Pink Flamingos, Cry-Baby is packed with campy musical numbers and spoofs on the overwrought drama of films like Rebel Without a Cause. His first mainstream lead role, this motorcyle-riding juvenile delinquent would foreshadow Depp’s mix of good looks and quirky weirdness to come.
9. Dead Man
As if a premature atonement for The Lone Ranger, Jim Jarmusch’s Dead to Me is a haunting reckoning of American violence and racism. Depp plays an accountant named William Blake, who goes on a bizarre odyssey of self-discovery while on the run after murdering a man. Its surreal sensibility may not be for all tastes, but it’s a must-see for Depp completionists.
8. Benny & Joon
This remarkably touching comedy about two eccentrics who find love features an astonishing physical performance by Depp at its center. It’s a star-making turn that elevates a potentially-slight “normals vs. weirdos” story into something truly winning. His delightfully-performed routines summon the ghost of legendary silent movie star Buster Keaton, all the while radiating an effervescent sweetness that’s irresistible.
7. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Terry Gilliam said of this film, “I want it to be seen as one of the greatest movies of all time, and one of the most hated movies of all time.” With a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes, he certainly got his wish. That said, there’s no denying this adaptation of Hunter S. Thompson’s “savage journey to the heart of the American Dream” isn’t an accurate adaptation of the acid-trip prose of the book, with wild visuals both intoxicating and infuriating. Depp matches the gonzo style beat-for-beat, cementing the film as an undeniable cult classic.
6. Public Enemies
Michael Mann’s 2009 crime drama is exactly the kind of project Depp fans would love to see the actor sinking his teeth into again. It’s a long, meaty epic drama calling to mind the masterpieces of Scorsese, with a phenomenal turn by Depp as Depression-era bank robber John Dillinger. Stripping himself of all quirks, he holds the screen with a steely watchability, cutting a dashing but troubling figure into the gorgeous, high-definition cinematography of this underrated gem.
5. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a wonderfully-enchanting film featuring an Oscar-nominated supporting turn by Leonardo DiCaprio. Playing the mentally-impaired Arnie Grape, it’s a performance that would be hard to upstage. Thankfully, Depp doesn’t. After playing a slew of eccentric outsiders, the actor functions this time more as the grounded force at the center, without losing any of the soulfulness.
4. Donnie Brasco
It’s quite admirable the way Johnny Depp was able to cobble together a movie-star presence through a succession of quirky character parts. That newfound stardom pays out in full in this crime drama, superbly directed by Mike Newell. It’s an intense performance as far away from Edward Scissorhands as can be. Still, there’s a sensitive underbelly at play here, giving a signature spin to the traditional gangster that clashes and jives with Al Pacino with firecracker results.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
In the summer of 2003, the prospect of a major Hollywood film centered on pirates wasn’t exactly a hole in one, yet when the Black Pearl hoisted its colors for the first time, there was no going back. A total box office smash, the first Pirates is the kind of gloriously old-fashioned blockbuster that just doesn’t seem to come around much anymore. Of course, the Academy Award-nominated Depp performance at its center steals the whole show, a loopy trickster mix of Bugs Bunny and Keith Richards.
2. Edward Scissorhands
After an early career playing handsome pretty-boys, Depp’s first collaboration with Tim Burton would be a total game changer. Playing the lonesome Edward, the actor is achingly tender and wholly lovable, despite sporting an iconic look that is one of the most arrestingly disturbing in cinema. This is peak Burton, a dark, whimsical modern fairy tale with a wounded soul at its center.
1. Ed Wood
When all is said and done, Johnny Depp’s career begins and ends with Tim Burton, and this is the finest film they’ve yet made. Together, they transform a biopic about the worst director in the history of Hollywood into a love letter to the art of creation. In Ed Wood, a bunch of passionate weirdos get together to put on a show, arguably the perfect metaphor for this maddeningly beautiful collaboration.
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About The Author
(9 Articles Published)
Kyle Wilson is a writer for Screen Rant. Originally from Pennsylvania, he graduated Carnegie Mellon University in 2014 and since then has been based in Brooklyn, NY. He is a big fan of Paddington and Joe Pesci’s performance in “The Irishman.”
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