Over the many years of his career, the 59-year-old Johnny Depp has always given his all to the movie characters that he has brought to life on the big screen, from the many memorably eccentric ones created by famed director Tim Burton to slightly more nuanced and normal characters in a couple of independent films, which have slowly become cult classics.
Johnny Depp’s talent as an actor has been praised and acknowledged many times over the course of his career, with him being the recipient of various accolades, including a Golden Globe Award for Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and a Screen Actors Guild Award for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. He has also been nominated for three Academy Awards (as Best Actor for his performances in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, Finding Neverland, and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street) and two British Academy Film Awards (as Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performances in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl and Finding Neverland).
Let’s take a look at some of Johnny Depp’s best movies and most iconic characters.
15. Edward Scissorhands – Edward Scissorhands (1990)
In this heart-warming fantasy romance story, Johnny Depp takes on the movie role of the titular character Edward Scissorhands, a mostly non-verbal, unfinished, ageless, artificial, humanoid creation that gets taken into the home of the Boggs family and falls for the daughter, Kim.
This modern fairy tale is one of Depp’s quirkier roles and gives his character a sad ending that is synonymous with the not-quite-happy endings of the fairy tales of old. Despite his character’s limited dialogue, Depp is able to communicate exactly what his character is feeling to the audience solely through his facial expressions.
Over the years the film has grown to be recognized as a social comment on the life experience of people with disabilities and how they are forced to deal with microaggressions and ostracization in an able-bodied society.
This movie became what would be the first of many collaborations between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.
Based on the book of the same name by Peter Hedges, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape tells the story of a young man who is doing his best to provide for his family and struggling with the task. Starring alongside Depp in this touching story is Leonardo DiCaprio who plays Gilbert’s mentally disabled younger brother who has a habit of climbing things.
We follow Johnny Depp’s character as he struggles through the events of the movie, occasionally catching a break from his extremely demanding life before very quickly coming to regret his choices when the consequences of having a little bit of freedom catch up with him. It’s a heartbreaking tale with a happy ending.
Depp and DiCaprio perfectly capture the essence of their characters as well as the dynamic between the two brothers. Depp expertly brings to life the care and protectiveness that Gilbert has for his younger brother and the rest of his family.
13. Sweeney Todd – Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)
This slasher film directed by Tim Burton shows off Johnny Depp’s amazing musical talents. Another one of his more eccentric characters, Depp plays a Barber in London who uses his business as a front for his long string of murders and enlists the help of Mrs. Nellie Lovett (played by Helena Bonham Carter), who owns the bakery under his Barber Shop and gets rid of his victims’ bodies by baking them into her meat pies.
It’s a tragic tale about a man who is bent on getting revenge on the villain of the film, Judge Turpin (played by Alan Rickman) for the death of his wife and has plenty of blood for viewers who prefer gore to the musical talents of the actors.
Alan Rickman gives a stellar performance as Judge Turpin and his character perfectly compliments the eccentricities of Depp’s Sweeney Todd and Carter’s Mrs. Lovett.
Johnny Depp stars alongside Al Pacino in this gangster crime-drama movie that is loosely based on the life of Joseph D. Pistone, a young FBI agent who went undercover as a jewel thief and took on the persona of Donnie Brasco as he tried to make his way into the Bonanno crime family.
Audiences watch as Pistone forms a strong bond with an enforcer in the crime family, Lefty Ruggerio (Al Pacino), and starts to struggle with home life as his undercover persona begins to bleed into his personal life, resulting in an altercation with his wife. Depp expertly portrays the struggles that undercover agents have to deal with and the consequences that follow them even after they’ve completed their assignments.
Many critics agreed that this was one of both Depp and Pacino’s best performances. The characters they played were nuanced and highly believable.
11. John Dillinger – Public Enemies (2009)
Another crime-drama starring Depp. This time he portrays John Dillinger, a notorious band robber who was declared “Public Enemy No. 1” by the FBI. Depp has said there was a “Robin Hood edge to John Dillinger. Depp felt a connection to the character and put a lot of care into bringing him to life, doing plenty of research down to how the man used to talk.
Depp stars alongside Christian Bale, who portrayed Melvin Purvis, the man who would eventually take Dillinger out. Viewers follow Dillinger as he evades the authorities to the best of his abilities before eventually dying after most of his team got taken out.
The film is a tragic story about love, death, and a man desperate to live for himself.
A movie adaptation directed by Tim Burton and based on The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (which was written by Washington Irving), in this gothic horror, Johnny Depp brings Ichabod Crane to life, a police constable in 1799 who is tasked with solving a series of brutal murders in Sleepy Hollow and soon learns that they are a result of the Headless Horseman, an undead ghost of a Hessian mercenary who fought in the American Revolutionary War and rides a black horse while searching for his missing head.
Ichabod is another one of Depp’s quirkier characters and is obsessed with using modern science in his police investigations, something which is majorly criticized by others.
Both Depp and Christina Ricci (who plays Ichabod’s love interest Katrina Van Tassel) do an excellent job of portraying their characters and it is a particularly enjoyable film for those with a darker sense of humour.
9. Willy Wonka – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Another film directed by Burton and based on the book of the same name written by Roald Dahl. This time Depp plays the eccentric owner of the chocolate factory, Willy Wonka. After having closed off the public’s access to the factory, Willy Wonka hosts a contest that will allow 5 lucky winners to have a tour of it and through a process of elimination will select one of these 5 to take over the factory from him.
He does a fantastic job of managing to separate his portrayal of the character from Gene Wilder’s 1971 version, though Depp’s Wonka does have the unfortunate consequence of being unfortunately unfunny at times.
Once again Burton was adapting a beloved book into a movie, which would star Johnny Depp alongside Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Helena Bonham Carter (The Red Queen), and a number of other stellar actors. Depp was given the honouring of portraying one of the story’s more eccentric characters, The Mad Hatter, who would become the most eccentric character Depp has ever portrayed in a film.
With an over-the-top outfit, an intricate-looking hat, and the occasional dark and foreboding monologue that terrifies the other characters around him and seems to change the Hatter’s personality for a moment, it’s difficult not to enjoy Depp’s portrayal of the character.
7. Sir James Matthew Barrie – Finding Neverland (2004)
Finding Neverland tells the story of J.M. Barrie and the bond he formed with the family that would eventually inspire him to write Peter Pan. Staring alongside Depp was Kate Winslet, who played the widowed Sylvia Llewelyn Davies who was the mother to four young boys George, Jack, Peter, and Michael.
It’s a very sweet, tender, and heart-warming film and Depp’s ability to capture the care J.M. Barrie had for the Llewelyn Davis family is phenomenal.
The film depicts the adventures he had with the small family that he would eventually use in his story about the boy who never wanted to grow up, and the chemistry that Depp had with Freddie Highmore (who played Peter Llewelyn Davies – the boy who Peter Pan was named after) was incredible.
6. Ed Wood – Ed Wood (1994)
A film that told the life story of Ed Wood, a filmmaker who was best known for his less-than-stellar works that would later become cult classics. The movie was directed by Tim Burton who would once again cast Johnny Depp as his star character. The whole thing was shot in black-and-white and while it was financially unsuccessful (which seems a little poetic considering who the film is about) many would praise Depp’s performance in the movie.
The movie followed Ed Wood’s struggle as he tried to make his mark in the film industry and kept miserably failing to do so. His struggle would lead him to a lot of opportunities, like when he met his idol and later friend Bela Lugosi (played by Martin Landau), and also a lot of heartache, like when he lost his girlfriend Dolores Fuller because of his lifestyle and the failure of his films. His determination to make something of himself is something to be admired.
Depp has said that when Burton approached him about the film he was committed to it “within 10 minutes of hearing about the project.” A lot of care went into his portrayal of Ed Wood and that is clear to anyone who watches the film.
5. Captain Jack Sparrow – the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003 – 2017)
By far one of the most iconic characters Johnny Depp has ever portrayed in his many years of acting. Starring alongside Orlando Bloom (who plays the blacksmith’s apprentice later turned pirate and captain of the Flying Dutchman, Will Turner) and Keira Knightley (who plays the governor’s daughter turned Pirate King, Elizabeth Swann), Depp plays the beloved scallywag with a love for rum, his hat and his ship, the Black Pearl.
The movie franchise owes its success to audiences’ love for Sparrow and his many oddities. Fans were first introduced to the character in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) in which we saw him and Will go on a journey to save Elizabeth from the cursed crew aboard the Black Pearl. Sparrow lies, cheats, manipulates and eventually scampers his way to victory, which rewards him with a meeting with the gallows, though he is quick to escape his fate with a bit of help.
In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) Sparrow, Turner and Swann take on Davy Jones and while they are eventually successful it comes at an unfortunate price for Elizabeth, and Will, which their son tries to fix (successfully) in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017)
Despite some fans feeling that the series has grown a bit tired, it still continues to be a favourite that can be enjoyed by anyone who is a big fan of pirates. Even Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011).
4. Rango – Rango (2011)
Rango is an animated comedy about a chameleon with a love for theatre who finds himself in Dirt, a small town experiencing a water crisis and is in need of a new sheriff. He accidentally becomes the sheriff of the town and gets sent on a mission to investigate the town’s water shortage (and in the process gets Dirt’s only water supply stolen).
After getting run out of town by Rattlesnake Jake, who was called in by Dirt’s mayor, Rango discovers the truth behind the drought, which had been caused by the mayor so that he could buy up all the land surrounding the town of Dirt.
Rango is just as entertainingly eccentric as many of Depp’s other characters and the mannerisms of the actor are brought to life solely through his voice.
3. Whitey Bulger – Black Mass (2015)
A crime drama directed by Scott Cooper and based on the book Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob. The story centres around James “Whitey” Bulger (who is played by Depp), the leader of the Winter Hill Gang who is challenged by a rival gang and his friend John Connolly (who is played by Joel Edgerton) who brings Whitey on as an informant and is blinded by his childhood friendship with the man.
Depp gives a great performance as Whitey and expertly shows how he manipulated situations to work in his favour up until his eventual arrest in 2011.
The stop-motion animation movie was directed by Tim Burton and featured Johnny Depp (who brings a mild-mannered Victor Van Dort to life) alongside Helena Bonham Carter (who brings the titular character to… unlife?).
Victor accidentally marries Emily while practising his wedding vows after having messed up during the rehearsal dinner and is taken away to the Land of the Dead. After a series of events Victor chooses to marry Emily for real, but, upon realizing that she is keeping Victor’s original fiancée from true happiness, she stops him.
It’s a sweet musical that horror fans everywhere quickly fell in love with despite the light-heartedness of the film.
1. Sam – Benny & Joon (1993)
Another one of Johnny Depp’s more eccentric characters, the movie is a romantic dramedy directed by Jeremiah Chechik that tells the story of Sam and Juniper “Joon” (who is played by Mary Stuart Masterson), a girl who is mentally ill. The two of them meet after Joon loses a bet that ends with Sam living with her and her brother Benny (played by Aidan Quinn).
Over the course of the film, their relationship develops sweetly and their oddities complement each other in an adorable way. The film takes a bit of a turn for the worse when Benny discovers their relationship and kicks Sam out of the apartment because of it, but it all resolves itself in the end.
Depp’s performance as Sam is fantastic and he brings the character to life while emulating the ghost of Buster Keaton through Sam’s delightful and entertaining routines. The romance between Benny and Ruthie also adds to the adorableness of the story as a whole.