Total Recall

Johnny Depp's Best Movies

We count down the best-reviewed work of the Transcendence star.

by | April 17, 2014 | Comments

Johnny Depp He once seemed destined for nothing better or worse than simple teen idolhood, but since escaping from 21 Jump Street in 1990, Johnny Depp has proven himself to be a brave (and mostly pretty astute) chooser of scripts, building an impressive filmography that encompasses everything from black-and-white arthouse fare (Dead Man) to blockbuster Disney trilogies (Pirates of the Caribbean). This weekend, he returns to theaters in Transcendence as a scientist who has his consciousness uploaded to the cloud, so we thought now would be a fine time to devote a fresh installment of Total Recall to counting down the 10 best-reviewed releases of Depp’s 30-year (and counting) film career.


84%

10. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

Twelve years after producing Henry Selick for The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton returned to stop-motion animation with Corpse Bride, a collaboration with co-director Mike Johnson. Starring Depp as the voice of Victor Van Dort, a skittish young fishmongers’ son who finds himself accidentally wed to an undead hottie (Helena Bonham Carter), Bride used a Jewish folktale for it’s story’s inspiration, but visually, it offered a sort of hybrid between Nightmare and Beetlejuice, with all the stylish flair and sweet melancholy that filmgoers had come to expect from a Tim Burton production. Though Bride didn’t exert the level of box office dominance enjoyed by 2005’s other Burton/Depp project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it still grossed over $100 million worldwide — and earned the admiration of critics like the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rea, who gushed, “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is easily the best stop-motion animated necrophiliac musical romantic comedy of all time. It is also just simply, wonderful: a morbid, merry tale of true love that dazzles the eyes and delights the soul.”


83%

9. Finding Neverland

Sticklers for accuracy bristled at the liberties it took with J.M. Barrie’s life story, but Finding Neverland was still good enough for audiences — who made it a $100 million-plus hit — and the Academy, which bestowed Johnny Depp with a Best Actor nomination for his work as the playwright and Peter Pan author. Neverland finds Barrie nursing his wounds after the failure of his most recent play, befriending a widow (Kate Winslet) and her young boys, and taking inspiration from their unorthodox friendship — even as it costs him his own marriage and puts him at odds with the boys’ grandmother (Julie Christie). “Plenty of narrative liberties have been taken,” admitted Jason Blake of the Sydney Morning Herald, who then argued that “It doesn’t matter a jot. At heart, this isn’t a biography anyway, it’s an ode to the power of the imagination.”


87%

8. Arizona Dream

Filmed in 1991, Emir Kusturica’s Arizona Dream languished in limbo for two years before it was released in Europe — and it didn’t reach American shores until the following September, at which point it grossed a little over $100,000 in limited release. It seems like a pretty harsh fate for a movie featuring Johnny Depp, Jerry Lewis, and Faye Dunaway, but if you’ve ever seen Dream, you know it is not, to put it mildly, the type of film Hollywood studios were made to promote. The story of a fish tagger (Depp) who believes he can see the fishes’ dreams, it’s over two hours of absurdist comedy, packed with symbolism-laden dream sequences and oddball characters like Grace, the turtle-obsessed young woman played by Lili Taylor. Even the critics that enjoyed it used words like “peculiar,” “odd,” and “bizarre” to describe Dream; as Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, “Even at its full length, showing off a more seductive rhythm and the buoyant humanism that is this director’s calling card, it remains as ripe a subject for therapy as for criticism.”


85%

7. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

More than 15 years after lip-synching to the voice of James Intveld in Cry-Baby, Johnny Depp returned to the world of cinematic musicals — and marked his sixth collaboration with Tim Burton — for 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, an appropriately bloody adaptation of the Sondheim play about a Victorian barber whose unjust imprisonment sparks a murderous (and ultimately tragic) quest for revenge. This time around, however, Depp did his own singing — and acquitted himself rather admirably, surprising critics who expected a Return of Bruno-sized embarrassment from another actor trying to get by with a few vocal lessons and a ton of chutzpah. On the acting front, the critical hosannas afforded Sweeney Todd‘s cast — which included a gleefully deranged Helena Bonham Carter and Alan Rickman as another of the deliciously grotesque villains he plays so well — were less unexpected; at this point, critics had come to expect a certain level of quality from Depp and Burton’s collaborations, and for the most part, they came away satisfied. As Roger Ebert summed it up in his review, “it combines some of Tim Burton’s favorite elements: The fantastic, the ghoulish, the bizarre, the unspeakable, the romantic and in Johnny Depp, he has an actor he has worked with since Edward Scissorhands and finds a perfect instrument.”


88%

6. Donnie Brasco

The mid-to-late 1990s were an uneven period for Depp; although he scored a medium-sized hit at the box office with 1995’s Don Juan De Marco, it isn’t one of his best-reviewed performances (and it allowed Bryan Adams back into the Top 40, too). Other releases during this period ranged from the willfully non-commercial (1995’s Dead Man) to the just plain unpopular (Nick of Time, released the same year). 1997’s Donnie Brasco, a dramatization of the FBI’s late ’70s investigation into the Bonanno crime syndicate, wasn’t an enormous hit, but it earned respectable grosses — and more importantly, it allowed Depp to work with a director (Mike Newell) and legendary co-star (Al Pacino) who brought out the best in him. Depp plays Joe Pistone, the FBI agent assigned to infiltrate the Bonanno gang by pretending to be a diamond expert named Donnie Brasco and ingratiating himself to a low-level foot soldier named Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino); since Pistone’s situation (as well as Paul Attanasio’s script) keeps much of his true self hidden beneath the surface, the part required an actor capable of communicating very subtly, and Depp rose to the occasion. His between-the-lines performance was matched by Pacino, who dialed back the high-volume bluster he’d become known for, earning the pair praise from critics like the Houston Chronicle’s Jeff Millar, who wrote, “Depp is as good as I’ve seen him, and Pacino is simply astonishing.”


88%

5. Rango

When director Gore Verbinski ventured into uncharted territory for his animated debut, he brought along familiar company: Johnny Depp, who starred in the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies with Verbinski at the helm (and continued the franchise without him the same year, toplining the decidedly less Tomatometer-friendly On Stranger Tides for new director Rob Marshall). The duo combined Verbinski’s box office instincts with Depp’s love of the strange for Rango, a delightfully off-kilter cartoon about a pet chameleon who ends up stranded in the desert and bumbles his way into being appointed sheriff of a town under siege by a vicious rattlesnake (voiced by Bill Nighy). Although a handful of critics were put off by Rango‘s surreal overtones and adult humor, audiences approved to the tune of a $245 million worldwide gross, the Academy awarded it Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and the vast majority of writers echoed the sentiments of the New Yorker’s Bruce Diones, who said it was “built for viewers of any age with a taste for joyful anarchy.”


90%

4. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Not counting the delayed Arizona Dream, Johnny Depp released two movies in 1993, both of them handling themes of mental illness with a relatively gentle touch. Of the pair, Benny & Joon arrived in theaters first, but it was What’s Eating Gilbert Grape that ultimately held a firmer grip on critics’ hearts, earning an 89 percent Tomatometer rating and an Academy Award nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio, who laid the groundwork for his post-Growing Pains future with a breakout performance as the mentally handicapped younger brother of the small-town grocery clerk whose inner conflicts are reflected in the title. Torn between familial obligations and a need to establish a life of his own, Gilbert gave Depp another opportunity to perfect the “sensitive misfit” archetype he’d been drawn back to repeatedly since making Edward Scissorhands. It was a type of role he’d soon branch out from, but in the meantime, Gilbert Grape entranced critics like Susan Tavernetti, who wrote, “with an eccentric charm that falters only in a few places, the movie makes a strong statement against conformity and the franchising of America by celebrating a cast of characters and a storyline that don’t fit into a mold.”


90%

3. Edward Scissorhands

21 Jump Street made Johnny Depp a household name, but heck, the show did the same thing for Richard Grieco; to become a star, Depp needed to carry a film that really got people talking — and he found that film in Edward Scissorhands, the December 1990 release that was the first of what would become many collaborations with director Tim Burton. He’d been in a handful of movies already, but Scissorhands was the one that really launched Depp’s career; in fact, he embodied the role of the titular blade-fisted misfit so thoroughly that it’s difficult to imagine how it could have been pulled off by any of the actors previously floated for it — a list including famous names such as Robert Downey, Jr., William Hurt, Tom Cruise, and Michael Jackson. A critical as well as commercial hit, Edward Scissorhands set the tone for much of what was to come from both Burton and Depp, and won high marks from writers like the Washington Post’s Desson Thomson, who noted, “Depp is perfectly cast, Burton builds a surrealistically funny cul-de-sac world, and there are some very funny performances from grownups Dianne Wiest, Kathy Baker and Alan Arkin.”


92%

2. Ed Wood

These days, you almost can’t be an outsider artist of any real renown without having at least one reverent documentary to your name, but in the early 1990s, it would not have been unreasonable to assume that any biopic about Ed Wood — director of Plan 9 from Outer Space and other classics of unintentional humor — would arrive on the screen drenched in irony and coated in arch wit. Not so 1994’s Ed Wood, a loving tribute rendered by the hand of Tim Burton, whose reunion here with Johnny Depp helped the Edward Scissorhands star get over a boredom with acting that had begun to seep into his work. Burton’s version of Wood didn’t hew religiously close to the reported facts of the director’s life — and neither did the black-and-white production entice many filmgoers, racking up an appropriately Wood-sized $5.9 million gross — but critics appreciated the silver lining Burton saw in a frequently derided career, not to mention the relentless (albeit blind) optimism with which the director and star imbued their subject. Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers echoed the opinions of a majority of his peers when he wrote, “outrageously disjointed and just as outrageously entertaining, the picture stands as a successful outsider’s tribute to a failed kindred spirit.”


94%

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street

Before he broke hearts as Tom Hanson on 21 Jump Street, Johnny Depp was one of Freddy Krueger’s original victims, getting his first big break as Glen Lantz, the well-meaning but ultimately doomed boyfriend who tries to save Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) from the steel-tipped clutches of Springwood’s least favorite resident. He was one of a handful of actors (including Kevin Bacon and Crispin Glover) to get a leg up in the ’80s by taking an early paycheck for enduring a grisly on-screen demise, but Depp’s Nightmare exit was particularly gruesome, ending with his perfect hair and cheekbones crushed into a horrific fountain of blood and guts. A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s legacy has been tainted somewhat by the downward spiral of sequels that followed it, but at the time, it was really a breath of fresh air for a genre that desperately needed one — something Depp tacitly alluded to when he made a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo in 1991’s alleged series-ender, Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare. Despite subsequent installments’ inability to recapture its gory glory, the first Nightmare, in the words of ReelViews’ James Berardinelli, “still stands on its own as an intriguing and chilling example of how horror works best when the characters and the audience don’t have to be lobotomized.”


In case you were wondering, here are Depp’s top 10 movies according RT users’ scores:

1. Edward Scissorhands — 91%
2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — 90%
3. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape — 89%
4. Donnie Brasco — 89%
5. Ed Wood — 88%
6. Dead Man — 88%
7. Finding Neverland — 87%
8. Blow — 87%
9. Arizona Dream — 87%
10. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl — 86%


Take a look through Depp’s complete filmography, as well as the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don’t forget to check out the reviews for Transcendence.

 

Tag Cloud

spinoff 21st Century Fox animated Britbox elevated horror Pride Month singing competition E! TCA Awards ESPN Sony Pictures Crackle Avengers doctor who Nat Geo period drama christmas movies Television Critics Association DC Comics The Walking Dead biography scary movies Spectrum Originals Baby Yoda Red Carpet travel TIFF Premiere Dates jamie lee curtis LGBT reboot cults finale twilight free movies breaking bad DC Universe Walt Disney Pictures aliens Musical President Stephen King Box Office cartoon zombie book psychological thriller Ghostbusters Amazon Prime canceled TV shows harry potter 71st Emmy Awards E3 Spike all-time Tubi Mindy Kaling Film Biopics binge Marvel Television Tumblr ABC Family Cartoon Network Disney Channel adventure Black Mirror game show Star Wars casting BBC America blaxploitation Emmys Mary Poppins Returns comics 20th Century Fox HBO Max documentaries GoT comiccon franchise romance dc Amazon Prime Video child's play spider-man Rom-Com 45 Pixar discovery A24 TNT die hard Paramount Network BAFTA The CW Netflix Travel Channel IFC Chilling Adventures of Sabrina cancelled TV series 2017 Animation FX on Hulu Family SXSW Universal BBC Marathons cancelled Vudu documentary spy thriller Fall TV crime thriller video on demand news RT History OneApp Brie Larson mockumentary Shudder Pet Sematary crime dark Writers Guild of America name the review Lifetime Hulu ITV Horror joker IFC Films Election Certified Fresh PBS kids adaptation Hallmark universal monsters halloween Christmas dragons Endgame hist Nominations quibi Esquire supernatural Chernobyl Captain marvel Grammys Syfy dramedy talk show 2019 CW Seed Amazon National Geographic Tomatazos satire 4/20 sports TCA 2017 hispanic TLC AMC teaser Musicals screenings Television Academy 2018 critics best Pirates MCU History Fox News See It Skip It Holidays anthology YouTube Red Star Trek Funimation parents Hear Us Out Turner Classic Movies BET Awards Arrowverse Extras Set visit Disney Plus sequel Winners composers Polls and Games Superheroes sag awards television nature Epix comedies Winter TV VOD Tarantino canceled Mystery NYCC strong female leads Marvel renewed TV shows SundanceTV Calendar NBC indie Film Festival rotten movies we love Heroines X-Men APB cancelled TV shows Comics on TV game of thrones medical drama Crunchyroll TV renewals WGN asian-american Lionsgate cooking chucky slashers Fantasy Creative Arts Emmys police drama toy story Adult Swim concert San Diego Comic-Con docudrama green book cops serial killer justice league Apple TV Plus Sundance Now WarnerMedia war Acorn TV witnail TBS Discovery Channel Oscars zero dark thirty mutant Infographic A&E Pop TV Sundance Peacock Spring TV MTV Drama Hallmark Christmas movies The Witch mission: impossible Rocketman Trailer series 2016 Warner Bros. Showtime FXX Bravo technology Rock Music Awards thriller Elton John Mary Tyler Moore 24 frames crime drama VICE Character Guide transformers blockbuster Kids & Family Freeform indiana jones Disney+ Disney Plus Sneak Peek El Rey The Arrangement Ovation BET boxoffice Turner south america based on movie Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Mary poppins stoner festivals golden globes Rocky Masterpiece Toys a nightmare on elm street GIFs Black History Month dogs Binge Guide Nickelodeon YouTube Paramount cars DC streaming service 2020 Pop award winner Comic Book PaleyFest Anna Paquin natural history Shondaland OWN Reality VH1 Women's History Month Watching Series Cosplay sitcom Ellie Kemper ratings Western theme song diversity stand-up comedy Dark Horse Comics richard e. Grant FX screen actors guild The Purge Disney HBO Go Interview Action CBS Photos spain FOX cinemax HBO Reality Competition Marvel Studios Martial Arts politics comic space Summer political drama Trivia Cannes batman romantic comedy Country revenge GLAAD RT21 latino robots crossover Netflix Christmas movies USA Columbia Pictures vampires Video Games TruTV TV ghosts Superheroe reviews Super Bowl Apple video facebook criterion USA Network Valentine's Day BBC One foreign Academy Awards cats MSNBC 2015 Quiz CBS All Access Sci-Fi Podcast Song of Ice and Fire PlayStation LGBTQ Thanksgiving Logo American Society of Cinematographers what to watch Food Network TV Land Starz Countdown ABC Sundance TV children's TV dceu Holiday Lifetime Christmas movies science fiction directors TCM Comedy independent streaming disaster unscripted Lucasfilm TCA Winter 2020 First Reviews zombies movie films Emmy Nominations Mudbound true crime DGA Disney streaming service versus historical drama Schedule psycho Year in Review DirecTV werewolf Trophy Talk Teen Comedy Central YouTube Premium social media Best and Worst YA CMT TCA spanish language miniseries CNN Apple TV+ Classic Film movies New York Comic Con First Look SDCC anime 007 cancelled television Awards Tour Opinion tv talk Amazon Studios