Total Recall: Johnny Depp's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed films from the Public Enemies star.
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'll gun his way into theaters as John Dillinger in Michael Mann's Public Enemies, so we thought now would be a fine time to devote an installment of Total Recall to counting down the 10 best-reviewed releases of Depp's 25-year film career.
As always, we let the Tomatometer do the heavy lifting, arranging our list according to the reviews written by the film critics we all know and love. With a lifetime Tomatometer rating of 63 percent -- not to mention a tendency to throw himself into some pretty far-flung roles -- there are bound to be some hotly contested omissions, but that's just part of what makes these things interesting, right? Count down with us, then visit Depp's complete filmography for a closer look at his body of work. Here we go!
The mainstream conversion that John Waters kicked off with 1988's Hairspray continued with 1990's Cry-Baby, a gleefully over-the-top sendup of the "greasers versus squares" movies popular in the '50s. In just his fourth major role -- and the first to reach theaters since his departure from 21 Jump Street -- Depp stars as the tough-but-sensitive Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, the orphaned son of an infamous serial bomber whose relationship with the pert and pure Allison Vernon-Williams (Amy Locane) becomes the talk of the town. Though it would later become enough of a cult classic to inspire a Tony-nominated Broadway adaptation, Cry-Baby was something of a dud during its theatrical run, failing to recoup its budget despite a colorful cast that included Iggy Pop, Ricki Lake, Joey Heatherton, Willem Dafoe, and Traci Lords. Critics, generally speaking, weren't as kind to it as they had been to Hairspray, but reviews were still positive, and the film's young star was singled out for praise by critics like Time's Richard Corliss, who wrote, "Waters' hole card is Johnny Depp, the winsome tough from TV's 21 Jump Street, who radiates big- screen grace and swagger as Cry-Baby -- no easy trick, since he is guying his own image."
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."
Adapting a book as beloved as Roald Dahl's 1964 classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- and, in the bargain, attempting to update a film as deeply ingrained in a generation's consciousness as 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory -- is the type of filmmaking decision that's bound to ruffle a few feathers, and eyebrows were indeed raised when Warner Bros. announced plans for a new Wonka in 1999. Over the next four years, the project tumbled from one director to the next, with the studio first hiring Gary Ross, then mulling over a list of candidates that included Robert Zemeckis and Martin Scorsese before ultimately handing the golden ticket to Tim Burton -- who then, unsurprisingly, cast Johnny Depp as the madcap chocolatier. Sporting an Anna Wintour bob and a disquieting grin, Depp's version of Wonka was a far cry from the kinder and gentler (but still a little scary) Gene Wilder of the '71 release; still, critics and Dahl diehards appreciated the fact that Burton stayed truer to the book's dark tone, and the sheer visual spectacle of the movie ensured that audiences would get the maximum bang for their buck. In the end, Charlie made quite a few bucks, gobbling up nearly $475 million in worldwide grosses, and managed to pile up some pretty sweet reviews, too -- like the one from Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who called it "a madhouse kiddie musical with a sweet-and-sour heart."
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."
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."