Total Recall: Johnny Depp's Best Movies
We count down the best-reviewed work of the Lone Ranger 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 returns to theaters as Tonto in Disney's July 4 blockbuster The Lone Ranger, 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 25-year film career. Here we go!
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."
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 helps cost 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 also 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."
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."
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."
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 1970s 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."