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My Top 5 Johnny Depp Films

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Mark Kermode | 15:13 UK time, Friday, 11 May 2012

Some people think I don't like Johnny Depp because of the Pirates films but in fact I think that with the right director he is capable of great things. Here is my selection of his five best films.

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  • Comment number 1.

    I absolutely love Ed Wood, shame it never seems to get the attention it deserves. By far my favourite Tim Burton film

  • Comment number 2.

    Aside from your top five and possibly 'Donnie Brasco' and 'Public Enemies', Johnny Depp is a little-talent pretty boy

  • Comment number 3.

    Have I ever mentioned how much I hated Tim Burton's adaptation of Alice in Wonderland? Well Johnny Depp was awful in that too.

  • Comment number 4.

    My favourite Johnny Depp films are;

    1. Dead Man - A brilliant performance by Depp who goes from a naive soft spoken man to one of the most 'feared' men of a ruthless, horrid and strangely beautiful landscape. One of the best films of the 1990s, a film that pushed the 'Acid Western' subgenre into the forefront (even though Acid Westerns have been around since the 1950s), and a brilliant score by Neil Young.

    2. Ed Wood - Tim Burton goes Raging Bull in this bio-epic of a forgotten man who would go onto to make a mark in his own personal world. Depp's portrayel of a 'misfit', who just wants to be free and make his own works in a repressed and conservative society, is very charming in Burton's best film by far.

    3. The Ninth Gate - An unappreciated film from 1999, released at a time when apocalyptic horror/thrillers dominated the multi-plexes. Roman Polanski's brilliant back to basics satanic thriller goes against the Hollywood of the new millenium by abandoning the MTV/Tony Scott asthetic and the ageless Depp finally starts to look his age by giving for once a low key peformance as a rare book dealer/detective trying to authenticate a satanic text. A brilliant film by a masterful director.

  • Comment number 5.

    Depp ~ can be good with the right material. Certainly one of the best comedy character actors working today – at his best as Jack Sparrow in the first PoC. (You may not like the movie but he took a risk and reinvented the cinematic pirate, breaking Robert Newton’s template.)

    Depp’s abilities in comedy characterisation is also obvious in Scissorhands, Fear & Loathing, Ed Wood and his vocal for Rango.

    But dramatic roles? Depp has played a lot of pretty unmemorable straight roles in a lot of barely memorable films. He could do with taking more risks. Perhaps middle age will push him to do so, unless he’s content to just be immensely rich and able to turn in a crowd pleasing Jack Sparrow turn every few years.

    Regrettably Jack Sparrow is what Depp’s going to forever be associated with.

  • Comment number 6.

    I couldn't agree more! Ed Wood is a modern classic; terrifically weird, with Depp's best ever performance and the best Tim Burton film! It bombed when it came out (probably because it was in that dreaded 'black and white,') but has since happily risen in prominence (and yes, Landau deserved his Oscar more than Samuel L Jackson did for Pulp Fiction). Haven't seen Dead Man yet, but will get round to it. Other notable Depp performances are Donnie Brasco (where he holds his own against Pacino), and The Libertine; two proofs that he is more than just a Burton alter ego. Wish he'd stop making those ridiculous pirate films; he's worth better than THAT dross!

  • Comment number 7.

    My five would be:

    Ninth Gate
    What's eating Gilbert Grape
    Secret Window
    Ed Wood

    Demonstrate his huge range and variety.

  • Comment number 8.

    Anyone else notice at 2:01 he says four but three appears?
    *smug feeling

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes, Ben. So did I!

  • Comment number 10.

    This blog has made me think, and what I think is that there are no Johnny Depp movies that I either like or care for. How is that possible?

  • Comment number 11.

    No Donnie Brasco? Shame on you!!!

  • Comment number 12.

    Ed Wood is an excellent movie, but you really have to watch Ed Wood's wonderfully awful Glen or Glenda to fully appreciate the white cashmere sweater worn by Johnny Depp.

    PS. Did Martin Landau deserve to win best supporting actor over Samuel Jackson's performance in Pulp Fiction? Hmmm.

  • Comment number 13.

    My first comment in my favourite blog - caused by folk thinking that JD is good in the 9th Gate - sorry but NO. His Man-bag (which remains unexplicably stuck to his back throughout) acted better than he did. I totally agree about Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands but I'm really not convinced by anything else - sorry.

  • Comment number 14.

    Most Depp-Burton collaborations (Ed Wood aside) basically show Johnny Depp doing the same performance: quirky, offbeat, strange voices, strange looks, eccentric outcasts..(Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, and now Dark Shadows). Depp has always been much better without Burton in my opinion, I love Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and even though it's a small part he's great in Platoon.

  • Comment number 15.

    I was very impressed with Depp in The Ninth Gate. He gave a careful and understated performance where another actor might have taken the subject matter and become overblown and campy. Theres a particular scene where the apparent artist behind one of the pictures is revealed to him, and he conveys more in a slight raising of one eyebrow than many could have with an entire speech.

  • Comment number 16.

    I'm a bit of a Depp-ite. I agree re Mark's choices and Ninth Gate and Donnie Brasco. But I also have a soft spot for From Hell, Nick of Time and Corpse Bride though could have done without Public Enemies I think.

  • Comment number 17.

    havent yet watched Dead man so that goes on the ' to watch' list. I would have struggled to get it down to 5 though as i also like him in Whats Eating Gilbert Grape and Donnie Brasco.

  • Comment number 18.

    Private Resort, nuff said.

    The Good Doctor has often been challenged to make a movie and he has replied that he would be hopeless.

    In which case, I challenge him to have a stab at making the worse movie ever.

  • Comment number 19.

    Ninth Gate

    Depp foregoes the histrionics and mugging and plays it straight and understated. Directed by Polanski, whose three films from the 1990s (Bitter Moon, Death and the Maiden & Ninth Gate are all underrated) the movie has a Hammer sensibility about it and a fine support in Frank Langella.

  • Comment number 20.

    For the first time in a long time I think i'm in complete agreement with Mark. I love Depp's work, and I even agree with the order of the top 5 here. Well done Dr K.

  • Comment number 21.

    Definitely missing Donnie Brasco and Ninth Gate, Depps interplay with Pacino is simply astounding and many scenes are comparable if not better than those in Michael Manns Heat. As for Ninth Gate any film that makes me yearn for a sequel, prequel and tv series must havve something going for it.

  • Comment number 22.

    Fantastic list. Cannot complain about those choices. Although I might replace Edward Scissorhands with Donnie Brasco (Johnny can do subtle too!) and put Fear and Loathing up a notch.

  • Comment number 23.

    No1 - Dead Man
    No2 - Ed Wood
    No3 - Edward Scissorhands
    No4 - Fear & loathing in Las Vegas

  • Comment number 24.

    A good list can't quite argue with it, I could nitpick the order, but instead I'll nitpick a couple of minor points: Jack Sparrow is not his performance where he combines Bowie and Anthony Newley, that would be Sweeney Todd (or at least so I thought when I wrote 4 years ago: "(although his attempt to sing in a mockney accent pitches his singing voice somewhere between David Bowie and Anthony Newley)", not that you'd have seen that, but I think we've honed in on who his vocal coaches references are).

    About Fear and Loathing.... it's a film I have problems with, as both a Hunter S. fan and a child of the era of tricky Dick. The main flaw is that it doesn't provide a context within the film for viewers who don't know Nixon nor Thompson's well drawn deep seated hatred of him. What you're left with is that mixed delight you have when you're the designated driver, half the time your stoned and drunk friends entertain you, the rest they bore. Depp's performance is superb, and I'm tempted to say that with The Rum Diary, a much more flawed film, plus his narration of Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, I'd accepted that combination as worthy of a top 5 slot.

    Although not noteworthy for Depp's appearance, I'd feel it hard to leave out A Nightmare on Elm Street just 'cause it is just one of the best.

    Your comments on Dead Man made me think of an interesting challenge for you and the Dodge Brothers, if you could illicit Jarmusch's permission and Neil Young's participation, would you consider a live accompaniment performance to the film? I know that's a tall order, but you have to aim high, just not like Ed Wood did.

  • Comment number 25.

    It's amazing to think how great Depp used to be. There have been too many Pirates, Wonderlands and Chocolate Factories in recent years.

    Here is my top 5 and you would be hard pressed to find an actor who could generate such a diverse list.

    1. Donnie Brasco
    2. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    3. Ed Wood
    4. Dead Man
    5. Arizona Dream

  • Comment number 26.

    My favorite Johnny Depp movie is Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street. It is a haunting, scary and tragic movie about a man who has lost everything, and goes on a villainous rampage. Depp, Rickman, and Spall give spell binding proformences. A masterpeice

  • Comment number 27.

    (oops, and I misspelled elicit)

  • Comment number 28.

    I love, love Dead Man, and Johnny Depp is great in it, as is Gary Farmer. Glad to see it on the list!

  • Comment number 29.

    I mostly only like Depp when he is playing it more restrained. My favourites are
    1. Donnie Brasco
    2. The Ninth Gate
    3. Ed Wood
    4. Nick of Time
    5. What's Eating Gilbert Grape

  • Comment number 30.

    Totally agree with your number one. Some films you just LOVE from the very beginning, Ed Wood is just wonderful.
    I`m going to sale close to the wind with this, but may i suggest The Tourist is a contender for the list! Yes, Yes , i hear you scream its TERRIBLE, but hear me out. Almost all bad films are just painful to watch, Battlefield Earth,Bride Wars etc. but once in a blue moon just like Plan 9,a strange alchemy occurs. Plan 9 is great because of its amazing awfulness, i honestly think The Tourist is a rare modern example of this strange magic. The key question for me is , What was he thinking of ???

  • Comment number 31.

    Glad to hear that you admire Johnny Depp, I think he is one of the finest actors of his generation, I particularly like his versatility and the fact that he does not play it safe but is prepared to take a risk on his choice of film. I would have included The Ninth Gate and Sweeney Todd in the list of my favourite Depp films, otherwise I would not argue too much with your list.

    I agree that the Pirate films are not great films but his comic camp portrayal of Jack Sparrow is excellent and does make them worth watching.

  • Comment number 32.

    I would have included GILBERT GRAPE in my list. Depp is an interesting actor who in my view is very dependent on strong direction and a joint vision (hence the failure of PUBLIC ENEMIES). Trouble is that working like this can become too cosy - look at the awful ALICE. I'm hoping that DARK SHADOWS brings some surprises but hey who can complain about the team which brought us ED WOOD and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

  • Comment number 33.

    My favorite Johnny Depp film by far is Fear & loathing in Las Vegas. To think I only saw it last year but (hate me if you will) I really enjoyed the first Pirates film. Why? Well growing up on a diet of Japanese, Korean and Bollywood films I thought depp's portrayal of Captain Jack had a universal charm.
    His body language, dialogue delivery had a truly world wide appeal.

  • Comment number 34.

    I can't name even one! I find his performances embarrassing to watch, so contrived. The films he makes with Burton being the worst. How much longer can he hide behind shades and layers of make-up? He's in his late 40's now, I'd like to see him act it just for once. Quirky,quirky, can only be repeated so often...........

  • Comment number 35.

    no-one has mentioned The Brave! ok the film as a whole could have been executed better but i think that the role Depp plays is exactly where he needs to be. it is clear that JD is a hugley talented actor and to be able to get the best out of his ability he needs to be portraying a character surrounded by controversy and difference of opinion. this way his performance will make people question there own ideas and principles. i know he directed this film and believe he co-wrote the script had perhaps it been directed by someone else who could have captured the ideas better i trulty believe it could have been a masterpiece. that aside fear and loathing is intoxicating and i have probably watched it 3 or 4 times a year for the last 10 years not just for Depp but for del torro also. oh and before i finish he was brilliant in once upon a time in mexico. this fim shows his ability to take over a film which he should really be a secondary character.

  • Comment number 36.

    He always comes across to me as if he has a method that he's worked v hard on and refining along the way: An impression of the actor from his films, but he's evidently supremely talented at applying this to some of the roles because he's instantly believable and measured, especially the initial Tim Burton roles seem imo to suit him perfectly. That's the problem I think Mr. Burton and Mr. Depp enjoy making their films so much together meanwhile the audience is thinking about the baggage of "another one of those roles again" which is one of the problems for actors to always just fit certain roles (chemistry as Morgan Freeman perfectly put it once). And over time their partnership needs account for that. Still interesting when partnerships between actors-directors form...

    That said, I think Johnny Depp is incredible in The Pirates Of The Caribbean films, either the role suits him perfectly or he really made the role so popular or likely both?

    I liked him a little more playing it as the straight on dude in Nick Of Time, who looks like a push over but you know he's got a little oddness under the surface (that's Johnny Depp through and through!) that ends up going all leftfield. And in Donnie Brasco again looks the straight narrow down the line kid but again he's a bit different; plays best hiding that than when he actually just plays straight up different imo. Also good on Jump Street /nostalgia glasses.

    Have not seen dead man or fear and loathing: Both sound v good.

  • Comment number 37.

    Looking at a list of Johnny Depp films, my first thought on this came as a surprise, even to me . That is, I would not be bothered if I never saw a film with Johnny Depp in it again. That is apart from Chocolat, because my wife always cuddles up to me when we watch it. Probably despite JD not because of him.

  • Comment number 38.

    The Libertine (do I need to say more for those that saw the movie?)

    Off topic
    I wonder if Dr K has seen this?
    Revolver the UK distributor of Iron Sky is planning to release the film for ONE DAY ONLY! (on a Wednesday...and never again)
    Evidently the Iron Sky team aren't too impressed either
    here's a short url to their response about this
    (the BBC profanity filter ate my last post due to their use of a word in the url that has legally been declared not to be offensive, for those people that know a certain punk bands discography ;) hmm now I'm having to describe the band in a circumlocutious manner to make sure this post goes through, self censorship, at least getting a 12 cert from the BBFC is straitforward... )

  • Comment number 39.

    On a tangential topic. Burton & Depp are closely identified with each other given the number of movies they've collaborated on; yet Burton now appears to be washed up creativity wise. I can't think of anything truly good since Burton since his Planet of the Apes reboot in 2001. Before that Sleepy Hollow was good in parts, Mars Attacks and Corpse Bride were fun but since then...?

    Is Burton a spent force?

  • Comment number 40.

    For what it's worth and in no particular order here are my choices.

    1. Donnie Brasco

    2. Finding Neverland

    3. Ed Wood

    4. Sweeney Todd

    5. Chocolat

    My reasons for choosing these particular films is mainly because they do show that despite claims that Mr D has a tendency to 'stay safe ' under the umbrella of Mr Burton and ' Pirates ', he can diversify, and bring more to the table. I also enjoyed his performance in Public Enemies and didn't think the film was quite as bad as the critics seemed to think. Then again since when have I ever listened to them....:-)

  • Comment number 41.

    I couldn't really disagree with that top 5, mine would be pretty much the same with maybe "Donnie Brasco" than "Cry-Baby".

    A underrated and much little seen Johnny Depp film is the only film he has ever directed "The Brave", the critics hated it so much in Cannes he has NEVER released it in the States.

  • Comment number 42.

    Can you provide us with your top 5 Christopher Walken films?

    Mine are (in no particular order):
    The King of New York
    The Funeral
    The Addiction
    True Romance
    Heaven's Gate

  • Comment number 43.

    Gotta give it for Ed Wood and Cry Baby - both fantastic films and wonderful Depp performances.

    He does vulnerable like no one else.

  • Comment number 44.

    Ed Wood. I'm a sucker for the clueless, talentless, yet enthusiastic creator archetype, and Johnny Depp pulls it off marvelously.

    But mainly I wanted to comment to sprinkle a pinch of salt in the Good Doctor's sores, and mention the hideously beautiful Rango. Yes we now live in a world where Gore Verbinsky has an Academy Award. He deserved it.

  • Comment number 45.

    I am a bit surprised nobody has mentioned Benny & Joon. One of his best comedy performances and a much under appreciated film with a great supporting performance from Mary Stuart Masterson. It also has one of my favourite scenes involving an iron. Comedy, tragedy and cookery all in one film.....what more do you want?

  • Comment number 46.

    'The Libertine' did it for me. That cemented Johnny Depp as a great actor in my books. Also 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas', 'Ed Wood', 'Sweeney Todd' and... for the life of me, I can't think of another one because I haven't seen any Johnny Depp films in ages. Interestingly, when I see him as himself, he does come across as depressingly uninteresting.

  • Comment number 47.

    I hated Dead Man and I can't stand Jim Jarmusch's films like Mark can't stand Michael Bay.

    Such a pretentious film to me.

    My fav Johnny Depp films would be Blow as George Jung, Donnie Brasco, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus as one of the Tony's, Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as Duke.

    I disagree his worse is Jack's From Hell by miles Mark.

    His best cameo though is the one he did in The Fast Show but the 21 Jump Street cameo is a close second.

  • Comment number 48.

    4.) RANGO
    3.) ED WOOD
    2.) BLOW
    1.) FEAR & LOATHING [...]

    (With you 100% on your dislike of the PIRATES franchise; but I dislike DEAD MAN even more.)

  • Comment number 49.

    @smilesalot I agree with you; Benny & Joon is a wonderful, funny and generally entertaining movie and it is definitely one of my Top 3 Depp performances; however Mary Stuart Masterson is not a supporting performance, for me she steals the show.

    My Top 5 Depp

    5. From Hell ... - I think this may have snuck in more because of my love for the Alan Moore graphic novel.

    4. Once Upon a Time in Mexico - 3rd in a set of great movies, and there is something darkly attractive about Depp (and his character) in this movie; even from a heterosexual male perspective on this one ... ;-)

    3. Benny & Joon (See above)

    1. & 2. What's Eating Gilbert Grape & Ed Wood - Can't actually decide on an order for these two. Two great performances and both very different. Incidentally, Gilbert Grape also contains a one of the rare notable performances by Di Caprio.

  • Comment number 50.

    Glad to see the love for The Ninth Gate - I thought I was one of the only people who liked it (much better than most of the crop of Millennial horror that was around at the time.) Even though he was a bit miscast; you're supposed to wonder why on earth the "Girl" would take up with Corso, whereas there's hardly any mystery as to why she would take up with Depp no matter how hard he tries to slum it down...

    But yes, no question for me that Ed Wood is the definitive Depp role - he gets to show off everything he can do without going totally OTT in the process.

  • Comment number 51.

    I spent six months finding EVERY Johnny Depp movie on DVD for my friend who is a big fan. I've watched quite a few of his movies and find him an incredible versatile actor.

    My favourite movies of his are:

    1. Ed Wood
    2. Dead Man
    3. Sweeney Todd
    4. The Ninth Gate
    5. Finding Neverland/Edward Scissorhands (both movies make me cry like a child).

  • Comment number 52.

    Johnny Depps last five films
    1) Dark Shadows
    2) Rum Diary
    3) Pirates of the caribbean
    4) Rango
    5) The Tourist

    if you love him let him go

  • Comment number 53.

    'What's Eating Gilbert Grape?' is good, but the Depp film I like, but that is often overlooked, is 'Don Juan De Marco'. Both he and Brando are great in it.

  • Comment number 54.

    He's a friend of ours....Donnie Brasco and Sleepy Hollow are excellent too!

  • Comment number 55.

    I can't believe someone genuinely said Once Upon A Time in Mexico. What and overblown self-indulgent piece of tripe that film was. And as for Depp, it looks like he sent his performance in by carrier pigeon.
    For me personally I think there's a distinction between films i enjoy that have Johnny Depp in (What's Eating Gilbert Grape? Blow, Donnie Brasco, Ninth Gate, etc) and films that I enjoy Johnny Depp in. So in the spirit of that I have compiled two lists:

    Favourite Johnny Depp Films:

    Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
    Ed Wood
    Edward Scissor Hands
    Nick Of Time
    The Libertine

    I would have put Nightmare On Elm Street In This list but I'm not sure it counts.

    Top Johnny Depp Performances
    Ed Wood
    Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas
    Edward Scissorhands
    and as much as I dislike the film I really enjoyed his performance in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.

  • Comment number 56.

    I agree Once Upon A Time in Mexico was rubbish but Johnny Depp was good in that film and was the only thing I liked about that film, especially after he had his eyes gouged out.

  • Comment number 57.

    Yep, agree with a lot of what's been said.
    Particularly like Ed Wood and Donnie Brasco.

    As with Burton, much of the more recent output seems to make it easy to forget a lot of good earlier work. Whilst not absolute classics, Depp has also put in excellent performances in:
    Don Juan DeMarco
    The Ninth Gate
    Finding Neverland

  • Comment number 58.

    If it's not too late, I'd like to put in a vote for 'Arizona Dream' (1993) - a very odd film, with a terrific soundtrack by Goran Bregovic. Depp is just fine in it, his character Axel in a strange relationship between a woman and her stepdaughter, played respectively by Faye Dunaway and Lili Taylor. It's worth it it just to see Depp perform cinema's greatest chicken impression - ever! Throw in Jerry Lewis as a used car salesman and Vincent Gallo performing the crop spraying scene from 'North by Northwest' live on stage in a talent competition and you have a template for the sort of weird scenarios that Depp seems to thrive on. (Sorry...on which he seems to thrive.)

  • Comment number 59.

    Great list Mark. As well as those chosen, I do have a soft spot for Benny and Joon and I think he's marvellous in Once Upon a Time in Mexico. He needs to play more sociopaths.

  • Comment number 60.

    Solid work, Dr. K. Here's my top five:

    5. A Nightmare On Elm Street - It's easy to say in retrospect, but you can see the beginnings of his development as a fine actor from this part.

    4. Rango - Gore Verbinski's best movie and the encapsulation of all the eccentrics that Depp has ever played. Terrific voice acting.

    3. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street - Depp carries and sells the concept of Burton's adaptation of Sondheim's musical from the stage to the screen. Also, Depp gives Todd a legitimate pathos that others might not.

    2. Ed Wood - Another of Depp's eccentrics, done with such charisma and energy. Slivering around in Wood's shoes, it's an amazing physical personification of the man.

    1. Edward Scissorhands - Speaking of physical... The mostly silent character of Ed Scissorhands is given life by Depp. This fairy tale is the best thing that both Depp and Burton ever done.

    On a side note, he's lost in the ensemble cast of Platoon, one of the greatest films to come out of Hollywood, but he's still there.


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