Featured Article - Johnny Depp: Lost At Sea

With this week's release of Mortdecai, we discuss the long and steady decline of Mr. Depp's career.

There is a sad truth that needs to be brought to light. It’s one of those truths we try to ignore in hopes it may change. Yet as another year has come to pass, it’s becoming harder and harder to ignore. It’s time to break the ice. What in the hell happened to Johnny Depp? Once an admired and multitalented actor, Depp’s versatility has been on a steep decline as of late. One could even go as far to say he has become a typecast, a caricature of his own self. His constant portrayal of crazy characters has unfortunately resulted in a one dimensional image, an on screen broken record that has begun to wear thin with long time viewers. As the old saying about creativity goes, “you have to think outside the box,” not build one and crawl into it.

My Father Was The “Alphabet Bomber.”

"Yo, bitches.
Check out my abs....
and my violin."
Depp got his start in television starring in the series 21 Jump Street. The show’s popularity earned Depp praise, and he quickly found himself sharing photo spreads with Kirk Cameron and River Phoenix in Bop magazine. It was an awkward right of passage that all late '80s heartthrobs had to endure. In 1990 Depp would make the jump to the big screen, starring in Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and John Water’s Cry-Baby. Both films would go on to gain cult status and earn Depp acclaim as an actor. He would put that talent to use in the decade to follow, starring in a variety of critically acclaimed films, such as What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Sleepy Hallow, and Chocolat. Each film gave Depp a chance to showcase his versatility with unique and challenging roles. Directors and co-stars raved about him. He was one of those rare actors who had the uncanny ability to play nearly every role presented to him.

In 2003 Depp starred in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. His quirky performance as Captain Jack Sparrow had many Disney executives concerned during production. Some even considered replacing Depp altogether, unable to see the charm of the delusional paranoia Depp so convincingly portrayed. Their concerns were debunked when Pirates earned over 300 million dollars at the box office, and Depp an Oscar nomination for best actor. The success of Pirates ignited a new franchise for Disney. 

The next 2 Pirates movies enjoyed equal success, and were the first sequels Depp ever filmed. This gave Depp the opportunity to expand his character, and the scripts were no doubt written to allow for more Captain Jack antics. The success of the Pirates trilogy catapulted Deep to A-List fame. It also drew a line in the sand in Depp's career. The old Johnny, and the new Johnny. Old fans and new fans. Indy film Depp and Hollywood Deep. After wrapping up the he re-teamed with Tim Burton for the film adaptation of Sweeny Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. It was a return to form for both actor and director, since their previous collaboration Willy Wonka failed to live up their past standards. Depp would follow that by playing John Dillinger in Public Enemies. All was set right. The ship was back on course.

“You need to be as mad as a hatter."

"This one goes out
to all the ladies."
There was a collective groan among many long time Depp fans when the trailer to Alice in Wonderland was released. Here was Depp, with yet again another quirky performance that resembled a mash up between his portrayal of Willy Wonka and Jack Sparrow. While there is nothing wrong with those performances, the wacky characters Deep was playing was getting stale. He was becoming a cartoon, a cliche of the repetitive roles he habitually portrayed. It's a misfortune that has fallen upon many actors in their career. Few break free if they want to stay busy. It's the reason Adam Sandler movies are called “Adam Sandler movies.” Alice went on to be another success for Disney, despite poor reviews from the critics.

The following year Pirates fans were delighted with the fourth installment of the franchise, On Stranger Tides. Viewers were treated to more Jack Sparrow zaniness. Yet for long time viewers, Johnny Depp had become a stranger indeed. Why a man with such an impressive resume would allow himself to become a typecast frustrated fans. Many claimed Depp a sellout, and it's a hard accusation to argue given the facts. Was this the same actor who marveled fans and critics alike with films like Blow and Finding Neverland. Was this the new Johnny Depp?

Dark Shadows

Another Burton collaboration cast further dark shadows on Depp’s career. This time his performance as the vampire Barnabas Collins resembled a mash up of Sparrow, Wonka, and Hatter. Based upon the popular Tv series from the 70's, Burton choose to adapt the film as a comedy, which allowed for more on screen buffoonery. Even though the film was released during the sparkly vampire craze, Dark Shadows did poorly, and is one of the lowest ranking films of Depp and Burton’s career on Rotten Tomatoes. Depp’s next role was playing Tonto in Disney’s The Lone Ranger. His performance was enjoyable, though it was nothing special in comparison to his body of work. In fact, the casting of the Lone Ranger’s side kick sparked debate before the movie even began filming. Questions quickly arose over the casting of Depp as opposed to an actual Native American. While many praised Depp’s more authentic approach to the iconic character, it turned out to be a poor career choice. The film went on to bomb at American box office, and narrowly made back it's $225 million dollar budget, thanks mainly to it’s success overseas after it's world wide release.


"Did someone say PAYCHECK?
Or was that integrity?"
The transcendence of Depp's career took another blow starring in Wally Pfister’s directorial debut. What looked to be a great concept for a film ended up being a flat movie. Depp's performance was boring, and lacked the intensity he had been known for.  Was it the result of a bad script, or had spending a decade playing zany characters affected his ability in a dramatic role? The film would go on to bomb at the box office, which was sadly becoming a trend for Depp. In recent interviews Depp has gone on the record to say that he’s comfortable with his career, and that he “doesn’t give a fuck” if his films bomb or not. It’s a laughable comment. The box Depp has built around his career has also conveniently provided walls for the actor to hide behind. In hopes of returning to their $uccessful ways, Depp and Disney have teamed up once again to film another sequel - Alice In Wonderland: The Looking Glass. The realization for long time fans is that this is what today’s masses have come to expect of Depp, and as a result, what he needs to do to stay relevant.

It’s tough to say what the future holds for Depp. His starring role as Whitey Bulger in the upcoming true life crime drama Black Mass looks promising, and a throw back to films that put Depp on the map. Yet the black cloud over all is the pre-production of a 5th Pirates film: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Depp will once again reprise his role as Captain Jack Sparrow, the Michael Myers of pirates. One can only hope this will be the film where the Black Pearl sinks to the bottom of the ocean once and for all. For Depp's sake, hopefully the Captain goes down with his ship.
-Lee Lind