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Your Top Three: Johnny Depp Movies

Your Top Three is a series here at where we choose a topic and you give us your top three picks.

After gaining teen-idol status through the TV show 21 Jump Street, Johnny Depp was on his way to becoming a huge star. Then, the year the show ended its run, which would be the proper time for the actor to let Hollywood mold him as a commodity, he went and did John Waters’s Cry-Baby instead, basically spoofing and dismissing his own celebrity in the process. Also that year he began his relationship with Tim Burton, further escaping the idol classification by scuffing and fading his handsome face as the very unconventional lead in Edward Scissorhands

Over the next two decades, Depp has been up and down as a movie star, probably to his own liking. Following a number of quirky and indie performances, some acclaimed and some not, he hit a major turning point a decade ago, shooting up higher than he’d ever been with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. He even earned his first Oscar nomination for the original installment, situating himself not only as a huge star but also officially a talented one. He was nominated by the Academy for two more performances in five years. 

Now it would seem he’s back on the downslope, especially with Transcendence being yet another disappointment with critics (it’s his second worst reviewed of all time, after The Astronaut’s Wife) and possibly at the box office. Yet he’s still one of the most interesting actors of his generation, both for what parts he picks and how he approaches those parts. I’m one of the few people who likes his latest and am glad he’s gone with another unsafe choice here, though I do think his performance as a man who uploads his brain to the Internet could have been more memorable. 

As for our selection of what movies are his best, that’s something most of us probably wouldn’t take a big chance on. He has done some terrific work in both mainstream and obscure features, yet it’s not as cool to admit liking Pirates or The Lone Ranger or Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or The Tourist, even though these are his greatest hits worldwide. Next is Rango, though, and that animated feature should be recognized as his the best thing he’s done in more than 10 years. 

Here are my top three Johnny Depp movies:

Edward Scissorhands His first and still best collaboration with Burton (sorry, Ed Wood). I kept thinking of this suburban fairy tale during Transcendence, wishing Depp could have given us yet another iconic character stuck in the crossroad of man and machine. It’s one of the few Depp movies that isn’t mostly just good because of what he brings to it. Not that I can picture anyone else as Edward, and I think it’s maybe his best performance — definitely his most hilarious, anyway — but I believe it would have still been a magical masterpiece without him. 

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of the Hunter S. Thompson nonfiction classic is a bit of a mess at times, but Depp’s portrayal of Raoul Duke/Thompson is so perfectly intoxicating that, like with many of his movies, he elevates it through his presence. He boosts this one more than others, and then also Gilliam’s incomparable imagination fills in the rest.

Lost in La Mancha After considering all the other fiction movies featuring Depp’s wildly varied performances, I realized that his appearances as himself are the most fascinating, especially if you consider how elusive his true persona is. Compare him in Alex Gibney’s Gonzo, for instance, to his more candid participation in Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s doc on the (un)making of Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. Plus you get to see him doing some more great work in scenes from the never-finished movie. 

Your Picks (the top three being Ed WoodFear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Edward Scissorhands):

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