Unforgettable Johnny Depp Roles That Made Him 1 of Hollywood’s Top Actors

It comes as no surprise that Johnny Depp has vowed to never play the same role twice. He has made a name for himself as possibly the most chameleon-like actor of the century, with each new role as unforgettable as the last. Over his 34-year career, he’s played teen heartthrobs, portrayed real-life film directors and criminals, become essentially synonymous with Captain Jack Sparrow, and helped bring Tim Burton’s imagination to life.

Even though Depp won’t watch his own movies, we’ll always remember him in these distinctive roles.

1. Edward Scissorhands

Johnny Depp holding out his scissor-hands and looking at the camera.
Johnny Depp in Edward Scissorhands | Fox

Fun Fact: The character of Edward Scissorhands was actually based on the dog of the movie’s screenwriter, Caroline Thompson. No, you did not misread the word “dog.” Thompson told Buzzfeed that once she compared Scissorhands to a dog in that he is “so present and so eager and so smart,” Depp knew exactly how to make this character one of his most memorable.

Depp’s title role in Edward Scissorhands (1990) was truly career-defining, as it marks his entrance into the world of Burton and opened the door to his casting as so many outlandish characters. As a soft-spoken and kind, yet intimidating character (because of, you know, the scissor hands), Depp convincingly tells the story of Edward with his eyes — especially considering his lines in the script only consisted of 169 words.

2. Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
Johnny Depp in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street | Warner Bros.

Fun Fact: Even though Depp proved his musical talent in Burton’s 2007 film, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, he has made a point to acknowledge that he hates when actors use their careers to become musicians. To quote, he complained to the Sydney Morning Herald, “That whole idea for me is a sickening thing, it’s always just made me sick.”

Well, the only thing making us sick is Mrs. Lovett’s meat pies in Sweeney Todd. Depp plays Benjamin Barker, who is sent to prison by Judge Turpin. Upon his release fifteen years later, he adopts the new identity of Sweeney Todd and seeks revenge on Turpin by opening up a barbershop where men entered but never returned.

With an 86% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Depp proved that he still has the strange, gothic charm we fell in love with in Edward Scissorhands 17 years prior.

3. Alice in Wonderland series

Johnny Depp wears face paint and dons red hair in 'Alice in Wonderland' seen staring straight ahead.
Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland | Disney

Fun Fact: Though Depp has been in eight of Burton’s films or franchises, 2010’s Alice in Wonderland was the most successful of their collaborations at the box office, grossing $319.3 million worldwide. It’s safe to say the second in the series, 2016’s Alice Through the Looking Glass was not as successful, grossing $77 million worldwide.

Fitting right in with Depp’s quirky character choices, Depp plays the Mad Hatter in the Alice in Wonderland series. On accepting this role, Depp admits to thinking, “Oh my God, this one will get me fired!”

Considering he currently has eight films lined up that have either been announced, are filming, or are in post-production, we don’t think that’s happening any time soon.

4. Pirates of the Caribbean series

Johnny Depp and Orlando Bloom in 'Pirates of the Caribbean'.
Pirates of the Caribbean | Disney

Fun Fact: In April 2017, Depp surprised guests at Disneyland dressed as his character from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Captain Jack Sparrow. Considering this only happened about a month prior to the release of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, we don’t think the timing was a coincidence.

Maybe Depp’s unexpected promotion of the film helped, considering the box office brought in $172.4 million worldwide. However, the film still only received a 30% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Good or bad ratings, we will always have a special place in our hearts for Depp’s portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow. His drunken pirate persona is truly iconic and will always serve as a great Halloween costume.

5. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

Gilbert and Arnie grape caught in a scuffle on the ground
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape | Paramount Pictures

Fun Fact: It comes as no surprise that Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio acted like brothers, even when the cameras were off. Depp bet DiCaprio to smell a rancid pickled egg for $500. We won’t tell you if he did it, but we will tell you that DiCaprio’s wallet was a little thicker by the end of the day.

Throwing it back to Depp’s heartthrob days, he played the title role in the 1993 film, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. Following the death of his father, Gilbert Grape must care for Arnie, his mentally disabled seventeen-year-old brother (played by DiCaprio) and their morbidly obese mother. The film feels extremely heartfelt and raw and gave Depp another chance to show off his wide range of acting skills.

We haven’t seen Depp and DiCaprio on screen together since then, but we would love to see them collaborate again in the future.

6. Ed Wood

A black and white photo of Johnny Depp holding out his hand in 'Ed Wood'.
Ed Wood | Touchstone Pictures

Fun Fact: Not only was Ed Wood a huge movie for Depp, but the movie potentially saved his career. Around the time that Depp was cast as Ed Wood, he had been feeling depressed regarding his career choices. His role in this two-time Academy Award winning film “rejuvenated [his] love for acting.”

Yet another Burton classic, 1994’s Ed Wood gave Depp the chance to portray a real-life film maker. Although some of Wood’s films are now considered cult classics, such as Plan 9 From Outer Space, he struggled to find success during his life. Burton’s film delves into the day-to-day life of Wood, which included cross-dressing, strange relationships, and even stranger films.

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Johnny Depp as 'Willy Wonka' leading a tour through the chocolate factory.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Warner Bros. Pictures

Fun Fact: In Gene Wilder’s final interview with Turner Classic Movies, he criticized Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as being “an insult.” Though he actually praised Depp as an actor, he said he didn’t “care for that director” (aka Burton).

We will not deny that the director’s take on the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, starring Gene Wilder, was an interesting one. In Burton’s 2005 remake, Depp rocks a bob haircut, bug eye sunglasses, and a pretty creepy smile as Willy Wonka. It definitely has Burton’s style written all over it, and despite the late Wilder’s judgmental reviews, it did quite well with an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a worldwide gross of $206.1 million.

8. Black Mass

Johnny Depp in 'Black Mass', wearing shades and staring straight at John Connolly.
Black Mass | Warner Bros.

Fun Fact: Though Depp seems to take on whatever form of research he can to prepare for a film, he was unable to meet or talk to the real-life James “Whitey” Bulger in preparation for his adaptation in 2015’s Black Mass. Even though Bulger is alive (and, of course, in prison), he refused to meet with Depp or even watch the film after its completion.

Set in South Boston (or “Southie,” as the locals call it) during the 1970s, Bulger is an Irish mobster who you wouldn’t particularly expect to collaborate with the law. However, FBI Agent John Connolly convinces him to work together to take down the Italian mob. Of course, that does not stop Bulger from being brutally violent and downright scary.

Depp’s transformation for this role was particularly unique, taking on a Boston accent and balding hairline.

9. 21 Jump Street

A young Johnny Depp stares ahead in '21 Jump Street'.
21 Jump Street | 20th Television

Fun Fact: It didn’t take long for Depp to lose interest in consistently playing a “pretty boy” character. By Season 2 of the original 21 Jump Street, he took a creative approach to displaying his dissatisfaction. He would make strange suggestions for the characters on the show, vandalize his own face on advertisements, and wear some crazy get-ups to set.

In case you haven’t seen the TV series or the 2012 movie adaptation starring Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum, the plot follows undercover cops passing for high school students to catch young criminals. Although this storyline didn’t capture Depp for very long back when he was trying to prove his wide range of talent, he did return to make a surprise cameo in the 2012 movie.

10. Cry-Baby

A lone tear falls down Johnny Depp's cheek in 'Cry-Baby'.
Cry-Baby | Universal Pictures

Fun Fact: Back when director John Waters was searching for the star of Cry-Baby, he decided to purchase a pile of magazines to find the perfect young actor. At the time, Depp was still considered a teen idol, thanks to 21 Jump Street, so he showed up in more than a few of these magazines. Of course, wanting to break out of pretty boy typecasting before it was too late, Depp thought this was the perfect, offbeat role.

Upon first glance, 1990’s Cry-Baby seems like it would enhance his teen idol image. The storyline is admittedly familiar. Cry-Baby (played by Depp) is a bad boy who wears a leather jacket with his hair slicked back, and he falls for the preppy, rich “good girl,” Allison Vernon-Williams.

However, the fact that Cry-Baby is a Waters film makes all the difference. He takes a pretty basic love story and turns it into something of a disturbing nature with the details. Cry-Baby straight up lights a match with his mouth, Allison collects — and then drinks — an actual jar filled with her tears, and a lot of licking happens — just to name a few of those…quirky details.

11. Finding Neverland

Johnny Depp holds a yellow kite and stands next to Kate Winslet in 'Finding Neverland'
Finding Neverland | Miramax Films

Fun Fact: Though Depp was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in Finding Neverland (in addition to nominations for Sweeney Todd and Pirates of the Caribbean), he has stated, “I don’t want to win one of those things ever.”

Depp stars alongside Kate Winslet in this 2004 film, where he once again takes on a biographical-type role. This time, he depicts playwright James Matthew Barrie, who wrote a little story you may know as Peter Pan.

12. Donnie Brasco

Johnny Depp wears a gray suit and stares to the left in 'Donnie Brasco'.
Donnie Brasco | TriStar Pictures

Fun Fact: Donnie Brasco was set in the 1970s, but some viewers with a good eye noticed quite a few props from the future. If you rewatch the film, you may notice some cars, signs, gas prices, and grocery items that only existed in the 1990s.

With or without a few filming goofs, 1997’s Donnie Brasco follows the true story of FBI Agent Joe Pistone, who goes undercover as Donnie Brasco to infiltrate the mafia. However, he finds himself stuck in the mafia when his real life is falling apart and too many webs are weaved to just slip away.

If you haven’t seen the film before, here’s a bonus fun fact: Do you know the phrase “fuggedaboutit,” but you don’t know where it comes from? Depp’s definition of what “forget about it” means in Donnie Brasco is the birthplace.

13. Secret Window

Johnny Depp as Mort in 'Secret Window' seen talking to Ted while outside.
Secret Window | Columbia Pictures

Fun Fact: At one point in Secret Window, Depp drops his hat on his desk. If you pause the screen, you’ll see a copy of the book, The Rum Diary, sitting nearby. Though Secret Window premiered in 2004, Depp later starred in the movie adaptation of The Rum Diary in 2011.

Similarly, Secret Window is a movie adaptation of a Stephen King novel. Depp plays Mort Rainey, an author who has recently been divorced from his wife of 10 years. He travels to his cottage to get some headspace, but he gets tracked down by another writer who accuses Rainey of stealing one of his stories. Coming from a King novel, it’s unsurprising that weird things start to happen, and the storyline gets a deep twist.

14. The Lone Ranger

Two characters walk side by side as they stare straight ahead.
The Lone Ranger | Disney

Fun Fact: Apparently, The Green Hornet and The Lone Ranger exist in the same universe and are even related! Britt Reid (otherwise known as the Green Hornet) is the son of Dan Reid, who is the Lone Ranger’s nephew.

Depp expressed in an MTV interview that in playing Tonto in Disney’s The Lone Ranger, he made a true effort to “portray the Native American with the integrity and dignity that they deserve.”

However, the 2012 film did receive a lot of backlash in choosing to cast Depp. As Time Magazine puts it: “Is it ever O.K. for someone to play a race other than his own?” Though some tried to argue in favor of Depp’s intentions, many felt that the character was not accurately or appropriately depicted.

15. Rango

Rango and other characters riding on horses through a desert.
Rango | Paramount Pictures

Fun Fact: Making the dialogue of the 2011 animated film Rango more organic, the voice actors actually acted out the scenes, rather than following standard protocol of recording in a studio.

Depp doesn’t delve into voice acting often, but his voicing in Rango proved to be successful, which grossed $123.2 million worldwide. The story follows Rango (Depp), a chameleon who is a family pet, but feels bogged down by the fact that all he seems to do in life is blend in. He ends up in a place he doesn’t belong and is forced to gain some courage and leadership skills quickly.

We can’t help but wonder if Depp’s voicing of a chameleon is a metaphor for Depp’s chameleon-like style of adapting to each of his characters.

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