In honour of Johnny Depp’s 50th birthday on 9th June 2013, I thought a list of his top 15 films would be appropriate as Johnny Depp is not only one of my favourite actors, but is also one of the people who inspired a passion for films in me.
So counting down from #15, here are my top 15 Depp films:
15) Private Resort (George Bowers, 1985)
Private Resort reminds me strongly of the British Carry On films. It follows the same sort of smutty humour based primarily on innuendos and sex. This was one of Johnny Depp’s first roles, and so allowances should be made for the difference in quality of this film compared to some of his later films. Despite the low-budget and amateurish acting in the film however, it is still enjoyable and worth a watch, and I honestly found it very funny!! It is not a film to be taken seriously, and is little known, particularly outside of America where it is mostly unavailable on DVD, but it is nevertheless worth watching.
14) Rango (Gore Verbinski, 2011)
Rango is an animated film from the director of Pirates of the Caribbean, and the adventuring drunkenness of Jack Sparrow is similarly evident in Rango. The animation is fantastic, the narrative refreshingly original, the soundtrack spunky and enjoyable, and the film an overall animation gem. Rango undoubtedly deserved more awards and recognition, but was generally well-received. Johnny Depp is great as the fantasizing reptilian, and this film is well worth watching if you haven’t yet seen it.
13) Ed Wood (Tim Burton, 1994)
Burton’s Ed Wood is exceptionally playful, and does a great job of tinkering with gender roles and representations in this biopic of the director Ed Wood himself, who made monster movies (which were regarded as being some of the worst films of all time) for a living. Johnny Depp is a lot of fun to watch in this film as Ed Wood as he parades around in a pink angora sweater that belongs to his on-screen girlfriend. The lighting and performances (of all the characters) in this film are exceptional, and it highlights just how much of a struggle making a film can be.
12) From Hell (Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes, 2001)
I have always been interested in Jack the Ripper, and so I was inevitably going to enjoy From Hell. It is one of my favourite Depp performances, although I have found this film to be greatly underappreciated amongst many Depp fans and cinephiles. Depp stars as Inspector Frederick Abberline, attempting to uncover the mystery of Jack the Ripper – a phantom murderer who has been stalking the streets of Victorian London, killing various prostitutes he meets along the way. Although the film is not historically accurate, it is an interesting twist on the mystery of Jack the Ripper, and turns the story into an enjoyable horror thriller. Depp is remarkable in his role, and the film is certainly worth watching for the picturesque and Romantic portrayals of the smoky streets of Victorian London.
11) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Tim Burton, 2005)
Burton’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of the most enjoyable family films of the past couple of decades, and Depp does a great job of portraying Willy Wonka in a new light – as a broken and fragile human being. Depp’s performance is very similar to the one he gave in Edward Scissorhands, and as Burton explores Wonka’s back story, Depp pulls off the performance flawlessly, accompanied by Danny Elfman’s enchantingly comical score. Helena Bonham Carter co-stars in the film in a small role, and is memorable as the young Charlie Bucket’s mother. Well worth a watch if you are a fan of the original story, as it is a lot more faithful to the book than the 1971 version, whilst allowing room to explore the characters and narrative in more depth to provide a greater complexity to the narrative.
10) Sweeney Todd (Tim Burton, 2007)
Sweeney Todd really surprised me; I did not know that Burton was so suited to directing a musical, and the performances of Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, particularly when singing, were fantastic. Burton did a great job of transforming the acclaimed musical onto the big screen, and spends a great deal of the narrative portraying Sweeney Todd as a victimised monster of Victorian society, making the ‘monster’ of Sweeney Todd very real and more demonstrative of human emotion than those around him (such as Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman)), for instance.
9) Corpse Bride (Tim Burton, 2005)
Corpse Bride is one of the few modern stop-motion animations, and is one which brings to life the old, Gothic techniques of German Expressionist cinema, and the animating style of Ray Harryhausen. The delicate soundtrack accompanies the visually elegant and charming sets of the film, and the voice acting of Depp, Emily Watson, and Helena Bonham Carter really bring the characters to life. The script also boasts some of the most beautiful lines in cinema, such as “I’ve spent so long in the darkness I’d almost forgotten how beautiful the moonlight is”. The film is one of my all-time favourite animated films, and it demonstrates the intricate art of stop-motion that is sadly becoming lost to the invasion of CGI in films. Corpse Bride flawlessly conveys the struggle of class, wealth and duty in Victorian England, and the power of love to conquer death.
8) Chocolat (Lasse Hallström, 2000)
Based on Joanne Harris’s book of the same name, Chocolat is a mouthwatering tale of desire and discipline as Caroline Clairmont opens up a chocolate store in the Catholic region of France during lent. Facing the scrutiny of the villagers, she lures them into her store with the richly-enticing scent of her handmade chocolates. Soon after, she meets Raoul, played by Depp, a gypsy who visits the village whilst travelling. Depp is wonderful in this film, although his character arrives quite late into the film, and he only has a minor role. The luscious visuals that burst off the screen and tantalise your tastebuds are worth watching the film for alone. However, Chocolat is one of Depp’s best roles, and so he is a major part of why the film is one of my favourite Depp films. The book is also wonderful and just as enjoyable as the film, so if you enjoy the adaptation of Chocolat, also give the book a read!
7) Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (Gore Verbinski, 2003)
The first in the Pirates saga, The Curse of the Black Pearl is surprisingly enjoyable, original and fantastic for something based on a theme park ride. I have always been a fan of pirates anyway, but this film drew on a lot of traditional pirate mythology and created a story that appeals to the whole family. I’m not much a fan of the CGI, but in Pirates, the CGI is undoubtedly absolutely stunning. The costumes are elegant and a spectacle to rival the sets, and Hans Zimmer’s distinctive style is evident in the soundtrack as he creates some of the most memorable themes in Hollywood cinema. Johnny Depp, who based his performance on Keith Richards, portrays swaggering pirate Jack Sparrow as a drunk, adding a rock star element to every line of dialogue he is given. Despite me not being much a fan of Hollywood blockbusters, this film is truly brilliant, and well worth a watch.
6) Alice In Wonderland (Tim Burton, 2010)
Burton’s adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s fairy tale of a young girl that stumbles down a rabbit hole into an alternate fantasy world filled with talking caterpillars, tea parties, and an evil Queen of hearts whose servants paint the roses red to keep her happy, is an unusual but triumphant attempt indeed. The film received a mixed reception, but personally I found it charming. The soundtrack is again composed by Danny Elfman, and stars Burton regulars Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, who are both brilliant in the film. Mia Wasikowska also stars, and although it isn’t her best performance, she is still enjoyable in the film. Burton twists the tale slightly and provides audiences with the back stories of various characters, primarily Alice and the Mad Hatter, adding a lot of depth to the narrative, something which Depp, who stars as the wacky hatter, pulls off effortlessly. Worth a watch for the stunning CGI of the fantasy world Alice visits through the rabbit hole, or perhaps the little dance that Depp does at the end of the film, if nothing else.
5) Cry Baby (John Waters, 1990)
Cry Baby is a new take on musicals such as Grease, and is a hilarious comedy from director John Waters. Johnny Depp told Waters that in Cry Baby he wanted to shake off the ‘teen heartthrob’ image that he had acquired through his role in tv show 21 Jump Street. He certainly did that with Cry Baby. Whilst Depp still remains undeniably attractive in Cry Baby, he turns the heartthrob image on its head in a spoof performance of that of John Travolta in Grease. The film is playful, accompanied by some great songs such as Mr Sandman, alongside energetic, swinging 50’s dance routines. The characters are one of the biggest sources of comedy as the spunky drapes fight their rivals, the squares, in hilarious action riots, and the film is well worth a watch whether you are a fan of films such as Grease or not.
4) Benny And Joon (Jeremiah S. Chechik, 1993)
In Benny and Joon, Johnny Depp portrays Sam, a silent-movie fanatic who bases his appearance on that of Buster Keaton. He is ‘won’ in a bet when local neighbour Joon, who suffers from mental health problems, loses a card game. The two quickly become close, both outsiders and misunderstood by those around them, but find acceptance in one another whilst they face disapproval from Joon’s overprotective brother Benny. The film is a light-hearted comedy with some of the most classic scenes of cinema as Depp perfectly recreates the silent movie stunts of Chaplin, Keaton and Harold Lloyd. There are however, moments of great tension as Joon faces up to her mental health problems, and whilst in one scene in particular it is quite a difficult moment to watch, there is no denying the exceptional acting from both Depp and Mary Stuart Masterson, and this is undoubtedly a film not to be missed.
3) Sleepy Hollow (Tim Burton, 1999)
Burton’s adaptation of the tale originally told by Washington Irving puts a twist on the classic story, and turns Ichabod Crane into a constable who is instructed to venture to the village of Sleepy Hollow in order to reveal the assassin of headless corpse cases. Burton’s tale of horror is brought to life through the Gothic, expressionistic set pieces, costumes and props. The mise-en-scène is truly stunning, and the 18th Century, Romantic charm of the film is further complimented by the elegant and delicate soundtrack from Burton’s regular composer Danny Elfman. Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci have great chemistry in this film, and keep an eye out for the young Sam Fior who portrays the child Ichabod in Ichabod Crane’s flashbacks. There are also arguably a few Freudian elements within the narrative, relating particularly to Freud’s 1919 essay The Uncanny. Sleepy Hollow is an absolute classic, although it is hard to place it into one specific genre, which perhaps means it can appeal to a wide audience. Give this film a go if you enjoy comedy, fantasy, horror or traditional fairy tales, as Burton’s Sleepy Hollow cleverly encompasses them all.
2) Finding Neverland (Marc Forster, 2004)
Peter Pan is one of my all-time favourite stories, and Finding Neverland is a biopic of its creator, J.M. Barrie as he finds inspiration for his new play in the Llewelyn Davies family. Kate Winslet co-stars and it is my favourite of her roles; she is outstanding as the widowed mother, attempting to care for her children as she is struck down with health problems. The score, composed by Jan A. P. Kaczmarek is as charming as the film itself, and compliments particularly well the fantasy sequences, for instance the Llewelyn Davies children flying out of the window. Keep an eye out too for the visually spectacular performance of the Peter Pan play toward the end of the film too; it is without a doubt one of the most beautiful fantasy sequences in a family film.
1) Edward Scissorhands (Tim Burton, 1990)
Edward Scissorhands is in my top 10 films of all time. It is such a heartwarming movie, with an elegant and exceptionally beautiful, emotionally-charged soundtrack, outstanding performances from Johnny Depp (particularly considering it was so early in his film career), and Winona Ryder, and is an example of Tim Burton’s directing at its best. The moralistic fairy tale is one that can cause the most emotionally blank of hearts to experience great pain, and it reminds us that a monster is defined by their actions, not by the way that they look. If you have never seen Edward Scissorhands, be sure to give it a watch; it is a thoroughly beautiful tale.