Walt Disney Pictures via Everett Collection
Johnny Depp used to be relevant.
Films like Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood established Depp as an idiosyncratic performer willing to appear in offbeat projects. Who can forget his iconic performance in Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist Western Dead Man, or in Terry Gilliam‘s drug odyssey Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas? It seemed, for a while anyway, that Depp was a different kind of movie star. He was weird, for sure, but also accessible, and hundreds of teenage girls across the world idolized him and cherished his abnormality.
Then came Captain Jack Sparrow. To be fair, the first Pirates of the Caribbean is a great film, but the rest of the series represents a lazy attempt to cash in on the original chapter’s unmatched excellence. Depp turned Sparrow into a caricature, and with each Pirates installment, the magic of the original performance rapidly diminished. If Depp wasn’t making a Pirates movie, he could be seen in the latest Tim Burton project, or in The Rum Diary, a film that might as well be an inferior sequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Not all of Depp’s recent movies are trash, but most of them are, and at the very least they suggest that Depp is more interested in making money than making quality movies.
Depp’s forthcoming big studio film Transcendence might just be the final nail in the coffin. Is Depp, the once enigmatic auteur performer of the 1990s, officially over?
There’s certainly room for a comeback, but at the present moment, all signs suggest that Depp has lost his cultural and cinematic significance. Like Will Smith, Depp continues to appear in Hollywood blockbusters and makes a ton of money for doing so, but his films are hardly as influential or important as they were in the 1990s. Moreover, I think we can all agree that The Tourist and The Lone Ranger don’t work as mainstream entertainment in the way the first Pirates does. This is important to point out, because it’s not necessarily Depp’s constant appearance in mainstream films that is his problem (after all, it works well for Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney), but his inability to distinguish between intelligent blockbusters and mindless drek.
I understand that show business is tough to crack, and everyone, even Depp, needs to make a living. Who am I, after all, to criticize his career choices? I get it. But Depp has committed arguably the worst sin possible for a movie star. He’s spent years selling the audience on his unique star persona, only to appear in lame tent-pole productions that are void of creativity, originality, and respect for the audience. Was this Depp’s plan all along, or did he unintentionally fall off track at some point?
We’ll never know, but one thing is certain: the jig is up, and the name Johnny Depp barely generates excitement from the same people who hung his poster on their bedroom walls. What do you think? Cast your vote below.