Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Johnny Depp recently won a defamation suit against his ex-wife. For the past six weeks #JusticeForJohnnyDepp has been trending on all social media platforms, especially TikTok, where the hashtag has gotten over 15 billion views. Yes, that’s billion with a B.
Johnny Depp is a chameleon when it comes to acting. He transforms into personas and characters like no one else. I wanted to get into his brain and see what magic happens in there as he prepares for roles. Luckily, there are quite a few interviews with him, sometimes delving into the process. So, instead of giving you plot details, I’ll be using Johnny Depp’s words from past interviews and providing some behind-the-scenes information you might not know.
Without further ado, here are the Top Johnny Depp movies by year of release.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
“An artificial man who was completely constructed and has scissors for hands, leads a solitary life. Then one day, a suburban lady meets him and introduces him to her world.” IMDb
If you watched the Depp trial, you learned that his Edward Scissorhands character is based on a cross between a baby and one of his dogs. Around the time he was prepping for the movie, he observed how his sister’s babies behaved. And Depp thought the main ingredient that would serve the character was innocence. He believed Edward would see things like a baby and a dog would – from a place of innocence and not knowing exactly what things meant or what they were. Along those lines, he also wanted Edward not just to behave innocently but also to have that look of pure innocence that a child has when they experience something for the first time.
Watch it on Disney+
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
“A young man in a small Midwestern town struggles to care for his mentally-disabled younger brother and morbidly obese mother while attempting to pursue his own happiness.” IMDb
In a 2016 interview, Johnny Depp admits to having a really difficult time with this film. He says that it was a great time in a lot of ways, but mostly really miserable. And he’s not sure if it was because he had to be that way to play the character or because he was in that particular mood throughout the making of the movie. He also admits to slightly torturing his costar, Leonardo DiCaprio.
Rent it on Amazon Prime
Donnie Brasco (1997)
“An FBI undercover agent infiltrates the mob and finds himself identifying more with the mafia life, at the expense of his regular one.” IMDb
For clarification purposes: Donnie Brasco is the FBI’s undercover agent’s fake name. His real name is Joseph Pistone.
Johnny Depp was fascinated by the character of Donnie Brasco and how a human being could live undercover for six years and survive, physiologically and emotionally. And it wasn’t until Depp met the real Donnie (Joseph Pistone) that he knew he had to do the film. He took it as a challenge to portray not just a character but a real person. Johnny spent around three months studying Joe’s speech patterns, body language, likes, and dislikes. Depp admits he probably got on Joe’s nerves a lot, but he tried to steal as much of him as he could. Johnny’s goal during this film was to portray the character in a way that Joe would approve of and be happy with.
Watch it on Netflix
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
“Ichabod Crane is sent to Sleepy Hollow to investigate the decapitations of three people, with the culprit being the legendary apparition, The Headless Horseman.” IMDb
Johnny Depp loosely based the character of Ichabod Crane on Roddy McDowall, Angela Lansbury, and Basil Rathbone. He found it interesting to take a guy who looked confident and courageous on the surface, and peel the layers away to reveal a very human, sensitive, cowardly, queasy, and flawed man. Johnny also described Ichabod Crane as a prepubescent girl in a way. He’s crumbling and just a wreck.
Watch it on Amazon Prime
“The story of how George Jung, along with the Medellín Cartel headed by Pablo Escobar, established the American cocaine market in the 1970s in the United States.” IMDb
Johnny Depp visited the real George Jung in prison on several occasions to prepare for the role. When asked what he was like, Depp responded, “Well, right now, he’s a man with a lot of spare time. ” Depp was surprised at how normal George was and how he wasn’t some big-scheming criminal mind. He was a guy who was raised a certain way and taught that the American dream was about taking what you could and getting out. George was naive in the sense that he trusted people and was too loyal. Depp mentions that loyalty is great in the real world but could get you killed in the criminal world. FYI: According to the film’s end credits, George Jung should have been released from prison in 2015.
Watch it on Netflix
Pirates of the Caribbean (2003, 2006, 2007, 2011, 2017)
Did you know that Disney wanted to fire Johnny Depp from the movie because they initially didn’t like his portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow? Johnny explains that the original script had Captain Sparrow as a swash-buckler character who would swing in shirtless and be the hero. Johnny Depp had quite a different idea.
Captain Jack Sparrow’s character started to take root in Depp’s mind as he watched a lot of animated films and cartoons with his young daughter. When he received the screenplay for Pirates, he saw an opportunity to mesh cartoon characters. For example, Wile E Coyote gets a boulder dropped on his head, and he’s completely crushed, but when they cut to the next scene, he’s perfectly fine with a little bandaid on his head. So, Depp wanted to take the parameters available to cartoon characters and incorporate them into the character of Captain Sparrow so he could say and do ludicrous things. Things that normal people could never do or say and get away with. And if it panned out the way he thought it would, Captain Jack Sparrow would be accepted by 5-year-olds to 85-year-olds alike.
Depp compared the making of the character to the making of a soup. It’s all ingredients, and Captain Jack Sparrow has a little bit of Pepé Le Pew, Bugs Bunny, and Keith Richards. And because he assumed that Sparrow was a long-time sea sailor, he figured that his brains were more than likely scrambled a bit by the sun. And because Sparrow was used to being at sea for so long, he had his sea legs, but not his land legs, which is why Captain Sparrow always looks kinda drunk when he’s on land.
I’m glad Disney came to their senses because I cannot imagine Pirates of the Caribbean without Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow.
Watch it on Disney+
Finding Neverland (2004)
“The story of Sir J.M. Barrie’s friendship with a family who inspired him to create Peter Pan.” IMDb
To Johnny, Finding Neverland is about the importance of imagination and letting it run free. And about not being afraid to take risks.
He found idea of never growing up inspirational. It’s all too soon that the weight of the world starts throwing layers of muck on your shoulders, and we lose those qualities that we had in childhood – curiosity, openness, and fascination. We become jaded very early. He thinks it’s inspirational to save those things and use them in your life. Fight it. Do your best not to grow up so quickly. It’s okay to grow up and grow old, but maintain those beautiful qualities because they are necessary for life.
Watch it on HBO Max
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
“A young boy wins a tour through the most magnificent chocolate factory in the world, led by the world’s most unusual candy maker.” IMDb
Johnny Depp’s characterization of Mr. Willy Wonka was based on children’s show hosts. He paid much attention to the cadence of the speech of Captain Kangaroo, Mr. Rogers, and other local hosts and the hypnotic quality of their voices. He and Tim Burton, the director, intentionally made Willy Wonka weird and slightly creepy because (except for Mr. Rogers) children’s show hosts tend to creep adults out. But most importantly, Depp stresses that this movie is about the brilliance and imagination of Roald Dahl, the original writer of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books.
Corpse Bride (2005)
“When a shy groom practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from the grave assuming he has married her.” IMDb
Johnny tells the story of how he was on the set of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when Tim Burton came up to him and said, “Maybe tonight we can go and record some Corpse Bride.” Johnny admits he hadn’t prepared for the role at all, as he wasn’t expecting to have to work on it for at least 2 or 3 months. He had 15 minutes to grill Tim about the character, and that’s how he brought the role of Victor Van Dort to life.
Watch it on Netflix
Sweeney Todd (2007)
“The legendary tale of a barber who returns from wrongful imprisonment to 1840s London. Bent on revenge for the rape and death of his wife, he resumes his trade while forming a sinister partnership with his fellow tenant, Mrs. Lovett.” IMDb
Newsflash: It’s a musical. If you didn’t know Johnny could sing, you’re in for a surprise. Though you should also know he’s in a band, Hollywood Vampires. And as I currently write this, he’s touring with Jeff Beck. But I digress; Johnny Depp says that Sweeny Todd is very different from most movies and most characters. The character came out of the singing, the words, melodies, and the emotion that the arrangements evoke. He also drew inspiration from silent film stars.
Public Enemies (2009)
“The Feds try to take down notorious American gangsters John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd during a booming crime wave in the 1930s.” IMDb
John Dillinger was considered public enemy number one, but not an enemy of the public. A guy who took arms against the banks and the government, who were ruining the lives of farmers and the common man. John Dillinger was a rock n roll star for all intents and purposes in the 1930s. Banks foreclosed on people’s homes, taking away farms, businesses, and livelihoods. The government was not much better. So John Dillinger went out there and did what everyone wished to do — take it back.
Johnny Depp says he relates to the character in the sense of what he represented. Johnny says Dillinger wasn’t unlike his grandfather, who ran moonshine into different Kentucky counties during the 1930s. Nor his stepfather, who didn’t get a break and ended up in a state penitentiary.
Watch it on Netflix
Alice in Wonderland (2010)
“Nineteen-year-old Alice returns to the magical world from her childhood adventure. She reunites with her old friends and learns of her true destiny: to end the Red Queen’s reign of terror.” IMDb
Johnny Depp plays the mad hatter; simply put, he’s mad, as in crazy. It always seemed to him that the Mad Hatter was like a mood ring. It’s impossible for him to hide anything, as his emotions are very close to the surface. There’s a craziness and a sadness to the character that he enjoyed maneuvering.
Did you know that the term mad as a hatter came about because the glue used to make hats had mercury in it, and it caused people to get mercury poisoning? The original Alice in Wonderland book has a line that says, “investigating things that begin with the letter M.” The original author was referring to mercury. And the mercury affected people differently.
Watch it on Disney+
“Rango is an ordinary chameleon who accidentally winds up in the town of Dirt, a lawless outpost in the Wild West in desperate need of a new sheriff.” IMDb
Johnny Depp drew inspiration for Rango from the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s. He goes on to say that Rango is a character figuring out who he’s supposed to be, like most of us in life. It’s very fitting that he’s trying to adapt and fit into his surroundings.
Watch in on HBO Max
Dark Shadows (2012)
“An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.” IMDb
Johnny Depp shares how he used to run home from school to catch the original Dark Shadows soap opera on TV. Ironically, he recalls thinking that the world was weird but found solace in this gothic soap opera. He says it represented something that made it okay to not really connect with the normal redundancy of life but rather find freedom in it. In the movie, he tried to capture the spirit of how the show made him feel, the weird vibe it gave off, and the overall memory of the show.
Watch it on Netflix
Black Mass (2015)
“The true story of Whitey Bulger, the brother of a state senator and the most infamous violent criminal in the history of South Boston, who became an FBI informant to take down a Mafia family invading his turf.” IMDb
Johnny explains that he’s always been fascinated by James Whitey Bulger. Being able to evade authorities for 16-17 years is something few have done. Depp appreciates the contrast in his character with that of his brother, Billy, played by Benedict Cumberbatch. Jimmy is the king of the underworld, and Billy is a top politician, yet they made it work. They had family dinners and went to church together even though they were on distinctly different sides.
Watch it on HBO Max
City of Lies (2018)
“Russell Poole and Jack Jackson investigate the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G.”
I couldn’t find an interview with Johnny Depp about City of Lies. It appears there were some behind-the-scenes issues with the film. First, Open Road Films filed for bankruptcy shortly after acquiring the film. Then the pandemic came along, and we know all too well how good ol’ COVID ruined just about everything. The film was released as a video-on-demand and was in the top 10 on AppleTV, Google Play, and Fandango Now.
Watch it on Starz
Which is your favorite Johnny Depp movie?
P.S. Check out some of our other movie suggestions, and be sure to let us know what movies we should be watching.