The Computer Newspaper is notorious for its impatience. In that spirit, we are starting a recurring segment called ‘Hey Famous Person, Impress Me’ …. This series will call out members of the entertainment industry who, of late, have been coasting through popular culture on reputation alone.
If we track Johnny Depp’s long and celebrated career (he’s about to be 50 next year), we see a likeable leading man blessed with good looks who spent the 1990s doing cult films and avoiding the mainstream. See this era’s notable films and their respective Rotten Tomatoes scores below.
1990 – Edward Scissorhands – 91%
1993 – Benny & Joon – 75%
1993 – What’s Eating Gilbert Grape – 89%
1994 – Ed Wood – 91%
1997 – Donnie Brasco – 87%
1998 – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – 51%
After his first decade of work, Depp had dug a specific niche. The American public seemed to respect him as a charming actor whose skill-set was more important than his pretty face. He spent a few more years taking on interesting projects such as Sleepy Hollow, Blow, and Chocolat. By playing Hunter S. Thompson (essentially) in Fear and Loathing and cocaine magnate George Jung in Blow, he was a hero to the younger, drug demographic. His face was all over dorm room walls. There was an anti-establishment cool about him, exhibiting an attitude found more often in musicians than actors. He even went on Inside The Actor’s Studio in 2002 and rolled (and subsequently smoked) his own cigarettes while answering questions. Johnny Depp probably doesn’t take shit from anyone and is the kind of stoic guy at parties that is full of provocative wisdom about the world.
TANGENT: He also has always had a style about him. And I honestly do not think Johnny Depp is a douche-bag, because I mean, come on, he’s Johnny Depp. But he sure as hell accessorizes like one.
It wasn’t until 2003, at the age of 40, that Depp became a household name for every demographic possible, one of the highest-paid actors in the world, and basically, unassailable as a famous person. He struck it big with his Keith Richards take on Captain Jack Sparrow in the smash Pirates of the Caribbean, and honestly, with good reason. If his performance was half as good as it was, that franchise maybe just has the one installment, but alas, we were lucky to get three more green-lit while he got an Oscar nomination. Also in 2003, he stole the show in Once Upon A Time In Mexico as a slick, eventually-blinded CIA agent tracking down Antonio Banderas’ mariachi assassin. One year later, he was in another Oscar contender in Finding Neverland, getting another Best Actor nomination. He had commercial success as well as the adoration of critics, which tends to be a shaky tightrope.
Soak it all in. This was eight years ago.
Since then, he’s been alternating between Pirates movies that get worse and worse, over-hyped Tim Burton projects that include Helena Bonham Carter, and other big-budget movies that failed one way or another.
Here is a list of his films since 2004, along with their Rotten Tomatoes score.
2012 – Dark Shadows – 41%
2011 – Pirate of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – 34%
2011 – Rum Diary – 50%
2010 – The Tourist – 20%
2010 – Alice in Wonderland – 51%
2009 – The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus – 63%
2009 – Public Enemies – 68%
2007 – Sweeney Todd – 86%
2007 – Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End – 45%
2006 – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest – 54%
2005 – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – 82%
2004 – Secret Window – 46%
Not the sturdiest track record since that mid-2000s peak. Maybe it would help if he threw in an independent film once in awhile; the list above is nothing but high-expectation projects that have flopped. Public Enemies was a biopic of John Dillinger that nobody talks about. The Tourist was a publicly-ridiculed action film with Angelina Jolie. And of course, as Depp is so wont to do, he has dressed up in elaborate costumes to play iconic characters like Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, and Sweeney Todd. While it appears Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd ended up with very favorable ratings from critics, it is difficult to attribute that to Depp and his token quirkiness (in fact, I specifically remember audiences being uncomfortable with his creepy take on Wonka, a character played with much more warmth in the original by Gene Wilder).
Today, in 2012, eight years after John Kerry was a presidential candidate, it’s becoming clear that Sparrow is in a slump. The constant collaboration with Tim Burton (he’s made 8 films total with the director) is way past stale, and his future projects include playing Tonto in The Lone Ranger, and a Dr. Seuss biopic, which means more and more wacky wardrobe possibilities (see right). Why does he refuse to play somebody that is, just, I don’t know, a normally-dressed adult male? Somebody with a mundane profession or a wife-and-family?
Consider for a moment the differences lately between Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp, kindred competitors since the early 90s. They both turn 50 next year and they both have been awarded multiple ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ distinctions over the past two decades. Whereas Pitt has always had that beefcake Aryan appeal, Johnny Depp seemed to be the more ‘serious’ actor, the artsy, edgier brunette alternative that stays off the cover of US Weekly.
But as an actor, Depp is not aging nearly as well, or at least not choosing his roles with any sense of variety or risk. Sure, Brad Pitt may have coasted through a few Ocean’s 11 movies and mailed in Curious Case of Benjamin Button, but of late, he at least has kept himself relevant with films like Moneyball, Inglorious Bastards, and Babel. If you throw in Snatch, Seven, Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, you have an eclectic career of memorable roles.
Johnny, you still there? You still with me? I’m asking you to keep up with Brad Pitt here, this is how far you have fallen. If you care at all about your legacy, your craft, or just the respect of an unpaid journalist like myself, ditch the wigs and stop trying so hard to be delightfully weird when you are on-screen and ‘above’ Hollywood culture when you’re off it. Maybe then, you’ll impress me.