Film News

We Have Turned on Johnny Depp, But Maybe His Next Movie Will Win Us Back

In Mortdecai, Johnny Depp trades in Keith Richards’ hand-me-downs (Pirates of the Caribbean), pancake makeup (Alice in Wonderland) and vampire fangs (Dark Shadows), and birds on his head (Lone Ranger) for a fancy mustache as a signifier of his hopefully delightful quirkiness. I’m not exaggerating. That freakin’ mustache of his has actually been a centerpiece of the film’s marketing campaign. It didn’t work. Mortdecai is now Depp’s third box office flop in a row after Transcendence (which lost at least $30 million) and The Lone Ranger (which lost at least $190 million), not counting the cameos he made in Disney’s Into the Woods and Kevin Smith’s Tusk since Transcendence came out last April.  It’s not that Mortdecai is a bad movie, necessarily. It’s more that from the opening minutes you find yourself overwhelmingly bored with yet again watching Depp be all quirks and funny voice. As SoIPondered put it, “It is 2015 and at this point of time we’ve suffered through 13 years of this odd caricature of Johnny Depp.”  I.

Mortdecai is kind of like when Mike Myers did The Love Guru after so many years of playing Austin Powers. We had already seen enough of the same basic thing by that point.

It’s not exactly like Depp has ever consistently been the guy to dabble in normal, instead going from Edward Scissorhands to Ed Wood to Sleepy Hollow to From Hell to Pirates. It’s just that we’re so familiar with his bag of tricks by now that the AV Club recently called a list “Scarf-less and accent-free: 8 times Johnny Depp played an ordinary human being!” to remind us that he once played a normal teenager in Nightmare on Elm Street and a twentysomething small town grocery clerk with a screwed up family in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? In fact, one of my personal favorite Johnny Depp performances is arguably him at his most restrained, playing the rather meek Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. The AV Club ultimately argued that Depp is simply far too much of a pretty looking and adventurous performer to bother with everyman roles. However, maybe he needs to dial back on that whole “adventurous” thing for a minute and do something to remind us that he’s an amazing actor, not just some Quirky McQuirkinstein whose artistic impulses have been overindulged since striking gold with Captain Jack Sparrow.

Please, Johnny Depp, surely you have another Finding Neverland in you?

Because right now we’re watching Depp fall from Hollywood’s A-list.  He finally joined that list in 2003, catapulted by Jack Sparrow into the ranks of genuine, bankable movie stars. Heck, he even got an Oscar nomination for his performance in that first Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s not like that was the start of some new trend of the Academy nominating actors from big budget blockbusters. If it was, they would have nominated Christian Bale for Batman Begins (2005), Robert Downey, Jr. for Iron Man (2008), etc. No, that perk stayed exclusive to Depp. Not too long after that, he was commanding a salary of $20 million per film. Now, he’s taking less than half of that for Mortdecai (his salary is thought to be somewhere between $6 and $10 million), and has had to take a significantly reduce upfront fee for upcoming films Black Mass, Alice: Through the Looking Glass, and Pirates of the Caribbean 5. After his recent failures, his bargaining power is greatly diminished.

Yeah, we’re really going to weep for him. Oh, poor Johnny Depp, he’s only making $10 million now when he used to make $20 million. As Chandler from Friends would say, I’m sure his wallet is still too small for his fifites, and his diamond shoes are still too tight. There used to be a time when Julia Roberts made $20 million per movie, too. Now, she barely even acts anymore, although that appears to be by choice. The only actors still charging $20 million per movie are Angelina Jolie, Denzel Washington, and Leonardo DiCaprio, although Daniel Craig is technically getting paid $20 million for the next James Bond movie. Hollywood has simply decided that Johnny Depp isn’t worth $20 million anymore.

It’s not exactly like Depp actually needs the money.  By his own admission, he has been paid “stupid money” for the Pirates films, with WhatCulture reporting that the franchise has earned him nearly $200 million, the third-highest payday for an actor in film history. Sadly, he’s going right back to the greatest hits, with the Alice in Wonderland sequel due next year and Pirates 5 in 2017. However, he might yet remind us he’s more than just his quirks later this year in Black Mass, a Whitey Bulger biopic directed and written by Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart, Out of the Furnace) and co-starring Kevin Bacon, Benedict Cumberbatch, Joel Edgerton, and Sienna Miller. Depp has the lead role as the head of the Boston crime family who became an FBI informant, and then turned on them, going into hiding for 16 years, ending up as their 2nd Most Wanted Fugitive behind Osama Bin Laden.

Johnny Depp Films A Violent Scene For 'Black Mass'
Will we simply mock Depp for the wig and old age make-up he’s sporting to play Whitey Bulger?  Or the Boston accent he’ll probably use?

Depp is still the guy who showed up in that hilarious, vanity-free cameo in 21 Jump Street, just as he did years ago in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare and has done so again in Tusk.  He’s still the guy capable of a moving, subdued performance in the likes of Finding Neverland and over-the-top hilarious turn in something like Cry Baby.  In short, he’s still a really good actor, an incredible likable one on top of everything else. After years of Jack Sparrow and now Mortdecai, we may have forgotten that. Hopefully Black Mass will remind us how we used to love him. Then again, it could ultimately be as forgettable as his turn as John Dillinger in Public Enemies. We’ll find out when Black Mass arrives on September 18, 2015.

Source: THR


  1. I completely agree with your POV. I definitely want to love Johnny Depp, but he hasn’t had a star part in any decent movies recently. Critics on Rotten Tomatoes (the only movie review website I trust) Mortdecai a 13%, and only 45% of people who saw the movie enjoyed it. With Johnny at this point, it’s almost a lose-lose situation. His quirkiness has lost his charm, but what else can he do at this point in his career? He’s tried normalcy in Transcendence, and it didn’t pay off. I definitely want Johnny back. Hopefully he’ll make a comeback soon. 🙂

    1. You’re right about Transcendence. That was his most normal film in recent years, and it also bombed. However, it was still a genre picture that featured his character going all Lawnmower Man on us. He just needs to play a truly normal person again, sans goofy costumes or heightened reality settings. Sadly, other than the biopic I mentioned in the article the only concrete projects he has on the dockett are Alice 2 and Pirates 5. So, not so much normal people in realistic settings.

    1. At this point it has already been delayed a full year, and Disney seems to be taking on a hard stance on lowering the budget this time around, i.e., it is not just Depp who will get paid less. But the reason you make another one of these movies is because the last one still made over one billion worldwide. Johnny Depp still has a ton of international appeal, apparently, though not even that saved the likes of lone ranger, transcendence, and dark shadows.

      1. Ah yes, the old Hollywood strategy of milking a franchise til it’s bone dry. Such a shame that Depp’s career has taken this turn. His quirky typecast just feels a bit self-indulgent now.

  2. I think it is time for Depp to do some serious career rehab because he is really close to becoming a punchline with his recent movie choices and box office flops. Maybe take a couple supporting roles in art house/indie movies and remind people that he can still be a good actor and not just a quirky oddball.

    1. If you look at Depp’s Wikipedia page, specifically under Future Projects, he has a ton of movies in development at the moment, but some of them are nothing more than, “Depp optioned the film rights to this obscure comic book.” The only concrete things in his future are the biopic I mentioned in the article and Pirates and Alice in Wonderland sequels. Alice is done filming, and Pirates 5 apparently starts filming within the next month or so. That, to me, suggests that he won’t be able to film anything else for quite a while since he’ll be so busy with Pirates 5. If he doesn’t pick up any other artistically intriguing projects that progress past mere development, though, then I could totally see Alice and Pirates 5 finally sinking him as they both seem like sequels no one particularly asked for despite how much money the last films in the respective franchises made.

      1. I am still trying to fathom the push for more Pirates movies. I know the last one was a critical bomb but wasn’t it less than a box office success too?

      2. Welcome to the future of franchise filmmaking. Domestic grosses are going down as audiences no longer support 3D ticket pricing and are growing increasingly weary of high ticket prices and a general sameness to the big budget movies while foreign markets are booming, adding new theaters every day. What they love most are visually rich, action heavy movies which present little cultural or language barriers. So, even though Pirates 4 set a franchise low in domestic gross ($241m) it more than made up for it overseas, becoming only the second Pirates movie to gross more than $1 billion worldwide ($1.045 billion to be exact). The same exact thing just happened last summer with Transformers 4, franchise low domestically ($252m), only the second franchise installment to cross $1 billion worldwide ($1.084 billion). At some point, international audiences will grow weary of these films just as we are, but I think the idea is that it all seems so much newer to them than to us. In some countries, it’s like they’re just as excited about 3D and IMAX movies now as we were when Avatar came out 4-5 years ago (I am generalizing, of course).

        That all being said, the reason Pirates 5 has been delayed as much as it has to this point is because the original script would have required a huge budget, and Disney is trying to push forward but in a more cost-effective way, ending their decades-long exclusive partnership with the producer Jerry Bruckheimer and throwing out the old directors in favor of young up and comers they can more easily keep in check and pay less. It is being punished because of The Lone Ranger’s failure, but also because even though Pirates 4 made over $1billion worldwide everyone is aware how little people seemed to like it.

  3. This Is bang on. Lone Ranger was the end of it for me. A bad performance and racist to boot. He really phoned it in and wow it was bad. I am going to stay well away from Mortdecai, he needs to watch himself or he’ll end up doing pirates of the Caribbean 19 and then in his own version of birdman

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