Why Johnny Depp is Overrated

Although this web log will always be heavily favored towards sports, it won’t just be about that. So on a slow sports day and during a break from my new obsession of the Showtime series Weeds, what better time for me to present my argument: Everyone’s favorite actor, Johnny Depp, should be anything but.  I’ll admit I do think he is a solid actor and a cool dude and that I am a fan of his, but I refuse to consider him as one of the best today. I look at Johnny Depp like “The Town,” yeah the movie was good, but from the hype and the You have to see this movie dude–type sentences from my friends it wasn’t worth it and honestly I was disappointed. (To continue on with “The Town,” Ben Affleck has found his niche in directing and Jeremy Renner has established himself as a movie badass.) I understand people like him for the same reason males who casually watch tennis like Serena Williams, but looks can only get you so far (enter Megan Fox). I understand “Edward Scissorhands” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” were apart of our childhoods and great kids movies, but those can only get you so far (enter Brendan Fraser).  Each time a new movie “starring Johnny Depp” comes out the first thing that comes to my mind is, “I wonder if Johnny Depp will break out of his shell in this movie and actually show some range (seriously, find me a movie where he cried, laughed (in a non-crazy way), was angry, or did anything that was semi-powerful).”

His IMDB bio says “is perhaps one of the most versatile actors of his day and age in Hollywood.” It’s like that definition has been blurred. How can a critic watch a movie and, because Johnny Depp’s make-up is different, considered it versatile?  There needs to be a different set of attributes per movie for someone to be considered versatile. If Johnny Depp was a cartoon comedy he’d be “Family Guy.” The show is good and funny, but how many flashbacks do you have to see before you realize that “maybe there really isn’t much more to this show.”

To prove his solidity as a great actor, compare his range to the likes of today’s real top actors. Robert de Niro went from a deranged cab driver to an abusive Jake LaMotta to a mobster named Jimmy. Tom Hanks went from a suspicious resident who thought his neighbors were murderers to a homosexual with AIDS to a person who was a part of every major American event starting from the 60’s. Leonardo DiCaprio went from a drug addicted high schooler to the best check forger to a diamond smuggler from Africa (I didn’t even mention “The Departed,” “The Titanic,” or “The Aviator.” He is the best actor of our generation.). Under the versatility rule there is an argument to say Denzel Washington who always plays the good guy and protagonist, but he ended that speculation when he came out with “Training Day” and won an Oscar for it.  It has to make a person wonder what if Johnny Depp decided to star in something like “The King’s Speech” instead of every movie Tim Burton decides to come out with.

I e-mailed my favorite sports pundit, Mike Missanelli, who is very adept in the entertainment culture. This is how our e-mail conversation went over a period of two days.

-Me:      Yo Mike,

Is it me or is Johnny Depp the most overrated actor in Hollywood? Seriously, can you even tell me the difference between his characters in “Pirates of the Carribbean,” “Sweeny Todd,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and “Gilbert Grape?”

                Here’s the answer, YOU CAN’T! HE’S GARBAGE, NO VERSATILITY.  Agreed?

-Mike Missanelli: I disagree. I think he’s a pretty good actor without these fluff movies.

-Me:      Good point, I forgot that he made box-office hits such as “The Tourist” and “Secret Window”…Come on brotha

-Mike Missanelli:    It’s not in the body of work of lousy movies, it’s in the substance. Sometimes, understated makes you a good actor. Donnie Brasco?

That last e-mail made me go through Johnny Depp’s body of work to see if the characters from the movies that put him on the map were really that good. Remember, it’s not about questioning if the movies were solid, but if Johnny Depp showed enough range throughout his film career to be considered great. Yes, I really do not have anything else to do.

The Beginning-

Cry Baby (1990) – I won’t even waste your time.

Edward Scissorshands (1990) – A classic movie. It was very well done as it was a creative love story between Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder. Johnny Depp is a “creation” who has scissors for hands and the residents of the town have to adapt to it. It’s like a modern-day “Frankenstein.”  My sister used to watch this movie every day when she was a kid so I’m a little biased towards it.  However, Johnny Depp only said 169 words during the movie.  Credit Tim Burton for making the classic, not Johnny Depp for starring in it.  Anyone can fumble around peas and softly say “yes” and “sometimes” so don’t bring up to me how great he was in it. Notice this as the first movie that Johnny Depp played the mysterious, awkward, makeup covered outcast turned hero. Seriously, it’s not the last time.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993) – It’s another solid movie. I like storyline and I liked the ending. It summed up the entire family relationship and change that Gilbert went through.  Johnny Depp played a solid role although I found through research that he “wanted to play Gilbert as someone who seems constantly half asleep/half awake. Someone numb to the peculiarities in his life.” Like I said, it was solid, but already done in Edward Scissorshands with his awkwardness and “outcast” characterization.  His character didn’t do anything for me; it looked like he just went through the motion which is weak. (The movie was stolen by Leonardo DiCaprio who, as a teenager, played an autistic child who Gilbert had to care for. He couldn’t have played a better role. He was exceptional and finished first on my list of biggest Oscar snubs ever.  I’ve never seen “The Messenger” but I find it hard to believe Tommy Lee Jones played a better role.)

The Movies that could show his “range”-

Donnie Brasco (1997) – Good movie and good story.  Johnny Depp played and undercover FBI agent who is infiltrating the New York mob scene and is taken in by Al Pacino’s character “Lefty.”  Johnny Depp played a good role that was believable and it was his first role where he deserved the credit he got. He made the word “fugazi” cool to say and it was the first time everyone saw how good-looking he was.  The only knock I have on this movie is Al Pacino playing a low-level hitman.  For someone who always plays the higher up power roles just struck me as awkward, especially when Sonny Black was none other than Mr. Blonde from “Reservoir Dogs.” Just doesn’t make sense to me.

Sleepy Hollow (1999)- The adaptation of Washington Irving’s novel “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” it was a box office success and was another Tim Burton-Johnny Depp movie.  Johnny Depp played an outcast policeman, Ichabod Crane, who investigates a series of murders done by the headless horseman.  Burton created Sleepy Hollow and outdid himself with the gothic era and creepy feel of the town and of the times.  It was well made and Depp and Tim Burton both deserve an applause. Depp’s being a good awkward character allowed for proof of why Crane was shunned from his original police department and ended up in Sleepy Hollow.

Blow (2001) – A movie about George Jung who introduced America to cocaine in the 1970’s.  With most of Depp’s lines being improvised and a swagger that he had for the first time since “Donnie Brasco” making it an all-around movie that I can’t argue Depp was different in.  The representation of the business side of cocaine and how it wide it was spread throughout the country.  The best scene: “I can’t feel my face…I can touch it, but I can’t feel it.” (When we first saw the movie, my friend Biggy started calling me “Tuna” as a tribute to Jung’s friend Tuna.)

Finding Neverland (2004) – My favorite movie Depp played in. He played J.M. Barrie, the writer to would go on to write “Peter Pan.”  It is the story of the family that helped inspire him to create it was a powerful and good movie.  It’s a movie more about Barrie discovering the innocence and beauty of childhood and how no one ever really wants to grow up. It was the basis for one of the best children’s stories ever written and Depp received a well-deserved Academy Award nomination.

The “What’s the Difference” Movies-

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) – I really can’t believe I have to even talk about this garbage movie.  I have a friend who is a giant Johnny Depp fan and we always argue about his status on the “Top Actors List.” I mentioned that Leonardo DiCaprio’s (my favorite actor) weakest movies were “Shutter Island” and “Inception,” movies that Depp couldn’t sniff with “Blow” and “Donnie Brasco.” A friend of hers responded in her defense saying, “Trash, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ is better than both.” He has to be tripping on as much LSD as Depp was in that movie. Seriously, stop.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) – It was the fifth Burton-Depp collaboration (The Burton-Depp collaboration has to be on the list as one of the “Best Entertainment Tandems Ever.” The top 3: Lennon-McCartney, Scorsese-de Niro, and Jones-Jackson.). It’s a remake of the classic that starred Gene Wilder. Johnny Depp played an alright role, but what is the difference between his depiction from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas?” Think about it, he acted the same over-the-top way that had adults asking, “Is he on drugs?” Yes, Willy Wonka was a strange character, but he was also scaled back in the original and had more appeal. It almost makes you think, “Wait, this guy created this chocolate empire?” (They also change the famous goose scene to squirrels.) Advantage, Wilder.

Sweeney Todd (2007) – This was the movie that Depp decided to test out his musical skills. This was a Burton-Depp collaboration and where everyone wondered, “Hmm, a Tim Burton movie starring Johnny Depp. I wonder what’s weird about Depp in this one.?” Although the movie wasn’t terrible isn’t Sweeney Todd the same as Willy Wonka and Edward Scissorhands? The weird outcast who wore makeup and acted in a strange way, who had a shady past, but it was only revealed at the end during the highest point of the drama and having everyone screaming, “Wow, I can’t believe Sweeney Todd has scissors for hands!” See what I’m saying? Explain the difference IN characterization between those three roles. You can’t.  (Quick note, isn’t it strange that Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd are so similar? It reminds me of every Jennifer Anniston role ever. You know, the romantic-comedy starring the girl who can’t catch a break, but eventually finds the one she loves and ends all her inhibitions?)

Alice in Wonderland (2010) – It was the movie that was my realization that I’m sooo over the relationship between Burton and Depp and that I wouldn’t go see the next one.  Depp played the Mad Hatter, who outside of his dance was nothing different than the other roles I mentioned.  Wait that was a lie, his makeup was different.  He was the only enjoyable character in the movie, but that’s more of a testament to the weakness of the movie, not the strength of his acting.  He played the bumbling and mysterious character that everyone liked the most because it was Johnny Depp. Also, Anne Hathaway proved that she should just stick to “The Princess Diaries” and every sequel they decide to make for it. (I can’t believe she was casted as Catwoman in the new “Dark Knight” movie, but I have to trust Christopher Nolan.)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – I didn’t know whether or not to put this movie in the “Show His Range” category, but I decided to put it here because it’s an entire franchise. The first one is the one I give him props for (the second one was 30 minutes too long, the third one was so ridiculous that I still don’t understand what Calypso did when she was released, and I haven’t seen the fourth one, but its saturation with stars shows how desperate the franchise is.). Depp played a very good role. I liked his “Keith Richards” adaptation of Jack Sparrow and how he played dumb most of the movie, but displayed his brilliance when he needed to. He made pirates cool and funny and brought them into the mainstream.  Having said that, he was a pirate outcast by his crew and was alone in his quests, similar to his roles in the movies I’ve mentioned. 

As I said in the beginning paragraph (which seems like three days ago) I am a fan of Johnny Depp.  I think he is a very good actor and that he deserves a lot of the roles he gets. He’s also a cool person (researching this I found that he is very generous and polite to people).  But, I can’t put him up there in the top with the likes of de Niro and DiCaprio.  He’s played the same role multiple times and it’s getting exhausting.  If he does win an Oscar eventually, it’s going to be a lifetime achievement award, not because Jack Sparrow beat out anyone for Best Actor.

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  • mightymatt1989  On June 29, 2011 at 2:08 am

    Wow, thats some powerful insight there-i never thought of it like that…perhaps Johnny Depp is a ” less is more ” kind of actor in terms of he’s versatility—he plays all these excentric characters in all these movies but he’s versatility comes in when you realize that not many other actors could pull those differnet charactros off as well as he does.

    So he’s versatility lies mainly within the ” crazy ” or “excentric” character role—not all roles per se.

    I really like this blog and i see we have a comin blog buddy “Sportz Guru” – we should friend up! , you should get along well with our sports blogger “thatmanruss”.

    Keep in touch.


  • Kyle  On July 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    you need to do a little more research on Johnny Depp before you say he is not versatile.

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