Nick Of TimeA controversial start to the list you might say, but Nick of Time is definitely significantly better than Mortdecai.
This far-fetched thriller is notable for its real time narrative structure, but it also serves as a reminder that Depp could once perform the natural lead, as he does here against the psychotic Mr. Smith, portrayed by Christopher Walken.
It’s a hard fact to believe nowadays, but it's one that we must be reminded of in a post-Pirates era.
Ed WoodMuch like some of Depp's other films, Ed Wood was also a box-office flop upon initial release but has since been regarded as a 1990s classic.
Depp and director Tim Burton bring the titular character to life by emphasizing the charm of Wood (how else did he get to make that many films?) as well as his naiveté. It’s another ambivalent role of tragedy and joy, which in turn produces another ambivalent response from the audience – do you feel pity for the guy, or are we envious of his passion and optimism?
Ed Wood is not only the best Depp/Burton collaboration in producing a gothic-lite flick, but it is also Depp’s single best performance to date.
Fear and Loathing In Las VegasIn Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas, Depp’s Raoul Duke is over-the-top, endlessly entertaining and layered with so much dry comedic nuances and deep philosophical insight that one has to wonder where he places himself in this balancing act.
The contrast between the cartoon-eccentricity and deep existential crises offers plenty upon repeated viewing and resonates strongly with the disenfranchised.
Duke is another one of Depp's conflicted characters that both enlightened and entertained plenty, and is also one of his most memorable to date.
Edward ScissorhandsYes, the Depp and Burton collaboration is practically a joke by now, but their debut began incredibly strong.
Depp as the titular Edward has to convey every emotion, attitude and nuance through his body alone, making the film his first outing as a physical actor where he needs to rely on his body to do all the talking and keep the audiences engaged throughout.
It’s a charming, humble and warm performance that any fan of Depp/Burton would appreciate.
Benny & JoonBenny & John has all the hallmarks of the quirky Depp that we all loved and fell for; an outsider with a heart of gold, throwbacks to the classics (his character models himself after Buster Keaton and reenacts an iconic Chaplin sequence) and moves (physically) out of step with everyone.
It is a quasi-grounded eccentric performance with plenty of that Depp charm that audiences have come to love.
What's Eating Gilbert GrapeWhile much praise is given to the young Leonardo DiCaprio (and deservedly so) for his role here, What's Eating Gilbert Grape really conveys the true versatility of Depp's acting chops.
As the frustrated Gilbert, Depp's character will resonate with many who find their existences confined to a small area and have a burning desire to explore beyond their limited horizons.
This is made possible with Depp’s small passive-aggressive outbursts towards his family only to reel it in when he knows he did harm. It's a solid and grounded performance by an early Depp and showed us that he would one day become one of Hollywood's biggest stars.
Donnie BrascoThe tense true story of undercover agent Joseph D. Pistone, who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family, pits Depp against Al Pacino in what is one of the actor's best films to date.
Depp brings depth to his complex role in this tightly woven crime thriller where performance is a matter of life and death. Significantly more nuanced than he usually is, Depp pitches those tense moments between himself and the gang members at the perfect intensity levels.
Desperate, frightened and, above all, brave, this performance shines through as arguably being the most complex in the actor's filmography.
Dead ManJim Jarmusch’s overlooked gem signals early nuances of Depp’s’ infamous meek/awkward expressions that would find their way into his future features.
Dead Man is also very much at the epicenter of Depp’s experimental film roles, which he would become famous for in the 1990s. It's a daring departure from safe romantic drama of Don Juan DeMarco the year prior, and while not a box-office success, it did signal early signs of Depp’s trademark acting idiosyncrasies.
RangoThis Oscar-winning animated feature stars Depp as the titular Rango, a domesticated chameleon who suddenly becomes stranded in the Amercain desert and stumbles upon an old Western town populated by anthropomorphic animals.
Depp relies solely on his natural voice here to carry the role of a theatrical chameleon who learns of life outside the confines of his sheltered existence.
Rango is an intelligent animated film worthy of the Oscar trophy it took home, and it also proves that Depp’s natural voice acting can carry an animated character and make him completely loveable.