Ranking Johnny Depp's Starring-Role Movies

by Keertana Sastry

He might be eccentric, but it's not hard to admit that Johnny Depp has had quite the exciting decades-long career. I feel compelled to look back over this insane career and point out that despite his uncomfortable and downright bad film choices as of late (Mordecai, Depp? Really?), he's also made quite a few gems throughout his career, most of which came out of his amazing relationship with director Tim Burton. In fact, I've decided to rank Johnny Depp's films, and yes, there are dozens on this list.

Some of my favorite movies involve Johnny Depp, no matter if he may or may not have lost his way in recent years (I cannot and will not get over The Long Ranger!) And because it's hard to really rank all of Depp's films, I've made one major rule in order to take on this insane feat. First things first, this list features mostly just films that Depp either completely starred in or featured him in several scenes. So starring and major co-star roles only. That means taking out such wonderful movies as The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus and Platoon, despite how wonderful he was in Imaginarium and how nice it was for all of the actors in that film to help finish Heath Ledger's final role. So let's let the fun began shall we? And if after reading this list, you come out with more of an appreciation for this imaginative if sometimes too eccentric actor, or if you least feel compelled to celebrate any one of the films in this exceptionally long list, I've done something right. Here are the films, ranked from worst to absolute best.


It's just bad. Really really bad. Seriously, how did this film get not only Depp but Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany and Ewan McGregor? I don't fully understand the movies.

The Lone Ranger

Johnny Depp played Tonto. That alone gives this movie a negative rating.

Private Resort

Depp and Rob Morrow (from Northern Exposure and Numbers) starred in this 1985 film about two boys on the prowl for women at a Miami resort and come across a jewelry heist plan in motion. Depp's first starring role is not a fun time at the movies.

The Tourist



Christopher Nolan's cinematographer Wally Pfister decided to get really ambitious for his directorial debut and understandably so, he's worked with one of the most ambitious directors in Hollywood at the moment. But Transcendence, which follows a Depp's Dr. Will Caster as he inserts his conscience into an artificial intelligence and becomes an omnipresent technology that consumed by obtaining all knowledge and reach technological singularity. The theme of the movie was too jumbled by the plot and film structure, otherwise it could have been absolutely fascinating.

Nick of Time

The coolest thing about this Depp and Christopher Walken film is that it took place in real time. The rest of it is just an unfortunate mess. Too bad, if only the plot was as cool as the idea.

The Libertine

My biggest problem with The Libertine, Depp's film about the second Earl of Rochester's immoral adventures does not involve Depp at all. In fact, his performance is all-encompassing. The problem is that everything around him and his fellow actors just could not compete.

The Brave

Johnny Depp directed and co-wrote this movie in which he also stars as a Native American family man. His alleged Native American heritage has been dissed, discussed and analyzed so many times that it's hard for me to enjoy anything with him portraying the role at the moment, despite how hard he must have worked on this movie.

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

I just can't understand the point of making a fourth Pirates film, regardless of who else is in it. Sorry Penelope Cruz. I shall never be able to get my head around this, and therefore will probably not be able to bring myself to see anymore if they are made.

The Rum Diary

Depp was a close friend of author Hunter S. Thompson before his death so it seemed fairly obvious that Depp would take on another role from Thompson's novels much like Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. The problem here is that while the movie is funny and Depp is great, it was too muted and too weak an adaptation.

Dark Shadows

To be fair to Dark Shadows, this film should have worked. It had Depp and Tim Burton working together again, it had the right style that we're come to know and love from the duo and it had the right blend of humor and darkness. But campiness took over in the end and the result became a too corny film that had the potential for so much more.

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End

The film that probably should have ended the Pirates series once and for all, At World's End gave us the terrible end to the Will/Elizabeth love story by making Will the captain of the Flying Dutchman and therefore not allowing him to have a happy life with his wife and child. I am still bitter about this.

Alice in Wonderland

I don't fully understand the point of making this movie, but it's colorful and make so. Much. Money. At the box office, so who am I to judge? Also, it gave us Mia Wasikowska and she's awesome.

The Astronaut's Wife

Charlize Theron discovers that her husband is not the same man she remembers after he returns home from a spaceflight where his connection was lost for two whole minutes. Is she crazy or is she right? Spoiler alert, she's right. He's an alien and this movie is the crazy one.


Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz in a film about cocaine and the Medellin Cartel? It was almost great, but it did feature an awesome performance from Depp.

From Hell

The film that gave us the unanswered question of who was Jack the Ripper, and yet I found most of it too be slow and kind of boring. I needed more from this movie.

The Ninth Gate

Another dark film with some interesting notions of Heaven and Hell, The Ninth Gate is even slower than From Hell with far less violence and gore. Yet somehow I found it more interesting, probably because the story progression was actually quite interesting. But as per usual with Johnny Depp films, the ending goes completely insane.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

The movie in which we see the Kraken in all its glory. That's truly all I really remember from this thing, but I do remember it was still pretty entertaining to watch.

Secret Window

The twist at the end alone might be enough to add this to Johnny Depp's decent movie list.

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory

A strange remake of a stellar original, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (rather than Willy Wonka), gave us the adorable Freddie Highmore who is now creeping us out as Norman Bates in Bates Motel. But it also gave us the scariest Willy Wonka to date.

Corpse Bride

While not as great as The Nightmare Before Christmas, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride is still an exciting, funny, dark and truly entertaining animated film for the whole family (provided your kids are slightly older than most who watch animated movies).

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

This film was definitely not popular at the time of its release, but Depp's performance and the truly bananas style of Hunter S. Thompson made it a cult classic, and one of my favorite Depp roles to date.


After 25 years, Cry-Baby is still a cult classic thanks to Depp's work as Wade "Cry-Baby" Walker, leader of the "Drapes" who falls for a square and fights for his love despite all kinds of crazy odds. It's the kookier version of Westside Story.

Arizona Dream

Depp stars in this fascinating film alongside Faye Dunaway as a young man who goes to Arizona for the wedding of his uncle, a used car salesman.

Into The Woods

Rob Marshall's adaptation of Sondheim's classic musical has a special place in my heart as I was once in a production of this show in school. The film wasn't quite as great as I hoped but the true love for it belongs to Meryl Streep above Johnny Depp, so I can't rank it too high for his list of films.

Dead Man

This Western, darkly comedic movie is a must-see for Depp and for the direction by Jim Jarmusch who also made the incredible vampire film Only Lovers Left Alive with Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton.

Don Juan DeMarco

All the love for this movie goes to Depp who portrays the psychiatric patient/cassanova Don Juan to perfection.


Another Johnny Depp lover boy role. Chocolat is made better thanks to its incredible cast led by Juliette Binoche, with Depp in a fun co-starring role.

Public Enemies

This film gave us the competition pairing of Johnny Depp vs. Christian Bale, and really who could ask more than that? Aside from Johnny Depp playing one of the greatest bank robbers of all time of course.

Once Upon A Time In Mexico

The movie itself isn't the greatest of the EL Mariachi trilogy (aka the Mexico trilogy), but man does Johnny Depp steal the show from Banderas and Salma Hayek in this Robert Rodriguez film as a morally gray CIA agent.


A sweet, strange animated film that truly brings joy to anyone who watches. This is the most family friendly project on the list and one of my favorites for sure.

Benny & Joon

I would almost rather not say anything about this film aside from just to recommend it to all who want to see a sweet, quirky love triangle and story, courtesy of Depp, Aidan Quinn and Mary Stuart Masterson.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

This is one of my only exceptions to the "only starring roles" rule for this list because of one reason, and one reason alone: Johnny Depp gets eaten by a bed in this movie. Totally worth seeing it just for that (and also because it's a brilliant horror film but that's beside the point).

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

This film truly belongs to Leonardo DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role as Arnie Grape, Gilbert's brother. But since Depp's role is the titular one of the film, he gets credit for his great work in this off-beat drama.

Sleepy Hollow

This is the type of Johnny Depp I love to see. Strange, campy, dark, and hilarious. Sleepy Hollow is one of the better Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaborations, but they get better and better on this list.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd for example is yet another brilliant Tim Burton/Johnny Depp joint. Not only did Depp show off his singing chops in the movie, he excells as Sweeney Todd and has perfect chemistry with the always brilliant Helena Bonham Carter.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

Johnny Depp's Oscar nomination for his introduction of Jack Sparrow to the world was completely necessary. The other films in the series however? Probably not so much.

Donnie Basco

Johnny Depp and Al Pacino in a mobster film? Sign me up every time. This movie is a modern classic in the gangster drama genre.

Finding Neverland

This might be the most normal man Depp has ever played and its also his most subtle and one of most beautiful performances. While much of the film belongs to Freddie Highmore and Kate Winslet, Depp shines as the man who brought Peter Pan to life thanks to the impact of a wonderful family and the sweetest little boy.

Edward Scissorhands

One more wonderful Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film, Edward Scissorhands might rank in the top two strangest film concepts out of Burton and Depp's collaborations, but it's also the sweetest love and identity stories they've made together. This film is one beauitful side of their working relationship.

Ed Wood

And this film is the other weirder, darker and most fascinating side of their working relationship. I might be alone in this opinion, but I truly believe that this is the best Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration to date. I also believe this is easily one of Depp's best roles of all time. He's completely bananas as real-life director Ed Wood, but there's a vulnerability and a desperation in this performance that makes me believe him to be the man who wanted so badly to make movies but just couldn't make good ones.

Bonus: 21 Jump Street Cameo

My last exception to the Johnny Depp "starring roles only" rule because this super NSFW cameo in the 21 Jump Street remake is basically perfect.