Movie Stars: Depp, Johnny–Diminished Star? End of Box-Office Power?

Cry_Baby_john_waters_posterIt’s hard to remember the last time that Johnny Depp, the original and eccentric actor who became iconic, had made a movie that’s been artistically good and/or commercially accessible.

At 51, a critical age for all actors, Depp is at a crossroads, and he desperately needs advice from his team of agents and managers as to which direction to follow?

It seems that right now the only viable movies for Depp, which would justify the high fees he commands ($20 million per picture) are Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, and its sequel (which is in the works now), and the franchise Pirates of the Caribbean

Depp’s latest film, Mortdecai, which generated mostly negative reviews, is a huge flop.  With a price tag of 60 million, the caper comedy-adventure tanked at the box office this weekend, grossing the paltry amount of $4 million.

This is the fourth straight flop for Depp in a starring role, after 2014’s Transcendence, which cost $100 million and made $23 million domestic ($103 million worldwide), and 2013’s The Lone Ranger, which cost $250 million-plus and grossed just $89 million domestic ($261 million worldwide).

In an age defined by diminishing star power, Depp is considered one of a few actors who continues to matter, especially overseas.  Like Brad Pitt, who is more or less his age, Depp has always been more popular abroad.  His 2012 fantasy Dark Shadows disappointed in the U.S. with $79 million, but took in more than double that number internationally, helping the film gross $246 million total.

Depp did appear in a brief sequence (as the Big Bad Wolf) in Into the Woods, which has grossed $116 million domestic, and his star power, along with Meryl Streep‘s, helped get the film made.  But the Rob Marhsall’s musical was not his movie; it was an ensemble piece.

The crucial question regards the impact of another disappointment on Depp.  Sources say Depp cut his fee significantly for Mortdecai (less than $10 million).  “Johnny Depp is that rare talent whose depth and range has endeared him to audiences in every age, demographic and fan base around the world,” says Rob Friedman, co-chair of Lionsgate’s motion picture.  But Friedman said that before the movie opened!

Depp is taking a similarly reduced salary for Black Mass. the Whitey Bulger biopic that Warner will release in September. After those films, Depp has chosen to return to the Disney tent pole fare that made him a megastar. Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass has wrapped shooting and has a May 2016 release date. Pirates 5 is set to begin production in February and hit theaters in July 2017.   Depp has reportedly reduced his upfront fee for both films, a sign of Hollywood’s more frugal times and that his bargaining power is waning.

Here are some Depp performances early on in his career that we continue to admire, in John Waters’ Cry Baby (1990), Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Lasse Hallstrom’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993).

Our review of Cry Baby:

Cry-Baby: John Waters Directs Johnny Depp