Movie Stars: Depp, Johnny–End of Bankable Stardom, Falling from Grace?

I am reprinting a brief, old essay about Johnny Depp, in which I had anticipated the end of his movie stardom, based on the poor artistic and commercial record of most of his films since 2010.

When a movie receives bad reviews, but still is successful at the box office, the industry does not care much.  This was the case of Depp’s Alice in Wonderland and the blockbuster franchise The Pirates of the Caribbean.  But the combination of consistently negative notices and commercial flops is harmful to an actor’s standing and bankability in Hollywood, especially if the budgets of these movies is high.

alice_through_the_looking_glass_11_deppDepp’s position in Hollywood is now worse than it was a year and a half ago, when I wrote my piece. The combination of the huge flop stateside of his latest feature, the big budget sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and the accusations by his estranged wife, actress Amber Heard, of domestic violence and drug abuse, have made it the talk of the town this weekend–albeit for the wrong reasons.


The estimable Deadline journalist Anthony D’Alessandro has poignantly observed that 35% of the viewers cited Depp as the major reason for seeing Alice Through the Looking Glass. In contrast, five years ago, 51% of moviegoers said the star was the reason they saw its predecessor,  Alice in Wonderland.

This is too bad, as last year, Depp gave one of his best performances as real-life convicted crime boss White Bulger in the crime-gangster feature, Black Mass, which should have served as a major career comeback.  Oscar nomination as Best Actor–which would have been his fourth–could have helped, and it was anticipated by several Oscar pundits (including yours truly), but it did not materialize.  It was a competitive year for leading males athe Oscar race, though Depp received a nomination from his colleagues at SAG.

This is what I wrote about Depp on January 24, 2015:

Mortdecai, Johnny Depp’s latest film, which hit theaters on January 23, 2015, proved to be a bomb at the box office.  (January is known as the month in which the studios dump their worst pictures).

Indifferently directed by David Koepp, the comedy barely cracked the top ten when it opened to $1.5 million on Friday and looks to finish the weekend with a dismal $4.3 million.

Lionsgate’s Mortdecai, which carries a $60 million budget, grossed about one third of what had been expected by box-office analysts.

Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor also star in Mortdecai, an adaptation of Kyril Bonfiglioli’s novel “Don’t Point That Thing at Me.”

Panned by most critics, the wannabe slapstick comedy received 87 percent negative reviews and only 13 percent positive, becoming Depp’s worst reviewed picture in his three decade career.



Mortdecai marks the third or fourth dud in a row and one of the worst openings for Depp, following the failure of two other high-profile features, Transcendence and The Lone Ranger.

Aside from Disney’s mega-successful Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, most recent films of the actor, known for his chameleon nature and ability to hide behind heavy make-up and masks, have bombed domestically.

His two movies prior to The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows, and The Rum Diary, had also vastly underperformed at the box-office.

Depp used to be a cult figure among young spectators (I know it from my students). But it seems that his core audience, composed of viewers that would see his films reagrdless of their relative artistic quality, is diminshing rapidly.

It should be noted that Depp, like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt, has always been more popular abroad (especially in Europe) than at home.

I have deliberately focused on Depp’ standing in the industry in artistic and commercial ways, putting aside the scandalous accusations of his estranged wife, Amber Heard, because at this point, they are just allegations, though the court did approve her request for restraining order.  That said, Heard’s charges can be–and already might have been–damaging to his reputation, both as an actor and as individual.

The real test of movie stardom and Hollywood bankability is staying power at the box-office.  Next year should determine Depp’s status as a major industry player.  In 2017, the  actor will release two very expensive, high-profile pictures: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and The Invisible Man, a remake of the classic Universal horror film, to be directed by Rob Marshall.