Many directors are known for frequently collaborating with the same actors, but no actor/director pairing is as iconic in Hollywood as that of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. Spanning 8 films and 22 years, the two of them have produced cinematic magic, particularly in the horror and gothic subgenres.
So, in honor of Johnny Depp’s birthday today, we thought it would be fun to take a look back and rank his 8 different collaborations with Tim Burton. Just to be clear, we’re not ranking the movies themselves, just Depp’s performances.
8. The Mad Hatter (Alice in Wonderland)
After a while, the Depp/Burton pairing started to feel more like a tired out gimmick, and this is the movie that really solidified that. The Hatter’s costume is the most visually vibrant (or obnoxious) of Depp’s career, but Depp himself very much feels like he’s on autopilot by now.
At this point, it’s clear that he was out of new things to bring to a Burton film, and just sort of let the costumes, and CGI environment do everything for him (which went the same for the rest of the movie too). It’s not a bad performance by any means, it’s just not a very interesting or memorable one.
7. Willy Wonka (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Remaking a beloved classic like this is no easy task, as everyone automatically compares it to the original.
Out of fairness to Depp, we’re going to refrain from doing such. That said, this performance still has reasons as to why it’s low on this list.
Wonka is meant to be a larger than life eccentric personality. He runs a wildly successful chocolate empire, and is shrouded in mystery.
Depp’s Wonka certainly has that right level of manic weirdness, but it all just comes off as more gimmicky than deep.
Depp shows the childlike wonder and lack of maturity in Wonka, but doesn’t really demonstrate the larger than life eccentric part.
He’s unpredictable in many scenes simply because we aren’t sure how Depp and Burton will decide to play this particular scene, all resulting in a lack of tonal consistency.
6. Victor Van Dort (Corpse Bride)
Using only his voice, Depp portrays a character that’s quite the nervous wreck. Unlike many of the other characters Depp has played, Victor Van Dort is very soft-spoken, and very much a product of the uptight Victorian London era.
There’s a subtle longing to his character, but other than his sense of poignant tragedy, we don’t really get to know him very well or see much of him.
To be fair, Corpse Bride is not a very long movie, and the attention is mostly on the visual style.
There’s nothing wrong with Depp’s performance, it just feels like it doesn’t contain as much as his other ones did.
5. Barnabas Collins (Dark Shadows)
In Depp’s latest collaboration with Burton, he once again donned pale white makeup and portrayed a strange, gothic character.
But because of its context, it worked a bit better here. Since he’s 200 year old vampire living in the modern world (well modern to the 70’s), his weirdness plays out in a more humorous and ironic way.
He sort of feels like the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus, but without all of his jokes needing to be family friendly.
As previously mentioned, the Depp/Burton gimmick had become a bit played out by this point, but the Barnabas Collins we see in this film is almost a self-aware parody of that.
4. Ichabod Crane (Sleepy Hollow)
Much like Victor Van Dort, Johnny Depp’s take on the iconic Ichabod Crane is a bit high strung and anxious.
Always having been a man of science, the supernatural elements he deals with are quite horrifying to him. However, he’s much more developed here than in Corpse Bride.
Beneath the surface of anxiety, Depp brilliantly portrays a determination to solve the case, forcing Ichabod Crane to confront his fears.
That, and his “science nerd” persona make him the perfect representation of Tim Burton’s trope of the outcast protagonist.
3. Edward Scissorhands (Edward Scissorhands)
In his first time working with Burton, Depp played a subtle and sympathetic character that conveys a great range of emotion with very little dialogue.
Edward is a fascinating, but tragic character who represents the blank slate on which to observe humanity.
His lack of social knowledge helps point on many odd things that we simply take for granted. In many ways, Edward is the naïve, moral friend that the rest of us don’t deserve.
2. Sweeney Todd (Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street)
There was initially a lot of apprehension about Johnny Depp taking a role that required so much sitting.
But many probably forgot that he was in a band before he got into acting back in the early 80’s. Sweeney Todd is one of the most unstable characters that Depp has ever played (including all non-Burton movies as well), but he’s also completely sympathetic and understandable.
We see how he was life was so unjustly ruined, and we find ourselves sickeningly rooting for him to slice as many throats as possible, all while singing!
1. Ed Wood (Ed Wood)
While it may be one of Depp’s lesser known roles, it’s arguably his best, not just among his Burton films.
He’s remembered as the worst director that ever lived, but Johnny Depp really brings this unyielding, and inspiring attitude that really makes you root for the guy.
He’s sort of like the Tommy Wiseau of 1950’s Hollywood, and in many ways, this movie feels like an earlier version of 2017’s The Disaster Artist, but with a more likeable main character.
Because Depp played a real life person here, his performance feels much more grounded than the others here, but still with that larger than life quality.
He makes us laugh at him, feel for him, and feel bad for laughing at him, all in the span of one movie!
Which Johnny Depp/Tim Burton collaboration is you favorite/least favorite? Let us know in the comments!
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