The Evolution Of Johnny Depp

Glen Lantz - A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)

The role: The coiffed young Johnny makes his debut as one of the teens hunted and haunted through their dreams by killer Freddy Krueger.

Sadly, he falls victim to the blade-wearing demon midway through the film when he falls asleep.

But Depp does what he can with the role, and showed early signs of his quirky charm.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: He doesn’t get to act silly, he mostly seems concerned and then dies in a gush of gore and bone fragments. Can't say I'd have him on my crew. 2/10 .

Wade Walker - Cry Baby (1990)

The role: John Waters saw the star potential and plucked young Depp for the lead in this ‘50s throwback that sees him as a “drape” or greaser.

Depp seizes the chance and wrings every last drop out of the rebel rocker whose wild side hides good manners and insecurities.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: He’s got the moves, the ladies love him and his hair is wild. If he’d only stop weeping… 8/10 .

Edward - Edward Scissorhands (1990)

The role: Depp finds his creative soul mate in Tim Burton (and one of his ex-soul mates-to-be in Winona Ryder).

The tale of the sensitive hand-Frankenstein was perfect for him, and helped kick his career up several notches. For all its oddball sensibility, Scissorhands made him a bona fide movie star.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Those hands would be useful in a scrap against sea-monsters, but he’s a little awkward around sails. The hair's pretty close, though. 7/10.

Sam - Benny And Joon (1993)

The role: The movie might be called “Benny” and Joon, but it’s Depp’s Sam who dominates, wooing the unbalanced Joon with tricks, jokes and real affection.

It’s a chance for Depp to both indulge his crazier side, but also show the sweetness that he can display when called upon.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: A way with unruly women? Making a spectacle of himself in public? A pirate if ever I saw one. 8/10.

Gilbert - What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

The role: Depp’s Gilbert is a careworn soul with little time for wackiness as he takes care of his younger sisters and disturbed brother Arnie (Leo DiCaprio).

It’s an acting tour-de-force for the lead, though Leo got the Academy Award nomination and Johnny would have to wait a while…

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Far too involved with family despite mishaps with water. This lad needs to get out more. I suggest the Pacific. 2/10 .

Ed - Ed Wood (1994)

The role: Reuniting with Burton let Depp stretch his muscles once more and embody a real person – in this case, cult bad filmmaker Wood.

He does some fine work with the role, even though it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Make-up? Good. Wacky? Excellent! Odd taste in clothes? Welcome aboard, matey! 8/10.

William Blake - Dead Man (1995)

The role: Continuing his indie hip poster child phase, Depp teams up with Jim Jarmusch for this strange tale of an accountant mortally wounded.

Psychedelically blending old West tropes and existential ramblings, it’s Depp’s central role that keeps it grounded. Well, sort of…

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Surviving mortal wounds is good. Learning to shoot the bad guys? Better. 6/10.

Gene Watson - Nick Of Time (1995)

The role: Another accountant thrown into a life-threatening situation, but this time Depp goes a little more mainstream for John Badham’s real-time thriller.

He doesn’t have to stretch much as a thesp (besides looking desperate a lot), but it was an interesting experiment.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: He's an accountant. He's got a tidy barnet. He's about as close to me as morals… 1/10.

Donnie - Donnie Brasco (1997)

The role: Depp faces off against ol’ shouty/whispery/sweary Al Pacino in this ace peek at how an FBI agent investigating the mob goes a little too far undercover.

He more than matches up to Pacino, proving that he’s got the goods when it comes to acting.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Dodgy dealings, eh? Like it, like it… Sounds like he’d be a lot of fun to hang around bars with. Plus if it gets cold, we can start a fire with the oil from his hair. 7/10 .

Raoul Duke - Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas (1998)

The role: Like his collaborations with Burton, it always feels like Depp and Terry Gilliam were made to work together.

And Depp got so close to gonzo Hunter S Thompson that this feels a little like some of the writer’s spirit (or is that spirits?) mixed with Depp’s. Off-the-charts, but perfect for it.

Jack Sparrow-o-meter: Drinks, smokes, hallucinates, trouble walking at times… Perfect! 9/10.

Freelance Journalist

James White is a freelance journalist who has been covering film and TV for over two decades. In that time, James has written for a wide variety of publications including Total Film and SFX. He has also worked for BAFTA and on ODEON's in-cinema magazine.