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Proof That Johnny Depp Is A Human Chameleon

Some actors fall into a very specific mold, but Depp represents the polar opposite of this.

The movies chronicled on this list span all the way from 1984 to the present, and Johnny Depp’s parts range from cultured and refined to bizarre and outlandish, from goofy pirates all the way to hairpiece wearing billionaires and everything in between.

The only thing predictable about the roles Depp has portrayed is the fact that you never know what might be coming next.

Join us now as we take a journey through the film career of one of the world’s biggest stars. And be forewarned — as we draw closer to the present day, things don’t get any more predictable.

43. Glen Lantz — Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)


Although he eventually gained fame for portraying major characters, villains and heroes, Mr. Depp’s film career has humble beginnings. Like most people, he started off running for his life, chased by a deranged killer capable of murdering people in their dreams. Freddy Krueger eventually caught him, but luckily the young man who brought life (temporarily) to Glen Lantz was far from finished after this classic slasher movie’s conclusion.

42. Jack Marshall — Private Resort (1985)

1985 private resort

The cocky Jack Marshall, played by Depp in his first starring role, teams up with his buddy at a sunny Miami resort where they seek out some wealthy young ladies with lovely sets of… personalities. The two eager teenagers end up finding much more than they bargained for when they run afoul of a jewel thief called The Maestro, but if this comedy film taught us anything, it’s that even back then Johnny Depp had all the makings of a master.

41. Lerner — Platoon (1986)

1986 platoon

Our list has made yet another dramatic shift, as the focus moves from beach bodies and lighthearted humor to the ghastly horrors of the Vietnam War. Although Johnny Depp’s role in Platoon wasn’t as prominent as his previous, he still demonstrated his incredible range in portraying Lerner, Bravo Company’s translator, in this award-winning war film set near the border of Cambodia.

40. Wade Walker — Crybaby (1990)

1990 crybaby

Depp took to the streets of 1950s Baltimore as the leather jacket wearing Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker, a role that helped to further cement his legacy as a heartthrob. Cry-Baby, who got his name thanks to his ability to shed a single tear (which never failed to drive the girls crazy), was the unquestioned leader of a gang of delinquents. This romantic comedy concluded with a chicken race (not the kind with poultry) and an emotional moment featuring the shedding of many single tears.

39. Edward Scissorhands — Edward Scissorhands (1990)

1990 edward scissorhands

Just in case this countdown was starting to seem predictable, Johnny Depp also starred as the title character in a romantic dark fantasy chronicling the tale of an artificial boy with scissors for hands. This might seem fairly ridiculous to those unfamiliar with this classic film, but Depp’s outstanding work opposite Winona Ryder — with whom he was in a relationship at the time — helped make this tragic tale of lost love a success that would stand the test of time.

38. Axel Blackmar — Arizona Dream (1992)

1992 arizona dream

Wacky, wild, and fairly ridiculous — these words definitely come to mind when we consider this surrealistic, comedic drama that begins with a dream about an Eskimo catching a rare fish, and ends with that same fish flying up into a rising sun. Add in a jealous stepdaughter with aspirations of reincarnating as a turtle, a fish tagger (played by Depp, looking elegantly unkempt) building an airplane, and a botched game of Russian roulette and you might have something of an idea of just how weird this movie is.

37. Sam — Benny & Joon (1993)

1992 benny and joon

This romantic comedy features the film-obsessed Sam, played by Johnny Depp, as he embarks on a unique kind of romance with a mentally ill woman with whom he lives as the result of a lost bet. A big part of what makes Benny & Joon so memorable, aside from an unexpectedly cheerful spin on what could be a much darker story, is Depp’s physical comedy as he dons his hat and launches into routines paying homage to silent film stars of years past.

36. Gilbert Grape — What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

1993 whats eating gilbert grape

Although the title of this movie might suggest otherwise, here we see Depp take a step away from comedy as he brings life to a man struggling to take care of a disabled brother and a morbidly obese mother. Gilbert, a young man trying his best to find love as he deals with the responsibilities all around them, is effectively painted by a Depp as a person with the best intentions who is pushed to the brink. There is only so much a grocery store clerk can handle, after all.

35. John Arnold DeMarco — Don Juan DeMarco (1994)


When a psychiatrist evaluates Depp’s character, who has taken up a mask and a cape as well as the belief that he is Don Juan, the world’s greatest lover, the results aren’t what you would expect. The troubled youth’s delusion is so strong that after listening to him, far from prescribing the medication required to bring John Arnold DeMarco back to reality from his Mexican delusion, the medical staff experiences improvements in their own lives. The tales told by Depp’s Zorro-impersonator even manage to rekindle the fire in a failing marriage.

34. Ed Wood — Ed Wood (1994)

1994 ed wood

Johnny Depp spent little time deciding on this part, as he was excited by the prospect of representing filmmaker Ed Wood in the biographical movie directed by Tim Burton, with whom he’d worked before. Depp painted a vivid picture of Wood, who was an ever-optimistic, clean cut man with a painstakingly neat mustache… and a fondness for dressing up like a woman.

33. William Blake — Dead Man (1995)

1995 dead man

In this American Western film, Depp plays a man as down on his luck as you can imagine — he loses out on a promised job, meets a woman who gets killed soon after, then receives a bullet to the chest that can’t be removed. He’s also on the run from some dangerous henchmen, and once they accidentally kill a baby deer, William Blake does the obvious: he grieves for the fawn, before painting his face with its blood and continuing on his doomed quest alongside a Native American companion named Nobody.

32. Gene Watson — Nick of Time (1995)

1995 nick of time

Although he’s no stranger to portraying wild characters with wild appearances, Depp’s role as a clean shaven, mild-mannered single dad looks very natural in this political thriller practically overflowing with action and deception. Conspiracy, murder and kidnapping are well represented in this film, and Gene Watson, stuck in the middle of it all, helps to make this particular brand of politics almost as entertaining as the Trump campaign (but more on that later).

31. Joseph D. Pistone — Donnie Brasco (1997)

1997 donnie brasco

An FBI agent posing as a jewel thief in order to infiltrate the Mafia had better know how to look the part, and Mr. Pistone, whose true story Donnie Brasco is based on, gets the job done as he manages to gain the trust of some very important criminals. Mr. Depp also looks the part, as he portrays a lawman pretending to be a gangster all while struggling to balance his dangerous job with his family life.

30. Raphael — The Brave (1997)

1997 the brave

Here we see Depp — who directed this movie in addition to starring in it — as a poverty-stricken Native American alcoholic who was recently released from prison. Once Raphael decides his need to provide for his family has overshadowed his will to live, he agrees to be tortured to death in a snuff film in exchange for a large sum of money that could give his loved ones a better life. Some people would probably have resorted to a job at McDonald’s before taking that particular route, but Depp shows us a stirring example of self-sacrifice and love that’s difficult to forget.

29. Raoul Duke — Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

1998 fear and loathing

Fear, loathing and lots of drugs played a prominent part in this black comedy film, which was based on a novel of the same name. The movie developed a big cult following, in large part thanks to Johnny Depp’s portrayal of a journalist who made the most of an assignment in Las Vegas by purchasing far too many drugs. Acid, ether, cocaine and a red convertible translate to an unforgettable trip, which, ironically enough, is also one that could barely be remembered afterward.

28. Ichabod Crane — Sleepy Hollow (1999)

1999 sleepy hollow

A police constable in New York in the late 1700s tasked with stopping a killer believed to be an undead, headless horseman? Depp’s done it, once again displaying his ability to vanish into the characters he plays as he brings life to Ichabod Crane, who is trying to make sense of the impossible in this classic supernatural horror movie.

27. Spencer Armacost — The Astronaut’s Wife (1999)

1999 the astronauts wife

Depp plays a NASA astronaut in this science fiction thriller, although one satellite explosion later his role changes somewhat, as things become a bit more… alien. Trust me, it makes sense. Although this movie didn’t do very well at the box office, Depp’s ability to act out any conceivable role is clearly not of this world.

26. Dean Corso — The Ninth Gate (1999)

1999 the ninth gate

As a dealer of rare books, Depp’s character enjoys ripping people off so he could sell their antique books to collectors for a much higher price. Dean Corso seems to have it all figured out until he finds himself seeking out a powerful (and dangerous) book supposedly written by the Devil himself. Anything for a buck, I guess.

25. Lt. Victor / Bon Bon — Before Night Falls (2000)

2000 before night falls

Johnny’s range has never been more effectively displayed than it was in this drama based on the autobiography of Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet and novelist. Depp actually plays two very different roles in this film , as he portrays both a sadistic prison warden as well as a flamboyant cross-dresser named Bon Bon.

24. Roux — Chocolat (2000)

2000 chocolat

As the name suggests, this film has a lot to do with chocolate. Calm down, it’s not just a video of Johnny Depp bathing in it, although his character Roux, a river gypsy, does find himself smitten with an expert chocolatier in this dramatic romantic comedy set in Europe in the late 1950s.

23. Cesar — The Man Who Cried (2000)

2000 the man who cried

This film tells the story of a young Jewish woman who, shortly before the start of the second World War, moves to England and then Paris as a member of a singing dance troupe. Depp, who seems to have been in a bit of a gypsy phase at this point in his career, portrays her love interest, a Romani horseman who performs alongside her when they first meet.

22. George Jung — Blow (2001)

2001 blow

Blow, a biographical crime drama, tells the story of American cocaine trafficker George Jung, who made millions of dollars working with a Columbian drug cartel. Depp does a masterful job of depicting a man with numerous run-ins with the law and a number of dangerous criminal contacts, all while still maintaining a strong sense of duty to his family. That being said, this still isn’t quite a wholesome family film.

21. Frederick Abberline — From Hell (2001)

from hell

Johnny Depp paints a vivid picture of a troubled but brilliant police inspector seeking out a gruesome killer targeting prostitutes in London in the late 1800s. Aided by psychic visions and his own obsession, Abberline finds himself facing a seemingly endless conspiracy in this horror mystery film based on the murders committed by Jack the Ripper.

20. Sheldon Sands — Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

2003 once upon a time in mexico

In this action-packed western, Depp plays a CIA agent working to bring down a corrupt Mexican officer before he could overthrow the country’s government. When things go bad, and if you’re fond of having all of your organs intact they go really bad, Sands doesn’t let his new limitations stop him from gunning down some bad guys.

19. Captain Jack Sparrow — Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

2003 pirates of the caribbean

The actor’s tremendous range is evidenced yet again with his portrayal of Jack Sparrow, which could possibly be the part for which he is best known. Depp brings a unique kind of swagger to his role, as well as a certain charismatic arrogance and a flamboyant semi-drunken manner, which help set Jack Sparrow apart from the more conventional pirate characters we’re accustomed to seeing.

18. J. M. Barrie — Finding Neverland (2004)

2004 finding neverland

This biographical film focuses on Scottish playwright J. M. Barrie, and his relationship with a widow and her four sons. The friendship that forms between Barrie (played by Depp) and the four boys who lack a father figure and wish to never grow up inspires the writer to new heights as he creates the classic play Peter Pan

17. Mort Rainey — Secret Window (2004)

2004 secret window

Another character unique from the others we’ve looked at so far, Mort is an author struggling with depression and writer’s block, who is also faced with a failed marriage and a strange, violent man who accuses him of plagiarizing his work. Johnny Depp creates a convincing portrait of a man facing frightful demons originating from within himself in this psychological thriller.

16. John Wilmot — The Libertine (2004)2004 the libertine

Set in London, this drama chronicles the misadventures of a libertine — a man ruled by his own self-indulgences, whose time is occupied by his fondness of drinking and womanizing. As John Wilmot, Depp demonstrates just how effectively he can personify the worst of what mankind can offer (Wilmot sold “potions” to women in search of genealogical treatments that were actually made from his assistant’s urine), all while still leaving some room for redemption

15. Willy Wonka — Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)

2005 charlie and the chocolate factory

Depp’s portrayal of the very peculiar (and somewhat weird) candy maker Willy Wonka is quite possibly one of his most memorable performances, and also stands as further proof of his incredible acting range. Even with all of the chocolate factory’s wonders and dangers, Depp’s mastery of this role takes center stage in this classic musical fantasy.

14. Benjamin Barker — Sweeney Todd (2007)

2007 sweeney tood

This film can be called a musical, a horror picture or even a comedy, but regardless of the label you put on it there’s no denying its entertainment value. Depp’s depiction of Benjamin Barker, a barber who also moonlights as a serial killer with an affinity for murdering his customers with straight razors, is believable while still retaining an unexpected level of charm

13. Tony — The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (2009)

2009 Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

When a traveling theater troupe is led by a man who made a bet with the Devil, things are sure to take a turn for the unexpected. Heath Ledger’s untimely death halted production for a time, but eventually his role was carried on by three different actors as the character, Tony, underwent various transformations. As one of these actors, Depp continued where his peer left off while still making the part his own.

12. John Dillinger — Public Enemies (2009)

2009 public enemies

In this biographical drama, Johnny Depp delivers a cold, effective performance as John Dillinger, a bank robber who is as notorious as he is charismatic. Given that the movie is based on a real story, Depp put time into researching the role and even listened to old recordings in order to help him understand how the man talked and behaved — it can be safely assumed that he didn’t rob any banks, however.

11. Tarrant Hightopp — Alice in Wonderland (2010)

2010 alice in wonderland

The Mad Hatter’s title doesn’t inspire much faith in the character’s sanity, but while Depp certainly lived up to the expectations surrounding this role, he also sought to balance things out. He attempted to bring out a grounded, human side in a character that would otherwise be entirely strange and… well, mad, and the result was nothing shy of spectacular.

10. Frank Tupelo — The Tourist (2010)

2010 the tourist

Is Frank a simple math teacher from a community college in Wisconsin? Or is he more than meets the eye? Either way, Tupelo, played by Depp, is engulfed in a series of events involving a French Police manhunt, an angry mobster and billions of stolen dollars.

9. Rango — Rango (2011)


Johnny Depp can do it all, and if you’re unclear on what that means, you should check out his performance as a chameleon in this animated western comedy. As the animal finds an armadillo named Roadkill who is embarking on a quest to find the ‘Spirit of the West’, you might find yourself wondering if the ever-convincing Depp has secretly been a chameleon his entire life.

8. Paul Kemp — The Rum Diary (2011)

2011 the rum diary

An author who can’t seem to sell a book takes a job at a failing newspaper in Puerto Rico, where he ends up in jail after going on a drunken binge and angering a number of locals, although don’t worry — the events happened on separate nights. There’s rum aplenty in this film, but also in great supply is Depp’s knack for bringing life to Kemp’s struggles.

7. Barnabas Collins — Dark Shadows (2012)

2012 dark shadows

Johnny Depp plays a vampire that spent the last two centuries or so trapped in a coffin, which can perhaps explain why he looks so pale in this comedic horror film directed by Tim Burton. While Collins is sinister and self-aware, he is also fiercely loyal to his family, making for a character with enough depth to rival that of the casket he was buried alive in for so long.

6. Tonto — The Lone Ranger (2013)

2012 the lone ranger

A Native American determined to bring justice to the people who massacred his tribe teams up with the Lone Ranger on his quest for vengeance. Depp’s black and white face paint and the dead crow mounted on his head make for a very memorable image, but his acting is even more effective in this exciting western action movie.

5. Dr. Will Caster — Transcendence (2014)

2013 trancendence

Depp portrays a scientist researching artificial intelligence, who also happens to be working towards the creation of a sentient computer (how can that go wrong?). Depp’s performance serves as an effective vehicle as Caster demonstrates the dangers that come along with the benefits of technological advancement.

4. The Wolf — Into the Woods (2014)

2014 into the woods

The Big Bad Wolf can be seen as sinister, dangerous and… well, bad. But Depp manages to bring yet another layer to this classic character, as he makes the most of a minor role opposite Little Red Riding Hood with a performance that adds some creepiness the wolf previously lacked.

3. Whitey Bulger — Black Mass (2015)

2015 black mass

James “Whitey” Bulger, an infamous Irish-American gangster who controls most of the organized crime in South Boston, finds himself working with the FBI in exchange for protection. Johnny Depp’s versatility shows itself once again as he portrays the antics of a brutal criminal, with frightening accuracy.

2. Charlie Mortdecai — Mortdecai (2015)

MORTDECAIWhen an art dealer with a bad habit of swindling people out of their money faces consequences for his actions (in the form of bullets), he takes a break from his chosen field to aid in an investigation surrounding an art theft that included two murders. While any performance of Depp’s is noteworthy, a great deal of credit has to go to the mustache he donned for the part.

1. Donald Trump — The Art of the Deal (2016)

2016 the art of the deal

Before you get too confused, you should keep in mind that this is a parody film. Still, it’s well worth a look for anyone seeking entertainment that comes at the well-known billionaire’s expense. Plus, the movie makes full use of Depp’s Donald Trump impression, which is actually pretty good. His hairstyle doesn’t quite match the ridiculousness of the real thing, but we can hardly blame him on that front.

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