Johnny Depp has long been one of Hollywood’s elite actors. His charm and versatility is unmatched by his peers, but believe it or not it was only in this last decade that his star truly began to rise to iconic levels. From an early start on TV’s “21 Jump Street,” to his breakthrough role in Tim Burton’s “Edward Scissorhands,” Depp immediately amassed a following, but it was his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of Caribbean” that helped him set sail up the box office charts. With “On Stranger Tides” opening this weekend, it’s interesting to look back at how the “pirates” life has truly been good to the three time Oscar nominee.
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2003)
Total USA Earnings: $305 million
The best way to describe Depp’s following prior to “Pirates” was cult. He had his fans and he had his image, but to that point he also only had one $100 million movie (“Sleepy Hollow”) to his name. Then came “Pirate of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” which opened to $46 million (his biggest career opening at the time). The movie took off and Disney all of a sudden had itself a new franchise to play with and a new star in its arsenal. Depp picked legions of new fans and racked in critical praise which eventually led to his earning his first “Best Actor” Academy Award nomination. In the end “Pirates” collected a haul of over $300 million domestically and over $650 million worldwide.
Finding Neverland (2004)
Total USA Earnings: $57 million
Following “Black Pearl,” Depp continued to find success with “Once Upon A Time In Mexico” and “Secret Window,” with both earning close to $100 million worldwide. Although the real reward came in 2004 when Oscar voters again honored him with a second consecutive Oscar nomination for his turn in “Finding Neverland,” which despite a soft domestic showing, managed to earn $118 million globally.
Charlie & The Chocolate Factory (2005)
Total USA Earnings: $206 million
With his international presence growing, Depp once again re-teamed with longtime friend and frequent collaborator Tim Burton for the re-imagined “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory.” The 2005 summer tentpole took in over $56 million its opening weekend on its way to a total cume of close to $500 million. It also turned out to be the first of four movies in a six year span that the pair would make together. Combined “The Corpse Bride,” “Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” & “Alice In Wonderland,” took in well over $1 billion and netted Depp yet another Oscar nomination.
The Tourist (2010)
Total USA Earnings: $67 million
All during his run with Burton, Depp continued churning out “Pirate” sequels that each became massive worldwide hits. The actor was riding such a hot streak, that even his “misses” were turning into hits. Take for example, last year’s “The Tourist,” which stumbled out of the gate and went from an award contender to an award show running joke. Ironically, the last laugh was actually on Depp’s detractors as his international presence carried the movie through a rough domestic debut. In the USA, “Tourist” collected a modest $67 million; worldwide that number jumped to $278 million.
Total USA Earnings: $121 million
Although the most obvious sign that Depp’s star power was at stratospheric new levels came just this year with “Rango.” It wasn’t just that the animated movie about a day dreaming lizard opened to $38 million, but it’s that it did it without the benefit of any gimmicks. “Rango” wasn’t released in IMAX, it wasn’t released in 3D; it was simply a 2D standard cinema flick that worked! For a while, “Rango” was even the top grossing film of 2011, as it stands right now, it’s still in the top 5.
That brings us full circle to this weekend. Even if the latest “Pirates” doesn’t open as high as the previous ones, Depp’s presence alone makes it a solid investment. The only thing that a lower opening weekend tally would cause is a delay in the inevitable “Pirates 5,” which the actor himself has already said should occur to allow for a longer interval of time to pass between installments. That’s foresight that a lot of executives in Hollywood are lacking these days.
Combine all of these elements and it’s not hard to see why Depp is the star he is today; it’s just hard to fathom what took audiences so long to figure it out.
“Pirates of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” is now in theaters.