Yes. Johnny Depp still stars in movies, but a true movie star is able to pull audiences into the theater no matter what the subject matter of their movie is. Melissa McCarthy has propelled herself from supporting actor (Bridesmaids) to movie star this year because she helped make both The Heat (not surprising) and Identity Thief (very surprising) huge box office hits. Meanwhile, actors like Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey and Tom Cruise have seen their once infallible stardom fade right before their eyes. Can we officially add Depp to that list? I say yes.
Let’s start with this past weekend. Is anyone surprised that The Lone Ranger bombed? Put your hand down, Jerry Bruckheimer. It grossed less than $50 million domestically and will probably have a sharp drop in its second week because of bad reviews word of mouth. Its monstrous $215 million production budget is also unlikely to be recouped. This shouldn’t be surprising because Depp fails the stardom test (that I made up).
The stardom test is a simple way to check how a movie star’s career is trending. It entails looking at their last five films with them as the star and seeing how they did. In this test we’re looking at quality and gross. Let’s look at Depp’s: The Lone Ranger, Dark Shadows, The Rum Diary, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and The Tourist (I didn’t include Rango because it’s animated). Are any of those good movies? Did any of them gross their budget domestically? The answer to both questions is no.
Johnny Depp used to do movies that showcased his acting, not ones that were supposed to be box office tent poles, that’s what made him a star. He used to play characters that were real and had depth, now he plays quirky characters who wear makeup and speak in funny accents. Look at his successful movies from 1990-2002 (before the original Pirates): Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Sleepy Hollow, Chooclat and Blow. No studio was banking on any of those films to make or break their year, but they were all successful in their own right. From 2003-present? Four Pirates movies, five Tim Burton collaborations (anyone else tired of those?), Public Enemies, The Rum Diary, The Tourist (all disappointments) with two 1990-2002 style Depp movies sprinkled in with Secret Window and Finding Neverland, which both came out in 2004 (nine years ago). He doesn’t do “quality” movies anymore, he does movies that are supposed to make money, and domestically they don’t.
The silver lining in Depp’s fading stardom is that his movies still make plenty of money outside of the American box office. I was flabbergasted to learn that The Tourist made $210 million overseas (Not a typo). However, this is the case with almost every movie/movie star. On the list of the 50 highest combined (domestic and overseas) highest grossing movies of all time, guess how many had a higher domestic gross than overseas? Three. (They’re The Dark Knight, ET and Star Wars for reference). My point? There’s so many people outside of the US that go to the movies (without worrying about quality) that Depp’s high overseas grosses do not mean that he’s still a bona fide movie star, because he only gets overseas audiences to see his movies. Gone are the days where he could do no wrong and turn a less than stellar movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest into domestic box office successes and with them is Depp’s former super-stardom.