Johnny Depp: Sellout or Crowd Pleaser?

Does choosing cash over art make Johnny Depp a sellout?

By , Contributor
This week Johnny Depp set the Twitterverse aflame with the announcement that he is in talks to star in a fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The news was met glee from fans and a collective "arrgghh" from critics, some of whom have made a career of bashing the PotC movies.

For me the news that Captain Jack Sparrow would once again sashay through another big budget time-waster brought up an interesting question: Is Johnny a sellout or simply giving the people what they want?

The case for Depp as crowd pleasing actor is obvious. Only eight movies have earned over one billion dollars at the box office. Two of them are Pirates movies (and a third, Alice in Wonderland, starred Depp as the Mad Hatter).

Personally Depp must feel connected to the franchise. Captain Jack is a beloved character which earned him an Academy Award nomination and really brought him into the mainstream. But unlike George Clooney or Matt Damon or Leonardo DiCaprio, who balance the big hits with edgier fare, Depp seems to have jumped ship.

The Libertine, his last art film, was seven years ago, and while he did appear in Terry Gilliam's The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in 2009 it was out of obligation to the director rather than any kind of career move.

For 20 years he toiled in the trenches, making interesting movies with interesting directors, but the image of outsider Depp has never really been accurate. Few actors could have pulled off Ed Wood and no one wears a hat like Johnny, but there are a lot of quirky actors out there. Depp has simply been more astute in playing the Hollywood game while maintaining an outsider's credibility. Now that he's found a big money outlet for his idiosyncratic style—his cut of the first four Pirates movies is rumored to be $350 million— whatever street cred he once had is taking a long drive down 21 Jump Street. (By the way, he has a cameo in the big screen re-imagining of the TV show that made him a star.)

Taking on a fifth sequel puts Depp on the level of people who have more than three cats. If you have more than three you may as well have 600. The maintenance is about the same but people think of you differently. No one begrudged Johnny when he signed on for the second and third PotC; he was coming off a career high and a huge nomination and it seemed like the right thing to do. The fourth one raised eyebrows. But now it's official - Depp is for sale to the highest bidder.

As one Twitter wit put it: "Johnny Depp on signing up for PIRATES 5: ‘Well you know how it is, gotta send my kids to college… and then buy the moon.’"

Depp is not in Nic Cage territory yet - now there’s an actor who has a really hard time saying no to a payday - but maybe it’s time to put Depp's well cultivated image as rebel actor to rest.

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Richard Crouse is the regular film critic for CTV's Canada AM, the 24 hour news source CTV's News Channel and the host of In Short on Bravo. He was the host of Reel to Real Canada's longest running television show about movies, from 1998 to 2008 and is a frequent guest on many national Canadian radio…

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