Johnny Depp’s Younger Hollywood Years: Photos of the Star in His Teens, 20s, and 30s

View Slideshow
Cheapism is editorially independent. We may earn a commission if you buy through links on our site. Learn more
20th Century Fox Television/Koba

Johnny Depp: Then and Now

This article originally appeared on Hollywood Life and is syndicated by Cheapism.

Johnny Depp turns 58 in 2021 (June 9, FYI). While the actor is heading into the back half of his life, there was a time when he was the new hot thing in Hollywood. With his piercing eyes, sharp jawline, and distinct voice, Johnny had the makings to be the next big leading man.

His debut role came in 1984 when he portrayed Glen Lantz in the first ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street.’ His gruesome death helped establish the long-running horror franchise, and help launch a career that would last decades. His early work included roles in ‘Private Resort,’ Oliver Stone’s ‘Platoon’ and John Waters’ ‘Cry-Baby.’ In 1987, Johnny landed the role of Tom Hanson on ’21 Jump Street,’ a role that would bring him into the mainstream. However, it only scratched the surface of what was in store. From his roles in ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,’ ‘Ed Wood,’ and ‘Donnie Brasco,’ take a look at how a young Johnny Depp laid the foundation for an on-screen legacy.

©New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Johnny Depp in 1984’s ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street.’ He was 21 at the time of filming. His death is one of the most iconic kills in the franchise’s history.

"Wes Craven was the guy who gave me my start, from my perspective, for almost no reason in particular," he said during a 2015 Q&A, a month after Wes’s death, per Variety. "I read scenes with his daughter when I auditioned for the part. At the time, I was a musician. I wasn’t really acting … But Wes Craven was brave enough to give me the gig based on his daughter’s opinion. … I always think of her for putting me in this mess, and certainly Wes Craven for being very brave to give me this gig."

©TriStar Pictures/Courtesy Everett

Private Resort (1985)

Following ‘A Nightmare On Elm Street,’ Johnny landed a role in ‘Private Resort,’ his first starring role. It is, according to IMDB, the story of ‘two adolescent boys who are guests at a Florida resort for the weekend. Their only interest is, of course, chasing girls, but fate has much more in store for them.’ It also starred Andrew ‘Dice’ Clay, Rob Morrow, and Emily Longstreth, seen here.

20th Century Fox Television/Koba

21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

In 1987, a wider audience was introduced to Johnny thanks to ’21 Jump Street,’ a cop drama on FOX. The premise is that a group of youthful police officers can pass for teenagers, allowing them to infiltrate high schools and other situations. The show debuted in August 1987, when Johnny was 24.

Related: Johnny Depp’s Transformation


Edward Scissorhands (1990)

In 1990, Johnny began a relationship that would last for the bulk of his career: he connected with director Tim Burton for the movie ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ The film, released when Johnny was 27, saw him work opposite his then-girlfriend, Winona Ryder, seen here with him at the premiere (he proposed after five months of dating, but they split in 1993). Since ‘Scissorhands,’ Johnny has worked with Burton on seemingly an endless number of films.

Related: Johnny Depp & Vanessa Paradis: Their Relationship In Photos

20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock

Edward Scissorhands (1990)

Since ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ Johnny and Tim Burton have worked together on eight more films: 1994’s ‘Ed Wood,’ 1999’s ‘Sleepy Hollow,’ 2005’s ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Corpse Bride,’ 2007’s ‘Sweeney Todd,’ 2010’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’ (and its 2016 sequel, ‘Alice Through The Looking Glass’), and 2012’s ‘Dark Shadows.’


Cry Baby (1990)

‘Cry-Baby’ saw Johnny team with celebrated cult filmmaker John Waters (which came on the heels of Waters’ ‘Hairspray.’) Set in the 1950s, a 27-year-old Johnny played the title character in a cast that featured Traci Lords, Ricki Lake, Susan Tyrrell, Amy Locane, and Iggy Pop.

Everett Collection

Benny & Joon (1993)

‘Edward Scissorhands’ earned Johnny his first Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Musical of Comedy. His second came for 1993’s ‘Benny & Joon,’ an sleeper hit that saw Johnny mimic the physical comedy of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. It helped Johnny – who was turning 30 that year – put his teen heartthrob days behind him.

Related: Jack Depp -- Photos Of Johnny Depp's Son

©Buena Vista Pictures/Courtesy

Ed Wood (1994)

1994’s ‘Ed Wood’ reunited Johnny and Tim Burton for a biographical comedy-drama about the director behind films like ‘Plan 9 From Outer Space,’ ‘Glen Or Glenda,’ and ‘Bride of the Monster.’ Though it was a box-office flop, it was met with critical acclaim, as a 33-year-old Johnny showed his talent for acting in the film.

Ken McKay/Shutterstock

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

Johnny Depp, seen here sporting his hair from ‘What’s Eating Gilbert Grape’ while at Planet Hollywood in London, Britain, portrayed the title character in the 1993 movie that also featured Darlene Crates, Juliette Lewis, and a 19-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio. It was a well-received movie, bolstered by the soundtrack that featured The Lemonheads’ ‘It’s A Shame About Ray.’


Don Juan DeMarco (1995)

Though Johnny’s early '90s work wouldn’t be considered blockbusters, he experienced a bit of a commercial lull towards the end of the decades. ‘Don Juan DeMarco,’ a 1994 movie that was produced by Francis Ford Coppola and featured Marlon Brandon and Faye Dunaway, received generally favorable reviews and was successful at the box office. Johnny plays a character who thinks he’s Don Juan, the world’s greatest lover. Around this time, he also appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Dead Man,’ and 'Nick of Time,' an action thriller that also featured Christopher Walken.

Karl Schoendorfer/Shutterstock

Performing in 1997

Johnny Depp has never shied away from his love of performing music. In 2021, he is part of the Hollywood Vampires, a band featuring Alice Cooper and Joe Perry of Aerosmith. Here, a 34-year-old Johnny plays to a crowd in Vienna, Austria in 1997.

Mandalay Ent/Baltimore Pics/Koba

Donnie Brasco (1997)

1997 also saw Johnny Depp appear in ‘Donnie Brasco.’ The film, which also includes Al Pacino and Anne Heche, is considered one of Johnny’s best performances. It was also a box office smash.

Alan Davidson/Shutterstock
©Universal/courtesy Everett

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998)

Following his turn as Ed Wood, Johnny Depp portrayed another counter-culture icon in 1998’s ‘Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas.’ Johnny was cast in the role of Hunter S. Thompson, aka Raoul Duke, while Benicio Del Toro played Oscar Zeta Acosta, aka Dr. Gonzo. Directed by Terry Gilliam, it was a bizarre film that divided critics and failed to find an audience at the box office (but has since become a cult classic).

©Paramount/Courtesy Everett

Sleepy Hollow (1999)

1999 saw Johnny reunite with Tim Burton for ‘Sleepy Hollow.’ It was a commercial and critical success (and was Johnny’s third film that year, as he also appeared in ‘The Astronaut’s Wife’ and ‘The Ninth Gate’).

Related: Celebrity Families Out On Halloween

©Artisan Entertainment/courtesy Everett Collection

The Ninth Gate (1999)

Johnny Depp, seen here at age 36 in 1999’s ‘The Ninth Gate.’ Controversial in that it was directed and produced by Roman Polanski, the mystery thriller film was met with middling reviews and a lukewarm box office.

©New Line Cinema/Courtesy Everett

Blow (2001)

Johnny Depp began the new century with ‘Blow,’ a biopic based around the life of cocaine smuggler George Jung. It was a moderate commercial success and saw 38-year-old Johnny act opposite Penelope Cruz, Ray Liotta, and Paul Reubens.

©Walt Disney Co./Courtesy Everett

Pirates of the Caribbean (2003)

Johnny Depp’s career changed in 2003. Not only did he enter his 40s, but he first portrayed a character that would turn him into a global box office sensation: Captain Jack Sparrow, seen here in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse Of The Black Pearl.’ The series would spawn five sequels, with a rumored sixth film on the way (though Johnny is unlikely to be involved with this reboot).

Related: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’ World Premiere In Photos

©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett

Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

The same year that the first ‘Pirates’ movie came out, Johnny teamed with director Robert Rodriguez for ‘Once Upon A Time In Mexico,’ a film featuring Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek. It was the final installment in the Mariachi/Desperado trilogy, and cemented the kind of movies that would dominate Johnny’s career for his 40s and 50s.


There would be a few oddballs (‘Tusk,’ ‘Mortdecai’) and serious features (‘Black Mass,’ ‘Finding Neverland’) but Johnny Depp was a different man, one who had grown from his fresh-faced days on ’21 Jump Street’ and ‘Elm Street’ and has been plagued by financial troubles and a contentious divorce from Amber Heard that included allegations of abuse.