Johnny Depp’s losing streak is finally coming to an end

September 24, 2015, 3:00 PM UTC
speaks onstage during the "Black Mass" press conference at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival at TIFF Bell Lightbox on September 14, 2015 in Toronto, Canada.
Johnny Depp speaks onstage during the "Black Mass" press conference at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival.
Photograph by Jason Merritt — Getty Images

It’s been a rough few years for Johnny Depp-starring films at the box office, with the 52-year-old actor headlining bomb after bomb going back more than four years. Last year, Depp — who reportedly gets $20 million a film — was even put on a list of the ten most overpaid actors in Hollywood.

But Depp’s latest effort, the crime biopic Black Mass, appears to mark a box-office turnaround for the A-list actor. The film, which stars Depp in the lead role as notorious Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger, just pulled in roughly $23 million over its opening weekend, on a relatively modest $53 million budget. Ranking second, behind Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, according to Box Office Mojo, Depp’s movie is already receiving some Oscar buzz. Depp is also earning some of his best reviews in years for his chilling portrayal of Bulger, who once ranked just below Osama Bin Laden on the FBI’s Most Wanted List.

Black Mass is distributed by Warner Bros., which is owned by Time Warner (TWX).

The losing streak

The list of recent disappointing Depp films includes this year’s universally-panned comedy Mortdecai as well as 2013’s The Lone Ranger, which underperformed so dramatically on a bloated budget that it forced an estimated write-down of nearly $200 million from Walt Disney (DIS).

Aside from last year’s Into the Woods — which made $128 million, but featured Depp as part of an ensemble cast rather than in a lead role — no Depp-led film earned as much in its opening weekend as Black Mass going back to The Lone Ranger, which brought in just $29 million in its opening weekend on a budget that was four times the size of Depp’s current film.

Other notable flops for Depp in recent years include last year’s Transcendence, which made just $23 million in domestic ticket sales despite a budget of $100 million. In 2012, Depp’s Dark Shadows pulled in just under $80 million domestically on a budget of $150 million.

The last film to feature Depp in a starring role to be considered a box office success came in 2011, when Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides saw more than $240 million in domestic ticket sales while cracking the $1 billion mark in global gross. Even then, the fourth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series still made less in the U.S. than each of its predecessors.

Last year, Forbes calculated the ten actors who earn the most while their movies bring in the least at the box office. Adam Sandler earned the top spot; for every $1 he was paid, his films brought in an average of $3.20. Depp was right behind, with his movies bringing in $4.10 for every $1 he earned.

Considering Depp’s reported starting price tag of about $20 million per film, it’s no surprise these big-budget films were considered a disappointment. With Black Mass, though, Depp returns to a well he has mined successfully in the past by playing a real-life criminal, as he did when he portrayed George Jung (in Blow) and John Dillinger (in Public Enemies). (Interestingly, Depp reportedly balked at lowering his price tag to star in the lower-budget Black Mass.)

Black Mass beat expectations

Depp also has help in Black Mass, with a cast that also includes big names such as Benedict Cumberbath, Joel Edgerton and Kevin Bacon. While the film did not blow away the box office competition last weekend, it beat industry expectations for the weekend and its strong start means that it should at least be a money-maker, unlike several of Depp’s other recent projects.

Meanwhile, Depp and the movie studios that employ him will have to hope that Black Mass represents a return to box office success for an actor who has two big-budget sequels on his docket in upcoming years.

Next year, Depp will reprise his role as the Mad Hatter in an Alice in Wonderland sequel while the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean series is scheduled for 2017.