Johnny Depp was one of the biggest stars on the planet in the 2000s, generating immediate box office gold in seemingly any film he appeared in and, therefore, commanding some of the highest paychecks in the industry. All of this, however, was before the rise of Robert Downey, Jr. as Iron Man (who quickly became the highest-paid actor in tinsel town) and the attendant arrival of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which has turned the Hollywood formula for success on its ear. Gone is the time when actors could marshal a movie’s ticket sales; now is the era of intellectual property, when shared universes drive legions of viewers into the theater.
As if the dismal box office performances of such films as Mortdecai and Alice through the Looking Glass weren’t proof enough of this transition, generally, and Depp’s waning star power, specifically, now comes another low blow.
Forbes has just published its annual list of Hollywood’s Most Overpaid Actors, using a formula that takes actors’ salaries and films’ production budgets and financial performances both into consideration, in order to generate a loose return on investment for their stars. Johnny Depp comes in at number one on the ignoble ranking, with a return of just $2.80 in ticket sales for every dollar he was paid to star in the picture. (Will Smith, with a $5.00 ROI, came in second place, while Channing Tatum, at $6.00, landed in third, for all those curious.)
What’s most interesting to note is that the period that Forbes used as the basis for its calculations was actually before Depp’s now-ex-wife, Amber Heard, made public her allegations of his verbal and physical abuse – and before the couple reached a $7 million divorce settlement (which occurred this past August). The site goes on to speculate that the ensuing public relations damage that the row has generated amongst his throngs of fans will continue to dampen his earnings potential for the rest of this year and heading on into next.
This is not good news for either next year’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales or the upcoming sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – which featured a surprise appearance by the actor, in order to set up his future starring role in its four(!) sequels. Warners Bros. Pictures hired Depp to play a key role in the Fantastic Beasts movie franchise before Heard’s accusations were made public and Alice Through the Looking Glass was a bust at the box office. The studio has already been forced to deal with the controversy over his casting in the series, too.
If the Marvel model truly is the new standard for Hollywood success, however, then much of the casting choice’s ramifications should be mitigated. Fantastic Beasts has performed quite well at the global box office (having now grossed over $600 million in less than a month of release), so it remains to be seen what effect Depp’s fading star-power has on the commercial performance of its sequels – if any noticeable one. The same goes for Disney’s next Pirates of the Caribbean installment.