Johnny Depp's Career Crossroads: Actor Facing Third Box-Office Flop in a Row

Mortdecai Still 5 - H 2015
David Appleby

Mortdecai Still 5 - H 2015

'Mortdecai' could be the latest bomb for the actor, who is cutting his $20 million fee and plotting a return to 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and 'Alice in Wonderland' family fare.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

Will it be three strikes and you're out of the A-list for Johnny Depp? Prerelease tracking for Mortdecai, the 51-year-old actor's comedic art caper that opens Jan. 23 in the U.S., is low, suggesting the $60 million film might not crack a $10 million opening weekend.

If not, Mortdecai, which is getting negative reviews, would be the third straight flop for Depp in a starring role, after 2014's Transcendence, which cost $100 million and made $23 million domestic ($103 million worldwide), and 2013's The Lone Ranger, which cost $250 million-plus and grossed just $89 million domestic ($261 million worldwide). He did appear in a brief sequence in Into the Woods, which has grossed $116 million domestic, and his star power, along with Meryl Streep's, helped get the film made.

Lionsgate co-financed Mortdecai, which co-stars Gwyneth Paltrow and Ewan McGregor, with Gigi Pritzker's OddLot Entertainment, so the studio has limited its financial exposure. But the question is what the impact of another disappointment would be on Depp, whose brand clearly is at a crossroads after his success with the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and Alice in Wonderland catapulted him from character actor to the rare $20 million-plus leading man.

Sources say Depp cut his fee significantly for Mortdecai (one source says it was less than $10 million, another puts it in the $6 million to $8 million range; his reps at UTA won't comment), and he is taking a similarly reduced salary for Black Mass, the Whitey Bulger biopic that Warner Bros. will release in September. After those films, Depp has chosen to return to the Disney tentpole fare that made him a megastar: Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass has wrapped shooting and has a May 2016 release date; and Pirates 5 is set to begin production in February and hit theaters in July 2017. Depp is said to have reduced his upfront fee for both films, a sign of Hollywood's more frugal times and that his bargaining power even for sure-thing hits is waning.

Still, in an age of diminishing star power across the spectrum, Depp is considered one of a few actors who continues to matter, especially overseas. His 2012 fantasy Dark Shadows disappointed in the U.S. with $79 million but took in more than double that number internationally, helping the film gross $246 million total.

"Johnny Depp is that rare talent whose depth and range has endeared him to audiences in every age, demographic and fan base around the world," says Rob Friedman, co-chair of Lionsgate's motion picture group. "We are thrilled to be working with him and look for­ward to future opportunities to do so."