Actor Johnny Depp has never been lacking in talent. He began his acting career in 1984, playing a small role in Wes Craven’s horror film, Nightmare on Elm Street. Following that role, Depp routinely received offers to audition for other roles, and the trend continued for more than 30 years. Then, following false accusations by his ex-wife, Amber Heard, Depp began to see a drop in offers for new films and new roles. He sued Heard for defamation of his character, and during the trial, Depp testified that Heard’s lies had cost him numerous roles, including his iconic, self-made role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Disney seemed to part ways with Depp even before hearing the verdict in the defamation trial, as if the entertainment giant had already chosen to side with Heard before all the facts and testimony were presented. Even now, months after the verdict in the case was delivered and Heard’s claims about domestic violence and domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband Johnny Depp were proven false, Depp’s future as the swashbuckling pirate remains uncertain. Disney continues to refuse to make any apologies to Depp (but that’s ok because he’s already gotten the last word–and he did so beautifully.)
Johnny Depp’s brilliance led to the creation of the character of Captain Jack Sparrow fans know today. The Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is worth more than $5 billion now, and it’s all thanks to Depp. Though Disney has pulled back on placing Depp back in the role for a sixth installment of the franchise so far, the company has had no qualms about continuing to use Depp’s likeness in its marketing of the film, its animatronics inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disney Parks, and in Disney-branded merchandise for the film.
Recently, it has come to light, however, that the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise isn’t the only multi-billion film franchise with which Depp has been associated. Another franchise with a corresponding iconic role was once Depp’s for the taking, but he passed on it because, at the time, he was regularly filming and playing the role of Jack Sparrow for Disney. So, did he make the right decision?
Two film directors, known professionally as “The Wachowskis,” began writing the story of The Matrix (1999) in 1992, after a friend asked them to write an original story for a comic book. Their first choice for the role of the main character, Neo, was none other than Johnny Depp. The first of many films in the franchise made close to $500 million at the box office and gave the Wachowskis a bright green light for three sequels: The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003), and The Matrix Resurrections (2021).
Altogether, the film franchise has made nearly $2 billion. And who knows–with Depp as Neo, the films might have garnered double that amount. But because Depp was embracing and embodying the role of Captain Jack, the role of Neo was one he was forced to turn down. Ultimately, it would be actor Keanu Reeves who landed the part of the computer programmer and cybercriminal known as “the One” in The Matrix films.
No disrespect to Mr. Reeves, of course, but there’s just something about Johnny Depp that tells us he would have taken the role of Neo in other directions, ultimately leading the cast and crew of The Matrix to even greater returns on their work and even greater notoriety over the years.