There have been many celebrated director/star relationships in Hollywood history: John Wayne and John Ford, Wes Anderson and Bill Murray, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, Martin Scorsese and Joe Pesci. But one of the longest-lasting of the modern age has to be that between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Since 1990, the two have made a mammoth eight movies together, beginning with the Hot Topic-inspiration Edwards Scissorhands. And as of this upcoming January 1st, Netflix will begin streaming their most recent and perhaps last joint work: Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows was released in 2012, when Johnny Depp was perhaps at the apex of his star power. After nearly two decades of indie stardom that never quite broke through to mainstream leading man status with films like Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Benny & Joon, 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean had firmly cemented him as an A-Lister. His projects became increasingly high profile, including a turn as candy-making icon Willy Wonka, Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and of course, the titular Rango. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp continued making films together, including a Sweeney Todd musical, one sort of about Alice in Wonderland but really about Depp’s Mad Hatter, finally peaking with Dark Shadows. And golly, where to start with that?
Given the sheer clout Johnny Depp and Tim Burton had in Hollywood when Warner Bros. acquired the rights to Dark Shadows in 2007, it’s not surprising that they were able to get it made (particularly in pre-Netflix acquiring all IP available days). But considering the source material was a semi-obscure, soap-opera-horror-romance-sci-fi show that ran primarily in the late 1960s, it is a little difficult to imagine who but Depp and Burton were asking for it. At the time, Johnny Depp described his role as an 18th century vampire brought to the 1970s. He played Barnabas Collins (who had been portrayed in the show by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid) and described the part as a childhood dream come true.
Filming for off to a rocky start for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp. Dark Shadows had to halt production due to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike. The original scriptwriter was replaced by the person responsible for Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. When the film was eventually released, it came out to extremely mixed reviews.
Dark Shadows is consistently praised for its visuals. However, it also bewildered critics and audiences by its attempts to convey the shifting tones of a TV show that never really had a consistent tone to begin with. Johnny Depp was praised for his performance as Barnabas Collins, but in general the film was taken as a sign that the dynamic, slyly gothic energy that had once typified Burton and Depp’s work together had begun to peter out. It did not completely bomb at the box office. On a budget of $150 million, Dark Shadows pulled in $245 million globally. For Depp and Burton, it performed more like a Corpse Bride middling draw than an Alice in Wonderland box office smash. And thus, we come to fans discovering the movie on streaming for Netflix today.
Following Dark Shadows, Johnny Depp’s career began to slide downwards in the upcoming years (Mortdecai, anyone?), and then domestic abuse allegations were leveled by his wife, actress Amber Heard in 2015. A disastrous Rolling Stone profile in 2018 only served to tarnish him more in the public eye, as did a failed libel suit against a UK publishing group that essentially ruled the allegations of his violence against Heard as “substantially true.” The legal conflict has continued in courts and the press, dragging Paul Bettany and James Franco into it, and only gotten uglier each passing year.
After a brief attempt to regain blockbuster status as the Big Bad villain of the Harry Potter spin-off franchise Fantastic Beasts And Where to Find Them, things for a lot worse for Johnny Depp’s career. A boycott of the movies was organized by audiences against his casting. Eventually, he was recast with Mads Mikkelsen for the upcoming third installment. Recasting an actor who had been one of the biggest box-office draws in the world less than a decade ago seems like quite the left turn, but such his star has fallen. It seems somewhat unlikely that even the vast power of Netflix’s streaming audience can reclaim one of Depp’s least loved movies, but we guess we’ll just have to see what happens on January 1st.