How Nightmare on Elm Street transformed Johnny Depp from an unknown actor to a household name. Explore the pivotal role that kickstarted his remarkable journey in Hollywood.

Johnny Depp’s Breakout Role in A Nightmare on Elm Street

Johnny Depp had done a few small roles in films and television shows prior to 1984, but it was his portrayal of Glen Lantz in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street that is widely considered his breakout role.

The success of the horror classic launched Depp into the mainstream and helped set the stage for his rise to become one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.

While Depp had some natural talent and charisma, it was this role in Nightmare that truly put him on the map and opened many doors for future opportunities. Let’s take a closer look at how the film impacted Depp’s career.

Visibility and Box Office Success

One of the biggest impacts of Nightmare was the visibility and recognition it brought Depp. As the lead character in Wes Craven’s debut feature film, Depp had one of the starring roles.

This ensured that audiences watching the film would be exposed to Depp and take notice of his performance. And Nightmare was a commercial success, grossing over $57 million at the domestic box office on a budget of just $1.8 million, making it highly profitable.

This kind of box office visibility for a young and relatively unknown actor like Depp was invaluable for gaining attention in Hollywood. With millions of people seeing the film, it helped introduce Depp to mainstream audiences and put him on the radar of casting directors.

Critical Reception and Establishing Talent

While reviews for Nightmare itself were mixed, Depp received strong praise from critics for his acting abilities. In a 1984 review in The New York Times, critic John J. O’Connor wrote that Depp “emerges as the real discovery. He is excellent as the bewildered teenager caught in the nightmare.”

Similarly, a review in the Los Angeles Times called out Depp specifically, saying “Johnny Depp, as the central victim, is excellent.” This early recognition from respected critics helped establish Depp as a talented young actor and not just another generic horror film protagonist.

It signaled he had real potential and skill, which was important so early in his career. Even if the film had flopped, the positive reviews of Depp’s performance would have still benefited him going forward.

Hollywood Connections and Credibility

Working with Wes Craven, a well-known name in the horror genre, also helped raise Depp’s credibility and profile within the industry. Craven had directed successful films like The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes, so being associated with one of his projects brought instant cachet.

It showed Depp had the respect of an established director and wasn’t just some random pretty face in a slasher film. This connection to Craven likely opened doors for Depp when he was seeking out future roles.

It gave him credibility that he could handle more substantial parts and work with top creative talent. His association with Craven also helped introduce him to other influential people within the film business.

Springboard to Leading Roles

With the commercial success and critical praise for Nightmare, Depp quickly became a sought-after actor. In the years following, he landed leading roles in big studio films like Platoon (1986), 21 Jump Street (1987), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Benny & Joon (1993).

This string of high-profile starring parts would not have been possible without the breakout performance in Nightmare acting as a springboard. Producers and casting directors saw Depp’s talent and bankability evidenced by his work with Craven. It proved he had what it takes to carry entire films as the headline actor.

That kind of trust and opportunity for leading man parts is what truly elevates an actor’s career. Without Nightmare, Depp may have had to spend longer in supporting roles before being given a chance to lead major motion pictures.

Lasting Impact and Legacy

Over 35 years since its release, A Nightmare on Elm Street is still considered one of the most influential slasher films ever made and part of the horror canon.

And Johnny Depp’s performance as Glen is still remembered fondly by fans as one of his early formative roles. While Depp went on to even greater fame and success in the decades after with films like Edward Scissorhands, Pirates of the Caribbean, and many others, the role that first put him on the map was Glen in Nightmare.

It was the film responsible for introducing Depp’s talents to a wide audience and launching the start of his illustrious Hollywood career. Without Wes Craven’s 1984 classic, it’s hard to say if Depp would have risen to become one of the most bankable movie stars in the world.

But Nightmare gave him that crucial big break and visibility that set the wheels in motion for international superstardom. Even nearly 40 years later, the impact of that role can still be felt in Depp’s enduring fame and legacy as one of cinema’s most celebrated actors.

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