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In his review of the film, Todd Mc Carthy of Variety said that "Depp manages to command center screen with a greatly affable, appealing characterization." Depp's final 1993 release was Emir Kusturica's surrealist comedy-drama Arizona Dream, which opened to positive reviews.
In 1994, Depp reunited with director Tim Burton, playing the title role in Ed Wood, a biographical film about one of history's most inept film directors.
It was a critical and commercial success that established him as a leading Hollywood actor although Burton disapproved of the comment, Depp agrees with it. Depp had no film releases in the following two years, with the exception of a brief cameo in Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), the sixth installment in the A Nightmare of Elm Street franchise. In the romantic comedy Benny and Joon, he played an eccentric and illiterate silent film fan who befriends a mentally ill woman and her brother; it became a sleeper hit.
Depp's first film release in 1990 was John Waters' Cry-Baby, a musical comedy set in the 1950s.
He then starred in Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man, a Western shot entirely in black-and-white; it was not a commercial success and had mixed critical reviews.
Depp's final film of the year was in the financial and critical failure Nick of Time, a thriller in which he played an accountant who is told to kill a politician to save his kidnapped daughter.
In 1997, Depp starred alongside Al Pacino in the crime drama Donnie Brasco, directed by Mike Newell. Pistone, an undercover FBI Agent who assumes the name 'Donnie Brasco' in order to infiltrate the mafia in New York City.
To prepare for the role, Depp spent time with the real-life Joe Pistone, on whose memoirs the film was based.