Nicolas Cage is a talented actor but over the last few years, his talents have largely been wasted in a stream of direct-to-streaming atrocities. According to Variety, he starred in these films to pay off his debts so it’s understandable that he took what he was offered to get himself out of trouble.
Thankfully, Cage is now on a bit of an upswing as he has starred in some fairly decent movies of late. A couple of these can be seen in our list below but most recently, he took on the ultimate role – himself – in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Loosely based on his life and career, the movie has proven to be a massive success with the critics and is further evidence of what the actor can do when handed a great script and given good direction.
Since making his cinematic debut in 1982 with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he has appeared in over 115 movies. Some of these have been brilliant and some of them have been decidedly dodgy. But now that Cage’s career is on the up again, we have decided to look back at some of the movies we think deserve a special mention. Be assured that 2006’s The Wicker Man will not be making an appearance here!
Raising Arizona (1987)
Still up there as one of the Coen Brother’s finest movies, this gave Cage one of the best roles of his early career. He stars as Herbert McDunnough who, alongside his wife Ed (Holly Hunter), his partner-in-love and partner-in-crime, steals a baby because he is unable to bear a child with his beloved.
Despite committing this crime, Cage’s character is surprisingly sympathetic and the movie as a whole is a crazy thrill ride that is perfectly suited to Cage’s talents.
The actor’s improvisational skills were on full display here and he acts crazier than his Woody Woodpecker haircut!
This may have played against the Coen’s autocratic directorial style but the finished movie still manages to display the quirks that the actor and the directors are well-known for. It’s a comedy classic and is at the top of Shaun Of The Dead director Edgar Wright’s favourite movies.
Nicolas Cage in a romantic movie? This is something we don’t see very often but he was clearly exploring his range during this part of his career.
The film might be best remembered for Cher, who won an Oscar for her role as Loretta, the no-nonsense Brooklyn bookkeeper who falls for Ronny, Cage’s character.
But the actor’s performance shouldn’t be overlooked as he managed to break the heart of romantics everywhere as the Italian goofball who stole the love of the woman who was betrothed to his brother.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
This downbeat drama about an alcoholic Hollywood screenwriter isn’t an easy watch but it is must-see viewing because of Cage’s Oscar-winning performance.
As he slowly drinks himself to death, we see a character that is quite unlike anybody he has played before, as there is very little bravado or quirky eccentricity here as Cage begins to self-destruct. He gives a subdued and often haunting performance that was fully deserving of the accolades he was given.
Cage isn’t the only person who deserves mention here. Playing alongside him is Elisabeth Shue as the woman who could hold the keys to his redemption.
She gives an emotional performance as the prostitute with a tragic backstory and the interplay between her and Cage is what makes this movie so special.
Con Air (1997)
Nicolas Cage was no stranger to action movies when he made this gloriously silly thriller as he had already starred in The Rock the year before.
He gives an entertaining performance as Cameron Poe, the newly-paroled ex-con who desperately wants to get home to be with his wife and kid but who finds himself stuck on a transport plane with a group of unhinged criminals.
When they seize control of the flight, his chances of getting home become significantly reduced and this is the catalyst for some balls-to-the-wall action that is gloriously silly and a whole lot of fun.
John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, and Ving Rhames take on some of the villainous roles in the movie but its Cage you will most remember as he moves from one action sequence to the next as he takes them all on.
Surprisingly, after this and Face/Off (below), Cage hasn’t made many action movies since, but perhaps now is the time to give Cage a John Wick-type character for his very own action movie franchise.
Is this one of the greatest action movies ever made? Well, it depends on who you ask but it’s certainly up there with the other greats in the genre.
As John Woo is the director, it’s unsurprising that this high octane thriller is an all-time favourite with action fans, and the fact that it stars Nicolas Cage in not one but two energetic roles gives it extra kudos.
Cage stars as psychopath Caster Troy who swaps faces with John Travolta’s FBI agent Sean Archer and from there we get some amazing shoot-outs, thrilling car chases, and lots and lots of explosions.
It’s as much of an acting showcase as it is an action showcase, however, as both Cage and Travolta deliver career-best work here. They are believable as both hero and villain in this breakneck movie and their performances, as well as Woo’s expert direction, ensure this movie deserves classic status.
Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Leaving Las Vegas may be one of Cage’s darker movies but this emotional tale isn’t far behind that one in terms of misery and pain.
Nicolas Cage stars as Frank, a paramedic who is haunted by the girl he failed to save, who embarks on a 3-day stint travelling around Hell’s Kitchen in an ambulance in search of redemption.
As Frank and his partners deal with overdoses, drunks, heart attacks, and more, we go along for the ride and experience the struggles they go through.
It’s a depressing ride to be sure but one worth taking, not only for Martin Scorseses’ stunning direction but for Cage’s honest and fascinating performance that should have won him an Oscar.
Unlike many of the other movies on this list, Cage doesn’t get the main role. That honour goes to Aaron Taylor Johnson who stars as amateur superhero Kick-Ass who gets his ass kicked more times than he would like as he strikes back against crime.
However, even in a supporting role Cage can stand out, and he does so with aplomb as the Batman-like figure who is less like Christian Bale’s version of the character and more like Adam West’s.
This isn’t Cage’s first superhero movie – that dubious honour goes to Ghost Rider – but after Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, it’s one of his best. His performance as Big Daddy is both tragic and funny and it’s just a shame that SPOILER his character was killed off before the closing credits rolled.
After starring in several below-average films at the start of the 2010s, including Drive Angry, Trespass, and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Cage was in desperate need of a movie role that could showcase the breadth of what he could do as an actor.
As Joe Ransom, an ex-con who takes a troubled youngster under his wing, he found the role that could play to his talents, and he gave his most layered performance in years.
Director David Gordon Green, who recently resurrected Michael Myers for the big screen, breathed new life into Cage’s career with this one as it gave the actor some of the best reviews he had ever received.
Gone was the manic energy he had displayed in such movies as Vampire’s Kiss and Ghost Rider and in was a quiet tenderness that Cage had rarely displayed on screen before. He was only given one award for his performance but he deserved a lot more accolades for his role in this poetic and emotionally powerful movie.
Color Out of Space (2019)
Up until recently, most of Cage’s output post-2015 had been decidedly dodgy. Such movies as Army of One, The Humanity Bureau, and Arsenal threatened to derail his career completely, as they were far below the standards of what could ever be considered a good movie.
Thankfully, in amongst those failed efforts, Cage made an effort to star in films that were of much higher quality. One of these was Mandy, a bloody revenge movie that saw the actor go ‘full Cage’ as he embarked on his mission of justice. And another was Color Out of Space, a horror tale based on a work by HP Lovecraft that gave him another opportunity to showcase the off-kilter side of his eccentric acting persona.
This might just be a B-movie at heart but it is stylishly shot and suitably unnerving as it tells the tale of a family whose lives are disrupted when a mysterious meteorite causes some of them to exhibit strange behaviour.
It’s directed by Richard Stanley, a filmmaker who fell out of Hollywood favour after the debacle that was The Island of Dr Moreau so this is as much a comeback vehicle for him as it is for Cage.
No, not the second sequel to Babe that absolutely nobody has been asking for but rather a sombre and quietly touching tale about a man who just wants his pig back!
Cage gives an understated performance as the truffle hunter whose porcine companion gets kidnapped, bringing to mind the kind of character he played in Joe.
This is the kind of movie that will prove disappointing to some. If you’re expecting another Taken or John Wick-style movie as Cage goes on a mission to retrieve his stolen pig, this probably isn’t for you.
But if you’re after a movie where Cage gets the opportunity to mine the hidden depths of his character, a little like a truffle hunter who digs deep to find their prized quarry, you will be rewarded with a tender performance that stands as one of the best in Cage’s career.
And there we have it, our list of our 10 favourite Nicolas Cage movies!
What do you think of our list? Have we included your favourites? Or have we missed any must-watch movies? We love to hear from you so do feel free to let us know in the comments below!