When The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent released last week, it served as a friendly reminder that despite all of the jokes and the memes, Nic Cage can act. The man has a passion for acting and is aware of just how ludicrous of a personality he is. That, and the man has been in a ton of movies. Not as much as other actors, but he’s been in enough movies and had a distinct enough persona that people tend to associate those movies solely with Nic Cage. Look, when people think of Face/Off, they don’t think of John Travolta or even director John Woo. They think of Nic Cage.
So when I asked all of the Flixist staff what their favorite Nic Cage movie was, I got a lot of different responses. At first, this was just going to be a Top 5 list, but when more movies were brought up, the more movies I felt bad leaving out. So what turned into a Top 5 turned into a Top 10. What was supposed to be a ranking to define the end-all-be-all best Nic Cage movie just felt ridiculous. Who’s to say that one movie is better than another by some arbitrary ranking? So to honor the man and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’s slavish devotion to him, we’re going to take a look at the Flixist’s staff Top 10 Nic Cage movies in alphabetical order. If you haven’t seen some of these movies, give them a watch. They come highly recommended by a group of film nerds.
Let’s kick things off with a somewhat underrated Cage film, Adaptation. Nic Cage would be nominated for Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars for this role, but ultimately lose out to Adrian Brody in The Pianist, which is fair. This may be a piece talking about how great Cage is, but Brody was great in that role. That isn’t to diminish how well Cage is here though, where he played twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman.
There’s just an all-star amount of talent involved in Adaptation, whether it be from director Spike Jonze, writer Charlie Kaufman, and Cage in a cast that includes Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper -who won Best Supporting Actor for his role here-, Tilda Swinton, and Maggie Gyllenhaal among many others. This is Cage’s show though and, as someone who technically meets the definition of a writer, finds a lot in common with his rendition of Charlie Kaufman as he struggles with writer’s block. If you’re interested in writing or just wanna see more of Cage acting opposite himself after meeting Nicky in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, give Adaptation a watch.
9) Color Out of Space
Cosmic horror is a genre that I wish there was more of. While H.P. Lovecraft is a VERY awful person, once you separate the art from the artist, his unique style of horror is delicious. You just can’t beat cosmic entities that defy all logical explanations and the despair that they can inflict on the human psyche. Color Out of Space embodies that idea perfectly, taking Nic Cage and his family into strange, gruesome, and horrifying places that will stick with you for a while.
I don’t want to spoil anything within the movie or the avenues that it takes to get to the devastating climax, but I can make a comparison. If you’ve ever played Resident Evil VII, the central antagonists in that game are a family that was slowly driven insane by some outside, unnatural force. A DLC chapter shows how the madness first began, turning them from a good-natured family into true monsters. That’s the same vibe that I get from Color Out of Space and it’s a horror movie that comes highly, highly recommended.
8) Con Air
Say, did you know that the director of Con Air, Simon West, also did the music video for “Never Gonna Give You Up”? Cause he did. Anyway, while you can argue that future movies on this list would have been great with or without Cage, Con Air is a movie that’s made better just by his sheer presence. I mean, have you seen that mullet and heard that accent? Breathtaking.
Look, I don’t really have much to say to try and sell you on this movie. Some Cage movies you know are good because they’ve become classic movies in their own right and Con Air is one of them. Even if you’re not a Nic Cage fan, you owe it to yourself to see it just because it’s one hell of a ride.
Pedro Pascal’s character in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent lists three movies as his favorite, and one of them is Face/Off. Personally, I understand that, as it’s also my favorite Nic Cage movie. Seeing Nic Cage bounce around between acting like a manic cartoon character and a pathetic washed-up cop is pure entertainment, but then you also have the metatextual joy of watching John Travolta try his best Nic Cage impression, which is so campy I love it. Arguably Travolta’s best performance in decades.
As far as 90s action movies go, you can’t compare with the sheer lunacy of Face/Off. It’s not a perfect movie, since it gets a bit long in the tooth (it does not need to be two hours and 18 minutes), but the highs definitely outweigh the lows and make this a purely ridiculous action movie. Plus it has your standard John Woo flourishes. Who doesn’t enjoy a gunfight breaking out with doves flying all over the place?
6) Leaving Las Vegas
To many, Nic Cage is a punchline. He’s a man known for his over-the-top performances and absurd deliveries. There is no one I would rather hear recite the alphabet than Mr. Cage, but I digress. What many people forget is that he can act. He can act wonderfully, and to prove that point, Nic Cage won an Oscar for his performance in Leaving Las Vegas. That’s not something that just happens.
Leaving Las Vegas is a depressing and dark film. There’s rape, alcoholism, and abusive relationships, and it all culminates in watching a man just absolutely destroy himself. Cage completely commits to the role. Special mention goes to Elisabeth Shue, who also acts opposite Cage and delivers a brutal performance as well. These two just put their all into letting the world and society just beat them down, but still find companionship and establish a connection. There’s some poetry in the darkness and Cage shines here.
I could write a fair bit explaining why this movie is great, but all I need to say is this; we gave this a 10/10. One of three films in over a decade to do so. That better be a good enough recommendation.
4) Matchstick Men
Alright, confession time: I’ve never seen Matchstick Men. As much as I appreciate Cage, I can’t in good faith write an entry about him that everyone else praises without having seen the movie. So allow me to turn it over to someone who has, our lovely Peter Glagowski, and let him gush for a little bit. Take it away!
PG: Matchstick Men comes from the period of Nic Cage’s career when people started to take him more seriously. After appearing in Adaptation a few years prior, people understood that he wasn’t just cheese and overacting all the time. He had nuance and depth. That has continued throughout the last 20 years of his career, with him dipping back and forth between unhinged insanity and calm, collected maturity.
More than that, though, Matchstick Men showed Cage portraying a character that was vulnerable. Being diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD, Cage’s Roy is a bit of a mess at the beginning. It doesn’t help that he’s also a con-man, so most people don’t give him the time of day. With the help of a therapist, however, Roy begins to gain control of his life.
I won’t spoil the rest of the film, but Matchstick Men is a prime example of why people are in love with Cage in the present. He’s the kind of actor that can swap between Z-grade awfulness to A-grade excellence. It’s kind of amazing the range that he has.
As the most recent Nic Cage movie on this list, it’s a bit difficult to gauge the overall impact that Pig will have on his career. Granted, a lot of these movies would be a stretch to call “impactful” but if you made the claim that this was one of Cage’s best performances, it would be a hard one to dispute. What sounds like the premise of a stupid action movie (Nic Cage is searching for his stolen truffle pig) turns into a deeply emotional story about family, love, and loss. It’s not a terribly long film, clocking in at barely over 90 minutes, but Cage owns every single second he’s on-screen.
There’s a raw intensity in his performance here that commands your attention. Weirdly enough, an earlier movie he did that year, Willy’s Wonderland, had an equally intense Nic Cage, but it lacked the same type of power behind it. The difference is intention. In Willy’s Wonderland, that sternness and intensity was his only character trait, which was the joke. In Pig, it’s used to inform the rest of his character since it’s only an element of his character instead of the sole noteworthy element. Like the finest truffle, it’s something that should be savored and relished and acknowledged that it takes a lot of artistry to fully utilize it.
2) The Rock
When I asked the Flixist’s staff what their favorite Nic Cage movie was, The Rock was not only the first one mentioned, but it was the one that got the most mentions. People love The Rock. And it’s probably the one most people are familiar with, as it grossed over $330 million at the box office in 1996. This is a summer blockbuster at its finest, delivering high stake thrills and reminding modern-day audiences that Michael Bay is actually a great action director. Also allowing him to work with Nic Cage was a smart call.
If I can be honest, The Rock would still be a great movie without Cage. Sure, he adds a ton of charm and charisma to the role, but you’re not here to see The Rock because of Cage (Ed note: You’re arguably here to see Sean Connery in an amazing performance). You see it because it’s an incredibly fun and entertaining ride with some great set pieces and breakneck pacing that leaves you wanting more. Cage is just icing on the cake.
1) The Wicker Man
It seems weird to put a movie like The Wicker Man on this list, especially as the closer to this article. The film was universally panned and for good reason. But my God is it hilarious to watch. You can tell that director Neil LaBute did care about the original film, but studio meddling caused it to become the mess that it was. Simply put, I couldn’t be happier about it. What was probably going to be just a lame mid-2000s horror remake that came and went with the wind instead became a movie that will live in infamy.
Make no mistake, Cage is the reason this film has endured. Between having him watch trains run over his daughter, getting into a bear suit to punch someone, and of course… THE BEES, Cage is the only reason to watch this movie. I can’t speak on the man’s thought process during those scenes, but there’s just a tinge of self-awareness in a movie that needed a bit of levity. No one can say those lines and think it isn’t a stinker of a film. This is the prototypical definition of so-bad-it’s-good. The funniest movie Cage has been in, but definitely not intentionally. May it forever be immortalized as our Golden Cage.