April 25, 2022
WRITTEN BY: QUENTIN
It’s easy for one to look at Nic Cage’s eccentricities & spate of direct-to-VOD movies and not fully appreciate what the man has done over the course of his 40-year career. He has excelled as a rom-com lead, an action star, a horror hero, and a scene-stealing voice actor, all while boasting two Academy Award nominations (and one win) for his dramatic work.
He is, quite possibly, the only actor that truly takes risks anymore, acting for genuine love of the craft more than anything else. Truth is, you never know what you’re going to get with a Cage performance. Will it be a gonzo tour-de-force or a meditative character study? Will you laugh, cheer, be moved, or be repulsed? Either way, you just know he is going to do something interesting with each and every role while giving nothing less than 100%. That intrigue, unpredictability, and commitment is what makes Nic Cage my favorite actor.
Below, you’ll find a list of my favorite Cage movies. Please note that I said “favorite,” not “best.” The two words are not synonymous. While I respect that his performance in Leaving Las Vegas is sublime, it’s such a hard movie to watch. So, you won’t find it here. Same for Mandy. You also won’t find Into the Spider-verse because, despite him being arguably the highlight of that movie, I don’t consider it a Nic Cage movie as much as a movie that just happens to co-star Nic Cage. You won’t find The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent either because I literally just watched it like an hour ago. I need to marinate on it. I don’t want to be influenced by recency bias, and only time will tell if it eventually moves its way up the list. Instead, what you will find are the Cage movies that speak to me the most. Be it nostalgia, a relatable character, or simply a high rewatchability quotient, these are the Cage films that give me the warm and fuzzies. Lastly, I’m writing the article, so I make the rules. Shut up if you don’t like it.
With that, it’s not exactly Mai Tais and Yahtzee out here, but let’s do it!
10. KISS OF DEATH (1995)
Without Cage, Kiss of Death would likely be a forgettable 90s movie, found in the bargain bin next to titles like Striking Distance and Sudden Death. However, Cage single-handedly wills the film into something more as Little Junior, an asthmatic thug who carries himself with more bravado than Denzel Washington in Training Day. Plus, it’s one of the rare times in which Cage is allowed to lean into pure villainy, which is a treat in itself.
9. JOE (2013)
Joe’s story is nothing new: a loner ex-con becomes a reluctant mentor to an abused teenager; However, Cage plays the titular character with both a simmering brutality and poetic stillness that adds immeasurable depth to the oft-told tale. His chemistry with Tye Sheridan makes for a powerful bond, and it’s interesting to see Cage play a character who is constantly trying to hold back his innermost impulses when we know that, as an actor, that’s not where he tends to operate.
8. LORD OF WAR (2005)
Lord of War, which could genuinely function as a Tony Stark prequel (without the MCU shine, of course) takes a hard look at the global and personal consequences of illegal gun running. Cage strikes an uneasy balance as a charming yet morally corrupt monster, the kind of character you can’t help but like even as you know you shouldn’t. Few people can walk that tightrope, but Cage delivers in this sharp satire.
7. WILLY'S WONDERLAND (2021)
Despite being a ripoff of the Five Nights at Freddy’s video game franchise and one of Cage’s direct-to-VOD efforts, Willy’s Wonderland is an absolute blast! It’s a simple story, a nameless janitor (Cage) battles murderous Chuck E. Cheese-style animatronics, but Cage absolutely owns the screen whether he’s kicking ass, chugging grape soda, or playing pinball. On top of that, he does it all without uttering a single word. The 80s vibe reeks of tongue-in-cheek cheesiness, but it definitely works for this hidden horror gem.
6. GONE IN SIXTY SECONDS (2000)
Despite the critical drubbing it took in 2000, I’m not sure what more you could ask for in a Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action flick about stealing cars. It’s got humor, car chases, a stellar supporting ensemble (including three Oscar winners), and, frankly, it’s just a whole lot of fun. Add in all-time great Cage character name Memphis Raines and the Shelby GT500 known as “Eleanor,” and you’ve got a movie that always stops me in my tracks when flipping channels.
5. RAISING ARIZONA (1987)
Despite having starred in several comedies, romantic and otherwise, people tend to forget how funny Cage can be. The Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona is an absurdist screwball comedy that only works if you have a lead with excellent comedic timing, charm, and charisma, which Cage delivers in spades (not to mention the terrific mustache and muttonchops). Raising Arizona is a 35-year-old comedy classic that put both the Coens and Cage on the map. If you need any more convincing, director Edgar Wright called it his favorite movie of all time.
4. PIG (2021)
In the five years preceding Pig’s release, Cage starred in no fewer than 20 direct-to-VOD movies. Given that, I can understand why some people seemed to have forgotten what the man is capable of. In this film-that-was-definitely-snubbed-for-a-Best-Picture-Nomination, Cage zigs when most assume he will zag, playing the meditative, soulful, and non-violent yin to John Wick’s yang. It’s a brilliant character study on love and loss for which he was completely jobbed for his third Best Actor nomination.
3. NATIONAL TREASURE (2004) & NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (2007)
Playing out like Adult Goonies, National Treasure is a treasure hunt adventure that works for pretty much the entire family. While the historical aspects may be romanticized a bit, it’s a fun caper that probably birthed the Memefication of CageTM with one single quote: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.” It’s pure popcorn fun, but in all the best ways. Then they made a second one!
2. MATCHSTICK MEN (2003)
In Matchstick Men, Cage plays a con man with OCD and Tourette’s. Can you honestly imagine a more interesting actor to play someone with Tourette’s? You can see the gonzo Nic Cage we all know and love just itching to break out through every twitchy tick. It’s like he combined the grounded approach of Leaving Las Vegas with the more eccentric choices he made in Vampire’s Kiss. With a twisty story that engages and a completely earned character arc for Cage’s Ray, Matchstick Men is one of Cage’s most overlooked movies.
1. THE YEAR OF CAGE: June 6, 1996 - July 27, 1997
Yeah, yeah, I know what you’re thinking: “You can’t just give us a random timeframe, Q.” I absolutely can. I make the rules, remember? Besides, how does one even choose between The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off, all of which were released within (nearly) a one-year span? All three are iconic, late-90s action films, with each one producing memorable one-liners, unforgettable action scenes, generational nostalgia, colorful characters, and a string of memes that are popular 25 years later. It’s genuinely one of the best three-film-stretches for any action star, and Cage delivered it in under 14 months. That’s remarkable. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be forced into a Sophie’s Choice situation with this trinity.
Photo Credits: Photo 1, 6 - 20th Century Studios; Photo 2 - Roadside Attractions; Photo 3 - Lionsgate; Photo 4 - Screen Media Films; Photo 5, 8, 10 - Disney; Photo 7 - Neon; Photo 9 - Warner Bros; Photo 10 - Paramount Pictures