You either love him or hate him (I am most definitely in the former camp) whatever your opinion of the man, you cannot deny that there is a resurgence in Nicolas Cage’s career that must activate a certain amount of intrigue in you. With the recent release of the critically praised Pig – with Cage being back to his best – it perked my curiosity as to what are Cage’s best films in his seesawed career. Whether he starred or merely appeared as a memorable guest, Cage has offered us a varied amount of cinema treats, and with that, here I am, breaking down my favorite Cage films – where there is sure to be some controversy – to hopefully change people’s opinions on the once faded cult star.
10) Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
The first controversial choice in the list, seeing as Cage plays a very small supporting role, but his 1930s noir Spider-Man is truly memorable for possessing hilarious dry humor, a mysterious origin which is barely explored – the diehard Marvel fans will know though – and for being an effective ally for the ensuing fight. Cage voices the popular character with his usual deadpan style of acting; copying the style of James Coburn and Humphrey Bogart, which is the perfect match for his dark persona. It attributed to a positive audience reception following the film’s release, and with the character’s success, here’s hoping this isn’t the last we see of private eye Spider-Man and his colorless life of crime-fighting, or to Cage and his voice acting prowess – such a distinct voice needs more animated work.
9) The Rock (1996)
Now, I am no Michael Bay fan by any means, but what I am a fan of is Connery and Cage teaming up to take down a vengeful Ed Harris, accompanied by plenty of explosions – of course, there is explosions. Often overshadowed by the very, let’s say, colorful Con Air, which was released the following year, The Rock is by far superior – apart from the lack of an exquisite Cage hairstyle. It is one of a hatful of action films that Cage participated in during the 90s – with varying degrees of success – but this is a sure-fire hit and Cage is the standout as a mild-mannered FBI bio-chemist Stanley Godspeed (yes, that really is his name). To outshine cinema stalwarts like Connery and Harris is no easy feat, but Cage, you did us all proud with this one.
8) Moonstruck (1987)
The film that turned Cage into a Hollywood heartthrob (yeah, you heard me right) with exposed chest hair and devilish good looks. Cage stars opposite the one and only Cher, as the moody and mysterious brother in-law that Cher finds herself tempted by. It is a sleek and sparkly performance from Cage, as he transforms into a sex symbol right in front of our eyes – after previously being cast as troubled teens and bad boys. His energetic style and debonair nature became one of the first performances where people took notice and thought, “Woah, this kid has levels to his game”. In fact, to create such a contrast from his character in Raising Arizona – released earlier the same year – to this, deserves all the recognition he received.
7) Birdy (1984)
Directed by the late great Alan Parker, Birdy sees a teenage Cage deliver a mature and powerful performance far beyond his years, opposite the equally great Matthew Modine. This underrated and overlooked gem follows two teenage boys who bond over a fascination for all things aviation, both of whom soon discover that the aftereffects of war are not to be trifled with, quickly transforming them into deeply troubled men wondering what went wrong. This performance by Cage was truly an insight of things to come; a compelling and authentic portrayal about the changing of boy to man, a troubling time in one’s life as it is.
6) Pig (2021)
The film that is now firmly on the lips of Cage fans everywhere, the subtleties of this mysterious character were incredibly polished and showed that he hasn’t lost any of that acting prowess. Cage plays a truffle hunter who seeks revenge after his prized truffle pig is stolen from under his nose. Pig is such a poetic film that explores themes of love, loss, and loneliness, it is perfectly nuanced, and Cage delivers his best performance in years. You think it is going one way – towards violence and death – but it brilliantly steers down a brand-new path, with Cage being the catalyst to everything that is good in it. It helps when you have one of the great cinema pigs lining up next to you, it wouldn’t surprise me if they hung out after work either.
5) Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Bringing Out the Dead is a crazily underrated film, and the performance of Cage is often overlooked. I am a huge Scorsese fan, and this is so different from his previous works that you can’t help but admire the bravery; it is experimentally bold, consists of some dark surreal humor, shot brilliantly and has a whole host of great performances. However, it is Cage – who plays the sleep deprived New York paramedic slowly going insane – that spearheads the whole thing so effectively. The way he interacts with a plethora of quirky characters as he travels through the mean streets of Manhattan is fabulous to watch. He blends into his surroundings trying to avoid his own personal downfall, it is both sad and exciting (who knew that was possible) and if I was wearing a hat, I would tip it to you, Mr. Cage.
4) Adaptation. (2002)
Well, what can you say about Adaptation that hasn’t been said already? A truly remarkable film by Spike Jonze – following the equally brilliant Being John Malkovich – that sees Cage playing two characters (only he could pull off two completely different characters at the same time), a set of twins as well. Cage plays a fictionalized version of Charlie Kaufmann, as well as portraying his completely fictional twin brother Donald; both equally odd, both equally brilliant, what a unique and difficult idea to process. Cage was nominated for his second Oscar for this performance – after Leaving Las Vegas – and it is a travesty he never won (damn you Adrien Brody), however, the recognition that has since followed means this is a truly great acting display and a perfect role for the king of quirk.
3) Face/Off (1997)
Ah Face/Off, what a truly brilliant film you are, and undoubtedly the pinnacle of Cage’s career as an action star. John Woo delivers a great Cage action film amid a packed decade for the man in question, but Face/Off leaves them all in its dust. Cage stars alongside Travolta as psychopathic criminal Castor Troy (he really does get the best character names) who, after participating in an experimental face swap surgery, begins to explore his arch enemy’s persona in any way he can, just the most ridiculous plot you’ve ever heard, but it works so well. Cracking performances from both Cage and Travolta, mixed with absorbing action sequences by the great Woo, makes Face/Off one for the memory, a film you won’t forget in a hurry.
2) Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
A film that is most people’s favorite Cage flick (I yearn to be different) is controversially second on my list. A breathtaking performance by Cage which earned him his sole Oscar win, sees him as the depressed alcoholic screenwriter who moves to Vegas to live his last days as one giant party, surprisingly falling in love with a local prostitute. Knowing about his own personal drink problems, you could clearly tell that Cage had a lot of fun with this one. He is so authentic and offers a great magnetism to a deeply troubled character, Cage gives him that likeability factor that shouldn’t be there for someone so destructive. It feels quite poetic that this is the role to give him his only major acting award, a role so obviously close to his heart.
1) Raising Arizona (1987)
And here it is, my controversial number one is the brilliant screwball comedy that is Raising Arizona. I first watched this as a kid and adored it for its unrivaled quirkiness, watching it again as a supposed adult made me realize how incredibly chaotic and hilarious it really was. What truly enamored me to it was the performance of Cage, and how his character “H.I.” is so loveable, but also completely hazardous to everything around him. Something else I found out years later was that the crazier “H.I.s” hair became, signified how stressed out he was during the whole ordeal – it all makes sense now. Raising Arizona is fabulous from all angles, it’s completely ridiculous but such a fun film and Cage is the standout funny man in a film that includes John Goodman, and that is something to be impressed about.