No matter what anyone tries to say, Nicolas Cage is a great actor. He played an alcoholic trying to kill himself in a heartbreaking drama that won him an Academy Award and he also successfully satirized Batman alongside a 13-year-old girl saying the C-word, so it’s safe to say that this is an actor with some serious range. There may be a handful of duds on his résumé, but that seems to be more to do with his difficulty saying “no” than his acting ability.
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He’s worked with Michael Bay, but he’s also worked with Ridley Scott and the Coen brothers. So, here are his five best movies… and five worst.
10 Best: Leaving Las Vegas
As the movie that won Nic Cage his Academy Award, this one is an obvious entry on the list. Still, it’s a fantastic movie, anchored entirely by its two lead performances: Elisabeth Shue playing a struggling prostitute and Cage playing an alcoholic writer determined to commit suicide. As his life comes to an end, he suddenly finds meaning in it as he falls in love with Shue’s character. When it’s too late, he realizes he has something to live for. The story is tragic, and it could’ve easily failed if Cage didn’t commit, but thankfully, he did and it resulted in a terrific film.
9 Worst: Ghost Rider
Nicolas Cage is a lifelong comic book fan, and he was even cast to play Superman in a Tim Burton movie that got cancelled for enough reasons that there was a whole documentary made about it. But sadly, when he finally did get to play an iconic superhero from the pages of comic books, it was as a demonic character whose dark themes were criminally watered down by a studio looking for a more commercially viable PG-13 rating.
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Now that movies like Deadpool and Logan have been successful, Cage should get another crack at the character with R-rated freedom – if the fans will allow it.
8 Best: Kick-Ass
While Nicolas Cage’s attempt at starring in a serious superhero movie might have failed, his attempt at playing a supporting role in a satirical one was much more successful. Based on the Mark Millar comic of the same name, Kick-Ass is an action-packed comedy about what would happen if a nerdy high school kid actually decided to become a superhero. Cage plays Big Daddy, a spoof of Batman, and his pitch-perfect delivery of his lines evokes a few different Batmen. When he’s in the costume, playing the character of Big Daddy, he comes off as full Christian Bale badass. But when he’s the mild-mannered alter ego Damon Macready, he channels Adam West. It’s hilarious.
7 Worst: 8MM
This thriller about a private eye who stumbles into a dark case involving snuff films has a lot of promise from its themes and plot, but there’s no suspense attached to the brutally violent sequences. So, it’s pretty much just violence for violence’s sake. Plus, the flickering film projectors hide Nic Cage for most of the movie, so even if there is a nuanced performance, we can’t really see it. Fun side-note: My film stock-obsessed film school lecturer was hired as a consultant on this movie, and since it was his only claim to fame, he never stopped talking about it.
6 Best: Matchstick Men
Matchstick Men is one of the most underrated movies in recent years and it also ends with one of the most jaw-dropping and shockingly plausible plot twists ever conceived on film. Nicolas Cage stars alongside Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman in a darkly comic thriller about con men and betrayals and family and double crosses and deceit. Most dark comedies tend to throw emotion out the window – that’s part of what makes it a dark comedy in the first place – but that always feels as though something’s missing. Matchstick Men manages to have a cynical edge and still feel emotionally resonant.
5 Worst: Knowing
Knowing is an interesting, engaging apocalyptic thriller until its final moments. There are thrills in the plane crash sequence, which was shot inventively in a Steadicam long take, and the central mystery is involving – until it’s resolved. The movie’s key problem is that the ending ruins it. An alien force shows up and Nic Cage just tells his son to go with them, and allows Earth to be destroyed in the process. Nothing is really explained and a lot of the movie’s elements don’t add up. Rose Byrne does her best to bring some artistic merit to this movie, but it’s flawed from the ground up.
4 Best: Adaptation
There are a few reasons why Adaptation succeeds. It’s directed by the visionary Spike Jonze, it has an inventive script by Charlie Kaufman that toys with the fabric of what it even means to be a movie, and it balances the story of a guy adapting a book into a movie and the story of the book itself deftly.
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But the movie’s greatest asset is its lead actor, Nicolas Cage, who plays twin brothers. One is a chubby, insecure loser and the other is a happy, thin, optimistic go-getter. Few actors could pull off two characters in the same movie like Cage does in this one. It’s mesmerizing.
3 Worst: G-Force
The worst kids’ movies tend to be the ones that underestimate their audience. If you’re making a movie for kids and assume that all kids are dumb with a juvenile sense of humor and little expectations from their trips to the movies, then you’ll end up with something as mind-numbingly dull and insubstantial as G-Force. This CGI-laden spy ‘comedy’ about an elite team of secret agents who happen to be guinea pigs and are determined to save the world from a maniacal billionaire isn’t an original idea – it’s a rip-off of Cats and Dogs, and it’s not even as good.
2 Best: Raising Arizona
A lot of Nicolas Cage’s best movies are comedies. It seems that his most sincere acting is inherently comical, so when he tries to give a dramatic performance, it comes off as laughable, and when he tries to give a comedic performance, every line is delivered perfectly and he fits seamlessly into the tone of the movie. The finest display of this is in the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona, the story of an ex-convict and his infertile police officer wife who decide to kidnap one of a rich guy’s newborn quintuplets when they realize they can’t have kids of their own. The movie makes hysterical use of slapstick humor and Cage carries it brilliantly.
1 Worst: Next
Some Nic Cage movies are so unabashedly bad that they fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category that was created by such famously terrible cult classics as The Room and Battlefield Earth (a.k.a. Scientology: The Movie). An example of a movie that takes itself seriously and wants to be a sci-fi classic and is terrible, yet doesn’t fall into the so-bad-it’s-good category due to how lazy and mundane it is, is Next starring none other than Nicolas Cage. Supposedly adapted from the seminal works of Philip K. Dick, this sci-fi actioner is a far cry from the likes of Blade Runner and Minority Report. Next seems confused by itself, which is a rare feat, but not an impressive one.
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