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Nicolas Cage

Why Nicolas Cage Is Secretly The Greatest Actor Ever

Upon reading the headline of this article, you probably find yourself thinking it’s a joke or something so incredibly stupid that it just couldn’t be real. Nicolas Cage – the greatest actor of all time? Okay, so opinions on acting are obviously all subjective, but still. Cage is the type of actor that gets a ton of hate, even though he’s turned in more than a few top notch performances. The problem is, people just aren’t aware of them.

Of course, I can’t really blame you if you haven’t seen the good ones. Cage has done his fair share of awful movies, so it’s not really a surprise why some people wouldn’t want to give some of the other movies a chance. On the other hand, the actor has done movies with the likes of acclaimed directors such as Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott, Spike Jonze, David Lynch and Werner Herzog – so its not as though he cant act. 

Yes, the memes are funny – and even Cage himself has admitted this:

“Oh my god. I just can’t keep up with that stuff. The internet has developed this thing about me – and I’m not even a computer guy, you know? I don’t know why it is happening. I’m trying not to… lemme say this: I’m now of the mindset that, when in Rome, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

He’s also pointed out how people seem to think he’s not in on the joke of a film that 2006’s The Wicker Man is:

“The issue with The Wicker Man is there’s a need by some folks in the media to think that we’re not in on the joke. But you don’t go around doing the things that character does – in a bear suit – and not know it’s absurd. It is absurd. Now, originally I wanted to play that cop with a handlebar moustache and like a really stiff suit, and the producers wouldn’t let me do it.” Oh, Nic! “And then you would have known how in on it we were, Neil and myself. The fact that that movie has been so lambasted means there’s an inner trembling and power to that movie. It has become an electromagnetic movie! And so I love it.”

Roger Ebert stated it best about Cage:

“He’s daring and fearless in his choice of roles and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off, and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively… he always seems so earnest.”

People often seem to fail to realize that part of the reason the actor accepted roles in such awful movies are so that he can push the boundaries and make the performance memorable. Though, I can’t really defend some of the more recent movies he’s done due to his trouble with the IRS.

If you’re one of those people who believe that he can’t act at all, you’re in for a treat, as I’m going to lay all of them out for you, and once you’re done – you’ll at least be convinced that Cage is an amazing actor and not the joke he’s been made out to be the past few years.

We’ll start with some underrated performances from the actor, as well as the obvious ones, and conclude with a list of films that feature the actor’s best work.

Underrated Cage

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Nicolas Cage Vampire's Kiss
Yes, Vampire’s Kiss is an awful movie. But Cage’s performance in the film is the reason it’s even remembered today. His over the top performance in the film features him doing everything from running down the street screaming “I’m a vampire! I’m a vampire!” to eating an actual cockroach. It also has the famous scene in which Cage recites the ABC’s by screaming them at a woman who filed paperwork the incorrect way.

And how could we forget the ‘You Don’t Say?’ meme that this movie inspired.

Cage has also said it’s one of his favorite performances (with Bad Lieutenant and Face/Off, also ahead on the list)

“I thought that Werner [Herzog] and I got up to something special in Bad Lieutenant. Certainly Mike Figgis and I found something pretty emotionally naked in Leaving Las Vegas. I was very happy with Vampire’s Kiss, which in my opinion was almost like an independent laboratory to start realizing some of my more expressionistic dreams with film performance. Then using what I had learned in Vampire’s Kiss and putting it into a very big action movie in the form of Face/Off with John Woo. If you look at those two movies back to back, you can see where I stole from my performance in Vampire’s Kiss.”

Deadfall (1993)

Nicolas Cage Deadfall
Deadfall is a film so awful, it would have been impossible to watch without Cage. Even with him, it’s still nearly impossible to watch. The performance is a classic in its own right, more so than the movie ever could hope to be. Cage even reprised the role in a 2017 sequel, much to the surprise of many hardcore Cage fans.

He’s said that the movie actually features his favorite line he’s ever said in a movie:

“There’s a movie I made with my brother called ‘Deadfall,’ where I say, “Vive la fucking France, man!” That’s one of my favorites.”

We have it for you here:

Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

Nicolas Cage Bringing Out The Dead
Many people are unaware of this film, which is pretty interesting. It was directed by Martin Scorsese and isn’t really like any other movie I’ve seen before. It was critically praised, but failed to make a mark at the box office, and is generally forgotten, when you take into account the popularity of Cage and Scorsese. Scorsese himself said that he immediately thought of Cage when he read the script:

“The first things I thought of, when I read Joe Connelly’s book, were Nic Cage’s face and his eyes. His uncle Francis (Coppola) had us meet a few years ago. You know, you meet some people sometimes, you don’t wanna spend five months with them on the set, you know what I’m saying? Well, this guy seemed to be polite. He was a nice guy to be around, and then Brian de Palma told me he was great to work with. I know his films over the years. He’s inventive and he goes from an expressive style, almost like silent film, like Lon Chaney, whom he adores, to something extremely internal. So I thought immediately of Nic for this.”

I should point out, though, it’s not a movie for everyone, as it’s very dark, depressing and weird.

8MM (1999)

Nicolas Cage 8MM
On the surface, it’s a generic 90’s Cage action movie, but once you sit down and actually watch the movie, you’ll see that it’s far more deep – and actually quite disturbing. It deals with things like child pornography and also features performances from the late James Gandolfini, as well as Joaquin Phoenix. It won’t blow you away, but it’s certainly not as bad as the reviews suggest.

Matchstick Men (2003)

Nicolas Cage Matchstick Men
In this Ridley Scott directed movie, Cage plays Roy Waller, a con artist with severe OCD. Without giving away too much of the plot details, it’s a shame the actor wasn’t at least nominated for Best Actor at the Oscars, as he plays someone struggling with OCD perfectly, and even gave us this famous scene:

The Weather Man (2005)

Nicolas Cage The Weather Man
The Weather Man is definitely a movie for a certain type of audience (similar to Bringing Out The Dead) but it’s a role that Cage fits into perfectly. If you’re a fan of dark comedies, this one is for you. Cage plays a weather man who is hated by everyone, including his daughter and ex-wife. It’s an interesting look at the differences between professional and personal success.

About the role, Cage said:

“Let’s face it, we’re all making mistakes and trying to do the best we can with them and prevent them from happening, but it’s easier to relate to a character that’s made mistakes that we have in common with them. I’ve certainly made my share of mistakes, and I think that’s why I made the movie. I was going through a divorce at the time, and I wanted to take all that energy, which was negative energy, and put it somewhere that I could do something positive with it. And I don’t always do that in my work, but there are occasions when I’ll read a script that happens to be in a parallel existence with my own. The two then go together beautifully, and it becomes almost like a therapy. That happened with The Weather Man. It was a real overlay of my life with the character of Dave Spritz.”

Lord of War (2005)

Nicolas Cage Lord of War
This was actually the movie that made me a Cage fan. I was expecting a decent movie, but what I got was a great movie that really shows the ins and outs of illegal arms dealing. It’s a great film that got good reviews, but failed to make a mark at the box office. It’s a shame because it really is one of the better movies out there and also features terrific performances from Jared LetoBridget Moynahan and Ethan Hawke.

Hawke actually defended Cage in 2013, saying:

“I’m kind of obsessed with Nic Cage. He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours.”

He also said that one of his favorite scenes he’s ever done was one in this movie, (obvious spoilers):

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Nicolas Cage Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Even if you aren’t a fan of the actor, this Werner Herzog directed movie will definitely catch your attention the second that it opens. A movie that features Cage high on crack and cocaine the majority of the movie, seeing iguanas that aren’t really there and doing things that even the worst person out there couldn’t imagine doing, it’s definitely a movie you won’t forget.

It’s a film Cage revealed that he was in the “zone” for:

“I just felt I was in the zone, and came prepared, and did what I had to do. I thank Werner for letting me go. I didn’t need to be pushed, I didn’t need to be pulled, I just came in and did what I needed to do, and I thank Werner for having the guts to let me do it.”

He added:

“A lot of people like to say things like “over-the-top”, but you can’t say that about other art forms, such as a Picasso, or a Van Gogh, but why can’t it be the same with acting? In Leaving Las Vegas, I had a couple of drinks. I wanted to. I had prescribed scenes where I decided I would get drunk, and anything goes. And I’m glad I did it. But with Bad Lieutenant, I say that this is Impressionistic, because I was totally sober, and I was looking at a landscape from over 20 years ago, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. It was a challenge. But I believe that the filter of my instrument would give you something more exciting because it was Impressionistic.”

Joe (2014)

Nicolas Cage Joe
Directed by David Gordon Green, Joe is definitely one of the more overlooked movies in quite some time. It probably has to do with the fact that Cage has done quite a lot of garbage lately, and people just wrote this one off. In a similar occurrence in this article and Cage’s career, the critics enjoyed it but it bombed at the box office.

On the movie, Cage said:

“I think it was important to show that, along with Joe, there was another movie that I made in recent years that evokes an independent spirit as well.”

Classic Cage

Raising Arizona (1987)

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Nicolas Cage Leaving Las Vegas
This was the movie in which Cage won the Oscar for Best Actor. While I didn’t personally enjoy the movie all that much, Cage’s performance as an alcoholic, in which he claims that he had zero alcohol at all while filming, is one of the best out there and shows how someone’s life can fall apart because of alcohol.

Cage said he really didn’t even drink all that much ever – making the performance even more amazing:

“I drink socially with my friends. Having a glass of wine at dinner is not a problem. It blew my mind that people who drink too much over long periods of time can actually develop hallucinations, go into delirium tremens. I tried to get my hands on videotape of this happening. I recall seeing heroin withdrawals on film but for some reason, it’s very difficult to get alcohol withdrawals on film and so I had to use my imagination of what that must feel like.

I spoke to many drunks; I spoke with people who are running programs for this problem and what I could gather was, the stomach shrinks and contracts like a fist, and the alcohol’s like this injection that goes into the body and relaxes the stomach. So the performance really largely came from the stomach for me.

And I watched four movies to get an idea of great alcoholic performances. I saw “The Lost Weekend” with Ray Milland, “Days of Wine and Roses” with Jack Lemmon, Dudley Moore in “Arthur” and Albert Finney in “Under the Volcano.” They were all great, but the Albert Finney one struck a chord of reality and I wondered, what about this is different? I asked Figgis – because he had worked with Finney – was he really drinking? And Mike called Finney, and he said, “No, I wasn’t. It would be impossible to do that because of the way the schedule is changing and you have to get there and show up for work, and it just wouldn’t be possible to take a gamble like that.”

The Rock (1996)

Nicolas Cage The Rock
This was the movie that started Cage on a string of hugely successful and popular 90’s action movies, and also happens to be one of his more interesting performances alongside Sean Connery and Ed Harris.

Con Air (1997)

Nicolas Cage Con Air
Possibly Cage’s most famous performance yet, Con Air is what you would expect it to be: a cheesy 90’s action movie. That’s what makes it so good. If you expect an Oscar caliber movie when you sit down to watch Con Air, you’re doing it all wrong. If you’re expecting a movie that will keep you entertained throughout its runtime, you’re doing it right.

Face/Off (1997)

Nicolas Cage Face Off
The reason I said “possibly Cage’s most famous performance yet” about Con Air is because of this movie. It’s clear the 90’s were nicer to Cage than the 2000’s and so on, but it’s hard to ignore his ridiculous performance as Castor Troy / Sean Archer opposite John Travolta in what is often referred to as one of the best action movies of the 90’s.

Cage has said it’s a personal favorite of his:

“Face/Off for me is a personal milestone because I felt like I was able to realize some of my independent filmmaking dreams in a major studio film. I was taking a lot of the laboratory of Vampire’s Kiss (1989) and points of expression that I was working on with films like Nosferatu (1922) or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919): early German expressionistic film acting, and with Face/Off, I got do it in a huge genre picture. John had shown me his film Bullet in the Head (1990) and I knew when I saw that where he would let me go. I knew his barometer and that I could put it up against a wall of expressionistic acting, as opposed to naturalistic acting. I’d not done that to that level before in a big studio movie, so it was a real personal best for me. I got to get way outside the box.”

Adaptation (2002)

Nicolas Cage Adaptation
If you’re unfamiliar with Charlie Kaufman, go ahead and watch Being John Malkovich before you watch this movie. Cage plays Kaufman pretty much perfectly, and even earned an Oscar nomination for it – the only reason I didn’t include it in the underrated category. Cage spoke about how he tackled the role of Kaufman, saying:

“Access to Charlie definitely helped me shape my character. I think there are two Charlies. There’s the biological Charlie we have here, and then there’s the surrealistic Charlie, which is on the paper and in the movie. Spike and I together decided that we wanted to use the biological Charlie as a resource, in terms of interviews and examining his characteristics and the way he speaks, the way he thinks. It was very exciting for me to listen to him: He’s a very passionate guy. So I sort of made a mental sketch from that, but I didn’t lock myself into it.”

It starts off a little slow, but if you can make it, you’ll definitely be glad you waited.

Okay, so here’s the list in order by year, including some movies we didn’t do a blurb for that are definitely worth a watch:

Raising Arizona (1987)

Moonstruck (1987)

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Wild Heart (1990)

Red Rock West (1993)

Deadfall (1994)

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

The Rock (1996)

Con Air (1997)

Face/Off (1997)

City of Angels (1998)

8MM (1999)

Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

The Family Man (2000)

Adaptation. (2002)

Matchstick Men (2003)

Lord of War (2005)

The Weather Man (2005)

Knowing (2009)

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Kick-Ass (2010)

Drive Angry (2011)

Seeking Justice (2011)

The Frozen Ground (2013)

Joe (2013)

Nicolas Cage Superman

A movie sadly not on the list? Superman Lives directed by Tim Burton in which Cage played Superman! It’s not on the list, because it wasn’t made. Cage, however, thinks it would have been the best Superman ever:

“I would offer that the movie that Tim and I would have made, in your imagination, is more powerful than any of the Superman movies. I didn’t even have to make the movie and we all know what that movie would have been in your imagination. That is the Superman. That is the movie. Even though you never saw it — it is the Superman.”

As far as what Cage thinks of his critics, the actor has said:

“There is a school of though that says if you piss the critics off, you’re probably doing something right — and all of my heroes, whether it be in music or painting or cinema, have pissed the critics off.”

In regard to the current state of film commentary:

“I think that there was a period in film commentary where it was like the gold standard — I would cite someone like Pauline Kael or Roger Ebert or Paul Schrader — where they were really determining based on the work itself, the film itself, the performance itself. And now, with the advent of this kind of TMZ culture, it sadly seems to have infiltrated the vanguard of film commentary. I see these reviews sometimes where I think, well, you have a right to say whatever you want about my work, and I will listen whether it’s good or bad and see if there’s something that I might work with, but personal issues don’t have a place in film commentary.”

As far as where he gets his acting, he’s said he has invented his own style of acting, and plans on one day writing a book:

“By the time I got around to Vampire’s Kiss and then Bad Lieutenant and now this movie, Drive Angry and then also Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, I had realized that I’d developed my own style and process and school of acting which is called Nouveau Shamanic. That’s the new style of acting and at some point I’ll have to write a book.”

If you find yourselves asking why the actor gets so much hate, it’s fairly obvious. Here lately, every good movie Cage does, he follows up with 4-5 bad ones. He’s had problems with the IRS, in terms of not paying his taxes, so it’s pretty clear why he’s taking so many roles these days.

However, when presented with proper material, there are few better than Cage currently working. There are also few actors with as many top notch performances as Cage, which is why if he isn’t the greatest actor – he definitely deserves to be in the discussion. If anything, I think we can all agree that there’s no one else like him.

Update: We had to include 2018’s Mandy.

Mandy Movie Nicolas Cage

We’ll periodically make updates for each memorable Cage performance after this.

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