Top 10 Nicolas Cage films

Nicolas Cage seems to have become something of a joke in the online film community in recent years. The melty-faced actor has been the subject of more ‘Worst of‘ than ‘Best of’ lists, and certainly isn’t helping his case with turd gems like Trespass and Season of the Witch. Now, with the inevitably awful Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance approaching release, it seems more pertinent than ever to remind ourselves that the gawky actor has actually had some good performances in some very good films. Here are 10 of poor Nico’s finest.

#10 – Bad Lieutenant

In the only really recent example of Nicolas Cage doing something more than moping around with a slapped-ass face, he gives the meanest, most brilliantly depraved performance of his career. He plays a bitter, crippled and corrupt cop with a moral compass as skewed as his awkward posture. We hate his character with relish in Bad Lieutenant, rather than hate Cage himself for, well, being himself, which is the case with most of his films.


#9 – Con Air

It’s cheesy, bombastic and stupid, but Con Air has managed to cement itself as something of a cult 90s action film. Cage plays  your typical wronged hero Cameron Poe, who must wrest a hijacked prisoner plane from a bunch of notorious criminals led by John Malkovich. Granted, Cage donning a mullet and wife-beater isn’t to everyone’s taste, but all the explosive set-pieces and Malkovich’s comically evil performance do a great job in distracting us from our socially-ingrained dislike of Cage.


#8 – Face/Off

Much like the previous film, Face/Off offers nothing of substance, and simply blows us away with an intense thriller storyline. Cage plays a terrorist for the early part of the film, before swapping faces with a cop played by John Travolta, and subsequently playing a good guy pretending to be a terrorist. Truthfully, his performance in this film isn’t spectacular, but when you’ve got Travolta starring opposite you, you inevitably don’t look too bad. Plus, you’ll be too busy enjoying John Woo’s gun fu directing style to care much about Nico’s performance.


#7 – Drive Angry

Hold on. I said that Bad Lieutenant was Nico’s only good film in recent years. Well rather than edit my original statement I’ll admit that I was wrong. Drive Angry is good old-fashioned grindhouse fun, and not even Nico’s capable of ruining it. In truth, his performance is trademark post-2000 Cage crap, and is utterly overshadowed by his in-film nemesis, who in this case is played with irresistible smoothness by William Fichtner. But with the car chases, sleaziness and hilariously excessive violence, why the hell should we care about Cage’s acting?


#6 – Raising Arizona

This Coen Brothers redneck romp sees Nico play hillbilly simpleton H.I. McDunnough to extremely enjoyable comic excess. After he and his wife, played by Holly Hunter, steal another family’s baby, we’re thrown into an endless series of absurd scenarios as they flee across the backwaters of America. Raising Arizona shows Nico at his manic best, and the sheer stupidity of his character actually makes him quite endearing.


#5 – Adaptation.

In this clever, self-referencing film about a screenwriter suffering from writer’s block (written by Charlie Kaufman who claimed to have written it to remedy his own writer’s block), Cage plays both Kaufmann and his better-looking twin but less talented twin brother Donald. What’s interesting to watch is that in the relatively minor role of the twin brother, he is the mediocre, uninspiring actor we’ve come to be familiar with. As Charlie however, he does a great job in conveying the writer’s insecurity and neuroses about himself and the world. Adaptation. exhibits both the Good and the Bad of Nicolas Cage, if you will, and the Good definitely wins out here.


#4 – Wild at Heart

David Lynch films are always going to be dominated by the villainous characters rather than the generally bland heroes. Wild at Heart is no exception, as Willem Dafoe’s leering psychopath Bobby Peru dominates every scene he’s in. That said, Cage is highly watchable as the slightly less crazy Sailor Ripley. He has violent outbursts, throws Kung-Fu shapes whenever he hears hard rock music, and even sings Elvis Presley’s ‘Love Me’ at the closing credits. A fine illustration that Cage has a more wild side to his acting.


#3 – Leaving Las Vegas

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage won an Oscar, and he deserved it. It may seem hard to believe, but this is a true story; the same man who’s been tainting our screens with his ever-melting mug for the last few years did a great job playing an alcoholic script-writer with a death wish. Cage’s performance is both wild and tragic, and watching his demise – stylised though it may be – is a stomach-turning sight. Cage glides between wide-eyed drunkenness to utter despondence, all laced through with his character’s single-minded determination to kill himself. See, Nico, you do know how to act.


#2 – Matchstick Men

Probably Cage’s most underrated film and performance, Matchstick Men is a perfectly acceptable film in which he plays conman Roy Waller. Amazingly, his performance here actually steals the show from his much less-despised co-star Sam Rockwell, as he brilliantly depicts his character as being plagued by OCD. His nervous ticks, stammers and sweating over excessive fibres on his carpet are both painful and hilarious to watch, making this the one Nic Cage performance which I honestly think has been overlooked.


#1 – pure, unadulterated Nic Cage mental scream time

Despite exhausting all my imagination, IMDB resources and YouTube clips of Cage doing his best impression of being a good actor, I can’t honestly think of a 10th film in which I enjoyed watching him. So, to save myself the hassle, here’s 5-minute compilation of Nico screaming in his films. Nothing else, just him screaming for 5 minutes. Beautiful.

What’s your favourite Nic Cage role? Let us know below!

About The Author

Robert is a freelance writer specialising in film and technology. Since completing his Film Studies MA at King's College London in 2011, he has been writing for several websites and blogs, including WhatCulture, The Independent blogs and now Best For Film. On the side, he's an aspiring screen-writer, but isn't getting carried away with lofty visions of Hollywood stardom just yet