The 10 best Nicolas Cage performances

The 10 best Nicolas Cage performances. By Simon Miraudo.

Once upon a time, Nicolas Cage was one of the most respected actors on a planet. That time was before The Wicker Man, and public perception of the actor has shifted drastically in its wake. Though Cage has evolved from “bankable movie star” to “human punch line” over the past few years, he still has his devoted fans. And no, we’re not talking about the poseurs who just like watching the – admittedly incredible – video of him “losing his s***” over and over again. We’re talking about the disciples who still consider him history’s greatest actor (it’s a small flock, but I’m proud to belong). Sure, there are plenty of bad Nicolas Cage pictures, but there are no bad Nicolas Cage performances. In honour of his new direct-to-DVD release Trespass (reviewed here by Hilary Simmons), the sequel to Ghost Rider, Spirit of Vengeance (in cinemas March 15), and the dozen or so upcoming features in which he stars, please enjoy our not-at-all ironic selection of Nic’s 10 finest moments (and yes, now that we’ve devoted an entire list, we’ll try to stop mentioning him in every other top 10 we do).

10. Knowing

In this underrated Alex Proyas sci-fi flick, Cage stars as an atheistic science teacher who must come to terms with the concept of the entire history of the universe having been plotted out by a higher power… right up until the impending apocalypse.  And nobody reacts to paradigm-shifting revelations like Nic Cage does.

9. Moonstruck

Everyone loves Moonstruck, but few remember that it was a young Nicolas playing the short-tempered, dangerous, adorable, and one-handed object of Cher‘s affections. A real shame.

8. Kick-Ass

Known for his bizarre but inspired selection of muses (Hungarian composer Franz Liszt was the inspiration for his character in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice!), Cage delivered his best Adam West impression as violent vigilante Big Daddy in Kick-Ass.

7. Leaving Las Vegas

Now, an actor must have one hell of an oeuvre when his Academy Award-winning performance can only nab seventh place. You’re unlikely to see a more upsetting descent into addiction than Cage’s turn as alcoholic screenwriter Ben Sanderson. Cage – unafraid of looking ridiculous, yet never seeming like he’s mugging for Oscar glory –  goes for it, and never looks back (actually, you could say that about all of his roles).

6. Wild at Heart

In lieu of an explanation, here’s a video of Sailor singing Love Fool.

5. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

With Werner Herzog, Cage seemed to find a nutty, kindred spirit. Together, they plumbed the depths of human depravity and – astoundingly – outdid the original Bad Lieutenant in the process.

4. Bringing out the Dead

As an insomniac medic working a hellish 48-hour shift, Cage escorts us around the streets of Manhattan, whilst haunted by the ghosts of those he couldn’t save. This wonderful Martin Scorsese movie (fittingly, scripted by Taxi Driver‘s Paul Schrader) deserves your attention.

3. Matchstick Men

Perhaps he’s too ‘ticky’ here for some, but Nic is perfectly charming and disarming as a con-man with a conscience (and an overwhelming case of OCD). Ridley Scott‘s under-seen Matchstick Men proved that Cage can ground even the most over-the-top characters with a real humanity.

2. Raising Arizona

The Coen brothers’ second feature starred Nicolas Cage as a career criminal who falls in love with a cop (Holly Hunter), and steals a baby for them to raise. For all their later successes, Joel and Ethan Coen never managed to make a more sympathetic or lovable character than Cage’s H.I. McDunnough. Not Marge Gunderson. Not The Dude. Nobody.

1. Adaptation

Look, there were a lot of contenders that could have made this top 10: Castor “I could eat a peach for hours” Troy from Face/Off; Cameron “Put the bunny back in the box” Poe from Con Air; Edward “Killing me won’t bring back your Goddamn honey!” Malus from, yes, The Wicker Man.

But frankly, there was no question which film, and which performance(s), would come out on top. In Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, Cage plays real-life neurotic screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, as well as his fictional, sweet, overly-confident twin brother Donald. Two diverse turns, with nary a bit of physical distinction to tell the two apart, besides Cage’s skill in inhabiting each character wholly and creating separate identities. Funny, heart-breaking, strange, and like so many of his performances, robbed of an Oscar (but not a nomination). We can’t wait to see his next collaboration with screenwriter Kaufman: Frank or Francis. We may even have to put together an entire ‘Top 10 other Nicolas Cage performances’ list to accommodate it.

Discuss: OK, what did we miss?

16 Responses to “The 10 best Nicolas Cage performances”

  1. he has been crap since day 1. if he wasn’t related to FF Coppola he would be waiting tables – badly

  2. History’s greatest actor? you have go to be kidding.

  3. I completely agree that he has done some fantastic movies but also some really terrible ones.

    I used to HATE Nic Cage until I saw Adaptation and now I see him differently.

    But surely Faceoff and Lord of War would be higher than the Knowing or most of these movies?!

    And I LOVED him in Kick Ass

  4. I love him. I always will. I haven’t seen all of his films (I’ve avoided Wicker Man and Ghost Rider… though I may still watch Ghost Rider at some stage…) because I’m happy to agree that he hasn’t always chosen good movies, but I still love him. I am definitely one of the disciples!

    And I’d just like it noted that an entire Nic Cage list should absolutely NOT discount him from being mentioned in every other top 10 you do – the inclusion of him in your lists is always a highlight :-)

  5. What 10 best films? What best film? Boring.

  6. VALLEY GIRL!!!!!!!

  7. Interesting list. Good to see Nic’s early Coen Bros role is not forgotten. Between this list and io9′s recent list of top Nic Cage Sci-fi/fantasy roles I think I have all the Nic Cage lists I need. http://io9.com/actors-we-love/

  8. Haha, Simon I never get sick of your Nicholas Cage obsession! :-)

    I’m a long-time Cage fan – although I admit I have avoided a few recent choices he’s made!

  9. So many out there performances make it hard to pick only 10, But…
    Vampire’s Kiss has to be Top 3
    Weatherman should be in there somewhere

  10. Leigh-Ann Hargreaves Reply February 17, 2012 at 4:18 am

    I think Nic Cage is a terrific actor.I don’t get the bad rap. I am trying to find a movie that I thought was his- he keeps a jelly fish in a tank…helps several deserving people…Can you help please?

  11. Leigh Ann, that was a Will Smith movie… 7 degrees or something???

  12. Leigh-Ann Hargreaves Reply February 22, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Thanks for your help Penny and Simon. I saw it recovering from an operation. Maybe the drugs were stronger than I thought..Not Nic Cage at all, no wonder I couldn’t find it.

  13. Stoked to see that Kick-Ass made the list. I thought he did a wonderful job in that film. I would have included 8MM as well. And Stanley Goodspeed too! “I’d take pleasure in guttin’ you…boy!! What is wrong with these people, huh?” Nice work. Always enjoy your lists.

  14. There was also Face off…National Treasure 1& 2, Gone in Sixty Seconds & Wind talkers who determines what the top Ten is, pitty about that crap Ghost rider 2 very average…

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