In honor of Nicolas Cage week, we've been sifting through the man's prepostorously long filmography in order to determine the ten best and worst films he's appeared in. This is no simple task. The highs are some of the better movies of the past few decades, and the lows are -- well, they're pretty low. As the man turns 47 years old today, we can only hope that the next four-plus decades are filled with an array of his movies as wildly uneven as the first.
When compiling the list, we tried to focus mostly on the Cage's more noteworthy performances -- so, even though it was awesome in its own right, his cameo in 'Fast Times At Ridgmont High' doesn't qualify for a spot on the "best" list. We also limited it to movies we'd actually seen, meaning that 'Season of The Witch,' which opens today, also doesn't count. (Cage told us this week that the script was "marvelous," so who knows?) Nonetheless, if you disagree with some of our picks, let us know in the comments.
10. 'Valley Girl'
The movie that launched Cage's career, 'Valley Girl' is responsible for the past 28 years of Nicolas Cage glory. His first time on screen, he gets described as a "hunk," which set the stage for Cage's early career. Regardless, his turn as the L.A. punk rocker who falls for the well-heeled, titular Valley Girl was a worthy beginning.
9. 'The Weather Man'
If all you knew about this 2005 film was that it was directed by 'Pirates Of The Caribbean' maestro Gore Verbinski, starred Nicolas Cage as a character who carried around a bow and arrow, and was called 'The Weather Man,' you would be forgiven for assuming that it was about an evil, weather-controlling wizard brought down by a warrior played by Cage (with Michael Caine as his mentor, obviously). Instead, it's a quirky, indie-style dramedy in which Cage stars as a TV weatherman with a troubled, but charming, family life, whose interest in archery is mostly inspired by an interest in keeping people from throwing milkshakes on him as he walks down the street. We kind of prefer it the way that it is.
Cage's first time receiving awards consideration (he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Actor) saw him successfully pull off a fairly ridiculous accent and believably appear to be attracted to Cher. The movie was also one of the first major hits of Cage's career, helping elevate him to the level of stardom he'd eventually achieve.
7. 'The Rock'
Part of the tension of Cage's career has been his interest in both artsy, challenging fare and high-profile popcorn pictures. That became immediately pronounced when he followed up his Oscar-winning turn in 'Leaving Las Vegas' with a starring role in Michael Bay's follow-up to 'Bad Boys.' But while some of Cage's more commercial choices have been on the schlocky side, 'The Rock' is a pretty genuinely great example of mid-90's action filmmaking. He holds his own with Sean Connery here -- even if he's not as insanely ripped in this movie as he is in 'Con Air,' the Jerry Bruckheimer production that he starred in immediately after this one.
6. 'Honeymoon In Vegas'
Surprisingly, the first time Nicolas Cage and Bruno Mars appeared in the same film wasn't in the fevered imaginations of people who'd spent too much time reading Popeater -- it was in this well-beloved early-90's romantic comedy, where Cage starred opposite Sarah Jessica Parker. (An adorable, 6-year old Mars had a cameo as "Young Elvis.") The movie's at least half as famous for its ending -- which featured a gaggle of skydiving Elvis impersonators -- as it is for Cage's performance, but the highest praise he may receive in his career is that he is worthy of appearing in the same film as the epic contingent of skydiving Elvises. (If that's not enough, he also nabbed another Golden Globe nomination.)
5. 'Wild At Heart'
The second entry in the trio of Las Vegas-themed Nicolas Cage movies, 'Wild At Heart' is another strong performance that reveals an important facet of Cage's appeal -- visionary directors want to work with him. This time out, he worked with the divisive David Lynch on a film that at least half of our readers would probably place on the "worst" list. We've got it here, though, because of Cage's deeply affected performance that delivers exactly what the director asked of him.
One thing Cage hasn't been renowned for throughout his career is subtlety. However, that's because, in most movies, he's not playing the same character (two of the same characters, actually) as John Travolta. Thrown into sharp relief by the comparison to the hammiest living movie star (in one of his hammiest roles, no less), Cage shines in 'Face/Off' as both Castor Troy and Sean Archer, turning in his finest performance in an action movie.
3. 'Leaving Las Vegas'
The role that got Cage his first win at the Golden Globes, also brought him an Oscar. It's also depressing as all hell, thanks in large part to the humanity Cage brings to the character of the pathetic alcoholic on a mission to drink himself to death.
We've already highlighted the twitchy, neurotic performance that Cage gives in this Spike Jonze/Charlie Kaufman picture once this week, in which he plays screenwriter Kaufman and his fictional brother. There's more to say about it, but instead let's focus on his hair in this one, which is possibly the most compelling hairdo Cage ever sported on screen. The movie is outstanding, and it's a Cage performance without peer, but it's been gushed over so many times that we're left staring at his hair and thinking -- "Brilliant."
1. 'Raising Arizona'
There are an endless number of things to admire about Cage's signature role in this collaboration with the Coen Brothers, but even if the only truly great thing about it were the scene where he steals the diapers, it'd probably warrant the number one spot. Cage is rarely utilized as a physical comedian, but in 'Raising Arizona,' he delivers on that level, as well as on every other level he attempts -- and in this weirdly ambitious comedy, that ranges from charming nice-guy goofiness to some real emotional moments.
10. 'Trapped In Paradise'
It's a very particular kind of bad performance when an actor is co-starring in a movie alongside Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey, and he gives the least believable and naturalistic performance, but maybe the opportunity to play it that way is what attracted Cage to his role in the mid-90's Christmas caper flick 'Trapped In Paradise?'
9. 'Bangkok Dangerous'
Moviegoers leaving the theater after watching 'Bangkok Dangerous' were not being unreasonable if they questioned whether or not Nicolas Cage ever learned how to read, or if he selected his projects by playing Jenga with his script stacks and choosing the first one to topple. Other valid questions involved a Wesley Snipes-level of possible back taxes or reams of blackmail-level photos. Our explanation? He took the part because he was so stoked about the haircut he'd be wearing in the film. Nothing else makes any more sense.
8. 'Amos & Andrew'
When a comedy intended to take on race relations, starring Nicolas Cage and Samuel L. Jackson is released with the title 'Amos & Andrew,' one thing is fairly likely: at some point in the picture, Nic Cage is going to be in blackface. The movie isn't exactly offensive, but it's certainly misguided, and Cage's performance as the bungling white trash burglar Amos isn't a high point. On the bright side, the Sir Mix-A-Lot song from the soundtrack does recount the movie's entire plot, so if you're curious about it now, you can just listen to him rap "Suburbian Nightmare" instead of queuing up the whole movie on Netflix.
Sometimes Hollywood math doesn't work like real math. The equation "John Woo + Nicolas Cage - John Travolta + Christian Slater x World War II" should end "= AWESOME." Instead, it equals heavy-handed, cliched schlock that doesn't even come close to Woo and Cage's first collaboration, despite being Travolta-free. Check out Cage's death sequence for proof. (Spoiler: Cage's character dies.)
Director Alex Proyas made three deeply compelling science fiction movies -- 'The Crow,' 'Dark City,' and 'I, Robot,' -- before apparently getting hooked on 'Lost' and recruiting Nicolas Cage to make this pile of nonsense. Sadly, 'Knowing' came out alongside two of Cage's more underrated recent works, 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans' and 'Kick-Ass,' but in lieu of the sort of compelling performance he gave in those movies, he instead just shouts mystical mumbo-jumbo a bunch.
5. 'Ghost Rider'
Ultimately, there are two kinds of movies based on Marvel Comics: Ones that are faithful to the source material and compelling in their own right, and ones that have Mark Steven Johnson's name on them. 'Ghost Rider' is of the latter variety, but Cage -- who famously toiled for years to get a crack at the role of Superman -- was so desperate to play a superhero that he took the part anyway. With cringeworthy lines ("I feel like my skull's on fire, but I'm good!") peppering the script, Cage's performance as Johnny Blaze, the titular hero's alter-ego, only rises above "wooden" to reach "cringeworthy."
4. 'Snake Eyes'
Following 'Face/Off,' Cage began a 5-year tear of mediocre-to-bad movies that he wouldn't break until finally reminding people why they used to like him with 'Adaptation.' 'Snake Eyes' was the start of that, and the only clearly memorable thing about the movie is Cage's absurdly loud shirt for the first half, which he seemed determine to render muted by overacting so egregiously that you can't pay attention to anything other than his big stupid face.
3. 'City of Angels'
After earning $200 million worldwide in its initial release, launching the Goo Goo Dolls into stratospheric (albeit short-lived) success based on the strength of the song "Iris" from the movie's 5x platinum soundtrack, and replacing the passion of Wim Wenders''Wings Of Desire' with a treakly mushiness in this remake, Cage would go on to never ever star as a leading man in a romance ever again ever. That's about the only thing it has going for it.
2. 'National Treasure: Book Of Secrets'
The first 'National Treasure' is a surprising, family-friendly gem of a Disney adventure movie, with Cage getting his Indiana Jones on alongside Harvey Keitel and Jon Voigt. Its sequel, by comparison, is a disappointing mess. The reason this one is ranked so high is that, while there was no reason to ever suspect 'Ghost Rider' or 'Amos & Andrew' might be good, 'National Treasure: Book Of Secrets' had everything going for it. Except for Cage's performance, its incoherent script, and the nonsensical plot. Stay tuned for the inevitable sequel in 2011!
1. 'The Wicker Man'
If you've been paying attention to Internet memes for the past few years, then you're almost certainly familiar with the so-bad-it's-hilarious "How'd it get burned??!?" clip from this 2006 Neil LaBute thriller. What you may not be aware of is that Cage's performance in that scene is actually about as good as he got in this unspeakable mess. 'The Wicker Man' is a strong contender for the worst movie out of all the movies Cage -- or anyone else -- ever made, and his performance is a very big part of why that is. Even John Travolta, while watching this in the theater, was probably thinking to himself, "Dude, turn it down a notch, okay?"
And check out our week of Nicolas Cage coverage:
Monday -- 47 Facts About Nicolas Cage
Tuesday -- In Defense of Nicolas Cage
Wednesday -- Nicolas Cage Q+A
Thursday -- The Evolution of Nicolas Cage & 'Season of the Witch' X-box Kinect Giveaway
Friday -- 10 Best and 10 Worst Nicolas Cage Movies