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10 best Nicolas Cage movies

Writer: Casey Chong


Nicolas Cage plays a former zoo worker-turned-freelance game hunter Frank Walsh in
Nick Powell's latest action thriller "Primal".

Nicolas Cage has a new movie out this year and it's called "Primal", but it shouldn't be a cause for celebration since we are getting a ton of Cage movies EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.


These days, while most of them are straight-up B-movies, the Cage of today is synonymous with mostly underground movies, so it's easy to forget that he used to be one of the most versatile actors who can alternate between appearing in independent and small-scale films and Hollywood blockbusters.

In case you need a refresher, here are the 10 best Nicolas Cage movies in alphabetical order.

1) "Adaptation" (2002

Here is Nicolas Cage and Nicolas Cage in "Adaptation".

It's hard to think of anyone else other than Nicolas Cage fitting in like a glove in playing dual roles as Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Spike Jonze's "Adaptation", which centres on the screenwriter (with Cage playing the real-life Charlie Kaufman) struggling from writer's block while trying to adapt Susan Orlean's "The Orchid Thief" for the screen. What follows next is something that you have to experience it yourself. This fascinatingly strange yet oddly hilarious meta comedy-drama is truly one of its kind, with Spike Jonze at the top form after the equally meta-excellent "Being John Malkovich" three years prior. Cage, of course, delivers one of the finest performances in his career and even received a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actor, even though he lost to Adrien Brody for "The Pianist".

2) Con Air (1997

Nicolas Cage and his unforgettable mullet in "Con Air".

1997 was no doubt a banner year for Nicolas Cage, particularly in terms of ruling the box office during the crowded summer season. First up is Simon West's "Con Air", which features a ridiculously over-the-top but fun concept of "a plane full of dangerous convicts where Nicolas Cage happens to be one of the prisoners", except for the fact, he's not a serial killer or a rapist, but actually a former U.S. Ranger who ends up killing a drunken man for attacking his pregnant wife Tricia (Monica Potter). While the story itself takes some time to find its proper footing, "Con Air" manages to deliver all the essential popcorn-heavy escapist fun of a summer movie: Cage being the unlikely hero (and is complete with his mullet hairstyle!), colourful antagonists (John Malkovich particularly steals most of the show here as the scenery-chewing Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom), well-staged action sequences (the climactic chase involving police motorcycles and a fire truck through the streets of Las Vegas quickly comes to mind) and of course... who could forget that memorable love theme, "How Do I Live"?

3) Face/Off (1997

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in a classic John Woo action mode in "Face/Off".

Released just a few weeks after "Con Air", Nicolas Cage finds himself in another high-concept action thriller where suspension of disbelief is a must to enjoy the movie to the fullest. That movie in question is "Face/Off", easily the best John Woo movie ever made in the US. The premise itself is the kind that Hollywood loves to crank out for the summer-movie tentpole during the 90s: Nic plays a wanted terrorist, Castor Troy, while John Travolta takes on the role as FBI agent Sean Archer, who is hell bent to bring him down at all cost. He does successfully arrest Castor at the beginning, except with a glaring hiccup: Sean is still unable to locate the hidden nerve-gas bomb planted somewhere in Los Angeles city. To make things worst, Castor ends up in a long coma while his younger brother Pollux (Alessandro Nivola) refuses to reveal the location. With time running out, the only thing Sean can do is to undergo an unorthodox facial transplant surgery where he assumes both of the identity and physical appearance of Castor Troy.

Radical? You bet and that's the beauty of it. John Woo completely embraced the over-the-top storyline with enough B-movie sensibilities and distinctive visual flair. The latter is where he excels the most -- the obligatory stylised two-gun action set pieces staged in an elaborate balletic motion as well as the thrilling, climactic speedboat chase scene. At the heart of the movie is some of Nicolas Cage and John Travolta's most entertaining performances to date in their respective careers.

4) Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue in a scene from "Leaving Las Vegas".

Hollywood certainly has its fair shares of dramas and comedies involving alcoholism. This includes the likes of Billy Wilder's "The Lost Weekend" (1945), Barbet Schroeder's "Barfly" (1987), Betty Thomas' "28 Days" (2000) and Robert Zemeckis' "Flight" (2002). Of course, no movies about alcoholism would be complete without nary a mention of Mike Figgis' "Leaving Las Vegas", where Nicolas Cage plays a down-and-out Hollywood screenwriter Ben Sanderson who just wants to drink himself to death. It was no doubt a depressing movie but Figgis manages to bring the best out of his two lead actors including Cage and his co-star Elisabeth Shue. Both of them earned their respective Oscar nominations in the acting category, with Cage famously earning his memorable Best Actor victory.

5) "Lord Of War" (2005)

Nicolas Cage plays both the voiceover and protagonist, international arms dealer,
Yuri Orlov in "Lord Of War".

Despite the title, "Lord Of War" can be described as one of those Hollywood oddities of a film that actually works in its favour. Written and directed by Andrew Niccol (best known for his work in 1997's "Gattaca"), the movie is best described as a blend of an international action-adventure with a pitch-black satire about the global arms trade. And if that's not enough, it is actually inspired by the actual events with Nicolas Cage leading the role of a Ukrainian-born but Brooklyn-raised gunrunner Yuri Orlov. Cage is undoubtedly among the highlight of this movie, giving a first-rate acting performance as well as his equally memorable sarcastic voiceover. The movie is also best known for its one-of-the-kind opening sequence involving the birth of a single bullet from making its first appearance on a factory conveyor belt to ending up penetrating through the brain of an innocent young boy.

6) "Matchstick Men" (2003)

Nicolas Cage plays a con man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder in "Matchstick Men".

It's kind of a pity that Ridley Scott's crime comedy "Matchstick Men" didn't receive enough love from the audiences, even though the movie was a critical darling. So, it comes to no surprise that "Matchstick Men" belongs to a more lesser-known picture in Ridley Scott's otherwise illustrious filmography. The movie itself involves a con-man veteran Roy Waller (Nicolas Cage) who suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He operates alongside his younger protégé, Frank (Sam Rockwell) and everything seems to be under control until one day, Roy's regular shrink disappears all of the sudden. With no medication to control his severe disorder, his only alternative is to attend numerous therapy sessions and talk about his issues to Dr Klein (Bruce Altman), a psychiatrist recommended by Frank himself. And to make things worse, Roy suddenly needs to deal with the unexpected arrival of his teenage daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman). "Matchstick Men" showcases some of the actor's best performances in their career including Cage's pitch-perfect as the OCD con man as well as Rockwell's solid support and Alison Lohman's then-breakout role playing the estranged daughter of Roy Waller.

7) "Raising Arizona" (1987)

Nicolas Cage and Holly Hunter in a scene from "Raising Arizona".

If there's one funny performance that Nicolas Cage is truly good at, the simple answer would be the Coen brothers' quirky sophomore effort, "Raising Arizona". Cage plays an incompetent small-time crook H.I. McDonnough, in which he and his prison-officer wife (Holly Hunter's Edwina) find themselves entangled in a madcap journey involving stealing a baby. Propelled by Coen brothers' cheerfully irreverent plot and colourful supporting roles (both John Goodman and William Forsythe's escaped convict roles along with Randall "Tex" Cobb's portrayal of a bounty hunter all deserved special mentions here), "Raising Arizona" is one of the co-directors' finest efforts to date.

8) "Red Rock West" (1993)

Nicolas Cage and Lara Flynn Boyle in the scene from "Red Rock West".

Remember back in the day when John Dahl used to make great neo-noir thrillers in the 90s? Well, one of them happens to be "Red Rock West" which starred Nicolas Cage as a down-on-his-luck drifter who gets himself caught in a web of intrigue involving Lara Flynn Boyle's Suzanne and Dennis Hopper's Lyle. John Dahl and Rick Dahl's script is a clever homage to the classic film noir of the yesteryears with an entertaining mistaken-identity twist. It was a prime example of how an excellent neo-noir thriller should be, even though "Red Rock West" fell mostly under the radar in the US box-office. Cage is perfectly cast as the victim of circumstances here while Lara Flynn Boyle delivers solid support as the fetching femme fatale and Dennis Hopper's sly portrayal of a Texan hitman role deserves praise as well.

9) "The Rock" (1996)

Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery in a scene from "The Rock".

Back in the mid-1990s, who could have thought that the otherwise eccentric and unconventional Nicolas Cage was capable of pulling off an action-oriented role? Sure, he plays a geeky chemist in "The Rock" but beyond that, his Stanley Goodspeed character happens to be quite a convincing action hero. One of Michael Bay's best action movies before he went overboard with his ego in the bloated "Pearl Harbor" as well as his future "Transformers" franchise, "The Rock" pairs Cage's Stanley Goodspeed and Sean Connery's ex-con John Patrick Mason to infiltrate the Alcatraz prison, where a group of rogue U.S. Marines led by General Francis X. Hummel (Ed Harris, giving a spot-on antagonist role) threatens to poison San Francisco with a nerve gas attack. The movie benefits greatly from memorable buddy-movie pairing of Nicolas Cage and Sean Connery, while Bay showcases some of his best technical skills in the action department. This is particularly evident during the memorable car chase between a Ferrari and a Humvee through the hilly streets of San Francisco.

10) "Wild At Heart" (1990)

Nicolas Cage plays the snakeskin jacket-clad Sailor Ripley in "Wild At Heart".

Making a weird love story that pairs Nicolas Cage and director David Lynch is like a match made in heaven, and that's what "Wild At Heart" exactly delivers, which stars Cage as the Elvis-obsessed, snakeskin jacket-clad Sailor Ripley (I kid you not, that is really the name of his character). Lynch also slipped in the road-movie genre, as "Wild At Heart" takes Sailor and his girlfriend Lula (Laura Dern) on a surreal cross-country journey filled with eccentric characters (among them is Willem Dafoe's pitch-perfect, crazed-killer role as Bobby Peru). Like most David Lynch films, "Wild At Heart" is certainly not for everyone but those who are game enough for something radically different would find this movie a subtle blend of pitch-black comedy with the classic Lynchian territory.

Cinema Online, 19 November 2019


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