The 25 Best Nicolas Cage Movies

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The 25 Best Nicolas Cage Movies

The reclamation of Nicolas Cage is in full swing. After the internet rabidly devoured the actor’s most expressionistic performances (the odd faces and bizarre enunciations of Face/Off and Vampire’s Kiss) as GIFs and YouTube videos during the same low period that saw him slumming in a slew of terrible direct-to-video thrillers, Cage has been on an upswing for the past few years. With these new films, it’s easy to remember the Cage of the mid-1980s and 1990s, when he starred in critical darlings for some of the world’s best filmmakers and topped the box office—sometimes multiple times a year. Pig sees Cage getting some of the best reviews of his career, but it’s worth looking back at the varied and impressive filmography of a man who’s more than a meme. An actor who’s always looking to push himself, to find something artistic and unexpected and bold. Though there have been ups and downs (and whatever the hell he was trying to pull in Never on Tuesday), Cage has been making his mark for decades as one of our most entertaining and ambitious screen presences.

Today we take a look at the 25 best Nicolas Cage movies.


25. Prisoners of the Ghostland

prisoners-of-the-ghostland-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Sion Sono
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sofia Boutella, Nick Cassavetes, Bill Mosely, Tak Sakaguchi
Rating: NR
Runtime: 103 minutes

A little less than halfway through Sion Sono’s Prisoners of the Ghostland, Nicolas Cage, swathed and winched within a black leather bodysuit as much The Road Warrior as it is Scorpio Rising, literalizes the overindulgence that’s both vaunted his myth and socked him in the groin for the past 15-or-so-odd years. I’m unsure how long it’s been—we all are, because we remember nothing different, even the absurd notion that he’s an Oscar-winning performer who smoothly moved into action-adventures and then slipped dramatically on a banana peel into financially motivated VOD bacchanalia. All part of the well-known mystique. Where did this begin? Was it with Next and Bangkok Dangerous in 2008, the year of his worst-looking hair, as he ground down his hero persona into bland paste, or do we go back further, to the remake of The Wicker Man and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, both in 2006, to search for the first signs, the initial threads of his undoing? As is the case with many men in his field, time cannot be read on his face. Or in his hairline. Has he always been like this? Will he? Nicolas Cage, our scion of the American spirit on screen—much too game, fearless, ill-advised, hair-dyed—here he displays a new kind of vulnerability, a bloodletting of his most personal bits, so to speak. The moment is gross and seems unimaginably painful. Sono plays it as a punchline. In the middle of the nowhere of Prisoners of the Ghostland is Samurai Town, a typical old west locale that’s little more than an extravagant main street festooned with an alchemy of genre tropes. Geishas beckon and pose behind glass and elaborate masks as samurai and cowboys and samurai cowboys drool and drink and fight and fill the hybrid reality with cinematic shorthand. Hero (Cage), imprisoned for a bank heist years before that still haunts him, receives an ultimatum and a quest from local creepy crime boss the Governor (Bill Mosely) in exchange for his freedom. Shackled with explosives around his neck, wrists, thighs, and balls, the leather bodysuit his super-anti-hero get-up, Hero must venture into the apocalyptic Ghostland to retrieve Bernice (Sophia Boutella), the Governor’s beloved “daughter.” Though Sono seems to prefer style and genre to fill in for major worldbuilding, Prisoners of the Ghostland doles out surprisingly clear exposition—enough, at least, to understand the stakes and care about who lives or who (grotesquely, we can only hope) dies. Like John Carpenter, Sono can, at his best, match style and substance to craft what feels like a perfect object. At his less powerful, in something like the vulgar musical Tokyo Tribe, his visual conceits can get so dense the film becomes lost in a self-contained loop of allusion and homage. Fortunately, writers Aaron Henry and Reza Sixo Safai anchor Sono’s sensibilities in the machismo and cold war paranoia of ‘80s action behemoths. In his English language debut, the director’s invested in his silver screen maven—all of this man, his past and present and future—without giving too easily into Cage’s self-destructive self-awareness. Regardless, he hoots and slinks and mean-mugs his way through Sono’s Ghostland, his instincts as an American actor, alone in his ivory tower head of actorly actorliness, poltergeisting every inch of this lovely and bonkers movie. He has the potential to be breathtaking.—Dom Sinacola


24. Peggy Sue Got Married

peggy-sue-got-married-poster.jpg Year: 1986
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Kathleen Turner, Nicolas Cage, Barry Miller, Catherine Hicks
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 103 minutes

Released less than a year after Back to the Future, Coppola’s take on the high school time travel yarn taps into a lot more hormonal ambiguity than Zemeckis’s hit. After suffering through a bitter separation with ex-high-school-sweetheart Charlie (Nicolas Cage), Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) faints at her high school reunion and wakes up in 1960, seemingly transported back to the most transformative year of her life. Through a series of clever events that fall somewhere between fantasy fulfillment and science fiction, Peggy Sue eventually comes to accept that she has, in fact, gone back in time. She considers this anomaly the perfect chance to re-do her life, but soon finds that her future—er, present—is not necessarily negotiable. Where Coppola tops the near-unflappable Zemeckis joint is in nailing that bittersweet something that makes nostalgia so appealing. It doesn’t matter whether Peggy Sue could have drastically changed her future or not—what matters is that she chooses not to. And yes, that is Jim Carrey.


23. Snowden

Snowden232x345.jpg
Year: 2016
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shailene Woodley, Melissa Leo, Zachary Quinto, Tom Wilkinson, Scott Eastwood, Logan Marshall-Green, Timothy Olyphant, Ben Schnetzer, LaKeith Stanfield, Rhys Ifans, Nicolas Cage
Rating: R
Runtime: 134 minutes

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s performance is key to Snowden’s place in Stone’s oeuvre as another exceptional take on the nature of heroism. It’s every bit as complicated and ambiguous as Stone’s previous films on the subject, but the complexity is all internal—from Stone’s point of view, there’s no real questioning the fact that Snowden is a patriot and a hero. The questioning comes from within, as Snowden becomes less a film about heroism than about the physical and psychic costs of heroism—and whether or not they’re worth it. Stone and his actors (not just Gordon-Levitt, but Shailene Woodley, superb in an essential role as the woman Snowden loves) mine this material so thoroughly that when Snowden does allow itself moments of triumph, they’re completely earned. This may be Stone’s most genuinely inspiring film since Born on the Fourth of July and his most poignant and romantic next to World Trade Center. Yet it’s also, at times, his bleakest work, a chilling horror film about the surveillance state under which we all live. That all of these tones—and a wide array in between—can exist coherently in the same film is indicative of Snowden’s success. It’s one of the best movies Stone has ever made.—Jim Hemphill


22. Vampire’s Kiss

vampires-kiss-poster.jpg Year: 1988
Director: Robert Bierman
Stars: Nicolas Cage, María Conchita Alonso, Jennifer Beals, Elizabeth Ashley
Rating: R
Runtime: 103 minutes

Nicolas Cage is never more Nicolas Cage than in this dark comedy, as a hard-working, hard-partying literary agent who believes his latest one-night stand (Jennifer Beals) has bitten him. We see that yuppie Peter Loew is already mentally unstable, and his conviction in his new vampirism makes matters worse, right down to his buying a pair of plastic teeth when he fails to develop fangs naturally. Then there’s the cult image of Cage maniacally ingesting a real cockroach. (The bug-eating trait is usually a Renfield thing, for Stoker fans keeping score at home.) One man’s demented camp is another’s profound stupidity, and Vampire’s Kiss is Cage’s (shit)show, with solid, if thankless assists from Beals, Maria Conchita Alonso, Kasi Lemmons and Elizabeth Ashley as Loew’s incredulous shrink. There’s a certain absurdist glee in watching Cage indulge his full crazy (all this, before the actor went on a late ‘00s haunted house- and castle-buying spree), even if his trademark scenery-chewing erraticism feels a tad stale at this point. For better or worse, there’s nothing half-assed about this all-in ridiculousness. —Amanda Schurr


21. Joe

joe.jpg Year: 2014
Director: David Gordon Green
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan
Rating: R
Runtime: 117 minutes

Director David Gordon Green’s Joe is a poetic, unexpectedly tender slice of underclass drama that also exudes a certain kind of metaphorical connection to the low-lying fog of economic desperation that presently holds so many in its grip. An adaptation of the late Larry Brown’s 1991 novel of the same name, Green’s film centers on Gary (Tye Sheridan), a 15-year-old Texas kid whose father (Gary Poulter) is a shiftless, alcoholic lout. Near-homeless and hungry, both figuratively and literally, Gary hooks a job with Joe Ransom (Nicolas Cage), a strong-willed ex-convict who isn’t really a role model but—out of necessity and by degrees—begins to assume that mantle. Not entirely unlike Prince Avalanche, Green’s previous film, Joe is a work of plaintive portraiture and, broadly speaking, a movie about confused men finding their way in the world. Cage and Sheridan have a great rapport, and the veteran actor in particular delivers a magnetic, dialed-in performance, his most layered of the last several years.—Brent Simon


20. Birdy

birdy-poster.jpg Year: 1984
Director: Alan Parker
Stars: Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage
Rating: R
Runtime: 120 minutes

Alan Parker’s William Wharton adaptation captures trauma and ennui as a lyrical and sometimes melodramatic two-hander between childhood friends and Vietnam vets played by Matthew Modine and Nicolas Cage. Modine’s “Birdy” is obsessed with pigeons, flight and all the freedom which they represent. Cage’s Al provides an opposite yet supportive earthiness: He’s a man of sex, cars and suppressed emotions. Their confrontations in a mental hospital, where Birdy remains as a silent captive after going MIA, reflect their teenage relationship and their ongoing responses to the horrors they were forced into—not to mention the less-than-warm welcome that was waiting for them when they returned. Parker’s film paints its initially broad symbols and characters with nuanced colors, letting his actors fill in the details with deeply felt chemistry and embodied tics. Ambitious in its examination of masculinity and unconcerned with how its seriousness is received, Birdy is stimulating enough to keep us following along as Modine and Cage make a powerful case for its drama until the very end.—Jacob Oller


19. Teen Titans Go! to the Movies

teen-titans-go-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Aaron Horvath, Peter Rida Michail
Stars: Greg Cipes, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage
Rating: PG
Runtime: 92 minutes

With Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, the long-running Cartoon Network series joins the ranks of still-running animated series that were deemed popular enough to get a movie of their very own. Much like The Simpsons Movie and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, the show’s creators use the opportunity to distill and put on display what has made the show so popular in the first place. The result is one of the funniest “superhero” films of the year, and one that allows Robin and company to join Deadpool—Statler and Waldorf style—on the balcony poking fun at the clichés, blindspots and foibles of the current Big Genre on Campus. When Teen Titans Go! debuted on Cartoon Network in 2013, its chibi design, juvenile humor and overall zany approach drew mixed reactions from fans of the source material. For some, it stemmed from the disappointment of not getting a renewed “serious” series. (The original Teen Titans animated series had ended seven years earlier.) For others, the succession of booty jokes—or any joke hammered at relentlessly for 10-11 minutes—quickly grew tiresome. In Teen Titans Go! to the Movies, creators Michael Jelenic and Aaron Horvath pull off what we’ll call a “reverse-Hobbit,” showing how the characters from those 11-minute bursts of mayhem stand up just fine to the “rigor” of an 88-minute theatrical release. (Granted, they have more than 200 episodes to draw from and no dearth of tired tropes to target.) The premise of “Robin wants his own movie. What must he do to get one?” is all the framework directors Horvath and Peter Rida Michail need to support a sustained skewering of the current frenzy of superhero moviemaking.—Michael Burgin


18. World Trade Center

world-trade-center-poster.jpg Year: 2006
Director: Oliver Stone
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Michael Peña, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello, Stephen Dorff, Jay Hernandez, Michael Shannon
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 129 minutes

Part of what makes World Trade Center good is simply that, just five years after 9/11, Oliver Stone was able to make a film about the attacks that actually…worked. There’s something impressive in and of itself that the unlikely human-level drama, led by Nicolas Cage at his most successfully somber and fatherly, doesn’t get bogged down by Stone’s usual infatuation with controversy. By keeping the film focused on ground-level Port Authority cops and those that dug them out of the South Tower’s rubble, Stone and writer Andrea Berloff find a relatively universal angle on a politically weaponized event. Cage and Michael Peña are representative of a nation unbearably burdened by its suffocating fallout, as they attempt to bond and encourage each other through a harrowing ordeal. With its heroism focused on survival rather than any sort of gung-ho patriotism—more oriented around an empathetic response to disaster-level suffering than on dick-swinging geopolitical retribution—World Trade Center isn’t apolitical, but surprisingly and enjoyably emotional. That its excellent cast (including the likes of Michael Shannon, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jon Bernthal, Donna Murphy and Jay Hernandez) attracted stars to smaller roles on the strength of its subject only fleshes out the film’s corners. It’s an imperfect and sometimes sentimental film that, by narrowing its scope, zooms in on truly telling aspects of the American psyche.—Jacob Oller


17. Valley Girl

valley-girl-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: Martha Coolidge
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Deborah Foreman, Elizabeth Daily, Cameron Dye, Michelle Meyrink, Lee Purcell, Richard Sanders, Colleen Camp, Frederic Forrest
Rating: R
Runtime: 99 minutes

Long before Paul Thomas Anderson became the undisputed representative of the San Fernando Valley, Martha Coolidge’s silly slice of mid-’80s teen anthropology, Valley Girl, provided a snapshot of a style through two contrasting performances. Nicolas Cage’s wild-haired, fuck-you scum-punk Randy and Deborah Foreman’s prep-posterous post-hippy Julie have their star-crossed cross-town love affair in the heart of a shifting L.A. Showing flashes of his later whirling dervish brilliance, Cage exudes a stuffed-animal magnetism that’s just self-destructive enough to poke through his softly charming grin. Foreman’s pitch-perfect deliveries and class turmoil provide a winning foil, and their romance plays as well as the film’s best laughlines. Bolstered by a bangin’ soundtrack (“I Melt with You” owes plenty to the film) and some lovely location shots from around L.A., Valley Girl’s warmth overcomes its well-worn narrative.—Jacob Oller


16. Red Rock West

red-rock-west-poster.jpg Year: 1993
Director: John Dahl
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper, Lara Flynn Boyle, Timothy Carhart, J. T. Walsh
Rating: R
Runtime: 98 minutes

A key figure in the neo-noir renaissance of the early ’90s, John Dahl followed his promising if not-quite-there directorial debut Kill Me Again with the one-two punch of Red Rock West and, a year later, The Last Seduction. For its part, Red Rock West is a classic pulp throwback, scripted by Dahl and his brother Rick. Nicolas Cage, all denim-and-drawl in a tailor-made role if ever there were one, plays a Marine-turned-drifter who stumbles into the eponymous Wyoming town, and into a murder plot. Mistaken for a hitman by the hiring party (J.T. Walsh), he passes himself off as the assassin until he makes the acquaintance of his lovely target (Lara Flynn Boyle) and the real killer (Dennis Hopper). The list of plot twists grows long as the late-afternoon shadows, each double-cross bathed in a gorgeous wash of sun and aided by a twangy soundtrack. (Dwight Yoakam, who wrote a song for the film, shows up as a truck driver.) Red Rock West is terrific fun. It’s a confident, authentic entry in the modern canon that feels neither ironic nor like it’s trying too hard. —A.S.


15. Rumble Fish

rumble-fish-poster.jpg Year: 1983
Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Stars: Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke, Vincent Spano, Diane Lane, Diana Scarwid, Nicolas Cage, Dennis Hopper
Rating: R
Runtime: 94 minutes

There are a lot of reminders about time in Rumble Fish, from hauntingly beautiful black-and-white time-lapse photography to literal clocks appearing in almost every scene. They’re all there to remind Rusty James (Matt Dillon), a meathead thug going through an existential crisis in Francis Ford Coppola’s “art house teen movie,” that his carefree years as a shit-kicking teen are coming to an end. He’s staring down the ugly barrel of adulthood, and can see only two options: Either turn into a shiftless drunk like his father (Dennis Hopper) or become a disillusioned vagabond like his older brother, the legendary Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). As complex and inventive as Coppola’s vision for Rumble Fish is, it all comes down to a simple question: What if you figured out what your place in life is, and that place turns out to be a heaping pile of insignificance? Coming off of the box office failure of his ambitious musical One from the Heart, Coppola delivered a one-two punch of teen gang-oriented dramas in 1983. Even though both films were adapted from S.E. Hinton novels, they could not be more different in terms of stylistic and thematic approach. While The Outsiders was a throwback to the operatic Technicolor melodramas of Nicholas Ray, Rumble Fish is a grimy, smoky, grainy black-and-white vision of teenage refuse. The whole thing almost operates as a nightmare that one of the characters in The Outsiders would have. Out of all of Coppola’s work from this period, Rumble Fish is the one that comes closest to his original vision for Zoetrope Studios: Scrappy young filmmakers experimenting with the cinematic form without the pretense of commercial viability.—Oktay Ege Kozak


14. Leaving Las Vegas

leaving-las-vegas-poster.jpg Year: 1995
Director: Mike Figgis
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Elisabeth Shue
Rating: R
Runtime: 112 minutes

Housing the sole Oscar-winning performance from Nicolas Cage, the bleak Leaving Las Vegas is weird and committed enough that you don’t mind its hackneyed plot about a death-seeking boozehound screenwriter and the sex worker with a heart of gold here to watch him go. In fact, Elisabeth Shue’s turn as the hardened bar-trawler is perhaps even more impressive than Cage’s admittedly lived-in sloppiness. While the latter manages to turn his glassy eyes into doe’s, even after a blackjack table-flipping freakout made all the more disturbing by filmmaker Mike Figgis’ use of intense 16mm shooting, it’s the former that makes it all click. Shue’s crushed, guarded, tough-as-nails turn overcomes a character given very little. The stereotypical and iffy plotting keeps Leaving Las Vegas from being a truly great film, but the two-hander’s leads are so damn believable in their stock roles that—as probability dictates—the safe bet pays out.—Jacob Oller


13. Con Air

con-air-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: Simon West
Stars: Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Colm Meaney, Mykelti Williamson, Rachel Ticotin
Rating: R
Runtime: 123

A fear of flying is something that terrorizes more of us than we probably realize. However, nothing quite compares to sharing an aircraft with a handful of America’s most dangerous criminals. Such is the plot of 1997’s fabulously entertaining Con Air. An ensemble cast consisting of Nicolas Cage, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle, Danny Trejo and the tantalizing John Malkovich as Cyrus “the Virus” make for one hell of a ride, providing plenty of stellar action sequences and memorable one-liners.—Brian Tremml


12. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

bad-lieutenant-port-of-call-new-orleans-poster.jpg Year: 2009
Director: Werner Herzog
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge, Xzibit, Brad Dourif
Rating: R
Runtime: 122 minutes

Shot with wild-eyed lenses to truly capture the narcotic- and power-fueled cop at the heart of Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, this non-sequel is a staggering display of Nicolas Cage’s charisma in a workmanlike procedural. Initially, it seems like a bit of an odd bird: Herzog’s playfully dour direction and veteran TV writer William M. Finkelstein’s police drama script fizz and sparkle thanks to one of Cage’s best displays of mania, a few possibly-hallucinated iguanas and a pair of gators—one of which has already been turned into roadkill. But it all meshes together in a satisfyingly reptilian way, the cold-blooded and scaly id now physical and roaming the bayou. Cage smokes crack with Xzibit, busts the balls of Val Kilmer and watches football with a zonked-out Jennifer Coolidge. It’s a world of vice, as familiar yet inscrutable as the film’s bizarre title. The key players all make sense to your brain separately, but together, it’s a spiked cocktail and a bump in the bathroom—conflicting chemicals working in chaotic harmony. It can veer into stretches of unrefined silliness, but that’s part of the pitch-black fun. When you watch Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, you’re watching a cop drama with the saturation turned all the way up—where imagined lizards haunt coffee tables and souls breakdance until more bullets finally end the show. Maybe it’s no coincidence that Finkelstein co-created Cop Rock.—Jacob Oller


11. The Trust

the-trust-poster.jpg Year: 2016
Director: Alex and Ben Brewer
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Elijah Wood, Jerry Lewis, Sky Ferreira
Rating: R
Runtime: 93 minutes

A pair of cops played by Elijah Wood and Nicolas Cage walk into a bar. Cage puts hot sauce on one of those lemon slices you get in your water and eats it. Wood, bullied into doing the same, is disgusted. “That tastes good to you?” he asks. “No,” replies Cage, deadpan. End scene. That’s the smallest taste of what directors Alex and Ben Brewer make the pair do as they explore the bizarre duo’s wonderful comic chemistry during the underrated indie The Trust. A heist movie with a specific, strange tone more evocative of Riley Stearns’ work than of Cage’s string of straight-to-VOD non-thrillers, the two leads see their friendship tested while we soak up every drop of their brilliant, hilarious and often tense antics. It also boasts the honor of being the last movie Jerry Lewis ever filmed, which gives a fittingly dry single-scene showcase to the legendary comic. Brisk and winning, it’s the perfect kind of low-key indie gem riding on the backs of its game stars.—Jacob Oller


10. Mandy

mandy-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Director: Panos Cosmatos
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Andrea Riseborough, Linus Roache, Ned Dennehy, Olwen Fouéré, Richard Brake, Bill Duke
Rating: NR
Runtime: 121 minutes

More than an hour in, the film’s title appears, growing lichen-like, sinister and near-illegible, as all great metal album covers are. The name and title card—Mandy—immediately follows a scene in which our hero forges his own Excalibur: A glistening, deformed axe adorned with pointy and vaguely erotic edges and appurtenances, the stuff of H.R. Giger’s wettest dreams. Though Red (Nicolas Cage) could use, and pretty much does use, any weapon at hand to avenge the brutal murder of his titular love (Andrea Riseborough), he still crafts that beautiful abomination as ritual, infusing his quest for revenge with dark talismanic magic, compelled by Bakshi-esque visions of Mandy to do her bidding on the corporeal plane. He relishes the ceremony and succumbs to the rage that will push him to some intensely extreme ends. We know almost nothing about his past before he met Mandy, but we can tell he knows his way around a blunt, deadly object. So begins Red’s unhinged murder spree, phantasmagoric and gloriously violent. A giant bladed dildo, a ludicrously long chainsaw, a hilarious pile of cocaine, spiked LSD, an oracular chemist, a tiger, more than one offer of sex—Red encounters each as if it’s the rubble of a waking nightmare, fighting or consuming all of it. Every shot of Mandy reeks of shocking beauty, stylized at times to within an inch of its intelligibility, but endlessly pregnant with creativity and control, euphoria and pain, clarity and honesty and the ineffable sense that director Panos Cosmatos knows exactly how and what he wants to subconsciously imprint into the viewer. Still, Mandy is a revenge movie, and a revenge movie has to satiate the audience’s bloodlust. Cosmatos bathes Red (natch) in gore, every kill hard won and subcutaneously rewarding. There is no other film this year that so effectively feeds off of the audience’s anger, then sublimates it, releasing it without allowing it to go dangerously further. We need this kind of retribution now; we’re all furious with the indifferent unfairness of a world and a life and a society, of a government, that does not care about us. That does not value our lives. Mandy is our revenge movie. Watch it big. Watch it loud. Watch yourself exorcized on screen. —Dom Sinacola


9. National Treasure

national-treasure-poster.jpg Year: 2004
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Harvey Keitel, Jon Voight, Diane Kruger, Sean Bean, Justin Bartha, Christopher Plummer
Rating: PG
Runtime: 131 minutes

The Nicolas Cage touchpoint of a generation, National Treasure gave the actor his first franchise-ready role at age 40. Who could’ve guessed it would be as a man that had to steal the Declaration of Independence? Aside from providing some of the most quotable and silly Cage lines, it’s also a rip-roaring adventure movie that’s been so stuffed with American history trivia by screenwriting duo Cormac and Marianne Wibberley that it’s become a go-to for substitute history teachers or post-exam pizza days. Scene-munching supporting performances from Justin Bartha and a villainous Sean Bean (who miraculously survives the film’s various setpieces and shootouts) are simply extra stars spangling this beautifully silly banner. Indiana Jones riffs rarely carve such a successful path for themselves.—Jacob Oller


8. The Rock

the-rock-poster.jpg Year: 1996
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Sean Connery, Ed Harris
Rating: R
Runtime: 126 minutes

With The Rock, Michael Bay’s then-burgeoning caliber as the new hotshot action director, Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer’s expertise in creating cinematic roller coaster rides, and Nicholas Cage and Sean Connery’s effortless charisma culminates in an explosive late ’90s action classic. Since The Rock came at the beginning stages of Bay’s career, he probably didn’t have the clout to change much of the screenplay, which in turn creates his most morally gray project to date. Instead of fighting against nameless and faceless foreign bad guys, the heroes go after a bunch of deadly rockets being held by a group of disgruntled U.S. soldiers led by General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris, who gives the best performance in any Bay film). This unfortunate scenario pits brother against brother, and even though the film takes appropriate glee out of every bullet and explosion that comes out of this ride, Bay gives this inner conflict a deftly balanced operatic outlet. Yes, it has its share of dumb dialogue, just like any other Bay project, but at least hearing a line as head-smackingly stupid as “Winners go home and fuck the prom queen” through Connery’s bearded Scottish mouth makes the whole thing worthwhile. The midpoint car chase sequence, complete with every ’90s car chase cliché you can possibly think of, is still Bay’s most impressive and entertaining sequence.—Oktay Ege Kozak


7. Face/Off

face-off-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1997
Director: John Woo
Stars: Nicolas Cage, John Travolta, Joan Allen, Gina Gershon, Alessandro Nivola, Colm Feore
Rating: R
Runtime: 139 minutes

One of the best action bonanzas of the ’90s begins with the murder of a small boy, and the following 130 brilliant, dove-dunked, borderline lysergic minutes do nothing to denounce the glorious shamelessness of those very first moments. Contrary to contemporary narratives, Nicolas Cage has always been a bit much, but as swaggering sociopath Castor Troy (and then as traumatized lawman Sean Archer), the Oscar-winning actor seems to realize that everything has been building to this Face/Off, that perhaps he had been put on this earth for the sake of this film, and that director John Woo—already an action maestro by this point with The Killer, Hardboiled and Hard Target—should be his Metatron, recording and overseeing this important time in the Realm of Humans. Similarly, John Travolta leans just as hard into his half of the two-hander, saddled with the added pressure of playing a bad guy who’s playing a dad who lasciviously stares at “his” own teenage daughter, encouraging her to smoke by basically flirting with her and, like most Travolta performances from the past 20 years, fails spectacularly to not make it weird. With a plot (FBI agent undergoes experimental face surgery to pretend to be super criminal in order to trick super criminal’s less-super criminal brother into revealing the location of a bomb) that makes way less sense as a Wikipedia synopsis than it does on-screen, Face/Off should be a disaster. And hoo boy is it ever—plus a landmark in action filmmaking.—Dom Sinacola


6. Bringing Out the Dead

bringing-out-the-dead-poster.jpg Year: 1999
Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, Ving Rhames, Tom Sizemore
Rating: R
Runtime: 121 minutes

A blisteringly dispiriting drama about the toll taken upon medical workers, Bringing Out the Dead naturally has plenty to say about martyrs and morality. Martin Scorsese isn’t letting anyone’s literal faith or that in the broken American healthcare system go unexamined. Nicolas Cage’s dead-eyed and desperate ambulance driver cycles through jaded partners (brilliantly painted by John Goodman, Ving Rhames and Tom Sizemore) as he tries to put some goddamn good into this seemingly godforsaken corner of New York. Will he be saved by Mary (Patricia Arquette), daughter of a heart attack patient? Or will he sink deeper into the hallucinatory madness that has already seemingly claimed everyone around him? Paul Schrader pens another sleazy and sad script as he adapts Joe Connelly’s novel, depicting the timeless twilight world of medical emergencies with all its grimy detail and psychological ghosts. All those night shoots were worth it: The film looks as nightmarish as it feels. It is a world of imperfection, a world of good intentions, a world just a phone call (or improbable, but not impossible, accident) away. Bringing Out the Dead is a movie about the end of life in its most harrowingly realistic form—where Narcan and mouth-to-mouth supersede spirituality—but Scorsese’s light-bringing touch and Cage’s nuanced performance offer the possibility of absolution at the end.—Jacob Oller


5. Moonstruck

moonstruck-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Norman Jewison
Stars: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia
Rating: PG
Runtime: 102 minutes

Snap out of it! A rom-com with a genuinely romantic sensibility (the hopeless kind), Moonstruck is an undeniably adorable comedy about chance, family and what it means to “settle.” Pragmatic widow Loretta (Cher) agrees to marry a nice sensible guy (Danny Aiello), but soon finds herself in a sitch with his passionate and mercurial younger brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage). Cher’s comedic chops are not insignificant, and the chemistry between her and Cage is great. The film has an incredible wealth of wonderful supporting performers (perhaps most notably Olympia Dukakis, who plays Cher’s mother). Norman Jewison’s directorial sensibility here might not qualify as “high art” but it’s a damn fine rom-com, with crackling dialogue, tons of energy and seductively likable characters: A paean to the joys and inevitable sorrows of dealing with your family, this film has spirit and smarts and soul. And a certain image of Cher in opera garb kicking a beer can up a silent Brooklyn street that one could be forgiven for characterizing as “iconic.” —Amy Glynn


4. Pig

pig-poster.jpg Year: 2021
Director: Michael Sarnoski
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Alex Wolff, Adam Arkin
Rating: R
Runtime: 92 minutes

In the forest outside Portland, a man’s pig is stolen. Rob (Nicolas Cage) is a witchy truffle forager that we learn used to be a chef—a Michelin-starred Baba Yaga, a gastronomical Radagast—who sells his pig’s findings to sustain his isolated life. What follows is not a revenge thriller. This is not a porcine Taken. Pig, the ambitious debut of writer/director Michael Sarnoski, is a blindsiding and measured treatise on the masculine response to loss. Featuring Nicolas Cage in one of his most successful recent permutations, evolving Mandy’s silent force of nature to an extinct volcano of scabbed-over pain, Pig unearths broad themes by thoroughly sniffing out the details of its microcosm. The other component making up this Pacific NW terrarium, aside from Rob and the golden-furred Brandy’s endearingly shorthanded connection, is the guy Rob sells his truffles to, Amir. Alex Wolff’s tiny Succession-esque business jerk is a bundle of jagged inadequacies, and only Rob’s calloused wisdom can handle such prickliness. They’re exceptional foils for one another, classic tonal opposites that share plenty under the surface of age. Together, the pair search for the pignapping victim, which inevitably leads them out of the forest and back into the city. There they collide with the seediest, John Wick’s Kitchen Confidential kind of industry underbelly you can imagine, in a series of standoffs, soliloquies and strange stares. It’s a bit heightened, but in a forgotten and built-over way that feels more secret than fantastic. The sparse and spacious writing allows its actors to fill in the gaps, particularly Cage. Where some of Cage’s most riveting experiments used to be based in manic deliveries and expressionistic faces, what seems to engage him now is the opposite: Silence, stillness, realist hurt and downcast eyes. You can hear Cage scraping the rust off Rob’s voice, grinding the interpersonal gears much like the dilapidated truck he tries (and fails) to take into town. Wolff, along with much of the rest of the cast, projects an intense desperation for validation—a palpable desire to win the rat race and be somebody. It’s clear that Rob was once a part of this world before his self-imposed exile, clear from knowing gazes and social cues as much as the scenarios that lead the pig-seekers through basements and kitchens. Part of Pig’s impactful, moving charm is its restraint. It’s a world only hinted at in 87 minutes, but with a satisfying emotional thoroughness. We watch this world turn only slightly, but the full dramatic arcs of lives are on display. A sad but not unkind movie, and certainly not a pessimistic one, Pig puts its faith in a discerning audience to look past its premise.—Jacob Oller


3. Raising Arizona

raising-arizona-movie-poster.jpg Year: 1987
Director: Joel and Ethan Coen
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Holly Hunter, Trey Wilson
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 94 minutes

Understated dramatic performances are all well and good, but it takes pinpoint control on behalf of both directors and cast to deliver the sustained overstated performances found throughout Raising Arizona. From its opening courtship sequence to the struggles of H.I. (Nicholas Cage) and Ed (Holly Hunter) to form a family by borrowing an “extra” from a family with a surplus to the final battle with the Lone Biker of the Apocalypse, the Coen brothers’ film remains an immensely beguiling and quotable farcical fable.—Michael Burgin


2. Adaptation

adaptation-poster.jpg Year: 2002
Director: Spike Jonze
Stars: Nancy Lenehan, Nicolas Cage, Tilda Swinton
Rating: R
Runtime: 114 minutes

As utterly gonzo as Kaufman’s characters and stories are, they’re only as outrageous as the errant, obsessive rhythms of thought going clickety-clickety-click inside our own heads. It’s just that Kaufman has more immediate access to all those idiosyncratic brainwaves. He can’t stop himself. Kaufman—not unlike his anxious, lovestruck and artistically fraught heroes—compulsively thinks outside the box. And then he builds a bigger box. Adaptation is an adaptation of New Yorker writer Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief that centers on a Hollywood frustrated screenwriter’s efforts to adapt the book into a movie. —Steve Dollar


1. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-man-spider-verse-movie-poster.jpg Year: 2018
Directors: Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Stars: Shameik Moore, Jake Johnson, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Brian Tyree Henry, Lily Tomlin
Rating: PG
Runtime: 100 minutes

There are, rarely, films like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, where ingredients, execution and imagination all come together in a manner that’s engaging, surprising and, most of all, fun. Directors Bob Persichetti and Peter Ramsey, writer-director Rodney Rothman, and writer Phil Lord have made a film that lives up to all the adjectives one associates with Marvel’s iconic wallcrawler. Amazing. Spectacular. Superior. (Even “Friendly” and “Neighborhood” fit.) Along the way, Into the Spider-Verse shoulders the immense Spider-Man mythos like it’s a half-empty backpack on its way to providing Miles Morales with one of the most textured, loving origin stories in the superhero genre. Plenty of action films with much less complicated plots and fewer characters to juggle have failed, but this one spins order from the potential chaos using some comic-inspired narrative devices that seamlessly embed the needed exposition into the story. It also provides simultaneous master classes in genre filmmaking. Have you been wondering how best to intersperse humor into a storyline crowded with action and heavy emotional arcs? Start here. Do you need to bring together a diverse collection of characters, nimbly move them (together and separately) from setting to setting and band them together in a way that the audience doesn’t question? Take notes. Do you have an outlandish, fantastical concept that you need to communicate to the viewers (and characters) without bogging down the rest of the story? This is one way to do it. Would you like to make an instant contemporary animated classic? Look (and listen). —Michael Burgin

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