If you’re like me, a huge fan of the acting powerhouse that is Nicolas Cage, then you may have heard of an upcoming film called The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. For those of you who haven’t, the gist of the film is that Cage plays an exaggerated version of himself who is in desperate need of new funds and is offered one million dollars to attend a birthday party for a Nicolas Cage superfan. From watching the trailer, it looks like all kinds of chaos will ensue and the film will be filled with homages and references to the many, many, many movies that the aforementioned actor has starred in. To prepare for something so potentially brilliant, I decided to create a Nicolas Cage movie checklist of sorts, and share them with you, my dear reader. If you’re a Nic Cage newbie, then watching the following movies will give you a pretty good idea of why he’s one of the most talented, versatile, and memorable actors of all time.
For Campy and Fun Nicolas Cage: The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off
A lot of people love Nicolas Cage solely for his more outlandish action films that mesh the often bizarre and comical eccentricities from his performances with explosive, turn-your-brain-off action sequences. There are a ton of these to choose from, but the most iconic of them all are The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. Michael Bay’s The Rock pairs Nicolas Cage with Sean Connery as they break into alcatraz to stop a rogue military faction that is threatening to deploy an extremely dangerous nerve gas in San Francisco. The Simon West-directed Con Air sets Cage (and his hairdo) against a group of hardened criminals – including the likes of John Malkovich, Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi – who hijack the airplane he’s a passenger on. Lastly, Face/Off, directed by dove enthusiast John Woo, sees a villainous madman (Cage, at first) swap identities and faces with the FBI Agent who imprisoned him (John Travolta) which allows the actors to drastically change up their performances partway through the story. None of these movies are perfect, but they are insanely fun, give the star of this article tons of badass, hilarious, and hilarious badass moments to shine, and I can’t recommend them enough to anyone who’s curious about Cage, or just hasn’t seen them yet.
For Dramatic Nicolas Cage: Pig and Leaving Las Vegas
The main reason why I love Nicolas Cage as an actor is the extremely wide range of characters he plays, which is, quite frankly, astounding. Not only can he sell big laughs in the midst of bigger explosions in the likes of The Rock, Face/Off, and Con Air, but he can also deliver painfully quiet, contemplative, and deeply human performances that will stay with you long after you see them. In Pig, directed by Michael Sarnoski, Cage plays Rob, a man who lives by himself in a forest and is forced to journey to Portland in order to reclaim his kidnapped truffle pig; it’s a strange premise for sure, but instead of serving up the typical revenge thriller fare, Pig subverts the genre’s usual, action-oriented expectations and delivers a quiet, yet extremely powerful story anchored by a subdued and poignant turn from the often over the top thespian. Nicolas Cage also doles out an impactful, soul-shaterringly bleak performance in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas as Ben, an alcoholic who decides to kill himself with his vice in the titular city, and ends up bonding with a prostitute played by Elizabeth Shue, who is also incredible. Both of these films feature not only some of the best acting in Cage’s career, but in cinema as a whole. Having said that, he still has another performance under his belt that I’d argue is even greater.
For Peak Performance Nicolas Cage: Mandy
First and foremost, I must warn you: Panos Cosmatos’ arthouse-meets-grindhouse masterpiece Mandy isn’t for everyone, and definitely not one I’d recommend watching with the family. It’s shockingly violent, often terrifying, and full of unsettling, batshit crazy imagery. However, as I’ve said before, that’s exactly what Mandy is going for, at least in its back half. The film starts out as an entrancing, darkly odd character study of Red (Cage) and his titular love interest (Andrea Riseborough), then sharply pivots into a cosmic horror-tinged, blood-soaked revenge thriller with its leading man going further off the rails than he ever has before, all in the pursuit of his gruesome vengeance. I’m still not sure if Mandy is my favorite Nicolas Cage movie (it’s currently a toss-up between this and Leaving Las Vegas) but there’s no doubt in my mind that Mandy features his most impressive performance, as it gives audiences the low-key intensity of his critically acclaimed works, combined with the absolutely chaotic, beloved, Cage-y energy of his wildest action flicks. If there was any performance Nicolas Cage was born to play, Red was it, pure and simple. You can watch The rest of the previously mentioned movies in order to see what Nicolas Cage has to offer in the world of cinema, but you’ll never see him at his best if you don’t give this one a chance.
And those were my recommended films for the ideal Nicolas Cage experience. If you liked what you read, you can follow me on Twitter, Letterboxd, and bookmark my author page. Until next time, remember: the best seats are in the Middle of the Row!