Nicolas Cage is many things: a Hollywood legend, a Coppola, a meme, a guy who named his first-born son after Superman’s alien persona Kal-El. He’s an actor known for never really turning down a role, and also giving some of the most over-the-top performances that cinema has ever seen (described by critics as ‘Cage Rage’). Though Cage has a reputation for starring in some pretty bad movies, he’s actually a pretty brilliant actor whose skills truly shine in dark dramatic films – and ones that don’t take themselves too seriously.
The actor plays a fictionalized version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which finds him on the brink of retirement before accepting one last gig that involves spending time with a Cage-obsessed billionaire (Pedro Pascal) – who ends up being a lot more dangerous than he could have ever imagined.
Cage has made nearly three movies every year since 1982. That’s roughly 119 movies over the span of 40 years. Needless to say, it was hard to narrow our favorites down to just ten – but we did our best. Scroll through our list of the best Nicholas Cage movies, ranked!
10. Kick-Ass (2010)
Kick-Ass, based on Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic book of the same name, stars Cage as a former NYPD officer turned Batman-inspired vigilante named Big Daddy. The film follows an ordinary teenager (Aaron Johnson) who sets out to become a real-life superhero and ends up joining forces with Big Daddy and his sword-wielding daughter Hit-Girl (Chloe Grace Moretz).
Cage channeled Adam West’s 1960s campy, slapstick Batman (although West himself was apparently not a fan (opens in new tab) of Cage’s impression). Though it’s not Cage’s first superhero movie (we don’t need to talk about Ghost Rider), it is, by far, his best. The film initially premiered to mixed reviews – mostly due to the violence and vulgarity performed by a then-twelve-year-old Moretz – but has since gained a strong cult following.
9. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Though Cage is arguably known best for his over-the-top acting in equally over-the-top movies (see also: “Not the Bees! (opens in new tab)“), his strongest performances tend to pop up in gritty, romantic dramas. In Leaving Las Vegas, based on a semi-autobiographical novel of the same name by the late John O’Brien, Cage plays a suicidal alcoholic named Ben Sanderson who decides to relocate to Las Vegas and drink himself to death.
Cage went a little method on this one, spending two full weeks binge-drinking in Dublin and having a friend record him so that he could study his slurred speech. It clearly paid off, because the role won him his first and only Oscar for Best Actor.
8. The Rock (1996)
The Rock, directed by Michael Bay, is a wildly fun and subversive take on the prison break subgenre. Cage plays an FBI chemical weapons specialist who joins Sean Connery and Ed Harris in leading a team of Navy SEALS that break into Alcatraz in order to stop a rogue group of marines who are holding the island hostage. It’s an action film on steroids: necks snap, cars explode mid-air, blood sprays in slo-mo, and the bad guys are armed with literal rockets filled with enough lethal-grade toxins to wipe out the entirety of San Francisco.
The explosive film somehow culminates with Cage, at home, sitting naked in a chair while strumming a guitar. The actor also ad-libbed and rewrote several of his lines on the spot, including one that makes a reference to “Zeus’s butthole.”
7. Raising Arizona (1987)
Raising Arizona, the Coen Brothers’ second-ever film, stars a 22-year-old Cage as an ex-convict who ends up marrying the police officer who took his mugshots at intake. Together, H.I. and Edwina (Holly Hunter) decided to kidnap a millionaire’s newborn son since they can’t adopt due to H.I’s criminal record and are unable to have children of their own.
The laugh-out-loud crime comedy is also an all-time favorite of filmmakers Spike Lee and Edgar Wright, as well as actor Matthew McConaughey. Oddly enough, the light-hearted film bears a similar visual and editing style to Sam Raimi’s possession-horror Evil Dead – which Joel Coen did, in fact, co-edit. The only scary element of the film is Cage’s ever-changing Woody Woodpecker-like hair, which he insisted should get bigger as his character became more stressed.
6. Con Air (1997)
Con Air is definitely one of the more bonkers films in Cage’s repertoire, being one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ types of gems. The actor plays Cameron Poe, a newly paroled ex-con who just wants to get home to his family. Unfortunately for Poe, the prisoner transport plane he boards ends up being overtaken by a number of dangerous criminals who decide to seize the flight as an opportunity to escape.
A few of the film’s more ridiculous elements include Cage’s attempt at a southern accent, the fact that a decorated US Air Marshall (John Malkovich) wears socks and sandals with a business suit for the entire duration of the film, and a scene in which John Malkovich puts a loaded gun to the head of a stuffed bunny. It’s also worth mentioning that that movie starred Steve Buscemi in his pre-Boardwalk Empire days, so his role as a serial killer who would “wear a girl’s head as a hat” comes off as less than convincing. Still, the film’s overall absurdity is what makes it truly special. A shot of Cage smiling while the sun hits his face and the wind blows his hair back (which can be seen above) even made its way around the internet as a popular meme.
5. Pig (2021)
Pig is sort of like John Wick if John Wick were about a pig. The film stars Cage as a former Portland-based chef named Rob who lives alone in a cabin deep in the Oregon wilderness and hunts for truffles with the aid of his prized foraging pig. One night, a group of unknown assailants beat up Rob and steal the pig. He’s then forced to leave the comfort of his reclusive life and return to Portland in order to get her back – which involves kicking a whole lot of ass.
Blood and weapons aside, the film is a moving meditation on grief and loss, and how sometimes the only way to move on is to return to the place that broke us in the first place.
4. Face/Off (1997)
Face/Off is a ridiculously meta-action epic in which John Travolta and Nicolas Cage literally swap faces and play each other while playing each other. Yeah, you read that right. Travolta stars as FBI agent Sean Archer who undergoes a transplant to have the face of a homicidal maniac named Castor Troy (Cage) grafted across his in order to go undercover. Seems like a totally logical idea until Troy wakes up without a face, freaks out, and forces the same doctor to give him Archer’s face. The two essentially spend the entire film battling it out while wearing each other’s faces – and it’s an honest-to-god masterpiece.
Cage considers Face/Off to be one of his best movies and would absolutely be down to do a sequel – something that’s been on and off in the news for the last few years). Travolta himself hasn’t said much, but we’re sure he loves it just the same.
3. Moonstruck (1987)
Moonstruck might just be one of the best romantic comedies ever made, something that even the late Roger Ebert can attest to (opens in new tab). The film stars Cher as Loretta, a superstitious Italian-American woman (with an amazing Brooklyn accent) who falls in love with her fiance’s younger brother, Ronny. Cage plays Ronny as a tragic hero of sorts: after losing his hand (and fiancee) in a bread-slicer accident at his family’s bakery, he’s left brooding and cynical, but somehow still believes in love and is obsessed with romance and the opera.
Moonstruck earned six Oscar nominations, winning three for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Cage also received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor.
2. Mandy (2018)
Mandy is an impossibly trippy action horror that follows one man’s quest for vengeance after his lover is kidnapped and murdered by a traveling cult obsessed with psychedelics. Cage plays Red, a man who embarks on a blood-soaked mission to avenge his girlfriend Mandy’s death. The film is a little bit true crime, a little bit American Assassin, and a whole lot of fantastical neon-colored insanity. It premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival before heading to VOD, with critics praising Cage’s performance.
There’s also a pretty bizarre commercial for a fictional mac-and-cheese brand that stars a small beast called Cheddar Goblin who eats till he pukes – which Cage’s character watches in a paralyzed, post-traumatic state.
1. Wild at Heart (1990)
It’s kind of wild that Nic Cage has only appeared in one David Lynch project, considering the fact that Cage himself is inherently Lynchian. Wild at Heart, based on the novel of the same name by Barry Gifford, stars Cage and Laura Dern as two sex-obsessed star-crossed lovers who go on the run after a group of thugs has been sent to kill them. The film is a dark romantic blood-soaked musical comedy that borrows from The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley’s discography.
Cage credits Wild at Heart as the movie that helped him get away from method acting and move towards his improvisational style, thanks in part to Lynch’s spontaneous script re-writes during production. Though 300 people walked out of an early test screening, the film would go on to win the Palme d’Or at the 1990s Cannes Film Festival.
For more on the best movies, check out our list of the best Quentin Tarantino movies, ranked!