What are the best Nicolas Cage movies? It’s fair – and accurate – to say that Nicolas Cage has had an acting career of varying success. He’s become something of a cult icon, starring in a myriad of terrible straight to video B-movies, as well as some real indie gems. He’s worked with everyone from Cher to Sean Connery; Penelope Cruz to Patricia Arquette. He’s been a romantic lead and an action star. In short, there’s something for everyone.
His latest project, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, sees Nicolas Cage play himself. He’s a down on his luck, depressed actor looking for his next break. It comes in the form of a secret CIA mission wherein he gets to channel some of his most well-known characters. It sounds like just about the wildest ride yet, when it comes to the actor’s filmography.
So, what are your favourite Nicolas Cage performances? Which characters would you like to see resurrected on screen? We pick out 10 of the best Nicolas Cage movies in the list below.
What are the best Nicolas Cage movies?
- National Treasure
- Wild at Heart
- Con Air
- Leaving Las Vegas
- Raising Arizona
10. National Treasure (2004)
Jon Turteltaub’s 2004 action adventure story sees Cage cast alongside Hollywood heavyweights such as Christopher Plummer, Jon Voight, and Harvey Keitel. Yet, he still manages to steal the show as Benjamin Franklin Gates, a treasure hunter who vows to steal the Declaration of Independence to prevent it falling into the wrong hands. It’s one of those commercially-sensitive Disney movies that doesn’t dig too deep or offer up any nuance, but it’s fun and silly with some decent action set pieces.
9. Wild at Heart (1990)
Pretty much panned upon release, David Lynch’s 1990 movie is one of those films that has gathered a cult following and critical acclaim in the years since. Cage stars as the excellently named Sailor Ripley, who is on the run with his girlfriend Luna (Laura Dern). All they have to do is avoid the hitman that Luna’s mum has hired to kill Sailor. Willem Dafoe and Crispin Glover are reliably unnerving and the film is rippling with Lynch’s trademarks quirks and curiosities. It’s a really engaging performance from Nicolas Cage, too, as he showcases his dramatic acting skills as well as his eccentric side.
8. Adaptation (2002)
Nicolas Cage is cast alongside Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper and Tilda Swinton (to name but a few) in Spike Jonze’s 2002 dramedy. Cage received his second Academy Award nomination for his turn as Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter who is struggling with his latest script and his personal relationships. For all that, the film itself is so heavily “meta”, this is a thoroughly engaging and layered Cage performance (not least because he also plays Charlie’s twin brother, Donald). It’s one of those performances that reminds you just how good an actor Cage is when he’s not wearing terrible toupees or plodding through dull scripts.
7. Face/Off (1997)
John Woo’s balls-to-the-wall 1997 movie, Face/Off is one of the most ridiculous films you’ll ever watch. It’s Cage at his chaotic best, as he and John Travolta trade faces as part of a complicated FBI plot to prevent a terrorist attack. Still following? Face/Off is packed full of daring action sequence – none of which were aided by digital effects – and stylised visuals. There’s lots of little wordplay treats, too, when you consider the names of the lead characters. Travolta and Cage are clearly having the time of their lives mimicking each other. It has aged well and is still a really fun watch.
6. Con Air (1997)
Okay, so Nicolas Cage’s character here has essentially been reduced to a GIF, but Simon West’s 1997 action-thiller is truly joyous viewing. Cage stars as newly paroled Cameron Poe, a former U.S. Ranger who is being flown back home on a plane full of fellow cons. When the convicts attempt to take over the plane, his former training kicks in as he attempts to save all on board.
John Malkovich stars as Cyrus “The Virus”, the perfect antagonist for Poe. The location adds to the threat and unease. It’s never going to top any Sight & Sound lists, but Con Air is a classic 90s action movie with a brilliant cast and a fantastic lead performance from Cage.
5. Moonstruck (1987)
Norman Jewison’s joyous rom com from 1987 sees Cher’s character, Loretta, fall in love with Nicolas Cage’s Ronny. There’s just one problem, she’s engaged to his brother. Seemingly, Cher absolutely insisted that Cage was cast and threatened to quit the movie if he was not. Their on-screen chemistry is undeniable – sweet and genuine – so we’re glad she held out. It plays with a lot of Italian American stereotypes (not least the mamma’s boy) but does so in a way that is teasing, not tasteless. That chaotic, climactic kitchen scene has to be one of the best moments in rom-com movie history. It’s nice to see yet another side to Cage.
4. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Nicolas Cage scooped the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Mike Figgis’ 1995 drama movie. He stars as Ben Sanderson, a screenwriter who has lost his job – and his family – as a result of his alcoholism. He moves to Vegas, intent on drinking himself to death, and moves in with Sera (Elizabeth Shue) a prostitute with a host of her own problems. This is a gut-wrenching performance from Cage as he explores suicidal feelings; a sense of loss and loneliness; utter hopelessness. At times frustrating, at others empathetic, Cage really digs deep to deliver a career best. He’s nigh on flawless.
3. Raising Arizona (1987)
Someone of Nicolas Cage’s eccentric nature was made for a Coen brothers’ film. Cast as H.I. McDunnough in the 1987 crime comedy, he gives an endearing charm to the character. He and his wife (played by Holly Hunter) decide to kidnap one of the quintuplets of a furniture tycoon upon learning that they cannot have children of their own. It’s every bit as hyperbolic and chaotic as you would expect from a Coen brothers’ film and Cage’s unique brand of acting fits right in. The film has become something of a cult classic, with McDunnough’s ridiculous weave a fan favourite.
2. Mandy (2018)
Psychedelic horror and Nicolas Cage is a match made in heaven. In Panos Cosmatos’ 2018 film Mandy, Cage’s Red Miller is forced into a vengeance based rampage when a weird sex cult kidnap his wife. There’s a lot of blood, Cage screams in his Y-fronts, and Ken Barlow’s son gets naked. It’s a lot. The visuals are absolutely gorgeous – you, too, will feel like you are on drugs – and Cage is basically allowed to holler and beat the shit of out everyone. It’s his edgy, unhinged performance that really elevates the piece and, again, showcases what he is really capable of.
1. Pig (2021)
This is another Cage performance that will really prick at your emotions. He stars as reclusive truffle hunter, Rob, whose world is turned upside down when his beloved pig (and only friend) is kidnapped. Rob is relatively taciturn, giving Cage the chance to do a lot more than just scream or get violent. He is an entirely empathetic character, whose loneliness and sadness soaks through every scene. Nicolas Cage’s Oscars snub for this role is unforgiveable. Pig is one of the best films of 2021 and an impressive directorial debut from Michael Sarnoski. And, of course, it’s the best Nicolas Cage performance of his career to date.
There you have it, those are the best Nicolas Cage movies of all time! See the man in action in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent in cinemas April 22. For more actor lists like this, check out our top 10 Oscar Isaac performances.