?Is Nicolas Cage a misunderstood genius or simply a poor actor? Would acclaimed, veteran directors like Werner Herzog, David Lynch, and Martin Scorsese really cast a bad actor in their films? While that question may be subjective, one thing is for certain: Cage is out of his freaking mind. In interviews and behind the scenes footage he rarely makes sense and seems to be sincerely content in his own world. While recently this world consists of debt reaching $6.2 million and countless memes regarding his Cthulhu-like hair, that hasn’t stopped Cage from cranking out several films a year. Most of these are garbage, but every once in a blue moon audiences are treated to seriously remarkable performances; ones that you can’t imagine anybody else delivering except for Cage. When he’s at his most bold and confident, audiences are usually left scratching their heads over whether that was supposed to be funny or not. That’s the power of Cage. The list doesn’t include a few of his best performances (Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Bringing Out the Dead), but that wasn’t the aim here.
9) Roy Waller in Matchstick Men
Leave it to Cage to perfectly express the blind rage most of us have felt in the pharmacy line at some point in our lives. In Ridley Scott’s underrated film Matchstick Men, Cage plays OCD con man Roy Waller. He spends most of the film obsessing over his carpet and convulsing in tics. Co-star Sam Rockwell delivers a solid performance as usual but Cage ruthlessly overshadows everyone in the film. He overshadows them so hard that they PISS BLOOD!!!
8) Edward Malus in Wicker Man
This one is a no-brainer. The role that launched 1,000 bear-punching memes featured Cage reprising the role originally played by Edward Woodward in the 1973 original. The 2006 remake (directed by the talented Neill LaBute) was unnecessary but inevitable. The original is an undisputed classic, but it’s British so it was only a matter of time until an American remake was greenlit. The movie is rather difficult to get through, but luckily some saint on YouTube edited together the film’s most ridiculous moments. Ignore any kind of exposition and just soak in the image of Cage dressed as a bear, punching a woman in the face.
7) Big Daddy in Kick-Ass
Nic Cage acting like a maniac is expected in most of his films, but when he acts like a wholesome, all-American single father, well, that’s just terrifying. And that’s the persona he brought to Kick-Ass as Big Daddy. While the film itself may not have lived up to a lot of fanboys expectations, there’s no denying how perfect Cage was for the role.
6) H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona
While this isn’t necessarily “over the top,” Cage’s performance as H.I. McDunnough borders on the edge of being a caricature. Especially during his arguments with Ed; his gestures and inflection during those scenes are amazing. Cage’s hair has become it’s own meme, and his hair in this film is a force of nature. It reaches incredible heights as the film progresses. Raising Arizona is the greatest Coen Bros movie ever and H.I. McDunnough is the role of Cage’s career. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.
5) Castor Troy in Face/Off
John Woo’s “gun-fu” masterpiece is a perfect blend of big-budget action and psychological cluster-fuck. Cage plays Castor Troy, a “freelance terrorist” (how awesome is that?!) being pursued by FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). After some breakthrough face-transplants, the actors get to switch it up and encapsulate the other’s personality. Watching Nic Cage is always a joy, but getting to see him play two characters — one an evil lunatic, the other John Travolta — in one film is like a hooker insisting that you let her sister join in; free of charge. Bonus!
4) Sailor Ripley in Wild at Heart
Wild at Heart is one of auteur David Lynch’s less esoteric films and features Cage as Sailor Ripley: an Elvis-obsessed, snakeskin jacket wearing bad boy madly in love with his girl Lula (Laura Dern). Sailor and Lula spend the film driving, screwing, dancing, and fleeing psychos which Lula’s mom hires to kill Sailor. From the brutally violent opening scene to the fantastical end, Cage is hypnotically hilarious and utterly quotable. “This here snakeskin jacket is a symbol of my individuality and my belief in personal freedom.” And of course, in reality the snakeskin jacket actually belonged to Cage. Of course he had that in his closet. When the film wrapped, he gave it to Laura Dern. Awwww.
3) Terence McDonagh in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant is connected to Abel Ferrara’s 1992 gritty classic in name and heavy substance abuse only. Cage’s performance as junkie-cop Terence McDonagh is baffling, hilarious, dark, and pure fucking genius. Cage was critically acclaimed for this role and some people were even whispering “new Klaus Kinski,” but it’s apparent that this film also confused a lot of people. It’s a black comedy and supposed to be funny. Out of the blue Cage begins to talk in a bizarre drawl ala James Cagney and has hallucinations of iguanas. C’mon, if you can’t laugh at the surreal absurdity of it all then you don’t have a soul to shoot again.
2) Eddie in Deadfall
If you haven’t seen Deadfall, stop reading this article immediately and do so. Acquire it illegally if you have to. Just do it, we’ll wait… Cage plays one of the most bizarre characters of all time: Eddie, a greasy con man. For the role, Cage was told by director Christopher Coppola (Cage’s brother) that he could dress however he wanted. On the first day of shooting Cage showed up wearing albino contact lenses, a horrible wig, and huge sunglasses. Why not? He delivers his dialogue like he has his mouth wired shut. The movie itself is pretty lame and Cage is in only about 2/3 of it, after his time is up you don’t even have to finish the movie. Let’s hope Christopher thanked brother Cage for making at least 2/3 of his shitty movie bearable.
1) Peter Loew in Vampire’s Kiss
This film should be retitled “Citizen Cage” – it is hands down the penultimate, batshit Nic Cage movie. The film sports a simple premise: a publishing executive thinks he’s turning into a vampire. It’s possible that director Robert Bierman simply slipped Cage a note with that premise written on it and told him to go nuts. Cage eats a live cockroach. He puts plastic fangs in his mouth and chases a pigeon. He argues with the side of a building. As the cherry on top, he speaks in some sort of oral amalgamation of prep-school snob and slack-jawed junkie which changes in intensity throughout the film. The cockroach eating scene actually took three takes. I bet Marlon Brando didn’t have that kind of heart.