The Many Careers of Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage

In brilliant sitcom Community film obsessive Abed sets himself the task of determining if Nicolas Cage is a good or bad actor, watching his entire backlog in a very short space of time and having a breakdown. The professor teaching the class warned Abed that this was not a simple question and probably didn’t have an answer. Nicolas Cage is an Oscar winning actor who has starred in the near perfect comedy Raising Arizona and what is considered to be one of the worst films ever made – the remake of The Wicker Man. But Cage is not simply an actor with a declining career as in recent years he has had a string of critically acclaimed performances and even during the bad years he would pop up somewhere and be great.

The Brilliant Actor

Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona
Holly Hunter and Nicholas Cage in Raising Arizona // Credit: 20th Century Fox

Nicolas Cage is undeniably a great actor…at times. As mentioned the fantastic performance in Raising Arizona as H.I the recidivist criminal trying to start a family, where he holds his own against acting megastar Holly Hunter. There is Adaptation, the bizarre Charlie Kaufman film where he plays Charlie Kaufman writing an adaptation of The Orchard Thief, whilst also playing Charlie’s twin brother, Donald (important note, there is no Donald Kaufman in real-life). Charlie being a reserved but brilliant writer and his twin the effortlessly popular happy-go-lucky slacker. There is the film he won his Oscar for, Leaving Las Vegas, a drama where he stars as alcoholic screenwriter on the path to absolute oblivion – a character premise that definitely pleases Academy members.

The Action Star

Nicholas Cage in  Face/Off
Cage’s subtle performance in Face/Off // Credit: Paramount Pictures

After acting in great comedies and serious dramas in the mid-to-late nineties he became an extremely unlikely action star – not unlike Liam Neeson suddenly becoming an action star with Taken. He starred in a spate of high-concept and ridiculous action films but that are often quite good fun. In Con-Air he is a convict being flown across country on a prisoner transport plane when the prisoners take over the plane, he has a bizarre accent and hairstyle and the Schrodinger’s Cat of tough guy lines – “Put the bunny back in the box” – is it brilliant? Is it terrible? Is it both? There is Face/Off in which Cage’s odd performance choices are given free rein; his performance is not over-the-top, Cage smashed through the top and kept flying into space. The premise being a cop and criminal switch faces so the cop can pose as the criminal allows Cage to play both demented charismatic criminal and brooding serious cop. The Rock is the typical Michael Bay action explosion extravaganza where Nicolas Cage teams up with Sean Connery to foil a terrorist plot in Alcatraz.

The Bad Years

The Wicker Man
Cage in The Wicker Man // Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures

It’s worth stating that there is a reason for the bad years. In 2009 Cage got into trouble concerning his taxes, this coupled with bizarre and hugely expensive spending sprees saw him fall into severe financial difficulty. And it seems for a time Cage said yes to just about anything starring in a number of critically damned films to sort out his financial affairs, Cage himself admits that this was the case but he never “phoned in” a performance. These were movies such as Left Behind, a film based on the Rapture as described in the Bible (IMDb rating of 3.1), Southern Fury, which is something to do with mobsters (IMDb rating of 4), or Pay the Ghost where a man searches for his missing son as a Halloween Carnival and not a new Channel 4 ghost based quiz show (with a relatively respectable IMdb rating of 5.2).

Even in this “bad years” period there were good performances, perhaps most notably in Kick-Ass, where he played violent vigilante and loving father Damon Macready, who took the superhero name Big Daddy.

The Return

Cage in Color Out Of Space
Cage in Color Out Of Space // Credit: R:JE Films

In recent years though Cage’s career has changed after starring in a number of interesting and critically praised films. There is the revenge thriller Pig where Cage plays a truffle farmer whose pig is stolen and he goes to get them back. Color Out Of Space is based on a H P Lovecraft where a meteorite crashes next to a family home and the strange and twisted ways it affects people. As with any films critical and popular opinion will disagree about how good these films are but the consensus seems to be that at the very least they have artistic merit which seemed to be lacking from a lot of his films in recent years.

The next big film of Cage’s to come out will be Renfield, where he will play one of the dream roles of Dracula, alongside Nicholas Hoult playing Renfield, the vampire’s human servant. The trailer looks promising and hopefully it will continue Cage’s run of form.

Also Read: Great Movies About Characters Seeking Perfection

Like this article? Get the latest news, articles and interviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Posted by
Richard Norton

Gentleman, podcaster and pop culture nerd, I love talking and writing about pretty much all pop culture.