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Nicolas Cage Can’t Be Pinned Down: A Guide
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The Academy

No Nicolas Cage movie, or character, is quite the same. From 1983 to his latest release, Pig, he’s played everything from a rogue historian to a teen punk to an alcoholic screenwriter. It’s tricky to narrow down such a wide-spanning career (103 movies and counting), but we did the work. There’s something for everyone here (really). Even after you’ve finished watching Leaving Las Vegas and National Treasure, you’ve only scratched the surface of Cage’s oeuvre—which is why we’ve also included some of his under-appreciated classics. They range in genre, character and tone because Nicolas Cage cannot be put in a box. As he once said in an interview, “One of the reasons why I frustrate critics is because they don’t know what to do with me. I don’t get stuck, I actively go against it.” This is an actor who destroyed a pool table with a sledgehammer in Mom and Dad and gave an unforgettable bug-eyed speech in Vampire’s Kiss. Eccentric as ever, here are 14 movies for the ultimate Nicolas Cage marathon.

1
Valley Girl
1983
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In this story of unlikely romance, quintessential valley girl Julie Richman (played by Deborah Foreman) falls for an edgy punk teen named Randy (Nicolas Cage), and she’s ultimately forced to choose between him and her current boyfriend. Director Martha Coolidge set out to depict L.A. teens as authentically as possible, and so Valley Girl quickly became an ’80s teen classic. It also gave Cage his first leading role; Coolidge has said of his audition, “When he came back and read, it was riveting. He was goofy and intelligent and a rebel, but also handsome in his own way.” To fully immerse himself in the part, Cage slept in his car in Hollywood during filming.

2
Moonstruck
1987
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In this iconic Norman Jewison romantic comedy, Loretta, a bookkeeper played by Cher, calls everything into question when she falls for Ronny (Cage), the hot-headed brother of the man she’s engaged to marry. More than anything, Moonstruck is a tale of love and marriage, in all their complexity, as told through a multigenerational Italian-American family in Brooklyn. The film was nominated for six Oscars and received three: Best Actress (Cher), Best Supporting Actress (Olympia Dukakis) and Best Original Screenplay (John Patrick Shanley).

3
Raising Arizona
1987
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Here we have Nicolas Cage, convenience store robber. Directed by Joel Coen, and written by both Joel and Ethan Coen, Raising Arizona tells the story of the said robber and the policewoman (played by Holly Hunter) who falls in love with him. Once they marry and realize they can’t have children, Cage takes on on the ultimate robbery—stealing a quintuplet. (Surely the baby wouldn’t be missed, goes their thinking.) We’re also in it for Cage’s spiky hair.

4
Leaving Las Vegas
1995
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This is the film that earned Cage his Best Actor Oscar. In it, he plays a Hollywood screenwriter who goes to Vegas to drink away his problems. More specifically, he’s there to drink himself to death. In the process, he forms a friendship with a prostitute named Sera (played by Elisabeth Shue). Take a look at Cage’s Oscar acceptance speech here.

5
The Rock
1996
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If the ’80s gave us heartthrob Nicolas Cage, the ’90s brought out his action alter ego. When people told him he was “too quirky” to star in action blockbusters, he took it as a challenge. In this Michael Bay film, an FBI biochemist named Stanley Goodspeed (played by Cage with an unforgettable name) is sent on a mission to thwart a chemical weapons attack on San Francisco. The film also stars Sean Connery as an ex-con and Ed Harris as the bad guy. Explosions abound.

6
Adaptation
2002
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In this film, written by Charlie Kaufman, Nicolas Cage is Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter who’s struggling to adapt a story by Susan Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) titled “The Orchid Thief.” Reality and fiction blend together as Kaufman’s life—his feelings of inadequacy, his obsession with finding passion—begins to intertwine with Orlean’s and her story. Adaptation was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Supporting Actor for Chris Cooper.

7
National Treasure
2004
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“I am going to steal the Declaration of Independence.” And with that, a national treasure was cemented. As Benjamin Franklin Gates, historian and treasure hunter, Cage leads one of the most iconic adventure films ever, all in the name of keeping historical artifacts safe from the bad guys. The film is unabashedly passionate about this mission, so it’s easy to get onboard—plus, a PG rating ensures that everyone in the family can enjoy it.

8
Mandy
2018
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A story of vengeance, Mandy finds Cage as an outsider in the Pacific Northwest, where he and his wife live peacefully—until a cult attacks them. Cage sets out on a bloody rampage for justice in this untraditional horror film. When Cage considered which of his films fans reacted most viscerally, Face/Off, Mom and Dad and Mandy top the list. You’ve been warned.

9
Birdy
1984
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Here, Cage stars with Matthew Modine as two friends from South Philly who grow apart in adulthood—then Vietnam happens. Cage, the suave one, is left with physical disfigurations. Modine, the goofy one, suffers from wounds you can’t see. He’s become reclusive, so Cage is tasked with bringing his friend back to reality. Allegedly, Cage wore bandages on his body throughout five weeks of filming to really get into character.

10
It Could Happen To You
1994
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Nicolas Cage, lottery winner. In It Could Happen to You, he plays a puppy-eyed New York cop who offers a waitress (played by Bridget Fonda) half of his lottery ticket after realizing he’s out of cash to tip her. He stays true to his word, but his wife (played by Rosie Perez) won’t have it. Fuming with jealousy and greed, she wants it all. The question is: will Cage now fall in love with the waitress? The premise of the film is based on a true story.

 

11
Joe
2013
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As Joe Ransom, Cage plays a drinker and gambler with a dark past—but one who shows trust in his crew of lumber workers. When a young kid named Gary (played by Tye Sheridan) reveals that he has an abusive father, Joe steps in to save him. Cage gives a standout performance in this one as an unlikely role model and confidant. Of his role in this indie drama, Cage has said, “I’d done several movies where I was experimenting more with performance style and operatic kind of style, but now I wanted to go into almost like Dogme style of film performance, where I didn’t have to think too much about it and I could just be, and take my memories or my past experiences and flood them into a character that would be the right vessel for it.”

12
Face/Off
1997
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In John Woo’s Face/Off, Cage plays a terrorist who is presumed dead (if not almost dead) after a plane crash. So, naturally, the FBI agent tracking him down (played by John Travolta) surgically replaces his face with Cage’s comatose one in order to get more information about the terrorist’s plans. Once Cage awakens, he gets the same surgeon to transplant Travolta’s face onto his skull. The actors are forced to play each other or pretend to play each other, which, as far as we’re concerned, is a first for Cage. This film, along with The Rock and Con Air, marked big-budget back-to-back summers for the actor. This one is probably the most out there.

13
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
2009
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In this Werner Herzog crime drama, Cage stars as an unhinged policeman who must rescue himself from insanity if he’s to solve murders roiling a post-Katrina New Orleans. Cage gets away with his bad deeds and is punished for the good, and all along the way he offers a calculated, evolving performance under Herzog’s direction. Rounding out the cast are Eva Mendes, Val Kilmer, Jennifer Coolidge, and iguanas, which can only make for a memorable story.

14
Wicker Man
2006
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Neil LaBute’s 2006 horror film is a remake of the 1973 classic, in which a police officer (played by Cage) travels to an island off the coast of Washington after receiving news that a young girl has gone missing. What he finds there is far more sinister. Many have dismissed the film for its possibly unintentional, absurdist humor, but maybe that’s what continues to draw a niche audience to it. Nicolas Cage joining a parade in a bear suit? Sign us up.

© 2021 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences