Few actors have risen as high or sunk as low as Nicolas Cage. Born into a legendary moviemaking family (his uncle is Francis Ford Coppola, his aunt Talia Shire; Jason Schwartzman and Sofia Coppola are among his cousins), Cage made his film debut in the 1982 teen classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. In 1996, after more than 10 years of idiosyncratic, offbeat work, he nabbed a Best Actor Oscar for his searing performance in Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas.
After his Oscar win, Cage demonstrated the unpredictability that would come to define his career. Instead of appearing in high-minded, awards-baiting fare, Cage went in the opposite direction, appearing in a slew of action pictures (The Rock; Con Air; Face/Off; Gone in Sixty Seconds), apparently intent on turning himself into the next bona fide action star. Over the past decade, Cage has taken on an eclectic array of work, including kiddie comedies (G-Force), comic book adaptations (Ghost Rider) and introspective character studies (The Weather Man). He even made a hilarious cameo as Fu Manchu in Rob Zombie’s fake trailer “Werewolf Women of the SS” for Grindhouse.
In his latest film, Season of the Witch, Cage stars as a 14th-century knight transporting a suspected witch, who monks believe to be the source of the Black Plague. With the movie hitting theaters today, MM thought it a perfect time to look back at some of the quirkiest roles of Cage’s career. And for someone who, in his personal life, once owned a German medieval castle and named his son Kal-El (after Superman’s birth name), Cage certainly qualifies as a little quirky.
Raising Arizona (1987)
directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Cage stars as lovably incompetent robber H.I. McDunnough in this madcap comedy—the second feature from the Coen brothers. Along with his new wife (Holly Hunter), H.I. decided to steal one newborn quintuplet, and that’s where the trouble really begins. As H.I., Cage gives an energetic, childlike performance as the sweet-hearted yet bumbling criminal; it’s a performance that goes perfectly with the quirky tone of the movie, which frequently feels like a live-action cartoon.
Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
directed by Robert Bierman
While this film remains fairly obscure, it features one of Cage’s most manic, delightfully over-the-top performances. He plays Peter Loew, a yuppie literary agent (complete with a too-cool-for-school, faux-intellectual accent), who is slowly going insane, ultimately believing himself to be a vampire. In the movie’s most infamous scene, a crazed Peter catches and eats a cockroach in his apartment. For the sake of authenticity, Cage actually devoured three cockroaches when filming the scene. And honestly, could you ever hope to find a more gung-ho actor than that?
directed by Spike Jonze
Charlie Kaufman’s deliriously surreal tale (in which the screenwriter attempts to adapt Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief) would not have worked without a killer dual leading performance from the actor playing both the screenwriter and his fictitious twin brother, Donald. Thankfully, director Jonze and Kaufman found the perfect, unlikely man to play both the neurotic, self-loathing and naively, super-confident Kaufman brothers. Portraying the two wildly different brothers (without nary any vocal or physical difference) Cage gave his best performance in years (and garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work).
Matchstick Men (2003)
directed by Ridley Scott
In this offbeat comedy-drama, Cage plays Frank, a con man afflicted with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who reassess his life after his estranged teen daughter (Alison Lohman) enters the picture. Cage’s twitchy body language and nervous tics never feel forced or strained; as Frank slowly lets his guard down, we see how the presence of his daughter is making him become a better man. With its nifty plot turns (including one giant twist), Matchstick Men provides surefire entertainment from beginning to end, though with Cage’s vulnerable performance, it also never loses its heart.
The Wicker Man (2006)
directed by Neil Labute
Remakes don’t get much worse than this god-awful re-imagining of the 1973 Christopher Lee horror classic. Yet, due in part to Cage’s ability to keep a straight face while saying the most absurd lines, the movie provides a kind of perverse fascination. Cage stars as a policeman who discovers a secretive, neo-pagan community, while investigating the disappearance of a young girl on a mysterious island. Nearly every change made from the original film is wrongheaded, and Cage is woefully miscast as the protagonist. With his stiff, inexplicable line delivery (sometimes shouting lines for no discernible reason), Cage comes across as the most unlikely police officer imaginable. Add to that the unintentionally hilarious dialogue and preposterous situations, and The Wicker Man is easily a bad movie classic.
The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
directed by Werner Herzog
Cage pulls out all the stops in portraying a drug-addicted detective in this quirky crime tale from the always unpredictable Werner Herzog. As a man whose world is quickly falling apart, Cage plays this angry, high-strung character with an unsettling intensity. And yet the film also has a truly oddball sense of humor. Witness one scene shot from the point-of-view of an imaginary iguana hallucinated by Cage. You surely won’t find as blissfully strange a scene as that in your typical crime flick.
directed by Matthew Vaughn
This controversial, ultra-violent comic book adaptation, about an everyday teen who sets out to become a real-life superhero, boasts a spot-on supporting role from Cage as masked avenger “Big Daddy,” who fights crime alongside his pre-teen daughter, “Hit-Girl” (Chloe Moretz). Despite the movie’s hyperkinetic tone, Cage gives an unexpectedly sweet performance as a single dad doing his best to raise his precocious, ass-kicking daughter.