From Moonstruck (1987) to Leaving Las Vegas (1995), here are the best Nicolas Cage movies, ranked.
In a world where so many actors play it safe, Nicolas Cage stands out as a true original, always pushing the boundaries. Over the course of his four-decade career, he’s worked in every genre and brings his unique energy and commitment to each role. His willingness to take risks and embrace the unconventional has led to some of the most memorable performances in recent memory. The actor’s range is truly impressive, from comedy and drama to action; he’s proven time and time again he’s not afraid to go all in. Through his performances, Cage captures the essence of an artist who is driven not by fame or fortune but by a pure, unyielding passion for his craft.
Nicolas Cage is also among the few actors in Hollywood who’ve worked with critically acclaimed directors such as Scorsese, Mike Figgis, the Coen Brothers, and Ridley Scott, as well as mainstream action filmmakers such as John Woo and Michael Bay. Nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, Cage’s original name was Nicholas Kim Coppola. He dropped the family name ‘Coppola’ for ‘Cage’ early on, after his debut film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).
Now despite some missteps along the way, Cage remains a beloved figure in Hollywood, with a devoted fan base that appreciates his unique approach to acting. His performances have garnered praise and scorn, and while he may be a celebrated actor who is frequently made fun of online, what really matters is his commitment to authenticity. Yes, he makes each and every character he plays powerful and unforgettable. On that note, here are 17 Nicolas Cage films, ranked from worst to best:
Nicolas Cage Movies, Ranked
17. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
In 2022, Cage saw a career revival of sorts with this comic, delightful film. He entertained audiences as a pompously sweet version of himself. The story of the film is a meta-exploration of Cage’s persona and will undoubtedly satisfy his fans. Cage plays a man who has lost his passion for life and is struggling to find meaning in his existence. He accepts a million dollars to attend a wealthy super-birthday fan’s party and gets caught up in a comedic espionage adventure.
But Cage’s on-screen bromance with Pedro Pascal is the film’s true heart and soul. Their chemistry is undeniable and provides some of the film’s most enjoyable moments. For the actor’s career, it serves as an average film with a commendable performance. It showcases his ability to fully immerse himself in a role and deliver a performance that is both entertaining and captivating. But beware, the lackluster screenplay drowns out all his efforts.
16. Kick-Ass (2010)
Nicolas Cage plays Damon, a hero like no other, with powers and abilities that are both awe-inspiring and relatable. The story is driven by Damon‘s personal journey as he struggles to come to terms with his own identity and the responsibilities that come with his extraordinary abilities. Along the way, he encounters a cast of colorful characters, each with their own unique quirks and motivations. The action sequences are breathtaking, seamlessly blending practical effects and CGI to create a truly immersive experience.
But what really sets this film apart is its theme. It’s not just about saving the world or defeating the bad guys. It’s about finding your place in the world and making a difference in your own way. By the time the credits roll, you’ll be left feeling inspired, uplifted, and ready to take on whatever challenges come your way. This is more than just a superhero movie. It’s a motivating film in every sense even if it unfortunately becomes too preachy at the end.
15. Color Out of Space (2020)
Color Out of Space is a cinematic gem that showcases Nicolas Cage’s acting prowess. While the film’s hypnotic and ghastly atmosphere is a testament to Richard Stanley’s directorial skills, Cage delivers a memorable performance as a father who succumbs to the cosmic forces of a glowing meteor that crashes on their farm. The movie’s eerie and unsettling tone is reminiscent of classic horror films, making it an instant favorite for fans of the genre. The horror elements of the story definitely add a layer of intrigue, making it a must-watch for horror enthusiasts.
The well-crafted film deserves recognition for Stanley’s unique storytelling and outstanding performances. The tense pacing of the film is praiseworthy. Stanley uses a variety of techniques to keep the audience on edge. The performances, like I said, are top-notch, with Nicolas Cage delivering one of his most unhinged performances in years. Overall, it is a must-see for horror fans looking for something different, daring, and not just cheap thrills.
14. Vampire’s Kiss (1988)
Nic Cage plays Peter Loew, a literary critic who becomes increasingly delusional as he gets convinced that he is a vampire. He starts to see himself as a predator and begins stalking his prey in the nightclubs and alleys of the city. Cage’s act as the troubled individual is both captivating and disturbing, as he delves deeper into his character’s obsession with vampirism. His maniacal behavior displays his willingness to fully immerse himself in his roles, and his terrifying performance is palpable throughout Vampire’s Kiss.
While some may find the film too bizarre or over-the-top, it remains a fascinating exploration of one man’s descent into madness and obsession. It offers a haunting portrayal of one man’s struggle with his own mind and serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of mental health awareness. Though this film was a critical and commercial failure back in 1988, with its newfound popularity on YouTube, this forgotten gem may be getting the recognition it deserves.
13. Matchstick Men (2003)
Nicolas Cage plays Roy, a con artist from Los Angeles with a vulnerability that makes all his trickery compelling and stylish. He brings a sporting energy to this role that keeps the audience guessing his character’s next move. His attention to detail is evident in every frame, and Ridley Scott’s direction is equally impressive. Even better still, the film’s use of split screens and other visual tricks adds to its frenetic rhythm, and the script by Ted-Nicholas Gryphon is both clever and emotionally resonant.
Overall, Matchstick Men is a hidden gem that deserves more recognition than it has received. It’s a testament to the power of collaboration between two talented artists, Nic Cage and Scott, at the top of their game. But be prepared: the flawed plot twist derails the film from the seriousness it promised at the beginning. It offers a seemingly forced conclusion and a cheesy gimmick to a good story. The distorted characterization of the protagonist also mars the story.
12. Red Rock West (1993)
Despite his success in the ’80s, Cage’s career took a different turn in the ’90s. From blockbuster hits to quirky romances and comedies, gritty crime dramas now became his forte. Red Rock West, directed by neo-noir legend John Dahl, was one such film. As Michael Williams, Nicolas Cage delivers a role that is both subtle and nuanced. He eschewed his usual over-the-top antics in favor of a more restrained approach. His portrayal of the drifter living out of his car is understated yet effective, conveying a sense of quiet desperation that is palpable throughout the film.
When he takes on a false identity as a hitman, the plot thickens and the tension builds to a fever pitch. This is a well-crafted thriller with plenty of twists, but the film becomes disengaging. Nic’s performance is still noteworthy, however. He was more subdued than in his earlier roles, showcasing his versatility as an actor and paving the way for him to take on bigger action hero roles later on.
11. Mandy (2018)
With stunning cinematography and a hauntingly beautiful score, Mandy showcased Cage’s range as an actor and reminded audiences of his talent. The story starts off with Cage playing the character of Red, who lives as a logger in the woods of the Pacific Northwest in the 1980s. Unfortunately, his life takes a dark turn when he becomes the target of a deranged cult. This sends him on a surreal rampage of vengeance. The film’s plot is surreal and psychedelic. It’s a dark tale about a man seeking revenge on a cult that killed his girlfriend.
Nicolas Cage delivered a performance that was both captivating and unforgettable. Critics praised Cage’s portrayal of the grief-stricken protagonist, with many hailing it as one of his best performances in years. Mandy also marked the directorial debut of Panos Cosmatos, whose unique vision and style make it a gritty experience. Although Cosmatos disappoints us with a cliched ending, Mandy is still memorable for reinstating Nic Cage as a daring actor.
10. Pig (2021)
Pig is a poignant exploration of grief, identity, and the human condition. Cage as Rob Feld delivers a masterful performance as a man grappling with loss and searching for meaning in a world that has left him behind. It is a meditation on what it means to be alive and how we find our place in the world. Michael Sarnoski’s direction is subtle and powerfully captures the beauty of the natural world while also exposing the ugliness of human greed and ambition.
Cage’s performance remains steadfast and unwavering and serves as a testament to both his skill as an actor and his deep understanding of the character. Vanessa Block and Michael Sarnoski’s screenplay also provides depth and nuance to the story of a man who is certainly absorbing. Cage’s career may have had its ups and downs. But with Pig, he proves once again why he is one of the most compelling actors of his generation.
9. Con Air (1997)
Con Air is a quintessential action movie that’s made with panache and has fight sequences that are edgy and stylish. Cage’s portrayal of Cameron Poe, an ex-Army Ranger convicted of manslaughter, is both intense and comical. The plot thickens when the prison transport plane he’s on gets hijacked by the infamous Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, played brilliantly by John Malkovich. With his family’s safety on the line, Poe must use his military training to take down the dangerous criminals and save the day.
It’s a perfect example of a fun popcorn flick that doesn’t require too much thinking but delivers plenty of thrills. But what sets this movie apart from other action films is its humor and self-awareness. The physicality of Cage’s performance is equally impressive. He convincingly executes intense action sequences and displays a mastery of weapon handling. This Nic Cage film promises explosive action sequences and larger-than-life characters that keep you on the edge of your seat.
8. Valley Girl (1983)
It’s the performance that cemented Cage’s status as a Hollywood heartthrob. His chemistry with his co-star, Foreman, was charming and alluring, and his portrayal of bad-boy Randy was both rebellious and vulnerable. The result? Nic Cage was immensely appealing to audiences. The screenplay of the film, written by Wayne Crawford and Andrew Lane, is not just a love story but a commentary on societal norms and expectations. The plot is based loosely on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Also noteworthy, the film’s success led to a resurgence of interest in the punk rock scene, which had been largely underground up until that point.
It’s groundbreaking in its plot, but its themes and execution make it a timeless classic. Valley Girl remains a beloved classic to this day. It has inspired countless teen movies and a Broadway musical. This film played a significant role in shaping both Cage’s career and popular culture as a whole. However, the film did only average business at the box office.
7. The Rock (1996)
Film critics say that Michael Bay’s films have devolved into a series of explosions and mindless spectacles with little regard for plot or character development. However, it’s important to remember that The Rock still exists as a testament to what Bay is capable of when he puts his mind to it. The Rock remains a beloved classic among ’90s action movies with its over-the-top explosions and thrilling set pieces. Cage’s portrayal of Stanley Goodspeed added a unique flavor to the film, standing it apart from other generic action flicks of the time.
With The Rock, Cage confirmed his reputation as a leading man capable of carrying a big-budget movie. His performance showcased his ability to balance humor and action with ease. The film’s success paved the way for Cage to take on even bigger roles in Hollywood blockbusters. Despite his early success in indie films, Cage proved that he could hold his own alongside established action stars like Sean Connery.
6. Face/Off (1997)
Face/Off is a true masterpiece of action cinema, and it’s hard to imagine it without the incredible talents of John Woo and Cage-Travolta. Woo’s direction is masterful, creating a tense and thrilling atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. Cage’s performance as Castor Troy is nothing short of iconic. His portrayal of a genius criminal is so convincing that you can’t help but be drawn into his twisted world. Even when he’s doing despicable things, it’s hard to look away.
John Travolta, as Sean Archer, also delivers a solid performance, The chemistry between Cage and Travolta was undeniable. Their performances were nothing short of mesmerizing. It was clear that both actors were fully committed to their roles, and they brought a level of intensity to the screen that few others could match. The twists and turns in the plots are an unforgettable cinematic experience that will stay with you after the credits roll.
5. Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Bringing Out the Dead is a testament to Martin Scorsese’s mastery of dark, urban storytelling. He masterfully balances the fantastical with the real, creating a world that feels both familiar and otherworldly. The film’s exploration of life and death is both thought-provoking and poignant, with the supernatural elements adding an extra layer of intrigue. The film’s tender optimism about humanity shines through even in its darkest moments, reminding us of the beauty that can be found in even the most tragic of circumstances.
With cinematographer Robert Richardson, Scorsese’s visual style is on full display here, with camera movements and perspective changes that are both stunning and effective. Cage delivers a powerful performance as Frank, capturing the character’s inner turmoil and emotional depth with ease. He genuinely embodies the character’s spiritual crisis and is nothing short of haunting. Despite its flaws, this is a must-see for fans of Cage who appreciate a well-crafted, emotionally resonant film that is not a crowd-pleaser.
4. Raising Arizona (1987)
Raising Arizona may have had a rocky start on release at the box office. But today, it has become a beloved cult classic. Despite initial mixed reviews and criticisms of the Coen brothers’ autocratic style, the film’s quirky charm and Cage’s winning performance as ex-con-turned-father-figure H.I. McDunnough have stood the test of time. With its blend of pathos and pratfalls, Cage’s portrayal of H.I. is both goofy and endearing, making child kidnapping seem almost wholesome.
Nicolas Cage exudes a childlike innocence that perfectly complements the film’s whimsical tone, while the Coens’ direction is masterful. They infuse every scene with a sense of playful energy, demonstrating their talent for writing comedy-driven stories. The film’s plot, centered around dramatic situations, is absurd, hilarious, and engaging. It’s no wonder that filmmakers like Edgar Wright have declared it their favorite film of all time.
3. Moonstruck (1987)
Moonstruck is a timeless classic that continues to captivate audiences with its charming and witty portrayal of love in all its forms. The chemistry between Cher and Nicolas Cage is palpable. Their performances are nothing short of electrifying. Even the smallest moments, like Loretta (Cher) kicking an empty Coke, can down a quiet Brooklyn avenue, feel significant and meaningful. He is an opera-loving baker who effortlessly switches between a tuxedo and a stained wife-beater as he grapples with his own self-pitying tears. He is a fully fleshed-out individual with his own quirks and personality, which makes him all the more charming.
Moonstruck is a testament to the power of love and the magic that can happen when two people are truly meant to be together. No wonder audiences continue to revisit it to this day, and it has come to acquire the status of a classic romantic comedy. It’s a pity Cage wasn’t recognized with an Oscar nom for his role.
2. Adaptation (2002)
Kaufman, a truly original screenwriter, tells strange tales centered on peculiar character traits. He lives up to his cult status with Adaptation, a screenplay that examines how writers derive ideas for their work from personal experiences. In the meta-dramedy, the protagonist is named Charlie, Kaufman’s alter ego. and Nicolas Cage is the only person who could possibly comprehend his eccentric creative mind. Charlie (Cage) struggles to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean, struggling with the thought process of his fictionalized twin brother, Donald (Cage).
Charlie is pretentious and neurotic, while Donald is vibrant and carefree. The greatest accomplishment of this film is that Charlie and Donald appeared identical, and there were no distinguishing beards or hairstyles. But they were two different characters with different emotional states. Yet he plays both of these extraordinary and intense roles with mesmerizing nuance. Undoubtedly, he delivered one of his best performances in his own right, which earned him his second Academy Award nomination.
1. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Since his screen debut in the early 1980s, Cage had already amassed a number of critically acclaimed credits. But Leaving Las Vegas marked a key phase in his career. He plays the role of Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic Los Angeles screenwriter. After losing his family, friends, and job, Sanderson travels to Sin City to drink himself to death. But when he unexpectedly falls in love with a sex worker, Sera (Elisabeth Shue), he briefly deviates from his dark path and finds meaning in his existence. The theme of the film is unflinchingly dark yet profoundly humane and sympathetic. Cage has so skillfully incorporated the traits of a self-destructive character that his self-inflicted downward spiral looks organic.
With this film, Cage was able to delve into the depths of despair and emotion, turning what might have been a one-note performance into an unforgettable one. Such a moving performance helped him win the Best Actor Oscar and remains the most important film of his career.
Cage’s commitment to his craft is unparalleled. He Is unafraid to take risks and explore the depths of human emotion. Despite the criticism he’s faced, Cage has inspired countless actors with his fearlessness and dedication. His legacy is one that will undoubtedly continue to surprise and delight audiences for years to come.
FTII alumnus and freelance writer. My articles have appeared in Scroll.in, The Hindu, Livemint.com, The Quint, The Tribune, Upperstall, among other publications.