There’s no other actor quite like Nicolas Cage. From the moment he first appeared onscreen in the early 1980s, Cage has been a distinctive, often mesmerizing presence, known for his offbeat style and sometimes disturbing volatility. As over-the-top as Cage’s performances can seem, the actor himself is methodical about his craft, even in lesser films that don’t offer him much to work with.
The best Cage films balance his signature wild moments with character depth and layered stories, helmed by accomplished filmmakers. Cage brings his full talent to every role, and his most memorable films match that effort on all levels so that Cage and his collaborators work toward a shared artistic vision.
Here are seven best Nicolas Cage movies that provide worthy showcases for his formidable abilities.
This ludicrous action movie from renowned Hong Kong director John Woo represents the height of Cage’s Hollywood blockbuster career. Cage and John Travolta star as two intense, obsessive men on opposite sides of the law, who end up switching identities via a highly improbable face-swapping procedure. Cage and Travolta make the absurd concept work, thanks to their committed, heightened performances, taking on each other’s personality traits and mannerisms.
Woo’s stylized approach adds to the movie’s surreal quality, with action scenes that are both bombastic and operatic. There’s nothing realistic about Face/Off, and Woo doesn’t pretend otherwise. Still, Cage and Travolta find ways to make their characters believable, both as bitter rivals and as men who’ve neglected their personal relationships in favor of violent, self-serving occupations.
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Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley and director Norman Jewison capture the feel of a close-knit Brooklyn Italian-American community in this warm and occasionally wacky romantic comedy. Cher deservedly won an Oscar for her performance as Loretta Castorini, a practical widow in her mid-30s who expects to settle into a marriage with a dull man she doesn’t love, until she meets her fiancé’s hot-headed, one-handed brother (Cage).
Cage’s Ronny Cammareri is a moody baker whose passions include opera and Loretta herself, almost instantly after he first lays eyes on her. Cher and Cage make the unlikely love at first sight feel like a grand romance, and the filmmakers fill Moonstruck with delightful supporting characters who are undergoing romantic travails of their own. It’s a vibrant, witty comedy about the wonderful ridiculousness of falling in love.
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The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Cage takes on possibly his greatest and most challenging role by playing “Nick Cage,” a fictionalized version of himself as a semi-washed-up movie star who reluctantly accepts a lucrative offer to appear at the birthday party of a wealthy fan. That puts him in the middle of a CIA investigation into a powerful arms dealer, and the movie combines goofy self-aware comedy with some equally goofy action and a surprising amount of heartfelt emotion.
Those genuinely affecting moments come courtesy of the chemistry between Cage and Pedro Pascal as the exuberant superfan who has unfortunate ties to international criminals. Amid the chases and shootouts, the two characters bond over their shared enthusiasm for movies, and Unbearable Weight becomes a love letter to Cage’s unique, eclectic body of work.
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Although Pig has the plot structure of a simple revenge thriller, it’s nothing like the generic B-movies that Cage was churning out for many years prior. Writer-director Michael Sarnoski delivers a quiet, contemplative story about how to find meaning in life, filtered through a reclusive chef’s quest to retrieve his stolen pig. Cage plays Rob Feld, a former culinary superstar who now lives alone in the woods outside Portland, collecting truffles with the help of his beloved porcine companion.
The pig’s abduction forces Rob to return to the world he left behind, confronting his own fame-seeking past and reckoning with the events that led to his solitary retreat. Cage is both menacing and melancholy as the single-minded Rob, whose mission of vengeance is tinged with weariness and regret.
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Cage has a special connection with Las Vegas, where he’s lived for more than 15 years and has now made six movies. Although it’s not as well-known as some of his other Vegas work, The Trust is Cage’s strongest Vegas film, depicting the everyday grit behind the city’s glamorous façade. Cage and Elijah Wood play two low-level evidence technicians in the Vegas police department, who discover information about a drug dealer’s hidden safe full of cash.
They decide to break into the safe and steal the money, and as in any good heist movie, things don’t go according to plan. This isn’t a flashy heist on the Vegas Strip, though, and much of the movie takes place in a dingy apartment as tensions rise between the main characters. It’s brutal and often darkly funny, right through the admirably nasty finale.
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A rare comedic film from director Ridley Scott, this con-artist thriller features some of Cage’s most vulnerable acting, as a grifter dealing with a variety of mental health issues. At the urging of his partner in crime Frank (Sam Rockwell), Cage’s Roy starts seeing a therapist, which leads him to reach out to Angela (Alison Lohman), the teenage daughter he’s never met.
Cage and Lohman develop a sweet relationship between Roy and Angela, who is eager to become her father’s protégé when she learns what he does for a living. Since this is a movie about con artists, there’s a big third-act twist, and it’s as much about the personal dynamics as it is about the plot. Cage finds the soulfulness in a man so used to exploiting others’ weaknesses that he can’t recognize his own.
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The Weather Man
As the sardonic, insecure title character, Cage makes self-pity seem endearing, and director Gore Verbinski’s film is lively and funny despite its potentially dour subject matter. Successful Chicago TV personality Dave Spritz (Cage) is depressed about nearly everything in his life, in contrast to the friendly persona he has to project while presenting weather forecasts. Cage delivers amusingly snarky narration as Dave takes stock of his life, always focusing on the dark clouds rather than the sunshine.
Verbinski’s slick visuals give Dave’s life a sense of harsh beauty, which fits with screenwriter Steve Conrad’s arch dialogue. With a supporting cast that includes Hope Davis, Michael Caine and Nicholas Hoult, The Weather Man is full of sharp performances, embodying unpleasant people who are always entertaining to watch in their misery.
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