Nicolas Cage is the most enigmatic leading man in Hollywood history, polarizing audiences and critics for decades. He’s given countless brilliant performances and phoned in even more with his movies ranging from acclaimed dramas to action-packed blockbusters to dumpster B-movies.
Starting out with the help of his uncle, legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Cage started making a name for himself as the lead in smaller films and a memorable supporting roles in higher profile movies. Due to his unique, over the top acting style which Roger Ebert defined as “operatic,” Cage carried with him an electric charisma that made him stand out.
Soon talented directors like David Lynch and the Coen Brothers took notice of his talent, as did critics. With Leaving Las Vegas, Cage won an Academy Award and broke through as a superstar, going on to star in huge action films like Con Air and The Rock, cementing his place in Hollywood.
His reputation, unlike his fame, has varied greatly over the years, because for every memorable film he makes, there are a handful of forgettable, sloppy and just plain awful ones, especially in the last decade, where Cage has been making several low-budget flicks every year. But even if his movies are not always good, Cage’s performance is always, at the very least, interesting, taking his characters in unpredictable directions.This quality he brings to the roles have given him a legendary cult status, made up of both mockery and respect.
The following list analyzes Cage’s prolific filmography of over 80 films and ranks them, taking into account the quality of the film, Cage’s performance as well as how much the quality of the film relied on Cage. For this reason, movies where he was a leading man will be given an edge over those where he played a more supporting role. Besides from outlining his career, it will hopefully expose you to some hidden gems for you to go watch, as well as many to avoid.
Bonus: Sonny (Nicolas Cage, 2002)
Role: Acid Yellow
For this film, Nicolas Cage got behind the camera, letting James Franco take the lead in this misguided crime bust. Although there were good intentions in some of the creative choices Cage took, the sum of the parts amounted to a messy, boring film. Even Cage’s cameo as a man in yellow on acid is somehow empty. Only hardcore Cage fans should seek this one out.
Bonus: Grindhouse – Werewolf Women of the S.S. (Rob Zombie, 2007)
Role: Fu Manchu
These first three films mentioned are unranked due to the very minimal role Cage plays in them. Werewolf Women of the S.S., was one of the five fake trailers that accompanied Grindhouse, Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s send of 1970s B-Movies.
This one directed by Rob Zombie, teases a schlocky horror film with lots of blood and nudity, slammed together with no logic. Nicolas Cage appears for only a few seconds as Fu Manchu, a Chinese ruler who helps the Nazi’s. Honestly, this cameo is one of the funnier moments in the entire Grindhouse double feature, as Cage is playing a caricature of himself.
Bonus: Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982)
Role: Brad’s Bud
Cage’s very first film role, where he was credited as Nicolas Coppola still, comes briefly in this 1980s classic. He plays a worker in the fast food joint where Judge Reinhold’s character works. He can be seen in a few shots reacting to a scene caused by an angry customer.
Bonus: Never on Tuesday (Adam Rifkin, 1989)
Role: Man in Red Sports Car
Cage was one of many cameos made by big stars, including Charlie Sheen, Emilio Estevez, Gilbert Gottfreid, in this forgotten 80s comedy. The plot follows two teenage guys and a gorgeous girl stranded in the desert. She’s a lesbian and they are trying to turn her straight. Cage’s pulls up to them in a fancy car, wearing a gigantic fake nose, offers help, laughs maniacally, then drives away. It is probably the best moment of the film.
80. Deadfall (Christopher Coppola, 1993)
Role: Eddie King
This is without a doubt the worst film on this list, and one of the worst films ever made. Written and directed by Nicolas Cage’s brother Christopher Coppola, due to connections, the film managed to get much more resources than it deserved. It features a big name cast, including Charlie Sheen and James Coburn, even they couldn’t manage to elevate this mess beyond pure garbage.
The plot is sloppy and boring, the production is awful and it is hard to make sense of what is actually going on. The only thing worth watching is Cage’s Eddie King, a lunatic gangster who shouts randomly at the top of his lungs. This is Cage’s most insane performance, which is saying something. Skip the movie and watch the highlights on Youtube.
79. Left Behind (Vic Armstrong, 2014)
Role: Rayford Steele
Another unwatchable movie that never had a chance. Nicolas Cage plays a man on a plane who finds that worldwide a large percentage of the population has disappeared, including the pilot. This premise is actually somewhat intriguing if done right (see The Leftovers), but in this case it simply acts as lazy Christian propaganda. Little to no effort was put into any aspect of the film, except hammering home the main religious theme.
The script and directing are below amateur and none of the actors, including Cage, want to be there or give any effort. Avoid at all costs. You won’t get back the two hours spent watching it.
78. 211 (York Shackleton, 2018)
Role: Mike Chandler
Marketed as a combination of End of Watch and Black Hawk Down, 211 is an embarrassment even when compared to much lesser films than those. Loosely based on the famous 1997 bank robbery in Hollywood, this disaster would have been better off if it had stuck closer to the facts.
Instead it is a horribly written film with zero-dimensional characters. It fails as a compelling heist movie, or a thriller, or whatever else this film was attempting to be. Common to many of these recent direct to streaming films, Cage is the only interesting thing on screen.
77. Pay the Ghost (Uli Edel, 2015)
Role: Mike Lawford
Is it really a horror film if its not scary on any level? Pay the Ghost is a nonsensical supernatural “horror” film slapped together with a “plot” seemingly based around the cliche of ghost children.
At the end, we get some contrived explanation that the children ghosts are a Pagan Halloween curse. That’s about all there is to this film. Its a B-horror flick without any of the camp.
76. Arsenal (Steven C. Miller, 2017)
Role: Eddie King
There are really no excuses or explanations for this movie being made. It is a follow-up to Deadfall, number 81 on this list, and in a move of complete derangement, Cage reprises his role as the drugged out madman Eddie King. That’s about all I can tell you about this movie.
If there was a plot to talk of, it was completely overshadowed by Cage’s scenery chewing. John Cusack is also here, completely miscast as another scummy criminal. At least it looks like they had fun making it.
75. Rage (Paco Cabezas, 2014)
Role: Paul Maguire
Nicolas Cage stars as a ex-con whose past life catches up to him after he has started fresh, raising a family. Unfortunately for Cage and company, David Cronenberg already made this film with A History of Violence, and did it much better.
Rage is a cliche’d shell of an interesting film, with a boring script and unbelievable characters. Eventually, it does try to address some of the complex themes, but it is too late and too little. The worst part by far, however, is that Cage is boring.
74. Vengeance: A Love Story (Johnny Martin, 2017)
Role: John Dromoor
Apparently based off of a novella by esteemed writer Joyce Carol Oates, I can only assume that the screenwriters kept nothing except the same broad plotline. The script is exceedingly stupid, with the highlight occuring when a courtroom stood and applauded when violent rapists were acquitted because the victim “wanted it.” Cage plays the policeman who hunts down and kills the rapists. And like all of the rest of these low budget thrillers, it is not thrilling.
73. Seeking Justice (Roger Donaldson, 2011)
Role: Will Gerard
Another bad revenge movie where the characters stink and the thrills are empty, but at least this one made it to theaters. Like many others, it is a cheap copy of Death Wish, replacing Charles Bronson’s intensity with gratuitous violence and pointless plot convolutions.
The one positive is that Cage seems like he cares enough about the film to bring out more of his manic side, even if it did earn him a Razzie nomination. Guy Pearce also stars, bringing a little more quality to this otherwise forgettable film.
72. The Wicker Man (Neil Labute, 2006)
Role: Edward Malus
Probably the most infamous of all of Nicolas Cage’s films, The Wicker Man is not as bad as its reputation suggests. Of course, it’s not as good as the original, and the film is never scary, which is a problem for a horror movie, but the production and storytelling is significantly greater than the movies that came before on this list. People would like to fault Cage for making the film funny rather than scary, but once you realize that it is Cage alone that makes the film entertaining, it is actually a good time.
71. Christmas Carol: The Movie (Jimmy Murakami, 2001)
Role: Jacob Marley
The first and most forgettable animated film on this list, Nicolas Cage plays the small but important role of Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge’s old partner who gets him started on his holiday journey. Everything from the storytelling to the animation is underwhelming with this take on Dicken’s classic tale. There are so many great film versions of this tale so please don’t waste your time with this one.
70. Looking Glass (Tim Hunter, 2018)
This was such a disappointment given the talent involved on both sides of the camera. Not only does Nicolas Cage play a relatively interesting role, but Tim Hunter, director of 80s gems Tex and River’s Edge, as well as some of the better episodes of Twin Peaks, was behind the camera. While the film builds up well the script does not wrap up solidly and the mystery is left more or less unanswered.
69. Fire Birds (David Green, 1990)
Role: Jake Preston
Nicolas Cage stars in this wannabe Top Gun as a helicopter pilot trying to take down a drug cartel in South America, with Tommy Lee Jones as his stern instructor and Sean Young as his girlfriend. Despite the well rounded cast, the movie stinks on pretty much every level.
The script is predictable, dialogue is unbelievable and the characters, especially Cage’s cocky pilot, have no depth. The worst part is they somehow made a movie about attack helicopters boring. Luckily Cage got better at being an action star a few years later.
68. 8MM (Joel Schumacher, 1999)
Role: Tom Welles
This is an extremely dark and unpleasant film and extremely surprising due to the fact that it comes from a big studio with huge stars. Of course, dark and unpleasant doesn’t mean bad if there is a good examination of the content. This is not the case. Cage plays a detective investigating the underground snuff film industry and the violence it shows is disturbing and explicit.
The problem is that the film is showing us this violence in an attempt to thrill us, hypocritically using the same ideas that it is trying to combat. 8MM is a distasteful piece that is guaranteed to make you feel miserable.
67. Outcast (Nick Powell, 2014)
Somehow Outcast was only the third worst movie that Cage made in 2014, and it is still bad. Set long ago in China, Cage plays Gallain, an ex-warrior turned bandit who, with another warrior played by Hayden Christensen, help the rightful successor to the Emperor take the throne.
The production value on this movie surprisingly is alright and the fight scenes are done well. The rest, however, is not well developed and the movie is a bore. One highlight is Cage’s wig, causing one critic to compare him to Gene Simmons.
66. The Humanity Bureau (Rob W. King, 2018)
Role: Noah Kross
Not as offensively bad as it is boring and pointless. Taking place in the future where the Earth’s resources have been depleted, Cage plays an agent of the Humanity Bureau, who decides which humans go to a concentration camp or stay alive. He veers from his strict professionalism when he meets a boy who turns out to be his son, where he takes him and goes on the run from the agency. Sorry for spoiling the plot, but I don’t think that you want to watch it anyways.
65. Trespass (Joel Schumacher, 2011)
Role: Kyle Miller
Cage reteams with Joel Schumacher for this home invasion thriller to not much better results than their first outing. Although Trespass sports an impressive cast with Nicole Kidman as Cage’s wife and Ben Mendelsohn as the villain, the film was doomed from the start.
The script is just awful, packed with so many pointless twists that add nothing but confusing to the story. To add on to that, the film is shot so bleakly with an unappealing atmosphere, that I find it hard to imagine anybody enjoying themselves while watching this film.
64. Zandalee (Sam Pillsbury, 1991)
Role: Johnny Collins
Almost completely forgotten since it came out on video in the 90s, this horribly titled film
Is actually quite memorable. Based on an Emile Zola play, the film follows Zandalee, a beautiful woman in a boring marriage who starts an affair with her husband’s old painter friend. Judge Reinhold plays the husband and Cage plays the painter.
The film takes a decent story and doesn’t do much with it, except throw in a lot of sex and nudity. Cage also does his best here, playing the eccentric, mysterious, drugged out lover. His performance steals almost every scene he’s in, and although the movie is bad by just about every other standard, it is entertaining enough to pass the time.
63. Inconceivable (Jonathan Baker, 2017)
Another bad thriller with a bad name. Cage plays Brian who is married to Angela played by Gina Gershon, who is having trouble having a baby. They meet Katie, played by NIcky Whelan who digs herself into their lives, but they soon discover she hides a sinister past. Nothing new is explored here, the “thrills” made up of poorly executed cliches. This movie has basically been made several times, all better than this one.
62. Army of One (Larry Charles, 2016)
Role: Gary Faulkner
This movie should have been better. Starring Cage and funnyman Russell Brand, as well as directed by Larry Charles of Borat fame, it had the talent in place for success.
The plot is a bit odd, following Cage’s character, a construction worker, who goes to the Middle East to try and stop Osama Bin Laden, but it still had potential. The result is a comedy that fails to land any good jokes, instead full of misguided characters that don’t develop well. It tried to be too serious for a comedy and too goofy for an indie hit, ending up being completely forgettable.
61. Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance (Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, 2011)
Role: Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider
Filmmaking team Neveldine/Taylor, the duo behind the Crank series, take on the second of Cage’s Marvel anti-hero film. The plot its not as good a the first film, focused on Ghost Rider a.k.a. Johnny Blaze transporting a young boy, fighting off demons as they go.
As you might have guessed from the directors, the character is more outrageous that in the first film, with Cage getting permission to let loose his wild side. Idris Elba does a fine job as a mysterious ally, but the plot and action of the film left a lot to be desired. Besides the newest Fantastic Four movie, this is probably the worst superhero film of the modern era.
60. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (John Madden, 2001)
Role: Captain Antonio Corelli
Seeped in melodrama, this cheesy adaptation of a much greater novel takes place in WWII Greece. Cage plays Corelli, a Captain of the Italian Army who leads a battalion stationed on a Greek island. While there, he falls in love with a beautiful local girl Pelagia, played by Penelope Cruz, but they become separated by the war. Director John Madden, while capturing the beauty of the island, forgoes storytelling in exchange for artistry. The final product is a visually pleasing but unbelievable romance that the audience couldn’t care less about.
59. USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (Mario Van Peebles, 2016)
Roles: Captain Charles B. McVay
Another World War II movie, somehow this direct to streaming film by Mario Van Peebles turned out better than the previous war story by an Oscar nominated director. But it’s not better by very much.
The plot follows the crew of the USS Indianapolis who are stranded at sea, only about 300 of whom make it back. Then the film shifts into a courtroom drama, with the establishment trying to place the blame onto Cage’s Captain. Here Cage is given a much meatier role than his modern cheap thrillers, but the rest of the film is still flat.
58. G-Force (Hoyt H. Yeatman Jr., 2009)
Yes, I think a film where Nicolas Cage voices a hyper-intelligent star-nosed mole is better than over twenty of his other movies. In case you don’t remember this one, it is about secret agent CGI rodents.
Voiced by a cast of stars and featuring Zach Galifianakis in one of his first big roles, G-Force is an inoffensive family film, that passes the time but that you’ll completely forget about after it’s over. I don’t have much else to say about this one, so I’ll throw in a fun fact: it features a soundtrack composed by Yes guitarist Trevor Rabin, who also scored five other films on this list.
57. Dog Eat Dog (Paul Schrader, 2016)
Yes, Paul Schrader, the legendary screenwriter behind Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, is also responsible for this nasty little crime picture. The movie, along with the lead actors, Cage and Willem Dafoe, are completely unhinged as they go down a twisted crime path, focused on kidnapping a baby.
It meets the fate of too many modern low budget crime films, trying too much to be like Tarantino to find a character of its own, and the violence is a little too much and too dark to be a whole lot of fun. At least it shows that Cage still cares enough to invest in his roles.
56. Stolen (Simon West, 2012)
Role: Will Montgomery
One of the more competent of Cage’s contemporary thrillers, Stolen is at its best a cheap Taken ripoff, but it rarely works. Cage does his best, playing a sincere ex-con whose daughter is taken by his old partners, but the script doesn’t give him the most to work with.
The rest of the characters are even more poorly developed and the plot is predictable. It also completely fails at being either an action movie or thriller, lacking a strong vision. Given a little more effort, this one could have beens serviceable.