Nicolas Cage may have had one of the strangest career trajectories. First, he was an acclaimed indie actor. Then he established himself as a major movie star, a leading man in action and other major studio films. Some kept praising him, some said he’s sold out now, but he tried to balance those big movies with auteur-driven indies later on. He’s got an impressive auteur resume in general, and has worked with so many acclaimed directors.
After some point, due to tax problems and other reasons, he started to do mostly direct-to-video action stuff. Even before then he had some duds like “The Wicker Man.” That one and some of his other “big” moments got popular on the internet. People didn’t even watch movies like “Vampire’s Kiss” and started to have an opinion around his performance and the movies themselves based on totally out-of-context scenes. His reputation is currently kind of mixed due to his style sometimes becoming a meme around the web and his poor film choices in the last decade (with some obvious major exceptions).
Still, most cinephiles and critics do love him and regard him as one of the greatest and most unique actors. Cage also had a prolific career at nearly every stage of his career, so not surprising that some of the entertaining stuff ended up getting overlooked. Here are 10 of them that show the different sides of Cage’s talent.
10. Guarding Tess (1994)
You know the formula of two people who can’t stand each other having to spend time together; first we get comedic moments about how they hate each other, but then they learn to respect each other and some emotional scenes happen. If you like such stories, chances are “Guarding Tess” will be a film for you.
It’s not a film that explores its themes deeply, which may frustrate some but this is still a lovely story of a bodyguard who has to protect a former First Lady. They’re portrayed by Cage and Shirley MacLaine, respectively, and the film is entertaining exactly because of these two; they both know what they’re doing, they elevate the material, and the comic tension between them makes this an entertaining ride. Not without some action-y moments, but it’s still mostly a character-driven comedy.
The movie was a modest box office success and MacLaine earned a Golden Globe nomination for her part as well, but it seems to be forgotten in time. Overall, “Guarding Tess” is harmless, amusing entertainment for those who never get tired of watching such old-fashioned feel-good stories with some funny and sad moments.
9. The Weather Man (2005)
“Guarding Tess” was just mentioned and there are going to be several other Cage comedies on this list, but the impressive thing is that almost none of these characters are similar to each other, which is a testament to Cage’s versatility and range. He’s proud of this film, calling it an “edgy, thought-provoking, independent-spirited” film alongside his other film in the same year, the great “Lord of War.” And he should be. It’s a film bit of an acquired taste but it’s indeed thought-provoking in a way that you keep wondering; is it really right to keep fighting to fix things, or is it just better to let go?
Another box office disappointment in Cage’s filmography, “The Weather Man” is one of the better studio films on mid-age crisis and those stories are always hard to relate for some, but Cage’s portrayal of a weatherman who doesn’t know what to do with his life is interesting to watch. However, it also depends on whether you go along with the film’s sense of humour. If the humour works for you, then you’ll end up loving the film. But even if not, Cage’s portrayal of the lead character can still engage you with this underappreciated gem. Even if it was at the hands of a better director instead of Gore Verbinski, someone who understands how to capture such character studies on screen, maybe the film would even be better, but it still is an original and great attempt on itself. Worth seeing.
8. Drive Angry (2011)
Here is a movie that is definitely not for the general audiences, so maybe it’s understandable why it’s mostly overlooked, but those who love gonzo Cage would highly appreciate this one. It has a lot of grindhouse elements, lots of crazy stuff, and the story just never stops delivering. Of course, it’s not a film that’s meant to be taken seriously and the whole thing is designed to appeal to genre fans who love such stuff. Those who loved the recent heavy metal-ish ride “Mandy” may also appreciate this one.
Even though the film itself has many over-the-top moments, Cage remains cool. Even in a scene where he smokes, has sex, and shoots people simultaneously. Cage is a charismatic lead and even though he knows the film is not something that takes itself too seriously, he doesn’t get unnecessarily playful with it. He plays with the right balance and Amber Heard makes a great co-star opposite him. She’s a perfect casting choice for the badass female lead.
The movie was also Cage’s first attempt with 3D, but it was a box office failure and not something that critics would care much about. Again, this was not exactly a film that would appeal to masses to begin with – the probably them seeing that poster and calling it “Drive Angry” gave them an impression that it’s gonna be “Gone In 60 Seconds” or something – yet they got a film about a criminal who escapes from Hell and steals Satan’s gun for revenge. At least it got a place on Tarantino’s “nice try” list.
7. Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)
Sure, no one should take IMDb ratings seriously, but this one strangely has a low rating considering it was kind of a successful movie, especially with critics. It also didn’t go unnoticed at the Golden Globes and Cage’s performance earned him a nomination as well. One of his two collaborations with director Andrew Bergman, “Honeymoon in Vegas” is like a less sensationalized, more comedic and even more romantic version of a more popular later release “Indecent Proposal.” It may sound bad when you put it this way as “Proposal” certainly was a terrible movie, but “Honeymoon in Vegas” is just so much fun all around.
Though it’s understandable if the main plot line turns some people off; there’s a man who “lost his wife on a gamble” but the movie is still fun. Cage is on fire here; delivering even some of the random lines in his signature style, which he used to call “operatic.” He also loves Elvis; previously we heard him singing like him in “Wild at Heart” and now here he finds himself among Elvis impersonators in probably the film’s most hilarious sequence. Sarah Jessica Parker had never been better on film before and James Caan is reliably good, but most of the film’s comedic strength comes from Cage’s great performance.
This is a very funny and original romantic comedy that benefits from Cage’s acting style, comedic timing, charm, and romantic lead charisma that he doesn’t always get a chance to show. And unlike many romantic comedies, it’s not exactly predictable, which is always a plus.
6. Racing with the Moon (1984)
The young Hopper Nash, like his friend Nicky, was called up to war in 1942. The two have only six weeks before they have to start their service. Hopper starts to date a girl named Caddie, whom he assumes is rich. When Nicky gets his girlfriend pregnant, he imposes Hopper to get money from Caddie for abortion money. That’s when he realizes that she’s not rich at all and she starts to think that he was with him all the time for the money.
“Racing with the Moon” is one of the first major roles for Cage, right after “Valley Girl,” and he’s pretty strong in it, as is Sean Penn in one of his early great performances when he was not overacting all the time like he has in some of his recent stuff. The movie didn’t do that well at the box office and despite the fact that it got more attention years later, the film still didn’t get any kind of new recognition.
It’s certainly a sentimental drama, but it works; it gives us interesting characters and explores themes like coming of age, being a teen in the pre-war era, falling in love for the first time, class problems, facing responsibilities and many more. Penn and McGovern are more at the center of the story and they make a nice couple to watch; they bring the charm and complex sides of first love. But Cage is also great; no matter if it’s a comedic moment where he is goofing around or during any of the film’s more emotional, dramatic moments, he manages to be effective. The movie is also beautifully photographed and directed.