Over the last four years, Nicolas Cage has undergone a professional revival as a tragic eccentric, hovering somewhere between dark comedy and desperate melodrama. His characters kill others and themselves, suffer dramatically, and wildly participate in strange plots that can’t be labeled as trash or mainstream.
However, Cage became a meme-worthy actor long before this, having been featured in films with wild plots and mad mise-en-scènes, where he sometimes reached the pinnacle of physical acting and buffoonery, and at other times, sank into cringe-worthy performances. Here are some of our favorites.
This independent slasher by Kevin Lewis about demonic creatures from an amusement park has already become cult-famous, not least because Nicolas Cage poured his heart into it. The actor discovered the idea from the “Blood List” of unproduced horror scripts, became a co-producer of the project, and took the lead role.
His character is a laconic tough guy with a dark past, wandering the US. Stuck in a small town, he agrees to work as a janitor in the amusement park “Willy’s Wonderland”. The mechanical creatures of this “Wonderland” are possessed by the souls of serial killers, who now feed on teenagers. But they’re no match for Cage.
Without blinking, he knocks the spirit out of the cheaply animated monsters. There are many hilarious scenes, but the funniest is a break moment when the janitor passionately dances at a pinball machine to dream-pop — move over, Travolta!
In the remake of the thriller about an island community of pagans, Cage faces a sect of Amazons who offer human sacrifices (of course, only men). His character, a policeman who comes to the island searching for his missing daughter with his ex-wife, is next in line to be burned inside a giant statue.
And that’s not the only torture awaiting him: first, there’s a bee-stinging test (a scene not included in the theatrical release that gave birth to a thousand memes) and then broken legs.
But initially, Cage acts as usual: wearing the skin of a freshly skinned bear, he sneaks into the ritual, abruptly approaches the stunned ceremony supervisor, and delivers a devastating right hook. According to zoomboola.com, in the end, they still roast him in honor of Mother Earth.
Marvel might prefer to forget this episode: the Ghost Rider duology definitely didn’t work out (audiences back then weren’t ready for unconventional superheroes). But now, we fondly remember how Cage, clad in leather, periodically transforms into a flaming skeleton causing chaos on the highway.
If you thought the scene in Nolan’s film where Batman interrogates the Joker was too grotesque, watch Cage as the Rider interrogate a minor henchman of the devil. He sobs and laughs, gasping that the Rider is about to show up in all its glory and is “scraping at the door!”
Cage’s nervous tic transitions into poor CGI – a cartoonish skull becomes visible beneath his skin, and the terrified rogue looks ready to literally swallow his own cellphone. Cage (who once dreamt of playing Superman) is definitely not the hero we’d want as our savior.
Cage is at home in old-fashioned B movies. Here, he plays a typical character – a rare animal hunter in the jungle who never parts with his gun, doesn’t shave, and despises humans. Cage is transporting a rare white leopard from South to North America, while on the same ship, the US authorities are transferring a war criminal (a manically grinning Kevin Durand).
The latter, predictably, escapes from his cage, releasing venomous snakes and angry monkeys in the process. The climax is a fight reminiscent of action flicks starring Schwarzenegger or Van Damme. The heroes brawl in the ship’s hold. Durand, even after being poisoned with curare, is overpowering Cage, but the hunter’s beloved pet – the white leopard – is gearing up to enter the fray.
This film, reminiscent in its naivety of “Mortal Kombat” but devoid of a similar fan base, is unlikely to go down in cinema history. A plot about an order of martial arts masters saving Earth from aliens doesn’t inspire even modern gamers, so Cage’s appearance is the sole breath of fresh air in this stifling “Mortal Kombat” imitation.
Here, he plays an aged and worn-out jiu-jitsu master who meets the memory-lost protagonist in his underground lair. The interior resembles that of hobbits – very cozy, complete with a piano and rocking chair, and Cage is in a robe. But looks can be deceiving: Cage greets the visitor by throwing a dagger. When the hero dodges, Cage begins a parody monologue in the style of every mentor from bad movies – barely suppressing laughter, he talks about destiny. All the while, he digresses into tales of his hobby – making newspaper hats. Simultaneously, he doesn’t forget to keep striking the student.
In Panos Cosmatos’ psychedelic horror, Cage reaches the height of career absurdity. After hippie occultists burn his wife alive early in the film, the protagonist, simple lumberjack Red Miller, spirals into relentless madness.
Trapped in the bathroom, he growls and screams, pouring vodka over himself and downing it. Bearded, he doesn’t look like a victim at all: no PTSD here, Cage is just a roaring, raging vengeance machine. The film’s climax, where Cage passionately chainsaws his foe, is comparable in catharsis to the ending of “Dogville”.
Another wild horror in our hero’s filmography is Brian Taylor’s dark comedy about a bizarre epidemic that drives American parents to kill their children. Cage and his wife plan to chainsaw their teenage daughter and their loud son (chainsaws again!), and the actor goes all out.
But he reaches true heights of tragic expression during calmer moments: a family man, fed up with life, is burdened by the responsibilities of adulthood and creates a secret hideout in the basement, the “man cave.” He sets up a pool table, and after a comment from his wife, loses it and smashes it with a sledgehammer, delivering a piercing monologue of an aging loser. The grown boy has to work and has nowhere to play – it’s one of the many nods to “The Shining,” which “Mom and Dad” clearly draws inspiration from. Take that, cursed furniture!
The fifth adaptation of Lovecraft’s tale, produced with the involvement of Elijah Wood’s production company (the same company that backed “Mandy”). Here, Cage’s character is a family man who moves his wife and kids closer to nature, to a farm deep in the woods. The environmentally-conscious intellectual tries to raise alpacas and has his family eat only sustainable food. However, a meteorite lands in their backyard and its radiation slowly drives the family insane. While it all culminates in body-horror, Cage’s scaling character first has a meltdown.
Actually, the indie debut of director Michael Sarnoski is a rather serious film about the horrors of capitalism destroying everything alive: dreams, traditions, and even fine cuisine. Cage plays a renowned chef who retreats from civilization into the woods. He now lives in a cabin without water or electricity, bathes once a year, and earns a living by foraging for truffles.
A specially-trained pig, his only friend, assists him. Competitors steal the pig, and along with his business partner, a young truffle dealer, Cage heads to Portland to sort things out. Along the way, he fights with the dealer, kicks his car, and snatches a bicycle from a nearby teenager. A somber and sorrowful Cage rides the bike through an autumnal forest towards the distant city, with Mozart’s “Requiem” playing in the background. It’s a mixture of laughter and tears.
Cage on a bicycle seems to be a recurring image. This insane apocalyptic sukiyaki-western by absurdist Sion Sono starts similarly: Cage, in a futuristic leather jumpsuit with light bulbs, proudly steps out of a luxurious car, grabs a small bike with a basket, and embarks on an important mission. Here, Cage plays a renowned bank robber, captured but unbroken. To be freed, he must retrieve the Governor’s runaway daughter (played by trash-horror veteran Bill Moseley).
Cage is outfitted in a suit with mini-bombs attached to his arms, neck, and groin – they resemble light bulbs. If he gets too passionate or handsy, the smart suit will detonate instantly. Unfortunately, upon finding the runaway, Cage looks at her a bit too dreamily… The painful dance of a semi-castrated Cage, desperately showing the camera a bloodied testicle, speaks louder than a thousand words. Such scenes are things only Hollywood wouldn’t dare to imagine