The moment I fell in love with my partner was over text. I was on tour, playing a small DIY space in Indianapolis, and she was back in Queens. We?d only been on one date at that point, but it was already clear there was a spark. The conversation was floating around guilty pleasure movie tastes. We both admitted to a love for cheesy 90?s action movies, and then both simultaneously texted the caveat: but Nicolas Cage movies aren?t a guilty pleasure, they?re just great.
Say what you will about Cage?s movies, but the man?s performances are almost never boring. He brings the same unflappable commitment to everything from A-list classics to direct-to-video claptrap. Even when it?s clear he?s just collecting a paycheck, the man never phones it in. I wish I could say the same. Can you? Probably not.
Over our first four years together, trawling the bottom of the barrel of Cage?s catalog became a rainy day hobby for us. One day, Nicole mentioned wishing she had a stamp with Cage?s face on it, so she could stamp all the movies in his canon we?d seen like a passport. So, summoning all the skills I?d acquired over a lifetime as a DIY musician, I made the stamp for our 4 year anniversary. Somehow (neither of us remember how) we decided that our mission was to watch every single movie Nicolas Cage had ever made before our 5 year anniversary.
The rating system:
We rated each movie between 1 and 5 stars. Generally 5 stars means we?d watch it again any day of the week, 1 star means we wish we?d never seen it. Fascinatingly, when plotted, the ratings basically correspond to a standard bell curve. There are some low points, but even in his worst periods, Cage still managed to find time to put out a stone-cold classic.
We decided early on that documentaries and short films don?t count. How can you compare the candid test footage from Superman Lives with the studied and complex performance of Adaptation? How can you compare the minuscule cameo in Rob Zombie?s fake trailer against a movie as expertly plotted and scripted as Face/Off? We also regrettably were unable to watch either 2001?s Christmas Carol, or 1986?s sculling drama The Boy In Blue because as of this writing, neither is currently distributed on either a physical medium or digitally. But from the clips we?ve been able to watch, we can reasonably assume both would get 2 stars. Sadly, as of this writing The Color Out of Space has not yet been released to general audiences. As a lifelong Lovecraft fan, and based on advance buzz, I can assume it?s probably going to blow my damn mind.
Nic Cage is most often cast as some sort of career criminal (19 films), second only to members of law enforcement (15 films), though if you include vigilantes and super heroes under ?law enforcement? it goes up to 23.
He?s most often named ?John? or ?Johnny? (9 films), and is not given a last name in 33 of his appearances. Almost none of the movies in which he lacks a last name are good.
Most consistently great character trope:
Someone with hyper-specific and / or arcane knowledge.
Most consistently bad character trope:
Someone out for revenge for a horrific act of violence against a woman. (Mandy is the obvious exception, otherwise these movies are pretty dire?)
Most laudably specific character trope:
Reluctant hotel manager.
And here?s the list:
1. Face/Off (1997) ? 5 Stars
It?s weird that people continued to make movies after 1997, when the form was perfected. Presumably, the failure to replicate the success of Face/Off is why we?ve ended up in our current rut of remakes and sequels.
2. Mandy (2018) ? 5 Stars
This may be the greatest horror movie in history. For a film in which everything around him is going completely bonkers, Nic Cage turns in possibly the most emotionally grounded performance of his career. The only reason it?s not #1 on this list is because at no point does Nicolas Cage do an impression of John Travolta doing an impression of Nicolas Cage, and therefore it can never best Face/Off. That?s just math, friends.
3. Con Air (1997) ? 5 Stars
Con Air defies objective analysis or quantification. The movie is essentially flawless. Period.
4. Adaptation (2002) ? 5 Stars
Adaptation is not the best movie in Cage?s canon, but it may be the finest movie. However its own meta theatrics never rise to the heights of the aforementioned Cage/Travolta/Cage meta extravaganza. Is Nic Cage the greatest post-modernist actor of all time? Yes. Yes he is.
5. National Treasure (2004) ? 5 Stars
This movie is such a national treasure, we can only assume that National Treasure 3, if it ever gets made, will be about them rescuing the original print of National Treasure from unscrupulous producers attempting to reboot the franchise.
6. Wild At Heart (1990) ? 5 Stars
Nic Cage, Laura Dern, and David Lynch at his creative peak? Yes please.
7. Mom and Dad (2018) ? 5 Stars
Most of Cage?s 2010?s blood-soaked output wishes it were even a quarter as clever, over-the-top, and fun as Mom and Dad is.
8. Army of One (2016) ? 5 Stars
By its miserable reviews and potentially toxic concept, Army of One should have been a slog. Instead, Cage delivers a sweet, affecting character study. It?s a very small movie in an oeuvre of big performances, but it was an absolute diamond in the rough.
9. Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse (2018) ? 5 Stars
14 years and roughly 16,000 Spiderman movies after the last good Spiderman movie, someone finally re-captured the magic. Cage?s role is tragically small, but the movie on the whole is just excellent.
10. The Rock (1996) ? 5 Stars
In the history of film, has anyone ever had a better run than The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off? No, they have not.
11. The Humanity Bureau (2018) ? 4.5 Stars
Though the movie?s aspirations often outpaced its clearly meager budget, The Humanity Bureau was a surprisingly tense, smart, post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller.
12. Lord of War (2005) ? 4 Stars
Lord of War stands out as one of the only Cage films with any kind of message. Admittedly, criticizing arms dealers is sort of low hanging fruit, but the movie rules nonetheless.
13. Raising Arizona (2005) ? 4 Stars
It takes a second to get going, but once Raising Arizona kicks into gear, it?s a non-stop absurdist delight.
14. National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007) ? 4 Stars
The National Treasure movies are often criticized as cheap Dan Brown knockoffs, but Dan Brown is nowhere near this much fun.
15. Matchstick Men (2003) ? 4 Stars
Who doesn?t love Cage as a con man? Nobody, that?s who.
16. Vampire?s Kiss (1989) ? 4 Stars
Vampire?s Kiss isn?t the greatest movie ever, but it contains Cage?s most iconically Cageian performance.
17. Trapped In Paradise (1994) ? 4 Stars
One of the few real comedies in Cage?s filmography, Trapped In Paradise shows that he really ought to make more movies that are intentionally funny.
18. Red Rock West (1993) ? 4 Stars
Despite most Cage movies technically being ?thrillers,? few of them are as genuinely thrilling as Red Rock West.
19. It Could Happen To You (1994) ? 4 Stars
Cage rarely plays characters who are just decent people, and it?s a delight to see him just get to be Tom Hanks for a minute.
20. The Sorcerer?s Apprentice (2010) ? 4 Stars
Is The Sorcerer?s Apprentice a good movie? No. Did we enjoy every ludicrous second of it? Yes.
21. Kick-Ass (2010) ? 4 Stars
Though it takes itself slightly too seriously for its own good, Kick-Ass generally lives up its title.
22. Ghost Rider (2007) ? 3.5 Stars
The tragedy of Ghost Rider isn?t just that it doesn?t deserve its status in the popular imagination as the nadir of Cage?s career. Trust me, he?s made many many many worse films. The real tragedy is that with judicious editing, it could have been great. Had the movie been cut down to a taut 90 minute barrage of glorious excess, it would have been much higher on this list.
23. Dog Eat Dog (2006) ? 3.5 Stars
Dog Eat Dog is the first truly bad movie on this list. Why is it so high up then? Because of the mustard fight. Oh, the mustard fight.
24. Snake Eyes (1998) ? 3 Stars
My brother-in-law is an extra in this movie, which elevates it high above what it deserves. We feel that Cage would approve of this nepotism.
25. Moonstruck (1987) ? 3 Stars
Hey! It?s Cher! And Nic Cage! That?s fun! Snap out of it!
26. Drive Angry (2011) ? 3 Stars
This movie was preposterous and eminently watchable.
27. Knowing (2009) ? 3 Stars
Knowing is basically an episode of the Twilight Zone stretched to feature-length, with all the good and bad that entails.
28. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011) ? 3 Stars
Like its predecessor, the second Ghost Rider really could have been great if it had just taken itself slightly less seriously and been considerably shorter.
29. The Weather Man (2005) ? 3 Stars
While mid-life crisis movies are often an excuse for filmmakers to engage in the worst kind of navel-gazing, Cage?s nuanced performance makes The Weather Man worthwhile.
30. The Frozen Ground (2013) ? 3 Stars
Fun fact, 50 Cent produced this surprisingly good serial killer movie.
31. Leaving Las Vegas (1995) ? 3 Stars
Speaking of miserablist navel-gazing saved by a nuanced performance, here?s Leaving Las Vegas!
32. Valley Girl (1983) ? 3 Stars
An otherwise enjoyable movie about a girl from the valley falling for a punk that has no idea how either valley girls or punks behave in real life. Fun! Bonus un-points for consistently confusing new wave with punk.
33. Guarding Tess (1994) ? 3 Stars
Didn?t like Driving Miss Daisy because it ?played the race card? too much? Well, Guarding Tess is basically the same movie but without any of that pesky poignancy or relevance. You?re welcome.
34. Kiss of Death (1995) ? 3 Stars
Kiss of Death wastes a peak Helen Hunt performance, but Cage is fantastically unhinged as the villain in this crime thriller.
35. The Family Man (2000) ? 3 Stars
Why around the turn of the millennium were we all about movies where self-centered businessmen learn to love through the power of high concept magical shenanigans? That was a weird trend, but this movie?s OK.
36. Gone In 60 Seconds (2000) ? 3 Stars
Kind of a ho-hum heist movie, but still, who isn?t a sucker for a good heist?
37. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) ? 3 Stars
I guess we weren?t just making these movies around the turn of the millennium. We made them in the 80?s too. The movie?s fine, but Cage?s performance is uncharacteristically ungrounded and feels like it was from a different movie. Reportedly he was also impossible to work with. He?s since apologized to Kathleen Turner though, so that?s nice.
38. Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982) ? 3 Stars
Cage is in this movie for all of 3 seconds. It?s a pretty good film and I guess many people consider it a classic, but the underutilisation of Cage is shameful.
39. The Runner (2015) ? 3 Stars
This political drama was pretty OK.
40. The Croods (2013) ? 3 Stars
They?re making another one of these. Sure. Why not?
41. Stolen (2012) ? 3 Stars
On some level, I appreciate that the filmmakers weren?t even trying to pretend that they weren?t ripping off Taken. On another, more immediate level, I wish they had not done so.
42. Inconceivable (2017) ? 3 Stars
Not a great movie, but it definitely wins points for its unabashedly outlandish telenovella plot, and solid pun of a title.
43. Bringing Out the Dead (1999) ? 3 Stars
Bringing Out the Dead isn?t just the most middling movie of Cage?s career, it?s also the most middling movie of Scorsese?s career!
44. Next (2007) ? 3 Stars
A generally solid thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick story whose bloated narrative belies the fact that it was based on a short story.
45. Cotton Club (1984) ? 3 Stars
Francis Ford Coppola is rightly considered one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, though if you only knew his work through his collaborations with his nephew, you would not know that.
46. Amos & Andrew (1993) ? 3 Stars
The only people clamoring for an update to the notoriously racist 1920?s Amos & Andy radio show are the same people who enthusiastically attend Joe Biden rallies. The best thing that can be said about it is that it?s nowhere near as offensive as we expected.
47. Sonny (2002) ? 2.5 Stars
Nicolas Cage?s directorial debut showcases why he belongs in front of the camera. It?s a terrible terrible movie saved only by a triumphant Cage cameo. Bonus points for being his only explicitly queer character to date.
48. Seeking Justice (2011) ? 2.5 Stars
An otherwise interesting concept weighed down by its bad habit of using graphic violence against women as plot devices to drive the male characters forward. Sigh.
49. Fire Birds (1990) ? 2.5 Stars
Not a great movie, but we stayed awake through the whole thing!
50. Birdy (1984) ? 2 Stars
Birdy isn?t a good movie. At all. But the bird suit scene is the most delightfully homoerotic sequence in Cage?s canon, and is the lone memorable spot in an otherwise forgettable film.
51. Wicker Man (2006) ? 2 Stars
Cage?s performance is often criticized for being too over-the-top in Wicker Man, but in truth noted misanthrope and misogynist Neil LaBute?s mediocre direction is too under-the-top, and Cage?s performance is just right.
52. Snowden (2016) ? 2 Stars
?Oh. Sure. Yeah, I guess Joseph Gordon-Levitt does kind of look like Edward Snowden, the movie.? I long for the sequel in which Gordon-Levitt?s character gets stuck at an airport in Germany during a snowstorm. Stay tuned for Snowden 2: Snowed-In In Dresden.
53. USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016) ? 2 Stars
I understand how someone heard the true story USSI:MOC ? or as I like to call it United States Ship Indianapolis: Homo Sapiens Sapiens of Courage ? was based on and thought ?wow, that?s wild, this would make a great movie!? They were wrong, of course, but I understand why they thought that.
54. Dying of the Light (2014) ? 2 Stars
A mediocre thriller buoyed by a semi-novel concept.
55. Pay the Ghost (2015) ? 2 Stars
Movies this high concept really shouldn?t be this dull.
56. Deadfall (1993) ? 2 Stars
A terrible film saved from one-star-hood by a joyfully unhinged Cage.
57. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009) ? 2 Stars
The only good thing about this movie is that at some point someone said the phrase ?Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans? with a straight face during a pitch meeting.
58. Primal (2019) ? 2 Stars
Keamy from Lost squares off against Cage in this misbegotten Snakes on a Plane riff that fails to achieve the same kind of dopey fun as its progenitor. But Cage?s repeated threats not to hurt his cat were, to quote Open Mike Eagle, ?hella relatable.?
59. Rumble Fish (1983) ? 2 Stars
Stewart Copeland of The Police scored this movie shortly before the band?s breakup. So if you think about it, you could say Rumble Fish probably contributed to the breakup of The Police, and therefore I?m glad it exists.
60. A Score to Settle (2019) ? 2 Stars
A second-class M. Night Shyamalan twist salvages this otherwise forgettable revenge thriller.
61?63. G-Force (2009), Astro Boy (2009), The Ant Bully (2006) ? 2 Stars
The best kids movies try to be equally enjoyable for both kids and their parents. These movies are not among the best kids movies.
64. City of Angels (1998) ? 2 Stars
The worst crime City of Angels commits is not just squandering a great soundtrack, but ending Cage?s iconic The Rock / Con Air / Face/Off run with one of those terrible 90?s dramas that confuse gaslighting and stalking with romance.
65. Kill Chain (2019) ? 2 Stars
A late-comer to the microgenre of cheap Tarantino knockoffs, Kill Chain boasts some surprisingly good cinematography. Nothing in this film is memorable, but there are a few solid visual compositions.
66. Between Worlds (2018) ? 2 Stars
People switch bodies. It?s pretty dumb, but at least it knows it.
67. 211 (2018) ? 2 Stars
I am certain we watched this movie, but I have no recollection of it whatsoever. That?s not a good sign.
68. Tresspass (2011) ? 2 Stars
Has anyone ever made a good home invasion movie? Keep trying guys, you?ll get it eventually.
69. Joe (2013) ? 2 Stars
In. Term. In. A. Bull.
70. Season of the Witch (2011) ? 2 Stars
Given that this movie involves Templars, can it be considered a prequel to the National Treasure films? If so, is it a better or worse prequel than The Phantom Menace?
71. The Trust (2016) ? 2 Stars
I was briefly excited at the possibility of Frodo Baggins, Nic Cage, Jerry Friggin Lewis, and Ben Brewer of legendary punk band The Exit working together, but it turns out the director is a different Ben Brewer, and this movie is just awful. Pro tip: ?black comedies? still have to have jokes.
72. Arsenal (2017) ? 2 Stars
A sort of semi-sanctioned sequel to Deadfall, this movie confirms that few sequels are ever better than the original. But that?s especially true when the original was pretty bad to begin with.
73. Racing with the Moon (1984) ? 2 Stars
Props for the frank discussion of abortion, I guess, but meh.
74. Never On Tuesday (1989) ? 2 Stars
Cage appears in this glorified student film for maybe 2 minutes. It was not at all as bad as we expected it would be, but like most Portlandia sketches, it was clearly a lot more fun to make than it is to watch.
75. Zandalee (1991) ? 2 Stars
What was up with that facial hair, Nic? Why? Why?! WHY?!!!
76. Bangkok Dangerous (2008) ? 2 Stars
File under: we expected it to be very racist. Instead it was just kind of racist. That was nice.
77. Left Behind (2014) ? 2 Stars
Look, at least Kirk Cameron?s Left Behind had the good grace to be funny-bad, not just bad-bad.
78. Captain Corelli?s Mandolin (2001) ? 2 Stars
Fascists have feelings too!
79. Rage / Tokarev (2014) ? 1.5 Stars
If your movie is so bad you have to change its name, changing the name isn?t going to help.
80. Looking Glass (2018) ? 1.5 Stars
No-one in this movie is acting like they?re in the same movie. They should have saved themselves the trouble by not being in it at all.
81. Honeymoon In Vegas (1992) ? 1.5 Stars
Not only did this ostensible comedy fail to deliver any laughs whatsoever, it also introduced a young Bruno Mars to the world. Unforgiveable.
82. Windtalkers (2002) ? 1.5 Stars
OK, so the whole Navajo Windtalkers thing is actually a really interesting story, particularly if you?re someone who finds linguistics and encryption to be fascinating subjects (me). This movie is not really about that though. It?s just about a bunch of white guys learning not to be racist against their encoding Navajo compatriots. It could have been worse, but not much.
83. Running with the Devil (2019) ? 1 Star
A good way to tell if your movie is going to be bad is if you couldn?t even be bothered to give your characters full names. At least it looked like Lawrence Fishburne was having fun.
84. Outcast (2014) ? 1 Star
One does not kill off Nic Cage in the first 15 minutes of the movie and then expect me to keep caring.
85. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) ? 1 Star
If you were to give a 6 year-old the whole bag of Halloween candy, a double shot of espresso, and a 64 pack of crayons, they would come up with something more coherent and enjoyable than this film. Bonus un-points for featuring the worst original songs ever written by anyone other than Andrew Lippa.
86. 8mm (1999) ? 1 Star
Watching 8mm is as enjoyable as hanging out with a couple of 14 year-old mall goths telling you how totally dark and twisted they are while you wait for their mom to pick them up from the food court. Even a committed Joaquin Phoenix and an admittedly tense Aphex Twin needle-drop couldn?t save this clunker.
87. World Trade Center (2006) ? 1 Star
Jet fuel can?t melt steel beams. Or make this national tragedy into a watchable film. It?s basically Floyd Collins but without the awful score. So it?s slightly better than Floyd Collins. But that?s the only positive thing that can be said about it.
88. Vengeance: A Love Story (2017) ? 1 Star
In 1670, Aphra Behn wrote a series of plays satirizing the trend of using rape as a narrative device. They?re great. Vengeance: A Love Story is not. If your plot line was already played out and problematic before indoor plumbing or electricity were invented, it?s time to go back to the drawing board on that screenplay. Maybe make it about rare orchids or something. That seems like a good idea for a screenplay.
89. Time to Kill (1989) ? 1 Star
I don?t know who thought a movie in which Cage plays an unrepentant rapist, murderer, and fascist colonialist ? and is also supposed to be the protagonist ? was a good idea. This may in fact be the worst movie it is possible to make. Though who knows, if someone ever attempts a film adaptation of Adam Guettel?s Floyd Collins, it may unseat the steaming pile of New York garbage in August that is Time to Kill.
The above list is accurate as of 11/15/19, and is a statement of indisputable fact. Unless you have seen every movie on this list, there is no room for reasonable disagreement or discussion.
Nathan Leigh is a composer, writer, and activist. His latest solo album is Ordinary Eternal Machinery.
Nicole Orabona is an actor, director, and cat lover. She lives on a 40 year old sailboat on the Hudson.
Commodore Welcome is a cat who lives with her hoomins on a boat. Her instagram is @cat_on_a_hot_tin_boat