Nicolas Cage is a unique figure in Hollywood, renowned for his captivating performances and unpredictable behavior both on and off screen. Despite being somewhat of an enigma, Cage’s versatility as an actor is undeniable, with the ability to deliver high-energy performances in blockbusters, as well as subtle, nuanced portrayals in smaller indie films. His latest film, The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent, sees him take on his most surreal role yet, playing a fictionalized version of himself in a meta action-comedy that showcases a whole new level of his idiosyncratic charm. To celebrate Cage’s eclectic filmography, Empire’s Cage experts have compiled a definitive ranking of his top ten films, each showcasing a different facet of his range as an actor. From gothic horror to zany comedy, heartrending drama to explosive action, this list is a testament to Cage’s unparalleled ability to inhabit a wide variety of characters and genres. There’s no denying that Nicolas Cage is a singular talent, and this collection of films proves that he is one of Hollywood’s most dynamic and memorable actors. Top 10 Must-See Films Starring Nicolas Cage.
Nicolas Cage’s unpredictable energy doesn’t typically translate into sex appeal, but in Moonstruck, he brings a wounded vulnerability to the role of Ronny, a one-handed baker who captivates Cher’s character Loretta, despite her being engaged to his brother. Their undeniable chemistry is the driving force of the film, culminating in a memorable scene where Loretta kicks a Coke can down a Brooklyn street after spending the night with Ronny. Despite not receiving an Oscar nomination like his co-stars Cher and Olympia Dukakis, Cage shines in one of his most romantic roles. Moonstruck is a classic film that endures due to the electric performances of its cast, particularly the irresistible pairing of Cage and Cher.
2) Leaving Las Vegas
Leaving Las Vegas, released in 1995, stands out in Nicolas Cage’s filmography, especially in comparison to his later blockbuster action roles in The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off. In the film, Cage delivers a painfully raw and vulnerable performance as an alcoholic screenwriter determined to drink himself to death in Las Vegas. Despite finding love with Elisabeth Shue’s character, a world-weary sex worker, Cage’s character is unable to escape his self-destructive tendencies. The collaboration between Cage and writer-director Mike Figgis resulted in a captivating and exposed-nerve performance that earned Cage a well-deserved Oscar. Although Cage incorporates his trademark flourishes, they are expertly woven into the character’s downward spiral. Watching Ben Sanderson’s rapid decline is both entertaining and profoundly uncomfortable, as it showcases the character’s showy social abandon and existential dereliction. Leaving Las Vegas is a remarkable entry in Cage’s career, a raw and unforgettable film that showcases the actor’s versatility and depth.
Nicolas Cage’s recent career resurgence has seen him take on roles that showcase both his over-the-top and unexpectedly poignant performances. In the heavy metal odyssey Mandy, directed by Panos Cosmatos, Cage delivers both with ease. He plays Red Miller, a man seeking revenge after his partner, played by Andrea Riseborough, is kidnapped by a cult. The film features Cage battling demon bikers in a hellish dimension, smelting a special shiny axe, and going all-out über-Cage. However, amidst the blood-soaked chaos, there is a deep, soulful sadness that underpins his performance. In one scene, Cage’s character is shown standing in a flower-patterned bathroom, drinking vodka straight from the bottle while growling and grunting animalistically. It’s a disturbing outpouring of unabashed grief, and it captures the actor’s ability to convey complex emotions. The depth of feeling in Mandy is the wildest thing about the film, and it’s a testament to Cage’s versatility as an actor.
4) Con Air
Con Air is an absurd, over-the-top action movie that revels in its own ridiculousness. However, the glue that holds it all together is none other than Nicolas Cage, who brings a sense of heart and sincerity to his role as Cameron Poe. After being imprisoned for years, Cameron just wants to return to his family, but ends up on a plane filled with dangerous criminals. Cage portrays Cameron as both an average guy and a wild card, always doing the right thing despite the chaos around him. He makes the audience care about his character, and let’s not forget his amazing hair, which is arguably his best ever.
While Cage has played many over-the-top characters, it’s his restrained and introspective performances that truly shine. His portrayal of the reclusive truffle hunter Robin Feld in Pig is a standout example of this, as he seeks justice after his beloved pig is stolen. Director Michael Sarnoski’s poetic and gritty fable lets Cage explore the character’s inner world with sensitivity and depth, creating a moving and unforgettable performance. Unlike his usual explosive roles, this anti-John Wick story showcases Cage’s range and ability to command the screen with stillness and quiet intensity. A rare gem, Pig is a film that lingers in the mind, reminding us of the power of grief, love, and the human connection with nature.
6) Red Rock West
Often overlooked in Nicolas Cage’s vast filmography is the hidden treasure, Red Rock West, which ranks among his best work. It’s a neo-Western with a noirish feel, set in the dusty wilderness of Wyoming, with modest goals but significant returns. Cage delivers a remarkably subdued, expressionless performance as Michael Williams, a vagabond living in his car who takes on a false identity on a whim when mistaken for a hitman. The film is an exceptionally well-crafted thriller, filled with intrigue and thoughtful nuances. It’s one of the few movies where Cage plays the straight man to a co-star’s unhinged performance (that role belongs to Dennis Hopper, who plays the genuine hitman, “Lyle, From Dallas”). While it was relegated to the direct-to-video abyss when it was first released in the early ’90s, it is now rightfully being regarded as one of Cage’s best contributions to film.
Being John Malkovich may have turned heads with its surreal premise, but it was Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s next collaboration, Adaptation, that truly upped the ante. In the film, Kaufman writes himself into the script as a hapless screenwriter struggling to adapt a book into a movie, creating a fictional twin brother to represent his own self-doubt and insecurities. And who better to play this dual role than Cage, who effortlessly switches between the twins’ contrasting personalities. The more reserved, self-critical Charlie is a clear foil to the charismatic and confident Donald, and Cage’s ability to make them both feel like fully-realized characters is nothing short of impressive. With no physical differences to rely on, it’s Cage’s performance that makes it easy to distinguish between the two. It’s another example of how Cage can elevate even the most complex and unconventional material.
Cage’s Castor Troy in Face/Off is a masterclass in villainy, but with a twist. He’s so charismatic and over-the-top that we can’t help but love him, even as he’s doing despicable things. He’s like the devil on your shoulder, urging you to do bad things, but in such an entertaining way that you almost forget the consequences. Cage’s performance is so electrifying that we can’t take our eyes off him, from his wild-eyed grins to his smooth-talking seduction of his enemy’s wife. And when he switches faces with his FBI nemesis, played by John Travolta, Cage creates a whole new character, one that’s tormented and conflicted, but still with that devilish charm. The action scenes are stunning, of course, with John Woo at the helm, but it’s Cage who steals the show. He’s a force of nature, a hurricane of charisma, and we can’t help but be swept away by him. Cage is the ultimate showman, and Face/Off is his greatest performance.
9) Raising Arizona
Raising Arizona, the off-kilter Coen brothers’ comedy, had a tumultuous journey to become the cult classic it is today. Nicolas Cage’s energetic improvisational style clashed with the directors’ meticulous planning, leading to mixed reviews upon release. But Cage’s performance as the hapless H.I. McDunnough, a lovable ex-con who dreams of fatherhood, has stood the test of time. He exudes a quirky charm and injects the character with a mix of humor and heart that makes the absurd plot, involving child kidnapping, feel endearing. It’s a testament to the film’s enduring appeal that it’s still being championed by contemporary filmmakers like Edgar Wright. Raising Arizona may have been a wild ride, but it’s a beloved treasure in Cage’s filmography.
10) The Rock
The Rock is a shining example of the heights to which a great action movie can soar. Nicolas Cage’s performance as Stanley Goodspeed is the perfect mix of humor, intensity, and vulnerability. He may be a desk-bound FBI agent, but he’s also a “chemical super-freak” who knows how to improvise when things get explosive. The chemistry between Cage and Sean Connery is palpable, and the unlikely duo make for a dynamic and entertaining pairing. The movie’s finale is a true showcase for Cage’s action hero chops, as he charges into battle with arms aloft and flares lighting up the night sky. It’s no wonder that The Rock has become a beloved classic, and that Cage’s performance is considered one of the greatest action hero turns of all time.