Nicolas Cage has a very long filmography, with over 100 acting credits to his name. He has been in every genre possible and playing every character that he could. Cage has taken on the iconic role of Johnny Blaze, the hell-bent motorcyclist and stunt performer, in Marvel’s Ghost Rider. Or the 2006 remake of The Wicked Man, where he became the determined sheriff who becomes the next victim to an island community’s pagan rituals. With all the different roles and genres he’s been in, Cage has been able to steer clear of being typecast and created a portfolio with variety.
From stealing the Declaration of Independence to stealing John Travolta’s face, Cage has taken on some memorable and unforgettable projects. He has even gone as far as to play himself in the film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, where he must channel the most iconic characters if he wants to make it to the end of the movie. 2023 has been a big year for Cage as he had starring roles in both Renfield and Dream Scenario and even cameoed in The Flash, but he was in the dark on exactly what his cameo would be. He has perfected the art of playing some truly crazy characters while never playing the same one twice. Here are 12 of Cage’s most quintessential movies that fans of his should watch at least once.
Update November 8, 2023: In honor of the release of Dream Scenario, this article has been updated with more must-watch Nicolas Cage movies and where each title can be streamed.
Though he is mainly known as a leading man, Cage has proven time and time again that he is just as able to steal the show when he is in a supporting role. 2010 comic book film Kick-Ass, is a perfect example of this. Directed by Matthew Vaughn, it tells the story of Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), a teenager who is determined to be a real-life superhero despite not possessing any powers. Cage plays Big Daddy, a former cop-turned-vigilante whose business Dave gets caught up in.
Coming at a time when superhero movies were really starting to dominate, Kick-Ass provided a more original, more violent, and generally more R-rated alternative to the comic book movies of the time. Along with some impressive action and well-choreographed fight scenes, the film also features many great performances, including one by Cage himself. Despite only being in a supporting role, he, in true Nic Cage fashion, chews the scenery and looks like he’s having a whale of a time doing so. It might not be the first film you think of when you hear the words “Nicolas Cage”, but there’s no denying Kick-Ass is one of his best. With a reboot in development, it’ll be interesting to see if Cage reprises his role.
Stream on DirecTV
It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Charlie Kauffman in a meta-comedy about the writer’s life better than Nicolas Cage. Adaptation is a wholely unique film that revolves around a fictionalized version of Kauffman (who also penned the script) as he struggles with writer’s block while attempting to adapt the nonficton book The Orchid Thief. It co-stars Meryl Streep, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Maggie Gyllenhaal, and many others, and was directed by acclaimed filmmaker Spike Jonze.
There will likely be people who will find Adaptation too pretentious or too difficult to get their heads around, but for anyone who’s willing to stick with the quirky premise they’re in for a treat. It’s original, smart, funny, and thought-provoking all at the same time, making it one of the best films about the writing process to date. Cage was nominated for an Academy Award for his work here, and it’s not difficult to see why. He understands the assignment and then some, playing both Charlie and his fictional brother Donald with full commitment.
Rent on AppleTV+
Written and directed by Matt Figgus, Leaving Las Vegas is the film that won Cage his first and only Oscar. It depicts an alcoholic screenwriter with suicidal tendencies called Ben Sanderson, who travels to Las Vegas with the aim of drinking himself to death. Only, once he gets there, he becomes acquainted with a sex worker named Sera (Elisabeth Shue), whom he develops romantic feelings for.
In Leaving Las Vegas, Cage’s performance is real and raw, and free of much of the over-the-top brovado that has become his signature style. The film is a dark and honest depiction of alcoholism, and a surprisingly nuanced look at depression, given the time it was released, and Cage carries the weight of the film on his shoulders with ease. It’s a powerhouse performance and, even if it may be atypical of what we’ve come to associate with the actor, it’s undeniably one of his strongest turns to date.
Stream on Max
The ridiculously titled The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent sees Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself in a meta-comedy about an out-of-work actor who’s having a hard time landing gigs. Not only is he having acting troubles, but he also finds himself caught up in a family drama that sees his daughter resenting him and his soon-to-be divorce, leaving him broke. Luckily, his agent has a job for him: a Spanish billionaire (Pedro Pascal), who also happens to be Cage’s biggest fan, wants him to attend his elaborate birthday bash.
Hilariously funny and wildly original, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is possibly Cage’s most Nicolas Cage-y movie to date. With a tongue-in-cheek, self-mocking tone that makes it easily accessible and delightfully charming, the film manages to appeal to both the actor’s hardcore fans and casual viewers alike. Furthermore, with a passionate supporting performance from Pascal, who doesn’t hold back, this is a Nic Cage movie that has to be watched.
Stream on Starz
Cage’s first big screen role came in 1983’s rom-com Valley Girl. In it, he plays Randy, a Hollywood bad boy who ends up falling in love with a valley girl named Julie (Deborah Foreman). This film is loosely based on Romeo and Juliet and completed with a sweet ’80s soundtrack and iconic outfits.
Valley Girl is the very aspect of teen comedies during this time: goofy, fun, and not afraid to show their sweet and earnest side. It also celebrates weirdos and breaking free from societal norms, which feels appropriate that this is Cage’s introduction to Hollywood. Of course, Cage would go on to bigger, better, and more bizarre things, but this is where it all started and even though his performance here is more restrained here, there are still hints of the eccentricity that would come to define his career.
Stream on Fubo
Though Cage had starred in several titles by the time Vampire’s Kiss hit theaters in 1989, the vampire flick is, arguably, where the actor really began to show off his surreal side. In it, he plays Peter Loew, a literary agent who happens to fall in love with a vampire. His character then spends the rest of the movie convincing himself that he’s turning into the same creature. Peter goes to great lengths to prove as much by making a coffin under his sofa, keeping out of the sunlight, and even buying fake vampire teeth.
Despite being a box office failure when it was first released, Vampire’s Kiss has gone on to achieve cult status, with many considering it the most defining performance of Cage’s career. The actor’s portrayal of Loew is totally whacky and completely unhinged, which leads to some excellent comedic moments. If you want to see Cage at a full ten, Vampire’s Kiss is the film for you.
Stream on Hoopla
Raising Arizona is a very early film from the Coen Brothers that follows a criminal named Hi (Cage) and a police officer called Ed (Holly Hunter) who dream of having a kid. They are neither able to conceive naturally nor adopt due to Hi’s criminal record, so they turn to the only option they have left: they kidnap one of the five famous Arizona quintuplets.
Both Cage and the Coen Brothers have become known for their quirky oddball styles, and their pairing here not only makes sense but also leads to a highly entertaining and hugely rewarding film. With a typically well-written script – full of outrageous scenes and heart-warming moments – as well as a winning chemistry between the two leads, Raising Arizona is a highlight in both Cages and the Coen’s careers.
Stream on Hulu
A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped. Starring Nicolas Cage.
Marking the feature directorial debut of Michael Sarnoski, who will be overseeing horror prequel A Quiet Place: Day One, 2021’s Pig sees Cage playing a reclusive forger of truffles named Robin Feld, who resides in a cabin deep in the Oregon forests. When his beloved pig is kidnapped, Robin decides to hunt down the person responsible, meaning he must return to his old life in Portland. The film becomes more of a revenge tale without the stunts, action, and massive explosions like others in this genre.
Featuring a more stripped-back turn from Cage, Pig takes a deep delve into the theme of grief and what it entails until one reaches the final stage of acceptance. Here, Cage proves his wide range of acting abilities by beautifully portraying Feld’s loss in a surprisingly raw and effecting performance. It may not be emblematic of the actor’s career as a whole, but Pig certainly shows why Cage is one of the best-known and most acclaimed actors of his generation.
Stream on Hulu
David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is a weird and wonderful film that’s perfect for Cage to star in. For the most part, the movie is a love story between Sailor and Lula (Laura Dern), a young couple who happen to get involved in a murder of self-defense. Like all murders done in self-defense, the two lovers decide to go on the run instead of going to the proper authorities, which makes for a wild and entertaining two hours of entertainment.
Again, it’s Cage’s chemistry with his female co-star that makes this film so enjoyable. Both he and Dern give charmingly compelling performances as passionate lovers who would do anything for one another. Add to that memorable supporting turns from the likes of Willem Defoe, Diane Ladd, and Isabella Rossellini, as well as Cage blasting out a couple of Elvis songs, and you have an outrageous and thrilling film that sits perfectly in the actor’s lengthy filmography.
Wild at Heart is not available to stream.
For a while in the 2000s and 2010s, Cage’s career appeared to slow down. However, one brought his name back to the forefront of everyone’s minds: 2018’s Mandy. In this action horror film, Cage taps into his rage and vengeful spirit to play Red Miller, a man who sets out to avenge the murder of his girlfriend (Andrea Riseborough).
This film is a wild ride, and Cage takes it in full strides, completely immersing himself in a character filled with violence, grief, ferocity, and a determination to get back what was taken from him. Mandy is vivid and, at times, outlandish, but its original and surreal approach allows Cage to embody the weirdness of it all.
Stream on AMC+
1997’s Face/Off is a modern camp classic. In it, Cage plays Castor Troy, a homicidal sociopath that’s being hunted down by FBI Agent Sean Archer. A very elaborate procedure switches the faces of Troy and Archer and follows the two after the procedure as Agent Archer tries to reclaim not only his face but his life.
Owing to the nature of the plot, Cage and his co-star John Travolta not only play their own characters but, for much of the film’s runtime, each other’s characters as well. This allows both men to show off their well-honed acting chops, with the both of them having to mimic each other’s mannerisms and speech patterns to a tee. Fortunately, both of them pull it off, with Face/Off being a true masterpiece both in terms of what’s behind the camera and in front of it.
Stream on AMC+
Cage seems to have a knack for playing ex-cons with big hearts, as is the case in 1997’s Con Air. The film tells the story of Cameron Poe (Cage), who went to prison for accidentally killing the man who attempted to assault his wife. He’s able to get parole and a plane ride to Alabama with other inmates going to Supermax prison. These other inmates have dubious plans with no intention of being transferred, and it is up to Poe to stop them.
Con Air has everything an action movie needs, with a great cast, tense fight scenes, and lots of explosions, equally a ludicrous and over-the-top piece of escapism for everyone to enjoy. It’s also the film where Cage really cemented himself as a modern action movie star, and though he may have starred in more intelligent films and played more nuanced characters over the years, Con-Air is the film that most people likely associate with him, making it easily his most quintessential film.
Stream on Paramount+