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Good or Bad? Rating Every Nicolas Cage Performance

on June 09, 2016, 12:00am
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“There’s a two-day course called ‘Nicolas Cage: Good or Bad?’ I’m signing up — I’ve always wanted to know.” – Abed Nadir, Community, “Introduction to Teaching”

***

In the fifth season of Dan Harmon’s now-expelled cult series Community, the show’s pop cultural savant, Abed, decides to get some closure on a seemingly simple, but ultimately mind-melting question. Abed subsequently loses all sense of reality, and the question becomes an existential provocation. But then, there is an answer, and we intend to succeed where Abed didn’t necessarily fail, but was certainly thrown by the eccentric essence of Cage.

Nicolas Cage is a raw artist, a thunderball thespian who’s mystified, mortified, and amused audiences for over three decades onscreen. Over the last decade, the memes, personal struggles, and a string of dicey creative decisions have put a sort of washed-out spin on the actor, but that feels wrong. Remember how badass he was as a Bruckheimer star in the ‘90s? Or how charming he could be in the ‘80s? Or how deliciously unhinged he can be, in just about any of his roles? For the 20th anniversary of Michael Bay’s one truly great film, The Rock, it feels like the right time to consider Cage’s career and put an end to the long-standing question: Nicolas Cage, good or bad?

Today, through simple math and analysis of every last Cage role (from Ridgemont to Rage), we’re putting an end to the Nadir conundrum. (At least, until the next VOD gig.) Sometimes his casting choices will repeat themselves. Other times Cage will be like a trapezoidal peg in a round hole. What we know is that he’s never dull and always at it. Now, to determine Cage’s “goodness.”

Comb your hair, crazy up, and contain your Cage-Rage, because we’re about to scientifically, mathematically, and definitively answer a question that’s besieged mankind for millions upon millions of years.

Blake Goble
Senior Staff Writer

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The Best of Times (1981)

This is an entirely debatable entry, since The Best of Times was a failed TV pilot/TV movie that’s hard to find (bless you, YouTube uploaders), but Nicolas Cage’s entire existence was pretty well-formed here. At just 17, the sandy-haired teen flexed, screamed, and exploded with West Coast charisma as Nicholas (an easy name to remember). Pitched as a sort of ‘80s Laugh In, teens talk dating, partying, and other Saturday morning “issues.”

Forgettable, but worth the morbid curiosity of seeing Cage pump his biceps, grunt, and scream, “THAT’S WHAT WOMEN WANT!”

And he’s kind of been that way ever since. Welcome to Earth, Mr. Cage.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)

As exciting as it is to see Cage’s first proper onscreen performance, there’s something inherently wrong when Judge Reinhold is upstaging him. Cage (or Nicolas Coppola at the time, hello nepotism) is just set dressing, looking nervous on a grill as Reinhold’s Brad threatens to kick 100% of a customer’s ass. Maybe there are deleted scenes somewhere, in a Universal vault, where Cage is talking to burgers or something (“I think you’re gonna love this, Amy Heckerling”). If only. But everybody starts somewhere, and it might as well be in the (fake) fast food industry. Onward and upward, Cage.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Valley Girl (1983)

Ignore Valley Girl’s dated legacy of mall madness, and look at how handsome and curiously natural Cage is here. Cage is Randy, the punk kid from the big city with a Flock of Seagulls ‘do and unnaturally coiffed chest hair. He’s the Hughes-ian kid from the wrong side of the tracks in this modern Romeo & Juliet. But Cage is just so gawky and unbelievably charming. He exudes shy, nervous confidence (with hints of future outrage), and Cage seldom looked this cool onscreen. This is like, totally a breakout.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Rumble Fish (1983)

As Smokey, Cage has a certain sort of sleazebag confidence in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish. Puffy-haired and jacketed like a jerk, Cage exuded youth angst and had to; this was an S.E. Hinton adaptation, after all. He even holds his own against a scenery-chewing Matt Dillon.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Birdy (1984)

According to this, um, family dental site (?), Cage went all method and had his teeth removed sans anesthesia for Alan Parker’s post-Vietnam melodrama Birdy, in order to feel real pain and help himself get into character. It’s unnecessary, but you know what? That’s commitment.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Racing with the Moon (1984)

Cage smolders in another war weeper, as the hunky Nicky here. Nicky’s best buds with Hopper (Sean Penn), and the two are waiting to fight in WWII. Cage’s Nicky is the wild card of the duo. He wants to live and let live. Get drunk. Chase girls. Lift his shirt, pick a fight, and howl at the moon, fearing what might happen on the battlefield. Tank-topped and too-cool-for-school, Cage was everybody’s bad best friend. Maybe it’s the pensive eyes or the intense eyebrows, but that brash attitude of his was right there early on, and he’s more amusing than a wannabe-charming Penn.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Cotton Club (1984)

As Vincent Dwyer, Cage barely registers as a criminal hothead in The Cotton Club. But to be fair, The Cotton Club barely registered as well. The most dramatic component of Coppola’s excessive period drama was the history of its ballooned production schedule and budget. Cast and crew came and went amid bad publicity, rumored fights, and bankruptcy looming at every turn. It feels like an insecure mid-‘80s Coppola film. New York Magazine’s 22-page spread on the production is insane and well worth the read. An auteur done in by excess. And it’s far more fun than anything Cage does in The Cotton Club.

The final film is just fine, and Cage plays the little brother of Richard Gere. He uses the n-word a lot (the film’s set in the ‘30s, but it’s still uncomfortable). A tough but dumb caricature. Nice pencil mustache, though. Very dapper.

But not even a healthy amount of family ties could get the hot-head Cage better screen time.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Cage looks like a Corn Pop. With the nerdy, nasal voice, the big whitecap teeth, and that slick, outrageous blonde pompadour, Cage’s Charlie is a spry, awkward youth, but affable in an embarrassing sort of way. He croons, falsettos, and hiccups through bitter teen rage, or uses the third person to describe himself and ooze false confidence, and it’s all a more mature and contained performance than you’d expect from a younger actor. Cage based his voice on Pokey’s from The Gumby Show! How could Charlie’s whole being not scream “acting commitment”?

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Boy in Blue (1986)

To The Boy in Blue’s credit, Cage is cut as hell, and there’s something hysterically anachronistic about watching Cage get a little unhinged in a turn-of-the-century, stuffy rowing drama (“GET UP! HARVARD MAN!” he screams in a fancy bow tie). Yet, this was not the right time for this Cage un-caged. Anyone named “Ned Hanlin” deserves to get pantsed.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Moonstruck (1987)

Here’s where we might get into matters of taste and preference, but anyone who says that Cage overdoes it in Moonstruck can go straight to hell. HE LOST HIS HAND! HE LOST HIS BRIDE! Forget the wild hair, the sanded-down Italian coo. Cage is full of actor-ly intensity here. A young Pacino.

Cage has so much beautiful onscreen rage in Moonstruck; it’s as though that rich vein of crazy was mined perfectly by Hollywood great Norman Jewison and then finely shaped by the whimsical words of John Patrick Shanley. Cage fumes, bubbles, and commands attention. Think he’s nuts about losing a hand? You lose a hand and not be petulant afterward. Yet when he went romantic in Moonstruck, taking Cher to the Met and showing his passion for like, baking breads and seeing the opera and stuff, it was so unexpected and so unbelievably welcoming. Cage deservedly broke out with Moonstruck.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Raising Arizona (1987)

Nicolas Cage the vaudeville artist? It’s wild, but Cage is one of the zaniest creations in the Coens’ grand oeuvre of howling mad men, in their farce of baby daydreams and crazy Western kooks just trying to start their lives with all the wrong resources. Stealing a baby sounds terrifying. And yet the idea produced comic gold from all guilty parties involved in Raising Arizona. As H.I. McDonough, Cage whips up the hair something awful and runs, screams, and begs like a lunatic – a lunatic just trying to have a baby in this crazy mixed-up world known as Arizona. Or maybe it was Utah?

Regardless, McDonough is a classic comic creation in the best way imaginable, showing off Cage’s uncanny willingness to commit to the tone and flavor of his material. From the “Mr. Horsepower” woodpecker tattoo, to the Hawaiian shirts, to the darkly amusing bruises and damage brought on from fighting to save his stolen son, Cage is classically kooky.

Good or Bad?

Good. So good. All-time, possible top-five Cage good.

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Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Look, everyone’s fully in the know with Cage’s literal vamping and madness in Vampire’s Kiss. He’s a vampire! He’s a vampire! (For the record, Cage plays a yuppie scumbag literary agent with an affinity for trendy bars and babes, who after a very aggressive night of sex thinks he’s suddenly a vampire and loses his damn mind. Think American Psycho, but with more bite in every sense. A metaphorical vampire that turns into a literal vampire.)

You know that old chestnut about an actor being so good, or at least so watchable and entertaining, that people would pay money just to watch them read the phone book?

Well, Cage did the ABCs.

Onscreen.

He did them up like no other actor we’ve ever seen.

Good or Bad?

Good. Cage is in voracious, scene-chewing character the entire film, and in perhaps his rarest form. Cage did vampirism, the Cage way. It’s a film with a 31 on Metacritic, which would suggest that the film’s a shit show. And it is. But in that undeniably watchable, weird way. Cage makes it an acting experience completely unlike anything you’ll ever see.

LOOK, HE ATE A REAL COCKROACH, GUYS. HE ONLY MADE $40,000 TO DO THIS FILM. THAT IS A REAL ACTOR RIGHT THERE.

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Never on Tuesday (1989)

To think. Cage was already enough of a name to make an uncredited star cameo in 1989. And really, there are no words for this. Cage shows up in this teen screwball comedy, in a red sports car, only to pop out with really bad hair, some out-of-breath delivery, and a fake prosthetic nose. He looks like Adrian Brody. Anyway, he freakishly laughs and then disappears. It’s like a mirage. Did Cage really appear? Is Cage within all of us? Is this a work of accidental comic genius?

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Time to Kill (1989)

Ethiopia. 1936. A lieutenant with a toothache (Cage) leaves his unit to seek medical help. His vehicle gets trashed, and he winds up having a Walkabout-like journey with shades of war guilt and white guilt. But, see, that’s not why anyone today would watch Time to Kill.

Cage giving a chameleon a smoke seems abusive, but it’s sure worth seeing to believe.

Then again, here’s the beginning of the “Cage Sees Lizards” universe.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Fire Birds (1990)

Cage can do a hothead in his sleep. But perhaps he’s too hot in this Top Gun knockoff about chopper pilots. “It’s not my brain!” Cage screams as he has to confront eye problems. “I am the greatest!” he swears in simulators. And there’s Phil Collins’ “Find a Way to My Heart” over the sex scenes. Yuck. His swagger, his stare, his volume, all of it came off as exhaustingly arrogant in Fire Birds.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Industrial Symphony No. 1: The Dream of the Brokenhearted (1990)

Okay, this is kind of an odd entry. Industrial Symphony No. 1 was a 50-minute TV special from David Lynch, released the same year as Wild at Heart, and Cage shows up for what’s basically a glorified cameo with Laura Dern. Yet inside of a very short time frame, Cage wows. It’s a breakup over the phone. A heartfelt goodbye. And dammit, Cage emotes like a Lee Strasberg master class thespian. This is pure, distilled, and beautifully focused Cage.

Good or Bad?

Very good.

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Wild at Heart (1990)

Scary, meet romantic.

Cage comes on the scene like a rocking and rolling machine as Sailor Ripley in David Lynch’s disturbing modern romance Wild at Heart. Cage went all in as Ripley, doing his own singing, wearing his own snakeskin coat as an homage to Marlon Brando in The Fugitive Kind, and he invents an ingenious lovelorn rockabilly. This was when Cage was apparently getting away from method acting and exploring his craft more freely. Who knew he’d break out with the help of a terrifying control freak like Lynch?

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Zandalee (1991)

BLACK IT ALL OUT!

BLACK IT FUCK’in!

HEUH!

Err, sorry. Zandalee’s a crappy piece of art, but Cage’s craft is unrestricted here. Ever see a living abstract painting, a human Rothko, onscreen? Didn’t think so.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

It’s nice to see Cage rage in Nixon speechwriter and denouncer of evolution Ben Stein’s general direction. And props to Cage for calling out airport protocol shenanigans, because you know that kind of behavior these days would land him in trouble with the TSA and a rubber glove.

Cage as a penniless P.I. in a light Indecent Proposal scenario handing over his wife to an enigmatic millionaire sounds curious enough. Yet, Honeymoon in Vegas was a limp rom-com, with a semi-constipated Cage struggling to break free from stock, cutesy stuff.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Amos & Andrew (1993)

The less said about Amos & Andrew the better. Accidental black-face. Erm. Next, please.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

__________________________________________________________

Deadfall (1993)

Deadfall is nonsense. Wigged-out, low-rent, flummoxing caper nonsense. And Cage is clearly doing a favor for his brother, writer/director Christopher Coppola, as a poorly dressed, verbally twitchy crook … but what a breakdown!

Cage gives a five-second “Fuuuuuuuck!”

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Red Rock West (1993)

Cage isn’t stupid. When Dennis Hopper was cast alongside him in John Dahl’s delicious neo-noir, everyone involved likely knew that Hopper would be the one chewing scenery. So Cage’s move? Quiet stoicism and carefully restrained intensity while playing a drifter navi-guessing his way out of tricky situations.

Quick question: Why is John Dahl relegated to TV? That guy was a great director.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Guarding Tess (1994)

The repression of male authority is always a funny concept, but watching Cage as a secret service agent for the First Lady, as he practically puts a straight-jacket on himself in a sub-par political farce from the director of Police Academy? Sad! Cage contains himself while serving Shirley MacLaine’s every whim, and it grows boring over time. Cage kept the stick firmly up his own ass, but wound up doing a mediocre Oscar Madison here.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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It Could Happen To You (1994)

Cage is sweeter than YooHoo in Andrew Bergman’s lovable romantic comedy It Could Happen to You. Here’s one of those movies that was on TBS nonstop before it eventually dissipated, and it always had a way of putting a smile on your face. Cage could be the leading man, the sensitive, strong type thrust into wacky situations (as opposed to creating them) and coming out fine. Here’s a forgotten gem with a dashing and intuitive performance from Cage, which recalls the gee-shucks comedy of a Howard Hawks film.

For the ‘90s.

With Rosie Perez.

Come on, it’s great! Find it!

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Trapped in Paradise (1994)

Getting upstaged by Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz was a real thing in the mid-‘90s. Cage was the sensible, sane brother in a comedy of sibling sappery. Upon re-reading this, that makes no sense whatsoever, but this writer has the $4.99 used Blockbuster tape to prove that it did in fact happen.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Kiss of Death (1995)

Cage got huge and steroid-angry for Barbet Schroeder’s 1995 noir remake. As Little Junior Brown (ha!), Cage benches strippers, throws men above his head, and celebrates the death of his father by stomp-dancing. It’s great stuff. David Caruso looks like an actor that genuinely has no idea what to do when around Cage. It’s awesome.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Miserable. Morbid. Booze-soaked. Utterly rapturous and beyond beautiful. There are so many ways to characterize Cage’s Oscar-winning role as writer Ben Sanderson, the man who decided to drink himself to death in Las Vegas, but this is perhaps Cage’s most courageous, poetic, and not to mention stressful work as an actor. His eyes sink, his pores leak, and he can barely contain his will to die beneath his rapidly deteriorating body. Cage’s role is one for all time, a performative tragedy that makes Ray Miland in Lost Weekend look like a social drinker.

Cage has recently developed this reputation as an improvisational wild-man, which is totally understandable. It might then be easy to dub his performance here as freeform and easy, yet Cage’s commitment was so great that he studied tapes of himself inebriated to get a handle on his own embarrassing speech patterns. He binge-drank before production to get the feel of Sanderson and visited career alcoholics to get into the mindset of a sloppy drunk. This wasn’t just some Jimmy Stewart hiccup show. Sanderson revealed so much about the agony of the human condition, and Cage was daring enough to go to the very bottom of the bottle to convey that sadness.

Good or Bad?

Among his greatest.

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The Rock (1996)

This is why we’re here. Happy 20th anniversary, The Rock. You dumb, delightful actioner, you. You’re Michael Bay’s one true great, so live it up. And what would you be without the Cage?

This is the moment Nicolas Cage unofficially (but clearly) cashed in his Oscar to become an A-list action star. And what a show! Cage carried a robust nerdiness, shifting the action lead prototype away from high kicks and barrel chests, and positing that geeks can be heroes too. So, uh, you’re welcome, Harry Potter.

Good or Bad?

Good, NOW CUT THE CHIT-CHAT, A-HOLE.

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Con Air (1997)

Cage is army ranger Cameron Poe, reporting for duty. For Simon West’s troubled production-turned-action classic, Cage got to be the ultimate American tough guy while facing off with a rogue’s gallery of convicts in the sky.

Wig looked good. Cage got Bruckheimer-beefy. And dammit, his wink and flowing hair (like a patriotic flag) are to die for. Seriously, that damn wink. Who hasn’t used that wink as a GIF? You forgot how handsome and heroic he could be, didn’t you?! HOW DO WE LIVE, WITHOUT YOU, WE WANT TO KNOW.

Good or Bad?

Well, Baby-O, it’s not exactly mai-tais and Yahtzee out here but … let’s do it!

Good.

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Face/Off (1997)

Evil bugshit Cage.

Heroic, mournful Cage.

Oh what the hell, how about another one? The runway showdown? Ohhh.

And remember the utterly gratuitous boat chase?

You know what? This is Cage’s best action movie from the ‘90s. Full stop. Two times over. Sympathetic and sensational. One of the decade’s best of its kind, thanks in no small part to the doubly game Travolta and Cage performances.

Because he’s Castor Troy.

John Woo got a sensational set of performances and action scenes out of Cage and Travolta in arguably his best American outing.

Good or Bad?

Good. And good. That’s two goods!

Two.

Goods!

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City of Angels (1998)

Soulful eyes do not make for a soulful film alone. Cage looks deep and finely emotes, but he’s left to flounder in a shiny, flat remake of a Wim Wenders classic. And we won’t even begin to rant about that endlessly catchy Goo Goo Dolls song. Anyway, pouty Cage is pouty. Perhaps it’s the fact that he’s playing an angel, but it’s weird to see him so lifeless here.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Snake Eyes (1998)

Will Smith was attached to Brian De Palma’s summer nonsense thriller Snake Eyes at one point, and you have to wonder: would that have made any difference? Snake Eyes was so mired in its pretzel logic and so far up its own ass that not even the crystal-clear madness of a bad-cop Cage could play down the pricey, shallow thrills. Cage gets lost in a sea of intrigue, trying to shout his way out, but no one can hear him.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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8MM (1999)

Joel Schumacher’s sleaze-fest 8MM featured a very upset and disturbed Cage. But to what end? The actor’s fright, shock, and angst actually worked against him. Cage’s brand of intensity is always appreciated, but when placed within a snuff film thriller, it comes across as out of his control. Cage is a trained, practiced actor with an inimitable fearlessness. He can get wild, fast, but it needs to serve the material. To say something. Leaving Las Vegas captures the art of loss. 8MM was just too much.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Scorsese’s black, bloody comedy benefitted greatly from the best of both worlds when it comes to Cage. As Frank Pierce, an ambulance paramedic on the edge, Cage is both forlorn and frenetic. Cage rubber-bands around like a werewolf of Hell’s Kitchen, trying to find solace in a grim job, and his ability to sell deep regret and sadness while being left bewildered by the world of drugs and dangers he works within is astonishing.

To the point of Cage’s commitment, he rode along with Scorsese on a number of ambulance calls to really get into the angst of trying to save a life.

Good or Bad?

Very good.

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Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Cage trained in stunt driving, but who cares? The second Nic Cage screamed “A’IGHT!?” at Master P, all the B-movie joy of Gone in 60 Seconds went right out the window. In less than 60 seconds. Here’s when the crazy started to look a lot like camp.

Nice frosted tips, Cage. Come on, man.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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The Family Man (2000)

Say what you will about Brett Ratner. It will likely be negative, and you’ll probably be right. But he got a pretty sincere and even serene performance out of Cage here. Avoid the elements of Capra rip-off, the magical thug plot device, and the involvement of Jeremy Piven, and The Family Man is a fairly decent Christmas fable with a sturdy, top-billed turn from Cage as the rich man who learns to live like the poor. A heartening leading performance.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

Ew, no.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Christmas Carol: The Movie (2001)

Cage as Marley in Dickens’ classic? This version is cheaply drawn, weirdly voiced, and strangely reminiscent of The Family Man a year prior. So enjoy the above clip, but Cage is flat and indistinct in this low-budget Christmas Carol cartoon.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Adaptation. (2002)

What an amazing pair of performances in a single film. Subtle, yet wholly distinguishable from one another, Cage plays a version of famed screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin brother, Donald. It’s a fascinating construct, as the character creations were meant as escapes from Kaufman’s struggles in adapting Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief, but Cage brings depth and intense humility to each performance. As Charlie, with the curly, thinning hair, a muffin top, and an attention-deficient mind, Cage gives creative struggle a sense of legitimacy. And as Donald, well, who wouldn’t want to see his pitch The Three (“Mom said it was psychologically taut”) come to fruition?

Cage allegedly restrained himself and deferred to Spike Jonze’s direction. He earned his second Oscar nomination for this.

Good or Bad?

Charlie’s really good, and Donald’s really good. So that’s two times the good.

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Sonny (2002)

Congratulations to Cage for directing an out-there film about a young prostitute, but what the hell is his deal with fake noses?

Bless you, Cage, for just doing the first thing that seems to come to mind, but you left no clues as to what to do with this bit part. Cage’s sole directorial effort shows his wilier tendencies and interests. It’s a fringe tale about a loner that wants to recall Lynch, but looks and feels like Deadfall in its lack of focus. Sonny is worth a glance for the passing Cage cameo, but feels more like a hasty first effort than a demo reel for future work. Pity.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Windtalkers (2002)

Cage had nothing to say here. Deaf war hero struggles to maintain hero status. Ehh. It’s a war film with a weeper’s premise, and Cage struggles to sell the concept as something beyond gimmicky. Maybe we can talk about how uncomfortable it is to see Woo’s action visuals layered over a somber World War II film. Another time.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Matchstick Men (2003)

Cage can have a temper tantrum in public places like no other. He’s yelled at airports (Honeymoon in Vegas), banks (Leaving Las Vegas), and here, the pharmacy. That “PESSS BLOOOOOD” line really sticks, too.

What could have been an offensively one-note Rain Man tale about an obsessive savant became a refreshingly unique story about an uncool con man coming undone, and Cage conveys all the necessary emotions for this performance. This is a great use of Cage’s jazzier instincts, showing the harsher side of mental health issues, and there’s not a drop of manipulation in it. Matchstick Men works, and Cage plays the role the way he plays his marks in the movie: like a pro.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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National Treasure (2004)

National Treasure is a crappy Dan Brown knock-off/cash-in, but what a fun USA Network movie-of-the-night escape it is. Cage’s almost-ironic cowboy stoicism, his disbelief at extreme situations – it all fits and elevates the material. Cage turns this otherwise crummy history hoopla into a jaunt.

Good or Bad?

I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence.

Sorry. He’s good.

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Lord of War (2005)

Cage is intense and pensive in Lord of War. Andrew Niccol’s true-life story about a notorious arms dealer from New York puts Cage in jet-set mode, as he struggles to stay cool while making tons of money by running guns to some of the most dangerous and unstable people in the world. Cage has a crazy little brother, government agents on his tail, and a supermodel girlfriend. Some guys have all the luck. And money. And bullets. Lord of War is one of those “too crazy to be true” biopics that Cage fits perfectly into.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Weather Man (2005)

Totally underrated.

The Weather Man got a great, late-career performance from Cage in a fascinating character study about a dipshit forecaster in Chicago. Gore Verbinski nailed the comedy of the tragic and absurd as Cage wore a hysterically preppy wig, dodged Big Gulps and Frosties, and wrote crappy sci-fi novels while holding out hope that he’ll get a New York City weather job for one of the big networks. Oh, and his family life’s gone to shit, but whatever. Cage is impressively aloof here.

And The Weather Man is worth seeing just to hear Cage say: “I wish I had two dicks.”

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Ant Bully (2006)

Cage is weird to hear in cartoons. What’s the point of casting him when you can’t enjoy the manic performative ability? As an ant warrior … yeah, no. His stoic mode works better with his full dramatic range and facial expressions present. Not inside an ant. And if you’re going to cast him in a cartoon, let him explore a little bit. Get a little manic. No, Cage is not Robin Williams, but still.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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The Wicker Man (2006)

Neil LaBute was an odd fit for the remake of Anthony Shaffer’s cult classic, but, um … oh, why bother analyzing the world’s most baffling performance, one that begat one of the greatest viral videos of the last decade?

Perhaps that video screwed up any legitimate read on the Wicker Man remake, but look at what Cage puts onscreen. Punching people from inside a bear suit. Screaming about how exactly a doll got burned. Bees. Oh god, the bees.

The film’s a failure, fine, but within Cage’s command is a dreamlike set of moments that burn themselves upon the brain in such a way that were this released in the 1970s, it could have been regarded as international art of the highest order, in the vein of Jodorowsky or Fellini. That’s effusive praise, to be sure, but for Cage and not the remake.

Good or Bad?

What does good even mean anymore?

Look, we’re counting this as good because you know about Cage in this movie even if you haven’t seen it. And if that’s not good enough, well, this writer’s taking his goddamn honey elsewhere.

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World Trade Center (2006)

Cage is painfully sympathetic here. In Oliver Stone’s tearjerker about the collapse of the Twin Towers on 9/11, Cage is forced to stretch pathos from the most limiting conditions an actor can face in the name of dramatizing a true story. Buried under rubble, the actor is literally blocked and clamped down from being, well, Cage. Good intentions lead to bad performances, perhaps. It comes across as a paycheck role, using Cage’s then-fading star power to get a tough tale sold.

Or maybe there wasn’t room to scream “I’M A VAMPIRE” in a story like this. Who can say?

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Ghost Rider (2007)

Did you know that the production behind Ghost Rider, the not-so-hot 2007 adaptation of Marvel’s cult comic, did a CAT scan of Cage’s skull for digital accuracy when his head turns into a match? It’s more interesting than anything onscreen.

Cage brings a sloppy Southern accent and sparks ablaze in the middle of a mushy, lowbrow comic farce.

It’s also worth noting because, while there were fights over their legitimacy, this was the last time we saw Cage’s abs onscreen. Rest in peace.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Grindhouse (2007)

A slightly … no, just racist non-sequitur that works as a glorified star cameo, because it just does, okay?

Good or Bad?

Good.

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National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)

Worth a “good” just for the dizzying scene Cage makes screaming “ELLO!” and globetrotting. Like watching dinner theater as a distraction, this is. Cage got to amp up the crazy by about 20% for the second go-around of Indiana Jones Lite. A decent film, a decent performance.

No Declarations of Independence were stolen during this performance.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Next (2007)

Next gets a little too slick with Phillip K. Dick’s work about a magician who can see the future (the better version of this came in the form of Knowing), but at the same time, Next is a perfectly nimble 96-minute thriller with amusing effects, and Cage is a game showman here, despite starting to wig out a little bit. Also, there’s something undeniably fun about the way he wiggles his body and multiplies during stunt scenes. Again, his power is to see the future, and Cage can change things. And Next articulates his gift in the slow, “bullet time” style of so many actioners of its decade. Cage’s physicality, preposterous as it is, totally flies.

Cage sees a log? Back. And to the left.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Bangkok Dangerous (2008)

Cage tried to go all Le Samourai/Day of the Jackal in his own silent (but meditative) assassin thriller, Bangkok Dangerous. The film’s a little sweatier and sloppier than one would expect, and Cage is so hushed it comes off as bored. He’s the vehicle, but somehow never the one taking a ride. Or in summation: Cage looks sad. And a little greasy.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Astro Boy (2009)

Well, they got the long nose right.

Cage basically plays Dr. Light from the Mega Man games, as the scientist dad of a magical robot boy. It’s amusing (and startling) to hear Cage go full vocal range here: shouting, sobbing, lecturing, and loving. But Cage’s voice is discordant with the film, and the performance is mired in its lack of flow. “DO AS YOU’RE TOLD,” Cage weirdly shouts after being sad about robots and hats or something equally obscure. Yeah, this whole thing’s off.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)

Cage’s best performance from the last decade. He’s unleashed on the streets of New Orleans by maverick movie genius Werner Herzog in a post-Katrina allegory about good men doing bad things and how whacked out one might have to be in order to do what is “right” and “just.”

This includes calling out iguanas in a drugged haze, pointing guns at the elderly, and getting parking lot handjobs from young girls. That kind of justice, sure. Cage is on duty, off his rocker, and always captivating in Herzog’s moral fable.

We could go on about Cage’s relentlessly bombastic performance and how it teeters on the grotesque. But for now, it might by fun to imagine just what the hell the conversations were like between Cage and Herzog before filming began.

“So, Nicolas, this character is a bastardization of American law, a personification of the notion of failing upwards that cuts to the core of what makes humans plunge into depravity with reckless abandon. This lieutenant figure is the key, the black heart of our foray is vicious, and any other surroundings and form of existence strike me as exotic and unsuitable for human beings. How are you feeling, Nicolas?”

“Right on, Werner. And I was thinking, I could bring some lizards from home. Cage.”

Good or Bad?

GOOOOOOOOOOOOD.

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G-Force (2009)

nick cage

FOOTAGE NOT FOUND. CEASE AND DESIST FROM THE WALT DISNEY MOTION PICTURE CORPORATION.

(But seriously, there are no suitable clips out there. Cage plays a nasally spy mole, for what it’s worth.)

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Knowing (2009)

This movie got its ass handed to it by most critics in 2009. But hear us out: What if it’s actually really good?

Knowing presents a mathematically possible end of days, an end brought on by mysterious forces only capable of being seen with faint clues understood by smart/lucky/chosen people like Nicolas Cage. Look, the MIT astrophysics characterization for Cage at this phase of his career is preposterous. We can agree on that. But the sheer terror with which Cage witnesses (and ultimately embraces) our own Armageddon is chilling. Definitely worth a reconsideration for its ideas, its effects, and Cage’s breathless leading performance. If anyone’s going to sell disaster over scotch and fevered white-boarding, it’s him.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Kick-Ass (2010)

Watching Nic Cage shoot a then-12-year-old Chloë Grace Moretz for laughs is, we’ll say, debatable.

But there’s no debating the fact that Cage delivers a perfectly screwy Adam West impersonation in Kick-Ass. And when he (SPOILER) eats it at the hands of thugs in the last act, Cage somehow makes you miss the loony lug. Violently crying his way out, Cage is a sad metaphor for the failed attempts at justice in a world gone to the dogs (which feels especially prescient after Bad Lieutenant). Perhaps one of Cage’s last great mainstream roles.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010)

Overly earnest, Disney-twinkle Cage is perhaps one of the least fun varieties. He either speaks in wistful prose or single-word sentences as he gets paid to play magic tricks for National Treasure’s Jon Turtletaub.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Drive Angry (2011)

This list is about to get a little grim, but hang with us, because we’re talking Cage’s full career and how he’s used the whole hog. These are the snout and hoof years.

This is about the time when Cage started to play ironically to his own persona for hire. Clothed sex scenes, getting shot in the eyeball, faded platinum hair: It all sounds weird and wonderful enough, but try really watching Drive Angry. It’s hell. And most sinfully, Cage looks uninterested.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)

Uh, didn’t we just talk about this with Angry Driver? Cage is an agent of Satan on wheels? He’s doing it for the money?

They’re different?

Well, damn.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Season of the Witch (2011)

“Just leave the money on the counter, and I’ll season your witch.” – Cage, presumably, before production began.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Seeking Justice (2011)

Revenge thrillers are pretty much the most available work for middle-aged actors losing their luster in a post-Taken world. Penn did it in Gunman. Travolta just released I Am Wrath. And Cage was Seeking Justice in 2011. He just wants to avenge his wife. The Roger Donaldson snoozer gave Cage bewilderment, dismay, and sheer outrage to play with.

Hm. Sounds like just another Tuesday night for the man.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Trespass (2011)

There were five movies released in 2011 with Cage in the lead. About here is where that meme was born. The one where people started goofing on Cage as a folk hero in dire need of money. A guy who didn’t care what he was cast in anymore. A Cage that would take a supremely sub-par Joel Schumacher potboiler and ham it up just to pay off his taxes.

If we skip any further analysis of this, would anyone be all that upset?

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Stolen (2012)

Okay, Cage needs to get out of straight-to-video purgatory.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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The Croods (2013)

Well, what do you know? Cage’s voice is finally used well by an animated film. It’s like the single-voice approximation of an insane asylum resident, as he breathlessly warbles, screeches, and sounds like he’s trying. The title may be a punchline, but there’s some giddiness inside Cage’s protective-father vocal performance, and the film was a decent-sized hit with a sequel on the way.

However, one has to wonder how he’d play a real caveman.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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The Frozen Ground (2013)

Grown-up thrillers are all well and good, but who thought it was a good idea to put a stick up Cage’s ass? And did he bring his tan suit from Bad Lieutenant to the shoot of The Frozen Ground? Look, Cage can play safe and restrained, but when the material’s not up to his edge, why bother?

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Joe (2013)

There are faint glimmers of a downtrodden, deep, and disturbed Cage performance left in this world. For David Gordon Green’s muted rural thriller, the actor culled together some of his greatest hits (anger, repression, soul) and put on a great show as the titular Joe. David Gordon Green gave Cage interesting stuff to do. This is important to a great Cage performance.

Casting directors. Find Cage this kind of material. Please.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Dying of the Light (2014)

Maybe Paul Schrader’s psychological thriller was butchered by distributors. Or maybe it was a sloppy display of comments-section rambling about modern politics and the spy community.

What matters is Cage at least puts in intriguing work here, sporting silver hair and a mangled ear. He spits jingoistic rhetoric and manages to make top-secret lemonade as a terminally ill CIA operative out for blood. It’s like a gray-suited Western, and Schrader at least gives Cage suitably unique and adult material in what’s otherwise a misshapen straight-to-video thriller. Stripped of his respectability by the CIA and forced to cope with his own physical/mental limitations, Cage looks focused, and sad, in the right ways.

Good or Bad?

Good.

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Rage (2014)

Just going to copy/paste the Seeking Justice entry on this one.

It’s like the producers said, “Screw it, call it Rage, and maybe we’ll get a few bucks on Cage’s memetic goodwill or something.” Lame, lame stuff.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Left Behind (2014)

This might just be Cage’s nadir.

He’s sleepwalking through this remake of the highly successful God panic film series, and should you come across Left Behind, brace yourself for heartbreak. You can practically can see him reading cue cards, delivering lines with an almost embarrassed mumble. And what kind of name is Rayford Steele? The protagonist of a Catholic propaganda film’s, that’s what kind of name that is. Cage showed that he answered to a higher calling here: the money.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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Outcast (2014)

Cage acting as a sort of Last Samurai with one eye shut sounds corny enough. But it pains us to say that Cage looks like a late Brando or Welles in Outcast. Draped in black cloth, without a care in the world.

The clip above feels like a mercy killing.

Good or Bad?

Bad, and these late films are really hurting the average.

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Pay the Ghost (2015)

The most exciting thing about this film is Cage’s rock ‘n’ roller shirt. Otherwise, pass.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

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The Runner (2015)

The end of this list will be treated with the same care as some of these films have taken with their overall quality: little.

Good or Bad?

Bad.

Click ahead to see our indisputable findings.

__________________________________________________________

Final Analysis

Nicolas Cage: Good or bad?

37 BAD FILMS

39 GOOD FILMS

CAGE IS GOOD 52% OF THE TIME.

CAGE IS GOOD! MAJORITY GOOD!

IT IS COMPLETE!

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