For years now, the brilliance of Nicolas Cage has been written off so much that Leaving Las Vegas is now considered an aberration. That is just simply not the case. If you re-watch LLV now, you can see that the transformation from brilliant actor to hall of fame crazy person was at its peak level. A place in his career where the planets aligned and the role was tailor made perfect for him. Both for his amazing, at the time, acting chops and also a burgeoning craziness which would combine in such a way that I like to think he felt alive for the first time.
Now don’t get me wrong, there were always signals that it would just be a matter of time before the crazy lurking behind those eyes would make it to the surface. Take a look back at his performance in Peggy Sue Got Married, and you could smell the crazy trying to get out. “I’ve got the hair, I’ve got the teeth, I’ve got the eyes” takes on a whole new meaning now that we know how the next 28 years would play out. That feels like something he says, in a creepy Stuart Smalley way to himself in the mirror every day to get started.
So now that we see the signs were there, how do we incorporate them into the power rankings? The answer is much simpler than you think.
There was a time around 1995 that Nicolas Cage was replaced with Nic Cage. It was a subtle transition, but one that gained him a box office success like he had never seen before. The 4 movies that he starred in before LLV were Guarding Tess, It Could Happen to You, Trapped in Paradise, and Kiss of Death. Combined, those 4 movies made a total of $85 million at the box office. Not bad for mid-90’s numbers and pretty good in his entire run of him being Nicolas. Then in 1995 LLV came out, he won an Oscar, and changed to Nic Cage Box Office Fucking Superstar. Don’t believe me you say? How did nobody catch this at the time? You also say….in my head, but still. Here is why it was subtle. The 3 movies he starred in after LLV were in order, The Rock, Con Air, and Face Off and everyone was fully on board with each movie. I don’t care what you think about them now, I remember quoting Stanley Goodspeed lines as a high school movie junkie and every last person I knew loved “Nic”.
Still don’t believe me? Fine, to further illustrate my point, those 3 movies grossed a combined $347(!!!) million from 1996 – 1997. Three movies, two years, all as Nic. You think it’s the hair that changed him, but it was the name all along. Don’t’ beat yourself up about it, I just have more free time than you and like to tackle the hard hitting questions that have been plaguing us as a society.
So now that we know how it happened, let’s spend absolutely zero time hoping that he goes back to Nicolas. We’re here to appreciate him for the glorious freak show that he has turned into. He did it for me. He did it for you. He did it for the greater good of humanity for Chrissake! These power rankings are my own and subject to change at my own personal whimsy. They are 100% accurate, so if you think one of them is wrong, it is not, and don’t try to convince me otherwise.
5. The Rock
This is where it all started and to this day is one of the best movies that he ever did. Very re-watchable and has the absolute perfect Nicolas to Nic ratio that makes it my favorite performance of his. Non-crazy performance that is. This is just a perfect movie on so many levels, from the casting to the story. Also, don’t tell me that Cage finding all of the secrets at the end didn’t set him directly on a path to National Treasure. You know who is a National Treasure? You are Nic Cage; you are a damn treasure.
4. The Wicker Man
Shockingly, this is not the worst Cage film of all time, but holy shit it is a delight. He screams his questions, dresses up as a bear, and for some reason randomly punches women. Women…plural. So what is the logical conclusion to this movie? He gets sacrificed and the town puts a bee helmet put on him. What else could happen?
“WHAT IS THAT?? NOT THE BEES, NO, NOT THE BEES!!! OH MY EYES!! AAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!"
Game. Set. Match. Bitches.
3. Con Air
Nic Cage gave us an absolute blessing with one of his all-time Nic Cagiest performances that could not be any better. A first ballot hall of fame (I’m talking Babe Ruth level) fake Southern accent as Cameron Poe, the ex con/ex-Army Ranger/ex hair cut getting guy with a wife beater and a heart of gold. Long hair, stubble, and an undying love for the kid he has never met and the wife he left behind. You know it’s undying by the fact that he murders a fellow con for not putting the bunny back in the box. Why couldn’t he just put the bunny back in that damned box?
2. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans
What a combination of bad script, worse title, and the worst casting that leads us to this powder keg performance. Teaming Nic Cage doing the best Nic Cage things with Werner Herzog directing had to happen with someone over at First Look studios having their daughter kidnapped and forced to make this movie. I like to think green lighting this movie went something like this…
Studio Exec 1 “How do we ensure that we get the craziest movie we can to be seen in theaters?”
Studio Exec 2 “We could cast Nic Cage”
Studio Exec 1 “But, how do we get his craziest performance in 20 years?”
Cleaning Person “Let’s have him smoke crack in the movie”
Someone’s kid “Perfect, but we need to cast Xzibit as one of the co-leads”
Homeless drifter “I love that idea; let’s seal it by touching the tip of our dicks together”
Diego Luna “You guys are my best friends”
This is by far the worst Cage movie in a very long list of bad Cage movies. That deserves to be stated again. This is the WORST movie that Nic Cage has ever made. That puts it right up there with the Titanic, Hindenburg, and Hitler as Mount Rushmore level bad things (yes, I just compared a movie to Hitler and no I do not regret it). This movie is so gloriously bad as a drama that it could almost be one of the top ten comedies of all-time. Oh how I love this movie so!
1. Vampire’s Kiss
Remember this movie? Of course you don’t, because nobody saw it, and thankfully nobody did or we would have missed out on a significant chunk of Nic Cage. Now I know that I told you before that there were signs of Nic Cage looming, but this entire movie is Nicolas Cage being full on Nic Cage long before that was a thing. Back in 1987, nobody was hotter than Nicolas Cage (I’m looking at you Steve Guttenberg). Coming off of Raising Arizona and Moonstruck, he was white hot and could have been in any movie of his choosing. So what did he do? He took two years off and released this movie in 1989 and NOBODY saw it. So much so that it only grossed $725,000 for its entire theatrical release. That is a shockingly low number considering Moonstruck somehow made $87 million with Cage and Cher as the stars. The 80’s will never cease to amaze me.
You might have missed it then, but I implore you to watch it now. Do not miss your chance to see Nic Cage turning from a crazy person to a crazy vampire. One so crazy that he recites the entire alphabet to his therapist, so convincingly crazy, that her reaction has to be real. You will never convince me that is not genuine fear in her eyes as she says “you really know your alphabet”. It is now and forever will be at the top of the power rankings. Find this movie and tell all of your friends about it. You won’t regret it.
Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox. You can contact him at email@example.com