Ranking the very best of Nic Cage (Ultimate Action Category)!
Nicolas Cage established himself as an incredibly talented actor in the 1980s and early 1990s. He has a great natural charisma, a very recognizable face, and also became known for his intense performances that frequently went over the top to become almost cartoonish.
These traits also made him a perfect choice for starring in action movies. From the mid-1990s he would take on roles in high-profile productions, some of which have become classics of the genre. His newest action flick Jiu Jitsu is scheduled for release on 20 November. Because of this, we thought that now might a good moment to give you an overview of his ten best excursions into the action genre in this article.
10) Next (2007)
Next is based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and many great films such as Total Recall and Blade Runner have been created based on his work. Cage plays Cris Johnson who works as a show magician in Las Vegas. He has the supernatural talent of being able to tell the future, but can only anticipate the next couple of minutes. His skills are utilized by the FBI to track down a group of terrorists, who also have taken an interest in his powers.
Next has a really interesting premise, but somehow it never fully takes off. The first half is quite a drag, the story just meanders around without much happening. The second half has a higher pace, as Johnson uses his powers frequently to escape bullets and crashing cars, and also to dispose of his enemies.
The acting of everyone involved, including Nicolas Cage, is a bit underwhelming, and the movie never builds up any real tension. Next is one of the more mediocre conversions of Philip K. Dick’s work, but it is still entertaining enough to prevent it from being a complete failure.
9) Stolen (2012)
After creating their opus magnum Con Air, Simon West and Cage teamed up again in 2012. Its production values and overall quality are not in the same league as their first collaboration, but Stolen still turns out to be a more than solid old-school actioner. Master thief Will is released after spending 8 years in prison for a botched heist.
He looks forward to seeing his daughter Alison, but she is abducted by his former associate Vincent. Vincent wants 10 million US dollars in exchange for Alison’s life, and sends Will on a new heist. Stolen is a fairly standard action thriller by all measures, but also never pretends to be anything else than 90 minutes of mostly harmless fun. It’s a good ride from beginning to end with plenty of thrills as Will needs to outsmart his adversary and the police at the same time.
The set pieces are not as lavish as in Con Air, but everything looks pretty decent production-wise. Cage is in good form as sly but kindhearted comeback criminal against his will. Stolen also marked Cage’s preliminary farewell from action movies shown on the big screen. Since then he has taken on roles in numerous low-budget productions with his participation often being their only redeeming quality.
8) Windtalkers (2002)
Windtalkers was the second collaboration between Nicolas Cage and John Woo after their masterpiece Face/Off. It is based on the true story of Navajo recruits who transmitted encoded messages in their native language in the Pacific theater of World War 2. Cage plays US marine corporal Joe Enders, who is tasked with protecting the young Navajo soldier Ben Yahzee from falling into the hands of the enemy at all costs.
The plot of Windtalkers evolves around a sequence of battles that took place during capture of the Japanese island Saipan. In between the combat sequences we’re in for a lot of interpersonal drama that is drooling with cliches from the last 50 years of war movies. Nevertheless, Cage’s somber portrayal of a traumatized and weary soldier is actually quite compelling. We’re not really watching a John Woo feature for the dialogues, though, but to see some epic action scenes.
And there’s quite a few massive battles with large-scale mayhem and destruction. American and Japanese forces clash ferociously, and the movie was Woo’s most bloody and gory piece of work since his temporary farewell from Hong Kong cinema. Windtalkers is not the best we have seen from either Woo or Cage, but it’s a tight war action drama with enough spectacle to keep the viewers’ adrenaline level high.
7) Gone in 60 Seconds (2000)
Welcome to Grand Theft Auto: The Movie. Retired master car thief Memphis Raines is called back to action, as his brother’s life depends on him stealing 50 luxury cars within 24 hours. He assembles his old crew and gets to work, all the while avoiding a pair of watchful police detectives, who believe they can convict him this time. Gone in 60 Seconds has Cage portraying the exciting and adventurous life of a professional car thief. He plays it cool and self-assured, and is joined by a cast that reigns in on the upbeat mood, among them Angelina Jolie and Robert Duvall.
The movie is not about all-out action, but there’s always something fun and exciting going on, including a couple of nice car chases. And the last thirty minutes are one big explosive showdown, when Memphis tries to get the last car to the drop-off point while racing the clock and the police. Gone in 60 Seconds features flashy cars, funny lines and cool characters, and shows Cage delivering another highly entertaining performance.
6) Kick-Ass (2010)
“With no power comes no responsibility.” This quote from Kick-Ass is a fitting description for its ironic take on the superhero genre. The movie tells the story of comic book nerd Dave who decides to become the superhero Kick-Ass. Even though he has no superpowers, he still manages to build up a reputation after a successful vigilante action.
This gets him the attention of a local crime boss, but also of two real superheroes who are less than charmed by his attempts to imitate them. A parody of sorts, Kick-Ass has its heart at the right place. It shows compassion toward all characters, and even the bad guys are quite easygoing. This does not prevent them from dying in seriously violent ways, however. Watch out for an interrogation scene with a man-sized microwave that goes terribly wrong.
Cage has a supporting role only, but his part and the movie as a whole are just too good to not be mentioned on this list. He plays the slightly neurotic superhero Big Daddy, who is also a single dad. His daughter Mindy (aka Hit-girl) is a 12 year-old, foul-mouthed martial arts expert who effortlessly thrashes entire squads of buffed-out gangsters. Kick-Ass is a clever and charming production with plenty of slapstick humor and bloody violence.
5) Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance came out at a time when the Marvel Cinematic Universe really got going. Thankfully, and I apologize for inserting a maybe too strong personal opinion here, it’s not part of this new sober branch of Marvel features. Spirit of Vengeance was a sequel to the rather boring first Ghost Rider, and got a lot more interesting due to the involvement of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor of Crank fame as directors.
Johnny Blaze is the Ghost Rider, a former stuntman who is sometimes possessed by a vengeful spirit. Johnny is tasked with protecting the boy Danny from the grip of the devil who thinks Danny would be the perfect vessel for him to walk the earth. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is saved from its generic premise by a weird atmosphere, plenty of humor, and relentless action. It also shows Cage going into full lunacy mode with an overabundance of grimacing and screaming like he did in no other movie on this list.
The action scenes bear the Neveldine and Taylor trademarks with the camera moving all the time close to the protagonists, and shots from impossible angles. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is one of the most eccentric and likable manifestations of the Marvel universe on celluloid.
4) Drive Angry (2011)
The bloodthirsty coolness of From Dusk Till Dawn meets the foul-mouthed high-octane action of The Last Boy Scout in Drive Angry. Milton escapes from hell with a car and seeks to bring down a cult leader who is responsible for the death of his daughter, and has Milton’s baby grand-daughter in his captivity. Milton’s quest for revenge is made more difficult by the police and the mysterious Accountant, who has been tasked to return Milton to the Netherworld. Cage is the grand-daddy from hell who spends half of the movie with a bullet in his eye.
He can shoot a whole gang of bad guys while having sex, and is the undisputed master of car action mayhem. Add to that an ironic self-awareness that leads to plenty of laugh-out moments, a groovy soundtrack, and we got ourselves a masterpiece for the lower instincts. Cage’s performance is as awesome as it can get, but the movie is made even better by William Fichtner’s role as slightly cranky, but cultivated minion of hell, who just owns every conversation he’s in. Drive Angry literally is one hell of a movie that explodes right in your face.
3) Face/Off (1997)
The star power of Nicolas Cage and John Travolta met with the visionary style of legendary director John Woo in the action extravaganza that is Face/Off. Psychopathic terrorist Castor Troy has planted a bomb somewhere in Los Angeles that is set to go off in a few days. FBI agent Sean Archer captures Troy, and agrees to infiltrate his gang by having Troy’s face exchanged for his own through surgery.
Troy gets Archer’s face in return, but awakes from his coma and manages to escape from prison with big plans for revenge. What happens when your identity is exchanged with that of someones else is an interesting thought experiment on many levels. And it’s pretty awesome to see Cage and Travolta playing each other’s characters. Both are the top of their game in Face/Off, and especially their portrayal of the lunatic killer Castor Troy is hilarious. John Woo stages the feud between Troy and Archer with elegant takes, and created some of the most spectacular action scenes that you will find in a movie from the 1990s.
Every single set piece is pure awesomeness from maestro Woo, be it a helicopter chasing an airplane, plenty of Gun-Fu mayhem, and an explosive boat chase that may the best one in action cinema history. Face/Off is perfect on every level, and an indisputable all-time action classic. Plus, it might be getting a reboot? Read more here!
2) The Rock (1996)
The Rock was Cage’s first role in an action movie, and immediately resulted in a masterpiece. His acting style in The Rock seemed to have created a template for many roles that followed: a kindhearted, but somewhat goofy character with a great resolve. A group of angry marines demand compensation for the families of their fallen comrades.
They occupy the former prison Island of Alcatraz and threaten to wipe out San Francisco with poison gas rockets. It is up to chemist Stanley Goodspeed (played by Nicolas Cage) and ex-spy John Mason (played by Sean Connery), the only person who ever escaped from Alcatraz, to save the city from destruction. With The Rock, Alcatraz became one of the most spectacular playgrounds for heroes and villains in a movie where one of the best car chases in action cinema history is just an overture to everything that follows. Director Michael Bay created a sleek tour de force of monumental proportions.
The Rock features non-stop thrills, shootouts and explosions that are further magnified by Hans Zimmer’s bombastic soundtrack. Nicolas Cage and Connery make an awesome team, and are complemented by Ed Harris’ intense portrayal of a disillusioned US army general. The Rock is the very definition of a blockbuster movie, and at the same time one of the best examples of old-school action.
1) Con Air (1997)
Big, bigger, Con Air! After scoring a huge hit with The Rock, Cage returned to the action genre, and managed to even top the spectacle of its predecessor, if only by a small margin, to be fair. And again he is a great hero, this time with a charming southern accent, wild hair, and a John McClane memorial tank top. He plays Cameron Poe, a decorated soldier who was unjustly sentenced to prison for some years, and now looks forward to be reunited with his family.
For his journey home, he is put on a plane with the nations worst criminals, who have their own ideas for the final flight destination. With Con Air, director Simon West and producer Jerry Bruckheimer distilled the essence of classic action films and created an inferno of fire, bullets and sweat. The magnitude of demolitions this movie delivers is something that is taken for granted these days due to the overabundance of CGI, but in Con Air it’s (almost) all real stuff being blown up and smashed into each other! Cars are flying through the air, planes are crashing into buildings, and it’s incredible how much havoc a single fire truck can wreak!
While Cage is the focal point of the movie to sympathize with, John Malkovich as psychopathic genius Cyrus the Virus leads an incredible assembly of villains. Everything in Con Air is delightfully over the top, and the movie delivers cool and cheesy one-liners by the minute. It’s a pinnacle of late-1990s spectacle cinema, and action movie brilliance in its purest form.