5 Overlooked Nicolas Cage Movies (That Prove He's Never 'Phoned It In')

More respect for The Cage.
5 Overlooked Nicolas Cage Movies (That Prove He's Never 'Phoned It In')

We recently had to listen to Nicolas Cage defend his work and choice to star in a string of low-budget and/or direct-to-video movies. Which is absurd, really. Let the man do whatever he wants because whatever he does, he does it so deliciously. 

Then again, we guess some people can't fathom having a different kind of ambition (or a humongous mountain of debt to pay off), so we had to specifically listen to Cage say this:

"When I was doing four movies a year, back to back to back, I still had to find something in them to be able to give it my all ... They didn't work, all of them. Some of them were terrific, like 'Mandy,' but some of them didn't work. But I never phoned it in. So if there was a misconception, it was that. That I was just doing it and not caring. I was caring."

First of all, we would like to see any other Oscar-winning actor do a whopping 14 films over only two years. And secondly, who in this universe would think that the guy who has surely hit his peak by the look of that 2021 movie Pig has been phoning it in and not caring about his craft? To them, we say, "For shame!" and also here's a list of lesser-celebrated Nicolas Cage movies — from when he first started out until now — that most surely proves that no matter how big the budget or how silly the script, the man knows what it means to commit to a project.

For Prisoners of the Ghostland Nicolas Cage Used Both Eastern And European Art Forms To Create His Own Acting Style (Again)

A lot of people didn't like Cage's 2021 gonzo genre-bending movie Prisoners of the Ghostland. Perhaps it was Japanese director Sion Sono's absurd world-building, with its clashing "East meets West" production design. Perhaps it was seeing Cage's character, Hero, get one of his testicles blown up. Who knows?! It's bananas, for sure, but that doesn't mean Cage didn't make the effort of bringing his own authenticity to this character who is part Man with No Name, part Could Probably Fit Into The Mad Max Universe.

To play this Hero, Cage said he choreographed every beat of his performance by mixing Kabuki theater, German expressionism, as well as an off-beat vocalization technique to create a new layer for his already made-up style that he calls “western Kabuki theater.” Now, whether or not it always lands or if people even like it isn’t really the point here. The fact that Cage is constantly trying to bring something new and something different to not only his work but also the craft of acting is what should be appreciated here. It may not be everyone’s taste, but it sure is exciting to watch.

What Cage seems to enjoy the most about making small, independent movies like Ghostland is the freedom he gets to explore his craft. It’s the kind of freedom actors just don’t seem to get in big Hollywood blockbuster films. 

“When I was making Jerry Bruckheimer movies back-to-back, that was just a high-pressure game. There were a lot of fun moments, but at the same time, there was also ‘We wrote this line. It has to be said this way.’ They’d put a camera on you and photograph you, and order you: ‘Now say the roller skate training wheels line.’ I’d say, ‘I’ll do that but I’d also like to try it this way.’  On independent movies, you have more freedom to experiment and be fluid. There’s less pressure, and there’s more oxygen in the room.”

Nicolas Cage Arguably Understood The 2006 Remake Of The Wicker Man Better Than Anyone

Some people don’t just dislike Neil LaBute's 2006 remake of The Wicker Man. Many a critic and audience member seem to loathe it with the power of a thousand suns. Not Nicolas Cage, and not just because he’s in the movie. The man has straight-up admitted to some of his projects not working in the end, and he even said that they could probably have done more with his “Not the bees!” experiment. However, Cage strongly believes that the film was misunderstood in the same way critics have often misunderstood him.

“‘Wicker Man’ is probably the best example of a movie where people are mystified because they think for some reason that we did not know it was humorous, even though I am dressed in a bear suit, doing these ridiculous things with the matriarchal society on the island — how can you not know that Neil and I knew that this was absurdist humor?”

Nicolas Cage in bear suit, The Wicker Man

Warner Bros. Pictures

He has a point.

Cage seems to have such a clear understanding of what his character was doing that he felt a bit frustrated by some of his ideas getting shot down. For instance, to really drive home how horrifically absurd his character was, he wanted the filmmakers to leave him in the bear suit and burn the living daylights out of him. He knew back then how that would’ve made the farce both bigger and at the same time more disturbing — a point Ari Aster’s Midsommar would prove absolutely correct in later years. 

We kind of wish they’d listened to Cage and let him keep that bear suit on. And maybe have the bees come out of a honey jar instead.

In Mandy Nicolas Cage Showcases His Skills And Duality

Does this look like the face of an actor who doesn’t care and is just “phoning it in?”

RLJE Films

We bet he’s thinking about the bees again.

Mandy is one of those movies people will either love or hate — which we guess is true about a lot of Cage’s films, really — but with only a $6 million budget, what director Panos Cosmatos created here is most surely a feast for the senses, even if it feels overwhelming at times. What cannot be denied is Cage's all-in performance here.

Here we see a Cage who has a classic arc; who goes from a soft and caring lover living peacefully with his girlfriend Mandy to a raging vengeful man, wielding all kinds of weapons when Mandy gets kidnapped by a cult. It’s a trip, but one in which Cage manages to stay grounded in a calm-like manner — even though he literally trembles with violence.

“The question I ask myself is, "Did I achieve and realize my dreams that I had hoped for with my performance?" With Mandy, I would say, "Absolutely yes." I think that Panos and I guided a character that I think was very satisfying but more importantly, I'm excited that an audience member, a film enthusiast, is going to get in step with it and go along for the ride.”

Vampire’s Kiss Bombed But Was The First Film Where Nicolas Cage Officially Rejected The Style Of Realism

You Don't Say meme, Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss

Hemdale Film Corporation

You know the memes. You’ve been hearing more talk recently of this 1988 cult classic film in which Cage went absolutely wild and ate a live cockroach. But while the film was widely panned back then it was simply the first knee-jerk rejection viewers had toward Cage’s craft because no one got what he was doing. How could they, when it hadn’t been done before?

In later years, after watching Nicolas Cage hone his Cage-ness by frequently bursting out in sudden absurdity, it became clear that the guy was committing to a style here. What he did in Vampire’s Kiss was an experiment — one he wanted to do for himself — and out of his laboratory came this method that defied realism and instead looked like a slapstick Nosferatu at the opera, on cocaine.

Nicolas Cage Gave A Commanding Performance In A Little 2021 Horror Called Willy’s Wonderland (And Had All The Fun)

We have written about the level of bonkers and also awesomeness that is Willy’s Wonderland before. It delights us to bring it up again because there are few things as wonderful as watching an Oscar-winning actor battle a bunch of animatronic puppets possessed by the souls of serial killers, and kicking their butts.

Cage’s portrayal of the mysterious, silent character only known to us as The Janitor is, simply put, perfection. And he was hands-on in the making of this film, insisting that they make one of the characters an alligator and insisting they keep his part entirely dialogue-free. As we’ve seen with his recent masterpiece of a movie, Pig, The Cage is at his best when he’s absolutely quiet, almost meditative, and certifiably focused.

Said director Kevin Lewis: “Nic was a great partner. The guy worked tirelessly, man. He did not hang out at his trailer, he hung out by the set, right by the camera, knew what we were doing, went in, and did it. It was funny because I said, ‘I only have time to do probably two-to-three takes Nic.’ And he goes, ‘Well, Kevin, I like to do it in one!’”

It was also Cage who, while they were filming the scene, came up with the killer dance sequence near the end of the film. Lewis said that they just let the camera roll and, when Cage was done, the crew burst out in applause because not only is he one of the most interesting actors of our time, but he also knows how to have fun and we will never get tired of watching him.  

In his own words: “The worst thing one can be with filmmaking is boring.”

Amen to that.

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Top Image: RLJE Films


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