UTG LIST: The Essential Films Of Nicolas Cage

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January 7, 2012 marks the 48th birthday of Nicolas Kim Coppola, known to most the world as Nicolas Cage. People can talk all they want about some of his recent film endeavors, or comment on rumors of real life troubles, but we here at UTG cannot deny our love for his body of work.

Sometimes on point, other times so off the beaten path it is actually amazing anyone can relate or connect, the filmography of Nicolas Cage (now at 68 titles according to IMDB) is one of legend. To celebrate the 48th anniversary of his birth, the UTGFilm department decided to compile a rundown of essential* films for any cinephile to enjoy, if not own. Click past the jump, relive the career of one of Hollywood’s living legends, and then invite over that special someone and have the best birthday-themed film marathon of all time!

P.S. Nicolas, if you see this for some reason, thank for the memories. From all of us at UTG – Happy birthday.

From What The Film!? writer Dane Sager

Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Nicolas Cage plays Peter Loew, a yuppie executive who works way too hard. He eventually meets a vampire who bites him. Peter slowly starts going insane, losing his grasp on reality as he tries to understand his situation. The vampire continues to show up to drink more and more of his blood, causing his insanity to become more and more severe.

And with a title like that, you probably thought Twilight, right?

This is pure unadulterated Nicolas Cage juice, not from concentrate. This is one of those movies that you can’t tell if it’s a comedy or just a weird art-house movie. Our man Nic actually ate a cockroach for this movie. No, not a fake one. Nicolas Cage put a cockroach in his mouth and swallowed it for this movie. Part of me thinks that wasn’t even in the script and that he insisted on doing it.

The Weather Man (2005)

In The Weather Man, Nicolas Cage plays a Chicago news station weatherman. He must balance his career and his much more complicated personal life. His relationships aren’t the best; his father (played by the always great Michael Caine) is a famous writer who always seems disappointed in him, his ex-wife is neurotic and a bit crazy, and he’s drifting further and further away from his children as he attempts to put his mess of a life together.

Plus he has like all the archery perks in Skyrim

The Weather Man is Gore Verbinski’s best movie. It’s a dramedy that needs to be given the same respect as American Beauty or The Royal Tennenbaums. This movie is underrated and largely overlooked, most likely due to the involvement of Nicolas Cage. 2005 was a year filled with bad consumer decisions with this movie being ignored and Mariah Carey’s The Emancipation of Mimi being the highest sold album of the year. That’s all you need to know about 2005.

Face/Off (1997)

Nicolas Cage plays a crazy GI Joe styled terrorist. No real motivation, just destruction for the sake of destruction. After planting a bomb in Los Angeles, he gets arrested in a bust by his arch nemesis, an FBI agent played by John Travolta. The FBI decides that in order to find the bomb they must surgically remove Nicolas Cage’s face and put it on John Travolta’s head, so John Travolta can go undercover. Also Nicolas Cage puts on John Travolta’s face and pretends to be an FBI agent for funsies.

No, Face/Off isn’t a hockey movie. Unfortunately.

Face/Off was directed by John Woo, the mastermind behind Mission Impossible II and Broken Arrow (which may have a future What The Film?! in it). This movie is what happens when someone sees Freaky Friday and thinks that the Rob Schnieder/Pauly Shore plot line would be better suited for gratuitous 1990s styled violence. Remember the action movie you wrote when you were 9 years old and acted out with Lego men? This is that movie.

Adaptation (2002)

Nicolas Cage plays Charlie Kaufman, a brilliant but insecure writer who’s struggling with writer’s block. Faced with a looming deadline and his inability to be inspired with adapting someone else’s work, he desperately seeks help from his borderline retarded overly confident writer twin brother Donald Kaufman (also played by Nicolas Cage).

Adaptation cuts out the fat and gives what everyone needs: more Nicolas Cage

Whenever anyone asks me why I like Nicolas Cage, this is the movie I mention first. It’s brilliantly written and directed. Nicolas Cage does the best acting of his career playing the depressed Charlie and the manic Donald. He plays two wildly different characters and has the incredibly difficult job of having to act off of himself. He’s acting in an empty room, watching and listening to where he’s going to be and going to do and responding accurately. This isn’t an Urkel meets Stefan type sitcom splitscreen acting, this is what genius looks like. It looks like Nic Cage.

From UTGFilm Editor Justin Proper

Con Air (1997)

In Con Air Nicolas Cage plays Cameron Poe, a former Army Ranger who is arrested for killing a drunk man who was assaulting his pregnant wife. 8 years later Poe is granted parole for god behavior and put on a plane with other convicts to take him home. Everything looks like it will be fine and dandy for Poe, who will finally get to see his daughter for the first time, until the convicts take control of the plane and mayhem ensues.

Mr. Cage acted so hard in Con Air he became able to levitate. Take that, Scientologists!

This is southern-fried, totally ripped, grunge haired edition Nic Cage (complete with kung-fu grip!). In a movie that had John Malkovich, John Cusack, Steve Buscemi, and Ving Rhames, Nic Cage still got top billing. Legend has it that Mr. Cage threatened to destroy the world with his newly acquired “Oscar-Powers” if he had not been given top billing and Hollywood knew better than to call his bluff.

The Wicker Man (2006)

The Wicker Man stars Nicolas Cage as Edward Malus, a policeman who is told that his ex-fiancé’s daughter has gone missing. Malus travels to an island off of the coast of Washington to investigate. He finds that the mysterious cult of women that live there are much more concerned with the lack of honey production this season than the missing girl, but Malus is determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.

“Nic just showed up on set and said ‘Look what I killed last night!’ and no one had the balls to tell him to take it off.” -Crew Commentary, The Wicker Man

This is easily the worst movie Nic Cage has ever been in. It’s so awful that it morphed in to something completely amazing. Cage’s dedication to acting the shit out of such a horrible script is a true testament to how great of a man he really is. If there was an award for movies so bad they are good then The Wicker Man would still be winning awards, 5 years later. Plus, Nic Cage punches a bunch of women, and what is greater than that?

Drive Angry (2011)

Nicolas Cage stars as John Milton in Drive Angry. Milton is racing against the clock to save his granddaughter from being sacrificed by a satanic cult that killed his daughter. Things aren’t quite as straightforward as the seem, as Milton is has a very strange gun and is being pursued by a man in a suit as he tracks down the cultists and attempts to stop them by any means necessary.

Even with one eye and a receding hairline Cage gets the hot girl.

You want pure action Cage? You got it. Drive Angry is easily Cage’s most intense and high octane roles. Not only does he kill a ton of people, he does it while having sex with a girl (you read that right) in one of the best gunfight scenes to ever appear on screen. Drive Angry knows exactly what kind of movie it is, and Cage embraces the role in a genius manner that makes you wonder why he isn’t cast in more blockbuster action flicks. This movie isn’t getting Cage any more Oscars, but it definitely proves he can be one of the greatest action stars of our generation.

From UTG Founder/Editor James Shotwell

Valley Girl (1983)

One of Nicolas’ first roles with Cage as his last name, Valley Girl is a film that not only defined a generation, but continues to influence pop culture today. Cage portrayed Randy, a character literally described as “a punk from the city,” who develops a relationship with Julie, aka “Valley Girl.” Julie’s judgmental, mall-loving friends are not too fond of Randy and, as many of you can probably guess, a lot of teen heartache and romance ensues.

Seriously. I do not want to go, to a party in the valley.

Many of our readers may be too young to initially connect with the culture of Valley Girl, but I find it hard to believe anyone can walk away without connecting some aspect of their life, or the personality of someone they know, to the film. This was the “generation defining” film of the early 80s, but even today it entertains on several levels. Seek it out.

Bringing Out The Dead (1999)

One of Cage’s most underrated performances, Bringing Out The Dead tells the tale of Frank Pierce, a Manhattan medic working graveyard shifts in a two-man ambulance team. He is burnt out on life, depressed, and beginning to see ghosts in the blur of his late night work. We follow Frank’s life over the coure of roughly three days and watch as he struggles to grip reality and save lives.

“I…see dead people.”

Bringing Out The Dead is a film that divides both critics and fans of Cage to this day. It served as the end of a “dramatic” trilogy for Cage, which also included Snake Eyes and 8MM, and is oft-rumored to be the film whose public reaction reminded Cage of his action calling, which lead his choice to take the lead in his next film, Gone In Sixty Seconds. In my opinion, this is the darkest of Cage’s work, even more than 8MM, and takes some time to fully appreciate, but has more legs on repeat viewings than a large amount of his filmography.

* = PLEASE NOTE: We realize many of Cage’s biggest “hits” are not on this list. We feel there is no need to further praise all of his hits and formed this article with the intent to highlight some lesser appreciated works as well. So do not fret, we love Peggy Sue Got Married, 8MM, The Rock and many more just as much as you and your friends.

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the founder of Under The Gun Review. He loves writing about music and movies almost as much as he loves his two fat cats. He's also the co-founder of Antique Records and the Marketing Coordinator for Haulix. You should probably follow him on Twitter.

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  • Alan

    how can raising arizona not be on here?

  • I actually have a full sized movie poster for The Weather Man, I thought I was the only person who saw/liked that movie.