Despite becoming a meme over the last decade, Nicolas Cage is still one of the most passionate actors of our time. Since 2007, he’s put out 24 films, and he’s never phoned in a performance, regardless of the quality of film.
In every Cage film, you’re guaranteed at least one moment of complete insanity. The fact that he summons so much energy for multiple takes implies a superhuman ability—I hypothesize that he can manufacture and voluntarily release cocaine from inside his own brain. It’s a spectacular thing to witness, and it can make the most generic movies worth watching.
This is good, because Cage came into some deep trouble with the IRS in 2007. He reportedly spent a fortune on ridiculously priced real estate, buying 15 homes right before the real estate bubble burst, as well as dozens of exotic cars, works of art, expensive jewelry, a private jet, and a dinosaur skull (he outbid Leonardo DiCaprio). He needed to work, so he’d have to be in a lot of dumb, generic movies.
How does an A-list actor climb out of crippling debt and come up with $14 million in back taxes owed to the IRS? You can stream the answer via Netflix.
Each film here is analyzed for factors specific to this particular era of Cage’s filmography: body counts, characters’ professions (always distinct, sometimes goofy), antagonists, and facial configurations. Most of these movies contain half-baked plots that rely on braindead conspiracies or quandaries that are solved by happenstance detective work. Nonetheless, every single one of them is 100 percent verified to be “Nic Cage good.”
If you don’t know what that means, I highly recommend just sticking to Joe—that’s the only movie on the list that’s just plain ol’ “good good.” However, I’m certainly biased with Joe; I unconditionally love anything David Gordon Green directs, and still defend Your Highness as a misunderstood classic.
Here’s how Nicolas Cage balanced his checkbook.
1) Seeking Justice (2011)
Profession: English teacher at Dangerous Minds high school
Facial configuration: Teacher goatee
Villain: Guy Pearce is the leader of a justice-oriented underground organization that’s recently turned evil, as such organizations tend to do.
Kill count: 8
Cage kills: Two, but they’re both accidental.
Best kill: The Walking Dead’s T-Dog is graphically run over by a semi truck.
Plot: Nicolas Cage just wants to teach troubled kids some Shakespeare, but when a guy wearing crocodile boots rapes his wife, he agrees to let Pearce kill the rapist in return for an unspecified future favor, which turns out to be a questionably motivated murder. Cage eventually becomes a wanted man, but since everybody who’s after him has the IQ of a laughing gas patient, he’s able to outrun the law and the evil organization fairly easily.
This is a dumb, dumb movie. It features Cage in full on paranoid mode, which, while fun, is far from my favorite mode of Cage. The real show-stealing performance here Pearce’s impression of Mark Wahlberg. I have no idea why an actor like Pearce is in something like this, but if he’s going to be involved, he should be doing a Wahlberg impression.
Cage Factor: 6
2) Rage (2014)
Profession: Land developer/ex-mobster
Facial configuration: Just a li’l sideburn action
Villain: Shit luck
Kill count: 19
Cage kills: Nine, but that’s a rough estimate. Cage sometimes kills people in ways—punching them, stabbing their limbs—that totally shouldn’t kill them.
Best kill: Drug dealer answers door, Nicolas Cage stabs him in the neck. (No questions asked, MF-ers.)
Plot: After successfully walking away from a life of crime, Cage is just trying to get some real estate built, maintain being ridiculously rich, and raise his daughter right. When his daughter winds up kidnapped—and, soon after, dead—his other life goals are replaced by the singular mission of avenging the fuck out of whoever is responsible.
He’s forced to reteam with his old crew (which turns out to be two people), and kill tons of Russian mobsters based on a half-baked hunch that they’re responsible. His character really hates Russian mobsters: He opens a line of communication with their higher-ups by strolling into one of their underground poker games and murdering everybody. When this fails to get results, he decides to visit one of the mob’s underground drug-dealing dens and once again murder everybody. This is truly Cage in full-on loose cannon mode. Added bonus: Danny Glover in full-on detective mode.
This is a terrible, cobbled together mess of a movie. I highly recommend watching it.
Cage Factor: 9
3) Stolen (2012)
Profession: High-stakes thief
Facial configuration: Clean-shaven
Villain: Ex-partner in crime
Kill count: Three, which is a bit disappointing when the cover looks like this.
Cage kills: 1
Best kill: The one made by Cage, duh.
Plot: After a bank heist goes awry, Cage is locked up for eight years. Upon being released, his old partner steals his daughter and demands his share of the heist money. He goes to the cops, but they think his story is simply a cover to distract them while he uncovers the money he stashed away before his arrest eight years prior. This results in Cage running around New Orleans a lot and shouting into phones.
Like Seeking Justice, it takes place in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, because it’s cheap to shoot films in Louisiana and even cheaper if you don’t try to make it look like another city. It’s directed by Simon West, who once gave us Con Air, which adds an extra layer of sadness to Stolen.
Cage Factor: 6
4) The Frozen Ground (2013)
Profession: High-ranking detective
Facial configuration: Clean-shaven
Villain: John Cusack as a restaurant-owning kidnapper/rapist/murderer
Kill count: 2
Cage kills: 0
Best kill: Not really an appropriate category for this sort of film, but one kill involves 50 Cent, so let’s just go with that.
Plot: It’s based on the investigation into the crimes of Robert Hansen, who kidnapped, raped and murdered several women in Alaska over the course of more than a decade. When one girl (Vanessa Hudgens) escapes his clutches, only a police officer and a soon-retiring State Trooper (Nicolas Cage) believe her story, and Cage launches an investigation into Hansen (played by Cusack, who is absolutely terrifying when portraying a sociopath). Highlights include Cage freaking out on a district attorney over a search warrant and 50 Cent as a timid pimp.
Cage Factor: 5
5) Trespass (2011)
Profession: Diamond dealer
Facial configuration: Clean-shaven with Stephen King glasses
Villain(s): Diamond thieves
Kill count: 7
Cage kills: 2
Best kill: Man thrown into a money fire
Plot: Cage is a diamond dealer. I’m not sure what that entails, and neither does anybody else, which means the movie can basically do whatever it wants. Some thieves break into his mansion to steal his diamonds. People are crossed, then double-crossed, and so on. Nicole Kidman is in this, despite having an Oscar—it is quite possible that she’s slowly becoming the female version of Nicolas Cage.
The time between this film’s theatrical and home video release was a record-breaking 18 days. It’s a terribly generic film, and it makes you wonder why anybody bothered to make it, or why Nicole Kidman would want to be in a physically demanding role where she’s thrown around and repeatedly knocked to the floor. But it has some of the best Cage freakouts of his career. We’re talking Wicker Man levels of energy. For much of the film, Cage is drenched in sweat with his hair all over the place, wearing businessman glasses that look ridiculous on him, and screaming for minutes on end while veins pop from his neck. That makes this awful film easy for me to recommend to anybody who likes entertainment.
Cage Factor: 10
6) Joe (2013)
Profession: Tree killer
Facial configuration: Badass backwoods beard
Villain(s): A deadbeat dad and the town asshole
Kill count: 5
Cage kills: Three, and one’s a little questionable. He lets a dog kill another dog, but I’m counting it.
Best kill: Guy jumps off bridge, assumedly from shame
Plot: Nicolas Cage plays Joe, who just wants to do a hard day’s work, then pound some whisky and hang around a whorehouse to wind down. He’s awesome at cutting up deer carcasses, handling venomous snakes, and running his tree-killing company. He has a bit of a temper when he gets mad, and terrible people can easily make him mad. When he befriends a 15-year-old kid with a dirtbag father, a shitstorm begins to brew.
This is a return to form for David Gordon Green and his masterful ability to depict the beautiful grotesqueness of Southern decay. The man’s direction can turn a rusty pole into poetry. When you mix Green’s vision with a Nicolas Cage who’s going all-in on every emotion known to man, you’ve got yourself a classic film.
Cage Factor: 11
Screengrab via LionsgateFilmsUK/YouTube