Because Nicolas Cage is famous for making bad movies, a lot of moviegoers forget about his good movies. The gems are hidden among the endless slew of direct-to-video stinkers and phoned-in, formulaic B-actioners, but they are there. Cage is an Academy Award winner who has worked with such legendary directors as the Coen brothers and Martin Scorsese. He can do both drama, like playing a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas (the one that won him the Oscar), and comedy, like playing an ultraviolent Batman parody in Kick-Ass.
So, here are Nicolas Cage’s 10 best movies, according to Rotten Tomatoes.
10 Peggy Sue Got Married (85%)
Directed by Nicolas Cage’s uncle Francis Ford Coppola, Peggy Sue Got Married is a curious take on a time travel story. It’s about a middle-aged woman who is filled with regret over marrying a jerk named Charlie, played by Cage, and wishing her life away. Suddenly, she’s whisked into the past and given the chance to do it all over again and stop herself from marrying Charlie in the first place.
However, in her younger body, she finds herself falling for Charlie’s charms again. What makes the movie work is that it doesn’t focus on the time travel aspect; it focuses on the human aspect.
9 Leaving Las Vegas (90%)
This is the movie that won Nicolas Cage his Academy Award for Best Actor. He plays a depressed alcoholic who heads down to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. However, things start to change when he falls in love with a troubled prostitute, played by Elisabeth Shue.
It’s a really heartbreaking movie, with characters that you feel bad for as you follow them into a dark psychological abyss. While most studio movies are shot on 35mm film, Leaving Las Vegas was filmed on super 16mm, which is more common in indie cinema, giving this one a less mainstream feel.
8 TIE: Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (91%)
A lifelong comic book fan, Nicolas Cage famously came close to playing the Man of Steel in a movie called Superman Lives. It was going to be directed by Tim Burton and written by Kevin Smith. However, for so many reasons that there’s a whole documentary about it, the movie was canceled by Warner Bros.
Cage eventually did get the chance to play Superman, albeit in a comical cameo appearance in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. It’s a self-aware take on a film adaptation of a TV show that was far better-received than the TV show it’s based on.
7 TIE: Raising Arizona (91%)
The Coen brothers’ sophomore effort starred Nicolas Cage as a reformed ex-con and Holly Hunter as his cop wife. They want to start a family, but Hunter’s character finds that she can’t have children, and due to Cage’s character’s past, they can’t adopt, so they’re stuck.
And then they see a furniture tycoon on the news who’s just had octuplets and decide to kidnap one of them. Things are great at first, but they become complicated when Cage returns to his life of crime by stealing diapers and a couple of his old criminal buddies break out of prison and come to stay. It’s a hysterical slapstick comedy.
6 TIE: Mandy (91%)
If you’re looking for a movie that will boggle your mind, rock you to your core, and feel like an acid trip, then look no further than Mandy. A couple are living a tranquil existence in a tranquil forest that is disrupted by a horrifying death cult and a demon biker gang, leading Cage on a violent path of revenge.
Between his rampant outbursts of violence, Cage shows real emotion in his character. It might be the weirdest movie you’ll ever see, but it’s nothing if not unique, and movies with fierce originality are few and far between in today’s Hollywood landscape.
5 TIE: Adaptation (91%)
Nicolas Cage plays dual roles spectacularly in Adaptation. When Charlie Kaufman was hired to write a movie based on The Orchid Thief, he couldn’t crack it, so he instead wrote a movie about his own struggles to adapt the novel. He also created his own fictional twin brother, Donald Kaufman, to be a much healthier, happier, less insecure, and ultimately more successful, albeit less creative screenwriter than himself.
Mainstream audiences won’t appreciate the debates about screenwriting theory and screenplay structure, but Cage is hilarious as both Kaufman brothers. Kaufman reteamed with Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze for this equally weird head-trip.
4 Face/Off (92%)
An action movie starring John Travolta as an FBI agent and Nicolas Cage as the terrorist who killed his son as they switch faces might sound like a dreadful affair. However, in the hands of director John Woo, who leans into the absurdity of the premise, it’s actually a compelling cat-and-mouse thriller.
When Cage is playing Travolta with Cage’s face, it’s fun to see him do his best John Travolta impression, and vice versa. As with all of Woo’s best movies, the action set pieces here are visceral, thrilling, and expertly crafted, both in the editing and in the choreography.
3 Moonstruck (93%)
Nicolas Cage starred alongside pop sensation Cher in this romantic comedy about a widowed woman who falls for her fiancé’s distant, angry younger brother. From that premise, it would sound like a harrowing drama, but make no mistake – this is a heartwarming Hollywood romcom if there ever was one.
It also won three of the six Academy Awards it was nominated for: Best Actress for Cher, Best Supporting Actress for Olympia Dukakis, and Best Original Screenplay. It was directed by Norman Jewison, the giant of cinema behind such classics as In the Heat of the Night and ...And Justice for All.
2 Red Rock West (95%)
The little-seen neo-noir Red Rock West almost didn’t see the light of day (and it barely did, even then). Despite having its premiere at the revered Toronto International Film Festival and being showered with praise at that screening, the movie didn’t secure a theatrical release.
It was being primed for a direct-to-video release before a movie theater owner spotted it and liked it so much that he set it off on a tour of arthouse theaters. Nicolas Cage stars alongside Lara Flynn Boyle and the great Dennis Hopper in this contemporary western that veers between dark thriller and dark comedy.
1 Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (97%)
This dimension-hopping, web-slinging ‘toon beat both Pixar and Wes Anderson to the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature earlier this year. A number of interdimensional alternate versions of Spider-Man appear in the film. The one that Nicolas Cage plays is Spider-Man Noir, a black-and-white detective version of Spidey from the Depression era.
As a whole, the movie is a riveting superhero adventure with a beautiful animation style that looks more like a moving comic book than a cartoon, and its strong emotional core ensures that the gloss on the surface has something to capture. A sequel is eagerly anticipated by fans.