The Burford Top 10s: Most Memorable Nicolas Cage Performances (For The Right And Wrong Reasons)

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Nicolas Francis Coppola is certainly an actor that gets a lot of stick for his tendency to overact, but we should all be thankful for it, as it has definitely given us all some unforgettable and often hilarious cinematic moments (not to mention countless quotes, GIFs and memes), even if we may be laughing at him and not with him. Well, as a tribute to his unique acting abilities, here is my personal top 10 of the most memorable Nic Cage performances, and all I can say is; Nic, thank you for these unforgettable performances and moments, even if they produced the results that you may not quite have originally intended.

Before starting this list I do feel it important to add the caveat that not only is this list solely about his performances and not how good or bad the actual film itself is, but also that Nicolas has been a particularly busy bee (pun intended) in the last few years and starred in a huge number of straight-to-DVD films, most of which I have not had the privilege of seeing yet. So, there may well be some underrated masterpieces in there that deserve a place on this list too (though I doubt it), but for now I can only base this list on the films that I have seen.

10. National Treasure & National Treasure: Book of Secrets

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“I’m gonna steal the Declaration of Independence”

Both of the National Treasure films are essentially Jerry Bruckheimer produced Indiana Jones rip-offs and are perfectly enjoyable, but very silly films back from the time when Nicolas Cage was a bankable leading man. Alas he no longer is, and so we will never get the final part of what would undoubtedly be one of the truly great cinematic trilogies (!). Throughout most of the two films Cage is on good form, making what would normally be quite forgettable lines of dialogue far more memorable or amusing due to his tendency to deliver them in unusual ways. However, what makes these films join this list is one pivotal and unforgettable scene in Book of Secrets in which Nicolas Cage has a mental breakdown at a Museum in England and starts shouting out random ‘British’ words in a strange mockney accent and sings ‘I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts’ – never before in cinema history has the word ‘haggis’ been delivered with such intense passion!

9. Kick-Ass

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Matthew Vaughn’s anti-superhero film certainly has many great things about it, but one of them is undoubtedly Cage’s performance as ‘Big Daddy’. In what is very much a supporting role with far less screen time than a lot of the main characters, a moustached Cage steals ever scene with a particularly unhinged performance and some unique methods of parenting. A particular standout scene is when we are first introduced to his character and we see he him shooting his Kevlar wearing 12-year-old daughter Mindy (Chloë Grace Moretz) in the chest while testing her on handgun trivia – it is the kind of scene and character very few actors could pull off, but for reasons that are impossible for us mere mortals to fathom, Cage somehow makes it work!

8. Con Air

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“Put the bunny back in the box”

Con Air has such an ashamedly ludicrous, contrived and flawed plot, that it has to be enjoyed and is pure switch-your-brain off fun. Keeping it all together is Nicolas Cage with long hair and a vest, and despite all the outrageous action and violence, the film’s most memorable moment has to be when one of the fellow convicts takes the furry present that Nicolas Cage’s character has bought for his daughter and Cage calmly explains in those now immortal lines with that he would rather like that said nasty individual to put it back where it came from.

7. Adaptation

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“I am pathetic, I am a loser…”

Nicolas Cage is in superb Oscar nominated form in Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s wonderful and witty drama about a screenwriter struggling to adapt a book into a screenplay. To portray his own self-deprecating and introverted persona on screen, Charlie Kaufman not only has Cage playing his written depiction of himself, but also as his fictional twin brother Donald. Cage certainly delivers the goods with a dual performance that thoroughly deserves his Oscar nomination, making the twin brothers individually distinctive enough, as well as both interesting, engaging and relatable in their personal struggles.

6. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

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“f**king Iguanas!”

When Werner Herzog decided to make a crime drama (with very little connection to the 1992 original except the title) about a New Orleans Lieutenant who begins a downward descent into a drug induced madness why trying to take down a drug gang, I am of no doubt that the first name on his (and indeed anyone’s) list of an actor with the ‘unique skillset’ to play such a protagonist would surely have been Nicolas Cage. Cage does not disappoint; whether is character is threatening old ladies, taking excessive amounts of drugs, taking down hardened drug dealers or hallucinating iguanas, it is certainly one of the most manic and unhinged performances of his career.

5. Leaving Las Vegas

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“I came here to drink myself to death”

This film is the reason why all those DVDs that can be found in the bargain bin state ‘Oscar winner Nicolas Cage’ in big letters on the front cover, and there is no denying that if it were not for Cage’s performance then Mike Figgis’ moody drama would probably not be quite the film it is. Cage brings his trademark intensity and manic craziness to his character of Ben, a man who simply wishes to drink himself to death, but as the plot develops along with his friendship with a prostitute called Sera (an equally excellent Elizabeth Shue) he brings an essential level of added emotional depth to his character that allows the audience to truly engage and empathise with him and the film’s broader themes. It is a performance worthy of its awards on a level that has been rarely (if at all) seen from Cage since.

4. Deadfall

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“You filthy, double crossing, little f**king filthy, double crossing, filthy, f**king goddamn f**king filthy little rat!”

When an actor has what must be no more than 30 minutes screen time and is the only memorable thing about that film, then surely it is a mark of that said actor’s true genius and ability? I am sure there are more apt examples of this, but this abysmal film that was named Dreadfall by many critics would have been completely forgotten about if it were not for Nicolas Cage’s outrageous and indescribable performance. Nic was apparently given free roam to dress as he wanted and basically do whatever he wanted (probably because it was directed by his brother), which would certainly explain both his character’s appearance and Cage’s excessive overacting and moments where his improvisation produces sentences that make absolutely no grammatical sense. This is the kind of film where skipping scenes is essential, and I think we can all be very confident in the belief that this film’s existence was one of (if not THE) reasons for the invention of DVD!

3. Face-Off

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“I’d like to take his face…. off”

John Woo’s first American film was made when Cage was at the height of his fame as an A list star, and he faces off against another actor with a tendency to chew scenery. The result is an outrageously bonkers and completely nonsensical action romp that delivers superb entertainment. Cage himself certainly doesn’t disappoint; delivering a completely barmy performance filled with rather extreme and bizarre facial expressions, whether he is playing his own criminally insane character or supposed to be playing John Travolta’s apparently more introverted character trying to be Nicolas Cage’s criminally insane character. Is it a performance of great emotional depth? It certainly is not, but it is undoubtedly an unforgettable one delivered by an actor at the peak of his powers (even though it is impossible to establish the exact nature of these ‘powers’).

2. Vampire’s Kiss

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“I’m a vampire!”

When searching Vampire’s Kiss on the internet it is sometimes described as a ‘horror’, a ‘comedy’ or a ‘thriller’, but it doesn’t really work as any of these. Though the laughs certainly may be frequent, they are all very much at the film and never with. Nicolas Cage has said in recent interviews that he took inspiration from great comedic performances for this role, well hindsight is a wonderful thing as he has probably realised that is the only way he can try and justify this outrageous display of extreme overacting. Vampire’s Kiss is utter rubbish and should have been a film that disappeared without a trace and be completely forgotten about, however every scene and line of dialogue is very memorable solely down to Cage’s outrageous and bizarre performance. His delivery of every single line of the terrible script produces something truly unique, though some of these lines (such as when Cage delivers one of the angriest recitals of the alphabet ever seen) are so random that they must surely have been improvised. Vampire’s Kiss truly has to be seen to be believed, and it is all thanks to one man!

1.The Wicker Man

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“Not the bees!”

Though many were furious to see that the classic British horror was getting a Hollywood remake, we should all be thankful that it did happen as it produced one of the best worst films of recent times. It was quite a mystery how a director with such an impressive back catalogue as Neil LaBute could make such a bizarre and downright terrible film, and it does beg the question as to whether he and Nicolas Cage actually knew they were making a bad film. The Wicker Man is certainly a film that has to be seen to be believed and is surely set to be remembered (much to his regret) as the defining film of Cage’s career. No other actor would surely be able to deliver with quite as much stoicism the now classic and iconic comic lines such as “step away from the bike”, “how’d it get burnt?”, “killing me won’t bring back your goddam honey”, “you bitches!” and “Oh no, not the bees!”? In the same way that some of the greatest films of all time get better with every viewing, with each viewing The Wicker Man seems to produce new memorable moments of baffling and unintended brilliance, and it is all because of its leading man!

Other noteworthy mentions:

Disciplined intensity: The Rock, Joe (review), Bringing out the Dead, Lord of War, The Rock, Wild at Heart

The slightly bonkers: Mandy, Ghost Rider, Bangkok Dangerous, Drive Angry, Snake Eyes, Trapped in Paradise, Raising Arizona, Tokarev (review)

The downright embarrassing: Army of One, Left Behind (review), Outcast (review), Southern Fury, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

About MoodyB

An extremely passionate and (semi) opened minded film reviewer, with a hint of snobbish.
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