Nicolas Cage has been lighting up the big screen with his performances for decades. Although his career has had many ups and downs, he is undoubtedly a talented actor, and he always delivers an entertaining performance. He has touched on nearly all genres including drama, comedy, action, and horror. Even though he has taken several questionable roles, no one can deny that he has the acting capabilities and physicality to make him a legend; with two Academy Award nominations, winning Best Actor for Leaving Las Vegas.
Cage was born in Long Beach, California, and is the nephew of legendary filmmaker, Francis Ford Coppola. Having been born into such a prestigious filmmaking family, his destiny to become an actor was almost certain. His first feature film role was Brad’s Bud in Fast Times At Ridgemont High. From there, his career took off with his breakout role in the Coen Brothers’ classic, Raising Arizona. Through the ups and downs of an impressive career, here are this superstar’s 17 best movies.
Updated on September 6th, 2023 by Yosra Ben lagha: This article has been updated with additional content to keep the discussion fresh and relevant with even more information and new entries.
17 The Family Man (2000)
The Family Man tells the story of Jack Campbell (Nicolas Cage), a successful Wall Street executive who gets a chance to see what his life would have been like if he hadn’t taken the road less traveled.
After a chance encounter with an angel, played by Don Cheadle, Campbell wakes up on Christmas morning, now married to his ex-girlfriend Kate (Tea Leoni), with two children in suburban New Jersey. It is a story of redemption and realizing what is truly important in life. Cage gives a heartfelt performance from beginning to end.
16 Con Air (1997)
Con Air is an action-packed movie with an all-star cast. The film follows an Army Ranger named Cameron Poe on his way home after seven years in prison. While aboard an airplane with some of the country’s most dangerous criminals, it is up to Poe to save the day after the airplane is taken over by the convicts.
Con-Air is filled with everything needed for a classic action film. There are explosions, bullets, and thrills from start to finish. The fantastic cast includes John Cusack, Dave Chappelle, and John Malkovich as the main villain.
15 Lord Of War (2005)
In Lord of War Cage plays Yuri Orlov, an illegal arms dealer who achieves great success while in a cat-and-mouse chase with an FBI agent named Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke). It is a cold, hard look at the dangers and risks of the arms business and the death and torment it can create.
Although Yuri earns a fortune, his morals are tested as he has to look at the wars and deaths that his business creates. Although he may have millions of dollars, Yuri loses his wife and family who cannot sit by as Yuri carries out his business. Jared Leto plays Vitaly, Yuri’s drug-addicted brother, in a fantastic supporting role.
14 The Weather Man (2005)
The Weather Man is an underrated dark comedy starring Nicolas Cage as David Spritzer a well-paid and successful weatherman who garners little respect from the surrounding community, who have made a habit of throwing fast food at him when they see him in public.
Despite his successful career, David’s family life is in shambles. Dave also feels the need to live up to the expectations of his Pulitzer prize-winning father Robert Spritzer (Michael Caine) as he senses his father’s disappointment with his inability to keep his family together. When Robert is diagnosed with a terminal illness, David falls into a deep depression and takes up archery as a way to calm his anxiety and stress. Cage talked to Movieweb about the project in 2005.
13 Moonstruck (1987)
In this 1987 romance, Cage acts opposite Cher in a film that would go on to win three Oscars. Moonstruck follows an Italian-American woman named Loretta (Cher) who falls in love with her fiance’s younger brother Ronny (Cage).
The Oscar-winning script features memorable lines and scenes to make this film a romantic classic. The chemistry between Cher and Cage is phenomenal and the supporting cast, including Olympia Dukakis all shine.
12 It Could Happen To You (1994)
What would you do if you won the lottery? If you’re like this film’s main character in It Could Happen To You, you would split it with a waitress after making a promise the day before. The film tells the story of an honest cop, Charlie (Cage), who promises a waitress named Yvonne (Bridget Fonda) to split his lottery winnings when he doesn’t have enough money to leave a tip.
Surprisingly Charlie wins and must live up to his promise despite what his wife (Rosie Perez) thinks. Through it all, Charlie and Yvonne teach us that it’s love that brings you happiness, not money, in this endearing love story.
11 The Rock (1996)
Directed by Michael Bay, The Rock is about disheartened Brigadier General Francis Hummel who holds the city of San Francisco hostage from Alcatraz Island by the threat of nuclear warfare. His demands are a ransom of 100 million dollars to be distributed to the family of men who had died under his watch on secret missions.
FBI chemical warfare agent Stanley Goodspeed is partnered with ex-con John Mason the only man to escape Alcatraz Island. The pair must break into the impenetrable prison and disarm the nuclear weapons and rescue civilian hostages. Cage delivers a humorous and action-packed performance and has great chemistry with the other lead Sean Connery.
10 Joe (2013)
One of Cage’s best performances is his role in the powerful drama Joe, directed by David Gordon Green. The story follows a man called Joe, who is tormented by his troublesome and violent past. He hires a 15-year-old boy named Gary only to discover that his father is an abusive drunk who hits him and takes away his earnings.
Joe faces the ultimate choice of either looking away or interfering to save the boy and fully earn his much-needed redemption. Cage brilliantly balances the dark, gruesome side of Joe, the violent ex-con, with the new redemption seeker who is ready to be selfless and do the needed. Undoubtedly, it’s a balance that is hard to strike, but Cage’s full and unrestricted immersion in the character leaves no room to question his matchless performance.
9 Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
People who can’t see Nicolas Cage in a rom-com, should give 1986 Peggy Sue Got Married a try. It’s one of his first movies and a real jump in his career as an actor. He plays the role of Charlie, Peggy Sue Bodell’s husband. As they are on the verge of divorce, Peggy Sue deeply regrets her marriage to Charlie after he’s been unfaithful. However, things change radically when she strangely wakes up in 1960 as her teenage self and gets to relive the high-school experience leading to her marriage all over again.
If you think being 17 will be easier after you’ve reached 30, this humorous and emotional rollercoaster of a movie will be a shocking ride. We meet Cage first as a 40-year-old man, and then again, as a teenager who is almost clueless but true in his feelings for Sue. Only a few can play the complexity of different selves or personalities across time better than Cage whose talent and experience is a big repertoire of interesting characters and personalities.
8 National Treasure (2004)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub, National Treasure is an action/adventure film that tells the story of Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) the last descendant of a treasure hunter family. Despite his father’s efforts to deter him, Ben is intent on finding a national treasure hidden somewhere in the country. With the help of his accomplice Ian, he gets closer to reaching his goal, but things quickly deteriorate when, after a disagreement over the plan, the two partners start working against each other.
Nicolas Cage might have taken way more serious roles, but his impeccable treasure haunting performance shows the actor’s huge range and sharp talent. The movie was so successful ($347.5 million) that a sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, was made only three years later.
7 Knowing (2009)
Knowing is a unique science-fiction movie about John Koestler, starring Nicolas Cage, an astrophysics professor at MIT whose belief in the randomness of life (especially after the passing of his wife) as opposed to the idea that everything is predetermined is challenged after his son discovers a 50-year-old piece of paper filled with mysterious numbers. Cage’s performance as a supportive father doing his best and as a passionate professor obsessed with the truth is very touching.
There is a tangible effortlessness in his incorporation of the character that gives this movie its special magnetism. Cage lets the character go through the motion of ideological and spiritual transformation and his grief as a husband, at a very natural pace and without forcing anything. He was rightfully nominated for the Best Science Fiction Actor Scream Award for this role in 2009.
6 The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
For an actor who played almost every genre, playing a fictionalized version of himself in a standard action comedy should be a piece of cake. Indeed, Cage delivers a light, funny, and authentic performance in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. He is depicted as a “falling star” who plans to retire from acting, and who accepts to attend the birthday of one of his wealthiest fans, Javi, for one million dollars to cover his debts.
Nicolas and Javi bond despite a terrible first impression but the CIA recruits Nick to take down Javi for arms dealing. The rest of the movie is a thrilling and immensely entertaining cat-and-mouse chase between the two. Despite the low box office returns for this movie and the hot and cold reviews It’s safe to say that, in a sense, no one could have played Nick Cage better than Nicolas Cage.
5 Pig (2021)
Nicolas Cage received high praise for his film Pig. Cage gives a subtle, yet powerful, performance as an ex-chef who decided to live as a recluse in the Oregon wilderness after the death of his wife.
His only companion is his truffle pig who spends the days with Cage hunting down precious truffles to sell to his produce dealer, Amir (Alex Wolff). Pig is a beautifully shot film that tells a powerful story about grief. Cage delivers one of his best performances to date.
4 Matchstick Men (2003)
Ridley Scott’s critically acclaimed Matchstick Men tells the story of Roy (Cage), an obsessive-compulsive con artist who forms a bond with his teenage daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), upon meeting her for the first time.
Sam Rockwell plays Roy’s partner, Frank, in a fantastic supporting role. This film has heart, comedy, and thrills and Cage gives a powerful performance as the neurotic, yet experienced, con artist. The movie may have been far less action-packed in comparison to Ridley Scott’s other films, but it is always refreshing to see directors expand to new territories.
3 Raising Arizona (1987)
Cage’s breakout role was in the classic comedy Raising Arizona, written and directed by the Coen Brothers. Cage and Holly Hunter play a childless couple who decide to kidnap a baby from a wealthy family, resulting in a hilarious and chaotic adventure.
The Coens delivered the goods with this classic movie and the film introduced the world to the talents of Cage as an actor. The supporting cast includes great performances from John Goodman, William Forsythe, and Frances McDormand.
2 Adaptation (2002)
In Adaptation Cage plays both Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald Kaufman in a film that breaks all the rules of storytelling. The brilliant script, written by Kaufman, tells the story of himself attempting to adapt a book resulting in an insanity-inducing writer’s block.
Cage gives an Oscar-nominated performance for the dual roles and the film is one of the most original stories ever told. It is a look into the bizarre and tormented mind of Kaufman and Spike Jonze once again proves himself as a brilliant director.
1 Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
This tragic story, based on the novel by John O’Brien, tells the story of Ben Sanderson (Cage), an alcoholic screenwriter, who moves to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. While there, he meets and falls in love with a prostitute named Sera (Elizabeth Shue). The film is a brutal depiction of alcoholism carried by a career-defining performance from Cage.
Elizabeth Shue also shines in every scene and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actress. Cage would go on to take home the Oscar for Best Actor deservingly so. Ironically enough the director claims the intriguing actor was never paid for his role in the movie. It should not come as a surprise that such a passionate, and talented actor could star in a movie just for the love of the profession. Leaving Las Vegas tells an unlikely story of love, and although it can be tough to watch at points, it is a movie that should be seen by all.