What the Hell Happened to Nicolas Cage?
It may seem strange to ask “What the hell happened to Nicolas Cage?” He certainly isn’t missing. He appears in several movies every year. But the Oscar-winning actor has gone from being a box office draw to a national punchline who can’t say “no” to any movie.
What the hell happened?
Nicolas Cage is part of the Coppola clan. Francis Ford Coppola is his uncle. Talia Shire is his aunt and Sofia Coppola and Jason Schwartzman are among his cousins. To avoid the appearance of nepotism, he changed his last name from Coppola to Cage early in his career. He based his name on Marvel superhero, Luke Cage aka Power Man.
Cage’s earliest role was as an uncredited extra in the Robert Redford film, Brubaker in 1980. In 1981, Cage appeared with Crispin Glover in a youth-oriented TV show called Best of Times. The show was not picked up.
In 1982, Cage appeared opposite Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn and Phoebe Cates in Amy Heckerling’s classic high school comedy, Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
Cage was originally cast in the Judge Reinhold role. But since he was still a minor and could not shoot at night, he was given a smaller role as one of Reinhold’s friends. Fast Times was the only time Cage was credited as Nicolas Coppola in a film.
In 1983, Cage had his first major role in the teen rom-com, Valley Girl.
Deborah Foreman starred as a valley girl who falls for a Hollywood “punk” played by Cage. It was a very 80′s take on Romeo and Juliet directed by Martha Coolidge, a New York filmmaker who was recruited to Hollywood by Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope Entertainment.
Coolidge spent three years researching a rock-and-roll love story for Zoetrope, but the project fell through. Years later, a screen-writer brought her the script for Valley Girl because “it was about a girl” and there weren’t many female directors at the time.
Valley Girl had a miniscule budget and only two weeks of pre-production. The producers gave Coolidge nearly free rein to make the film she wanted so long as she didn’t go over-budget and included four scenes with naked breasts.
During casting, Coolidge says she rejected all of the male members of the Brat Pack. ”All those ‘Brat Packers,’ or whatever, they came and I rejected all of them. I almost cast Judd Nelson but I got so tired of all those pretty boys that I walked over to the reject pile, found a picture of Nic Cage and said, ‘Find me people that look like this.’”
At the time, Cage was living out of his car. But Valley Girl helped put him on the map. It got positive reviews and was a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Cage appeared opposite Matt Dillon, Mickey Rourke and Diane Lane in Francis Ford Coppola’s Rumble Fish.
Coppola directed two films based on novels by author S. E. Hinton. The first adaptation was The Outsiders which was also released in 1983. Cage auditioned for Dillon’s role in The Outsiders, but he didn’t get it. He was offered Emilio Estevez’s role, but turned it down.
Instead, Cage was cast in his uncle’s less successful follow-up to The Outsiders. Rumble Fish was the more progressive of the two films. It proved divisive to critics and received mostly negative reviews upon its release. Over time, it has come to be more respected. Rumble Fish flopped at the box office.
In 1984, Cage co-starred opposite Sean Penn and Elizabeth McGovern in the period drama, Racing With the Moon.
Penn and Cage played two friends who have been drafted into the Marine Corps. The movie covers the period in time just before they are shipped overseas to fight in World War 2.
At this time, there were two groups of young actors. The Brat Pack was forming around the stars of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. And then there were actors like Sean Penn who was less teen idol and more a young Marlon Brando. Cage (who was almost cast in The Outsiders and appeared in Rumble Fish) was poised between the two groups.
Cage and Penn (who had both appeared in Fast Times at Ridgemont High) were friends. But years later when Cage became known for strange performances in action movie schlock, Penn would comment that Cage was “no longer an actor.”
Later that year, Cage cashed another paycheck from his uncle Francis with a small part in Coppola’s notorious period drama, The Cotton Club.
The Cotton Club starred Richard Gere, Gregory Hines and Diane Lane. It centered on the famed jazz club from the 1930s. The film is best known for being an expensive flop.
The production was already in trouble before producer Robert Evans hired Coppola to direct. Evans, who had also produced The Godfather, had a script by Mario Puzo. The Cotton Club reunited the writer, director and producer of the first two Godfather films on another period drama. Expectations were understandably set high.
Coppola insisted on rewriting Puzo’s screenplay and brought in his own crew. The already high budget escalated to nearly 60 million which was very high for the time. When The Cotton Club was released, it got mixed to positive reviews. But it grossed less than half of its budget.
One week after The Cotton Club opened, Cage appeared opposite Matthew Modine in the independent drama, Birdy.
Cage and Modine played pals who fought in Vietnam. Modine played Birdy who was fixated on birds. His experiences in war push him to the point of insanity and he is sent to a mental hospital. Cage played his best friend who tries to bring him back from the edge.
In retrospect, it sounds like they should have reversed roles. Modine played crazy and Cage played the voice of reason!
Despite mostly positive reviews and the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, Birdy flopped at the box office.
After a busy 1984, Cage didn’t appear in anything in 1985. He had auditioned for The Breakfast Club, but Judd Nelson actually got the part. Had Cage been cast, he would have officially joined the ill-fated Brat Pack. Although it was probably viewed as a career set-back at the time, Cage dodged a bullet there.
In 1986, Cage starred opposite Christopher Plummer in The Boy in Blue, a drama about the Canadian sport of sculling.
The film is based on the life of Toronto sculler Ned Hanlan. Not surprisingly, it didn’t make much of an impression in the US. But check out Cage’s guns!
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Kathleen Turner in another movie directed by his uncle, Peggy Sue Got Married.
Turner played Peggy Sue, a middle-aged housewife in the 80s. Cage played her no-good husband. The couple has separated and is on the verge of divorce. Peggy Sue’s daughter, played by Helen Hunt, escorts her to her 25-year high school reunion where she faints and travels back in time.
The movie centers on whether or not Peggy Sue should repeat the same choices that lead her to an unhappy marriage. Turner has a ball playing a teenager with the life experience of a middle-aged woman. And Cage goes over-the-top playing a middle-aged loser and the hopeful, awkward teenager Peggy Sue fell for.
Cage went so over-the-top that he was nearly fired by his own uncle. For his role as a doo-wop obsessed teen, Cage adopted a squeaky voice he claimed was inspired by the Gumby character Pokey. It was a divisive choice. Even today, many claim that Cage ruins the movie or at least distracts from it. While others think Cage’s oddball performance is the movie’s bright spot.
I actually rewatched Peggy Sue after many years before writing this article. And I was surprised how much I like the movie now that I am mature enough to appreciate its themes. I really respect the awkwardness and tenderness Cage brings to his part. But I do find the voice a bit distracting. It’s hard to imagine Peggy Sue really falling for this guy.
Peggy Sue Got Married received mixed to positive reviews and was a modest hit at the box office.
If Cage was perhaps a little too goofy for Peggy Sue Got Married, he was perfectly goofy for his next role in the Coen brother’s cult classic comedy, Raising Arizona.
Cage and Holly Hunter play a couple who can’t have kids of their own. So they decide to kidnap a baby from a group of quintuplets. The movie gets crazier and crazier as Cage’s escaped prison buddies (played by John Goodman and William Forsythe) come to him for a place to stay.
Despite material that seemed perfect for Cage’s oddball sensibilities, he clashed with the Coen brothers. The brothers had meticulously prepared every detail of their film in order to make the most of a shoe-string budget. While shooting, Cage offered many suggestions which the Coens ignored.
Cage later recalled, “Joel and Ethan have a very strong vision and I’ve learned how difficult it is to accept another artist’s vision. They have an autocratic nature.”
Raising Arizona is seen by many as a comedy classic today. But it received mixed reviews when it was released. The movie was a modest hit at the box office, but it has since developed a very devoted cult following.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Cher in the movie that would change his career, Norman Jewison‘s Moonstruck.
Moonstruck is an Italian-American romantic comedy that is heavy on the ethnic stereotypes. Like Raising Arizona, the movie has a quirky tone that fit Cage’s sensibilities.
Cher played a woman in her later thirties whose boyfriend (played by Danny Aiello) proposes before leaving for Italy to care for his dying mother. He asks her to visit his estranged brother to invite him to the wedding.
Cage played the brother, a hot-blooded Italian who lost his hand in a bread-slicing accident. In a moment of passion, Cage sweeps Cher off her feet and carries her to the bedroom. Middle-aged women in theaters everywhere swooned.
Moonstruck received positive reviews and a number of awards including an Oscar for Cher. Cage was nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. It was also a commerical success at the box office.
In 1989, Cage starred in the cult classic, Vampire’s Kiss.
Cage played a literary agent who goes insane. He believes he has been bitten by a vampire (played by Jennifer Beals of Flashdance fame) and that he is slowly becoming a vampire himself. To complete his fantasy, he buys a pair of cheap plastic vampire teeth which he uses to attack women at night clubs.
At work, Cage takes every opportunity to humiliate his long-suffering secretary played by María Conchita Alonso. He sends her on a wild goose chase looking for a contract from 1963. He insists that the author is demanding a copy of the contract despite evidence to the contrary.
When the secretary calls in sick, Cage drives to her house and apologizes. He offers to drive her in to work and to start being nicer. But as soon as he gets her into his car, he reverts to his browbeating.
Cage takes advantage of the opportunity to completely lose it on-screen. His eyes pop out of their sockets. He does a funny voice. He eats live bugs. There really don’t seem to be any lines he won’t cross.
Vampire’s Kiss got mixed to positive reviews with many critics praising Cage’s brave, unhinged performance. It was a flop at the box office but has developed a cult following on video. Really, it has to be seen to be believed.
In 1990, Cage starred opposite Tommy Lee Jones and Sean Young in Firebirds.
Firebirds was an attempt to duplicate the success of Top Gun only with helicopters instead of jet fighters and Cage instead of Tom Cruise. The movie was savaged by critics. Vincent Canby of the The New York Times wrote:
“Nicolas Cage plays the sort of B-picture role that might once have suited William Gargan. Unlike Mr. Gargan, though, Mr. Cage insists on acting. Mr. Cage simply won’t quit. He never listens to or sees anybody else in a scene, being too busy monitoring his own utterly mysterious, attention-getting responses.”
Firebirds flopped at the box office opening at an embarassing 5th place.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Laura Dern in David Lynch’s twisted road movie, Wild at Heart.
Lynch made Wild at Heart after finishing the pilot episode of Twin Peaks. And it shares the dream-like, nightmarish sensibilities with the TV show. However, Wild at Heart did not have to contend with TV censors, so Lynch was able to go full-tilt with the sex and violence.
Lynch pushed things so far that audiences members walked out of early screenings during a torture scene. After the second screening in which 100 audience members walked out during the scene, Lynch finally agreed to cut it “to the degree that it was powerful but didn’t send people running from the theatre”.
Even after the cuts, the movie was in danger of getting slapped with an X-rating. (The NC-17 rating did not yet exist.) Since Lynch was under contract to release an R-rated movie, gun smoke was added to a scene to obscure some of the blood. That small change allowed the movie to receive an R-rating.
I could write about the story of Wild at Heart. But really, what’s the point? Cage and Dern play a couple who go on a violent, sex-fueled journey that references The Wizard of Oz. Cage gets to sing Elvis songs and wear a snakeskin jacket. In short, it’s a David Lynch movie.
At the time, David Lynch was still the toast of the town. Wild at Heart was screened at Cannes to wild applause and won the top prize at the festival. Just two years later, Lynch’s Twin Peaks movie, Fire Walk With Me, was booed by audiences at the same festival.
Despite the praise at Cannes, Wild at Heart opened to mixed reviews and was not a hit at the box office.
In 1991, Cage starred opposite Judge Reinhold (yep, the guy from Beverly Hills Cop) in the erotic (and hysterical) thriller (and unintentional comedy) Zandalee.
How bout we just watch a clip:
That dance-off leave you hungry for more. How about a not suitable for work Cage freakout:
Here are a few choice Zandalee quotes:
Johnny: I wanna shake you naked and eat you alive…
Zandalee: I can’t be what you want me to be.
Johnny: Yes, you can. Roll over on your stomach.
Johnny: Why is it that the Baptist have all the women and no booze and the Catholics have all the booze and no women.
So true, Johnny. So true.
Zandalee was released theatrically overseas. But in the US, it went straight to video. Come to think of it, Cage’s career in the early 90′s was pretty similar to the state of his career today.
In 1992, Cage returned to more mainstream fare with Andrew Bergman’s kitschy romantic comedy, Honeymoon in Vegas.
Cage played a man who is reluctant to commit to marriage after promising his dying mother he would never marry. Sarah Jessica Parker played his girlfriend who demands that he break his promise. The couple flies to Vegas for a quickie wedding, but Cage’s character gets into trouble when he loses a lot of money to a gangster played by James Caan.
What follows is a comedic take on Indecent Proposal (which would not be released until the following year). Caan agrees to let Cage off the hook for his gambling debt if he can spend the weekend with his fiancée. The couple reluctantly agrees to the seedy arrangement.
Cage dialed down the wackiness just a bit. But he still got to indulge his Elvis fetish. Honeymoon in Vegas received mixed to positive reviews and was a modest hit at the box office.
In 1993, Cage starred opposite Samuel L. Jackson in the racial comedy, Amos and Andrew.
Jackson played a wealthy black playwright who buys a vacation home in a predominantly white New England resort. His new neighbors mistake him for a burglar because of his race, so they call the police.
In order to cover up an embarassing incident, the police chief offers a thief (played by Cage) a deal. He will let him go if he breaks into Jackson’s home and holds him hostage. Hijinks ensue.
Amos and Andrew opened to mixed reviews and disappointed at the box office.
Later that year, Cage appeared in a film written and directed by his brother, Christopher Coppola. Deadfall, which co-starred Michael Biehn, never received a theatrical release.
Cage was everywhere in 1994. He started off playing a secret service agent assigned to protect a former first lady played by Oscar-winner Shirley MacLaine in the comedy, Guarding Tess.
Guarding Tess got mixed reviews and did so-so box office.
Next he starred as a drifter opposite Dennis Hopper and Lara Flynn Boyle in John Dahl’s neo-noir, Red Rock West.
The studio didn’t know what to do with Red Rock West, so they sold it to cable. It showed several times on HBO before someone got the idea to release it theatrically. It received great reviews during its limited release and did well in the theaters where it played. But its release was so small that many wouldn’t have a chance to see it until it went to video.
In the summer of 1993, Cage starred opposite Bridget Fonda in the lottery-themed romantic comedy, It Could Happen to You.
It Could Happen reuinted Cage with his Honeymoon in Vegas director, Andrew Bergman. The movie was very loosely based on the true story of a New York Cop who offered to split a lottery ticket with a waitress in place of a tip. When the cop (played by Cage) actually wins the lottery, he keeps his promise and splits the winnings.
Reviews were mixed and the movie flopped at the box office. It opened in an embarassing 6th place behing The Lion King which was in its seventh week.
Cage ended the year in the Christmas-themed comedy, Trapped in Paradise, opposite Saturday Night Live stars Dana Carvey and John Lovitz.
Cage, Carvey and Lovitz play brothers despite looking nothing alike. The New York brothers get trapped in the quaint town of Paradise, PA and… oh I don’t remember. This movie is completely forgettable and more or less sunk the film careers of Carvey and Lovitz. Lovitz claimed the crew referred to the movie as “Trapped in Bullshit” which is pretty descriptive.
As a side-note, the movie also co-starred Mädchen Amick. With that, Cage has appeared opposite all three of the main Twin Peaks girls; Sherilyn Fenn appeared in Wild at Heart and Lara Flynn Boyle appeared in Red Rock West.
So anyway, Trapped in Paradise got poor reviews and flopped at the box office.
In 1995, Cage took a villainous turn in Barbet Schroeder’s neo-noir, Kiss of Death.
Kiss of Death starred David Caruso who left the popular TV show, NYPD Blue, to start a film career. However Kiss of Death along with Jade (which was released later that year) killed Caruso’s movie career in its infancy.
Kiss of Death reuinited Cage with two of his former co-stars; Samuel L Jackson with whom Cage appeared in Amos and Andrew and Helen Hunt who played Cage’s daughter in Peggy Sue Got Married.
Reviews were mixed and the movie flopped at the box office.
Later that year, Cage appeared in another movie that would change his career. This time, it was Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas.
Cage played a self-destructive alcoholic who goes to Vegas with the intention of drinking himself to death. He hires a prostitute, played by Elisabeth Shue, with whom he forms a relationship during his final days.
The screenplay was based on a semi-autobiographical novel by John O’Brien. O’Brien committed suicide two weeks into filming. This almost caused the film to halt production, but they carried on in spite of the tragedy.
For research, Cage went binge drinking in Dublin for two weeks and had a friend video tape him so he could study his own drunken speech patterns. The research paid off. Cage won both the Golden Globe and an Oscar for his performance.
Leaving Las Vegas was a hit with critics and audiences alike. Cage was officially on the A-list after more than a decade in the business.
After winning the Oscar, Cage decided to reinvent himself as an action movie star. So in 1995, he co-starred with Sean Connery in Michael Bay’s over-the-top explosion-fest, The Rock.
By now, Michael Bay is known for making popular crap. The Rock, while generally the best-reviewed of his films, is a typical Michael Bay movie. It’s loud, it makes no sense and it is filled with mayhem. Those are its selling points.
For the most part, reviews were good given the low expectations of summer action movies. But reviews were irrelevant anyway. Action movie fans made The Rock a huge box office smash.
The next year, Cage doubled down on “big and stupid” with another Jerry Bruckheimer-produced action movie, Con Air.
In The Rock, Connery was the lead and Cage was the sidekick. But in Con Air, Cage was the main action hero. Con Air was even bigger and dumber than The Rock. But it was seen as a bit of a step down. Which is saying something because The Rock was barely adequate to begin with.
Like The Rock, Con Air got mixed reviews and was a hit at the box office. But the reviews were a little more negative and the box office was a little less spectacular in spite of the bigger explosions.
Just three weeks later, Cage starred opposite John Travolta in John Woo’s Face/Off.
Travolta’s career was hot coming off Pulp Fiction and Get Shorty. Woo was a legend in Hong Kong action movies. And of course Cage was right off an Oscar win and two big action movies.
Face/Off is saddled with an inplausible plot in which a cop and a criminal switch faces. This also allowed each actor to do an impression of the other. Much scenery was chewed. Reviews were mostly positive and Face/Off was a big international hit at the box office.
Around this time, Cage was in talks to play Superman in a film that was to be called Superman Lives. Ironically enough, it was inspired by the popular comic book story in which Superman dies.
The story of Superman Lives is one of those great Hollywood legends that explains why so many movies are bad. Warner Brothers spent millions of dollars developing a movie that had absolutely no chance of being good.
In the mid-ninties, Clerks director Kevin Smith was hired to do a rewrite. Smith tells a nightmarish story about trying to meet the demands of producer Jon Peters who insisted that Superman could neither fly nor wear his iconic costume. In short, he couldn’t really be Superman. Peters also wanted a gay robot and for Superman to fight a giant spider.
Smith tells the whole story on You Tube. It’s long and profane, but definitely worth a look.
Director Tim Burton who had made Batman a smash hit signed on to direct. Burton and Peters signed Cage. They envisioned Superman as an alien outsider. Kind of a Kryptonian Edward Scissorhands.
Kevin Spacey was approached to play Lex Luthor and Courtney Cox was rumored to play Lois Lane. Comedians Tim Allen and Jim Carrey were both rumored to play Brainiac and Chris Rock was confirmed to play Jimmy Olsen. Michael Keaton even agreed to do a cameo presumably as Bruce Wayne.
As awful as all of this sounds, it might just have been worth it for Keaton as Bruce Wayne.
Burton’s budget ballooned and Warner Brothers got nervous about the costs. They never did greenlight Burton’s Superman. Cage dropped out of the project in 2000 and eventually it was dropped.
In 1998, Cage returned to romantic drama opposite Meg Ryan in City of Angels.
City of Angels was a remake of the German film Wings of Desire in which an angel gives up heaven to become human and love a woman. Cage played the angel who falls for and sort of stalks Ryan.
Despite mixed reviews, City of Angels was a huge hit at the box office.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Gary Sinese in Brian DePalma’s thriller, Snake Eyes.
Cage played a corrupt cop caught up in a convoluted DePalmaesque conspiracy. DePalma uses all of his usual visual tricks. But the movie was not well-received by critics. Cage’s popularity at the time made it a modest hit.
In 1999, Cage continued making dark thrillers with Joel Schumacher’s 8mm.
Cage played a private investigator who delves into the seedy world of snuff films. He is assisted in his investigation by an adult video store employee played by Joaquin Phoenix.
Schumacher was still reeling from the disastrous Batman and Robin which was criticized for being too cartoonish. He has been over-compensating ever since with grainy, low-budget thrillers that revel in darkness.
8mm received negative reviews. But once again Cage’s popularity powered it to decent box office.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite John Goodman (who also appeared in Raising Arizona) in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead.
Cage and Goodman played paramedics driving an ambulance during the graveyard shift. Cage is unstable (surprise, surprise) and pushed to the edges by the strains of his job. That job is made more difficult by a new form of heroin which has hit the streets.
Bringing Out the Dead also featured Cage’s wife at the time, Patricia Arquette. Cage and Arquette married in 1995 and divorced in 2001.
Bringing Out the Dead received mostly positive reviews. In fact, it was Cage’s best reviewed movie since Leaving Las Vegas. But audiences didn’t know what to make of it and it bombed at the box office.
Cage returned to action movies in 2000 with the car-heist caper, Gone in 60 Seconds.
Cage played a car thief who has to steal a lot of cars to save his brother played by Giovanni Ribisi. Angelina Jolie, who had just won the Oscar for Girl, Interrupted, had a supporting role. Like Cage, she would eventually transition into action movies.
Despite bad reviews, the allure of two Academy Award winners (or maybe Jolie and fast cars) made Gone in 60 Seconds a hit at the box office.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle in Brett Ratner’s comedy/drama The Family Man.
The Family Man is kind of the opposite of It’s a Wonderful Life. Cage played a Wall Street exec who seems completely content with his shallow existence. But when he helps out a would-be thief played by Cheadle, his life is turned upside down.
No points for guessing that Cheadle is an angel (or some other form of the Magical Negro trope). He shows Cage what his life would have been like if he had settled down with his girlfriend and raised a family instead of leaving to become an investment banker.
Unlike George Bailey who comes to realize that his life has more importance than he realized, Cage’s character comes to realize that his life has been kind of empty. So it’s a pretty major bummer when the magical mystery tour comes to an end and the children he has come to love no longer exist.
The movie tacks on a semi-happy ending where the still-rich Cage reconnects with the still-hot Leoni. I guess they’ll make some new kids.
The Family Man received mixed reviews and was a mild hit at the box office.
In 2001, Cage starred opposite Penelope Cruz in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin.
Captain Corelli’s was based on a popular novel of the same name. But the movie chopped up the novel to the point where it felt like an adaptation of the Cliff Notes.
The reviews were bad and the movie flopped in the US. Fortunately, it was a hit overseas and made back its production budget.
In 2002, Cage reuinted with John Woo for the World War II drama, The Windtalkers.
The Windtalkers co-starred Christian Slater with whom Woo had made Broken Arrow. Its release date was pushed back repeatedly. When it was finally released, it got negative reviews and bombed at the box office.
Later that year, Cage made his directorial debut with the sweet family film, Sonny. James Franco stars as a gigolo who works at his mom’s brothel. Mena Suvari plays a co-worker with whom he falls in love. Cage has a cameo role as Acid Yellow.
Sonny has a gross of about $30,000!
Interestingly enough, Cage turned down the role of the Green Goblin in Spider-man which also opened in 2002. Franco played the son (or sonny) of the Green Goblin in that film. Mena Suvari was considered for the role of Mary Jane, but then so was every other actress in Hollywood at the time.
Cage made headlines in 2002 for marrying Elvis’ daughter, Lisa Marie Pressley. It was Cage’s second marriage and Presley’s third after Michael Jackson. The couple married in August and filed for divorce in November of that same year. The bitter divorce wasn’t finalized until 2004. Cage claimed Presley made him sell his valuable comic boom collection.
Later that year, Cage returned to Oscar form with Spike Jonze’s meta-comedy, Adaptation.
Cage played screenwrite Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother, Donald. The real-life Kaufman wrote the script about his difficulties adapting The Orchid Thief. Eventually, he transformed that project into a semi-autobiographical piece of metafiction.
Adaptation, like Jonse and Kaufman’s earlier collaboration, Being John Malkovich, defies description. Like the previous film, it got good reviews and did decent box office. Cage was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his dual roles.
In 2003, Cage starred opposite Sam Rockwell and Alison Lohman in Ridley Scott’s Matchstick Men.
Cage played a con man with a number of mental disorders as well as a flaky partner. As part of his therapy, Cage’s character reconnects with his 14-year-old drama played by Lohman. Soon, father and daughter are working cons together.
Matchstick Men opened to great reviews. But for whatever reason, neither audiences nor the awards groups took much notice of it. It did decent box office.
In 2004, Cage had a surprise hit with the family friendly adventure film, National Treasure.
National Treasure mixed elements of Indiana Jones and The Da Vinci Code with the Disney brand. The result was a movie that Roger Ebert described as “so silly that the Monty Python version could use the same screenplay, line for line.”
Reviews were mixed, but audiences turned out in droves making National Treasure the biggest hit of Cage’s career to date.
In 2005, Cage starred as an illegal arm’s dealer in The Lord of War.
The Lord of War actually got pretty decent reviews. But it flopped at the US box office. I am often asked how Cage keeps making so many movies given that the majority of them don’t do well in the US. The answer is that he is very popular overseas. Like a lot of Cage’s films, The Lord of War eventually turned a profit in other markets.
Later that year, Cage appeared in Gore Verbinski’s comedy-drama, The Weatherman.
The Weatherman was not as fortunate as The Lord of War. It got mixed reviews and flopped at the box office. Even the overseas ticket sales didn’t save it.
In 2006, Cage leant his voice to the animated film, The Ant Bully which was a modest hit.
Later that year, Cage played a police officer in Oliver Stone’s 9/11 drama, World Trade Center.
World Trade Center got mostly positive reviews and was a hit at the box office.
Cage ended the year with Neil LaBute’s infamous remake of the 70′s horror film, The Wicker Man.
Where to begin with The Wicker Man? It is only one of the most unintentionally funny movies Hollywood has ever produced. Here is a famous compilation of lowlights.
It’s got everything. Cage demanding a woman to “step away from the bike” at gunpoint, demanding to know how a doll “got burned” repeatedly without taking a breath, Cage cold cocking a middle aged woman, kicking Leelee Sobieski into a wall, Cage dressed in a bear costume and of course Cage screaming about “the bees” and “the god damned honey”.
The Wicker Man is beyond awful. But that makes it kind of great. Which seems to be what Cage is going for these days. Cage described it as follows:
“There is a mischievous mind at work on The Wicker Man, you know? You know what I mean? And I finally kind of said, ‘I might have known that the movie was meant to be absurd.’ But saying that now after the fact is OK, but to say it before the fact is not, because you have to let the movie have its own life.”
Cage even has an idea for a sequel in which he would play a ghost in Japan. In 2012, he said, “”I would like to hook up with one of the great Japanese filmmakers, like the master that made Ringu, and I would like to take The Wicker Man to Japan, except this time he’s a ghost.”
The movie got bad reviews and bombed at the box office. So don’t hold your breath for that sequel. Cage got his first Golden Raspberry nomination for The Wicker Man.
Cage, who took his screen name from a Marvel comic book, had always wanted to play a super hero. When Superman fell through, he was apprached for the villain role in Spider-man. He also was attached to play Iron Man at one point. In 2007, he finally got his chance to play a comic book character in Ghost Rider.
As super heroes go, the flame-skulled Ghost Rider ranks somewhere below Aquaman. Making matters worse, the film was written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, the auteur behind the Grumpy Old Men films and both Daredevil and Elektra.
Despite bad reviews, Ghost Rider was reasonably successful at the box office. Cage was nominated for another Golden Raspberry for his performance.
Next Cage starred opposite Julianne Moore and Jessica Biel in the sci fi thriller, Next.
You see what I did there?
Cage plays a man who can see two minutes into the future. He has one vision that breaks the two-minute rule. It’s a vision of Biel walking into a diner at 8:09. Since Cage doesn’t know when this will happen, he enters the diner teice a day for the chance to meet Biel. Can you blame him?
Because this is a late-career Nicolas Cage movie, craziness ensues. The movie was blasted by critics and ignored by audiences.
fortunately, Cage had a National Treasure sequel to fall back on. The sequel, subtitled Book of Secrets, opened during the holiday season in 2007. Despite mostly negative reviews, it was an even bigger hit than the original. With a domestic gross of over 200 million and a world-wide gross over $450 million, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is the biggest hit of Cage’s career.
In 2008, Cage produced and starred in Bankok Dangerous.
Bangkok Dangerous was a remake of a Chinese crime drama of the same name. Both the original and the remake were written and directed by the Pang brothers.
In the original, the protagonist was a deaf hitman. His disability made him fearless. But since Cage needed to have lines of dialogue, the remake made his girl friend deaf instead.
Reviews were terrible and the movie bombed in the US. But once again, it was saved by overseas box office.
Cage was also attached to The Wrestler which was released in 2008. Cage stepped down so that the role could be played by his friend, Mickey Rourke. Rourke went on to win a Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination for the role.
In 2009, Cage starred in the apocalyptic thriller, Knowing.
Knowing was directed by Alex Proyas who had directed The Crow and Dark City in the 90s. Knowing wasn’t in the same league as those films. It got mixed to negative reviews although Roger Ebert (a friend of Proyas) praised it.
In spite of the reviews, Knowing was a hit at the box office. This is part of why Nicolas Cage can make three movies a year.
Cage did voice work for family films G-Force and Astro Boy in 2009 between his two live action films.
Later that year, Cage starred opposite Eva Mendes (with whom he appeared in Ghost Rider) and Val Kilmer in Werner Herzog’s remake/sequel/”rethought” of The Bad Lieutenant.
The original Bad Lieutenant was directed by Abel Ferrara and starred Harvey Keitel. Herzog insisted that his film was neither a remake nor a sequel but a “rethought” which I suppose is kind of like Tim Burton’s “reimagining” of The Planet of the Apes.
Herzog went on to distance his film, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans from the original, “It only has a corrupt policeman as the central character and that’s about it.” He claimed never to have seen Ferrara’s original film.
Ferrara was furious. “As far as remakes go … I wish these people die in Hell. I hope they’re all in the same streetcar, and it blows up,” he said.
For the most part, critics like Herzog’s crazy take on the material. But in spite of mostly positive reviews, the film bombed at the box office.
In 2010, Cage appeared in Matthew Vaughn’s violent take on super heroes, Kick-Ass.
Kick-Ass was based on a comic book by Mark Millar. As with a lot of Millar’s work, it is a violent deconstruction of super heroes. Kick-Ass is about a teen who decides to make a costume and fight crime in real life. He inspires imitators including a father-daughter team played by Cage and Chloë Grace Moretz.
Cage decided to play his part as an imitation of Adam West’s TV Batman. But he didn’t inform anyone of this decision.
Vaughn describes Cage’s first day of shooting:
“It was totally his idea. and I didn’t know it was coming,” Vaughn said. “The first day around, he started in with that and I’m thinking, ‘This guy can’t act!’ What the hell is happening? I started freaking out. And after about 30 seconds, the panic in my brain calmed down, and I realized exactly what he was doing.”
“Poor Chloë and Aaron are looking at me. … So I say, ‘OK, get it, Nic. I get what you’re doing, brilliant idea, continue.’ Then of course I had to explain it all to Chloë who of course had no idea who Adam West was. I think they all thought Nic was just nuts and, you know, that’s not so bad for the movie.”
Despite mostly positive reviews, Kick-Ass was not a big hit in the US. The US totals were disappointing, but not disastrous. The foreign box office helped make the movie a hit. A sequel has been discussed.
Later that year, Cage starred in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Cage came up with the idea for a mystical adventure film based on the Mickey Mouse segment from Fantasia. Disney was more than happy to make the film and reunited Cage with his National Treasure director, Jon Turteltaub and The Rock producer Jerry Bruckheimer. They were certain the movie would be a big hit and launch a franchise like National Treasure.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice got pretty good reviews, but the domestic box office was horrible. It was an expensive and embarrassing flop at a time when Disney couldn’t buy a live action hit.
After a lot of bad press for bombing at the box office, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice quietly made a lot of money overseas. Once again, you can thank other countries for the continued success of Nicolas Cage.
Cage had a horrible year in 2011 with a string of critically reviled box office bombs. The first of which was the supernatural thriller Season of the Witch.
Season of the Witch was directed by Cage’s Gone in 60 Seconds director, Dominic Sena. But when it was determined that reshoots were needed, Cage’s The Family Man director, Brett Ratner, was brought in to fix the film.
Let that sink in. Season of the Witch was so bad that someone thought it would be a good idea to let X-Men 3 director Brett Ratner come in and try and fix it.
Originally, Season of the Witch was scheduled to be released in March of 2010. But it was eventually delayed until January of the following year. January is a month in which studios are known to dump movies they expect to fail.
And fail it did. Reviews were terrible and the film flopped in the US. But there is that troublesome phrase again. Even Season of the Witch made money overseas.
The very next month, Cage starred in Drive Angry, an action film which made a big deal of the fact it was filmed in 3-D.
Cage played a man who escaped from Hell to save his grandchild from Satanists. He hooks up with an incredibly hot waitress played by Amber Heard who for some unexplained reason is really good at kicking ass. Together, they kick a lot of cultist ass.
Drive Angry is a crazy film even by Cage’s usual standards. At one point, Cage kills a bunch of bad guys while having sex with another hot waitress. It includes this classic exchange:
Candy: [as they're having sex] Why don’t you get naked?
Milton: I never disrobe before gunplay.
Cage was apparently drawn to the movie because of a scene in which his eye is shot out. He had asked for such a scene to be included in Season of the Witch. But the producers, who wanted to make a family film, refused. I think that gives you some insight into the kind of decisions Cage makes when chosing projects.
You can accuse Drive Angry of trying too hard. But you can’t accuse it of being boring. The reviews were terrible and the movie bombed. Which means Amber Heard still isn’t a star.
Cage appeared in two films which barely received theaterical releases. Seeking Justice, which co-starred Mad Men’s January Jones, opened at 27th. And Trespass, which co-starred Nicole Kidman, became the fastest movie to be released on home video after its initial theater release.
Trespass was directed by Cage’s 8mm director, Joel Schumacher who was STILL trying to prove what a dark, gritty director he could be.
Cage and Kidman play a couple whose home is invaded by kidnappers who torture them in hopes of stealing something of value. Little by little, the experience reveals family secrets as well as some secrets about the home invaders.
Before you run out and rent it, let me warn you that my description makes it sound much more interesting than it actually is.
At one point, Cage abandoned the film. He offered to come back to play the kidnapper role. But eventually, he returned and agreed to play the hostage.
Reviews were negative and the movie bombed.
In 2012, Cage made a sequel to Ghost Rider. Let’s not waste a lot of time here. You know the drill by now. The movie got bad reviews and flopped in the US. But it was a hit overseas.
Cage also reteamed with his Con-Air director, Simon West for a movie called Stolen. Stolen was in and out of theaters so fast, I forgot it even existed.
Usually, when I ask teh question “What the hell happened?” it’s because an actor or actress isn’t getting as much work as they used to. But Cage still has lots of movies in the pipeline. They just aren’t very good.
So, what the hell happened? How did an Oscar winning actor like Cage start appearing in dreck like Trespass and Stolen?
In a way, you could say nothing happened. Cage has always been attracted to oddball movies. Some of them catch on with audiences. Most of them don’t. He has always been extremely prolific, so it’s no wonder he makes so many bad movies. It’s kind of amazing that he has made as many good ones as he has.
Also, Cage has had financial and legal problems. He has vast real estate ownings on which he owes quite a bit of taxes. In order to keep the tax man off his back, Cage seems unable to say “no” to anything.
Over the course of his career, there are several points where you could have counted Cage out. But thanks to his popularity over seas, it looks like Cage will continue to make movies. And any one of them could be the hit that restarts his career. Well, any one of them except that Wicker Man sequel set in Japan.
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Posted on February 9, 2013, in Movies, What the Hell Happened? and tagged city of angels, con air, entertainment, face off, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Francis Ford Coppola, ghost rider, honeymoon in vegas, leaving las vegas, moonstruck, movies, national treasure, nicolas cage, peggy sue got married, raising arizona, Superman, the rock, valley girl. Bookmark the permalink. 72 Comments.