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The TBTS Actor Evaluation: Nicolas Cage

March 4, 2011

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine and I decided, during a night out drinking, that we’d look up Nicolas Cage’s IMDB profile. Our question was whether he’d made enough good movies to really earn his top-level celebrity status. Before you speak up, however, I should clarify; sure, Cage is somewhat of a punchline at this point, with his manic behavior in the press, his admittedly recent poor choice of movie roles, and his downward spiral into films that are either shelved indefinitely or sandwiched into a weekend where they can go safely and generally “un-hated.”

But there’s no denying that there was a time when Nicolas Cage was not only an A-Lister, but probably an A-plus-lister. There was a time — and it wasn’t long ago — when Nicolas Cage was a huge, sought-after name for any film project. The question posed by my friend and I was: why? So we pulled up his filmography to see what the verdict might be. Let’s rank our friend Mr. Cage to see what all the hubbub has been about. (Note: Not all movies are accounted for in this list, but the majority have been considered.)

He’s a Coppola (+1): Not a bad free point to get right out of the gate just for just being the nephew of the director of Apocalypse Now. And make no mistake about it, that’s an elite family to be a part of. It’s included Sophia Coppola (Lost in Translation), Jason Schwarzman (Rushmore) and Talia Shire (Rocky) as well. So we’ll give him that. Good pedigree.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High (+1): Again, a free point just for being in a movie where everyone was awesome. Even if most of those people aren’t still acting anymore.

Peggy Sue Got Married (+2): Sure, this was your parents’ rom-com, but a lot of people loved it. So much that it was nominated for best picture from the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — two organizations which, in 1986, were still pretty incorrupt. Kathleen Turner even got a Best Actress Oscar nominee. And let’s be fair, Cage was good in it.

Raising Arizona (+10): I’m biased here, because this is my favorite film of all time, but Cage’s H.I. McDunnough remains to me not only one of the greatest movie characters of all time (edging out Kevin Kline’s Otto in A Fish Called Wanda), but the source of quoted movie lines I still cite nearly every single day of my life.

Moonstruck (+4): Another massive success, nominated for six Academy Awards and pulling down several, including best screenplay. Cage’s Ronny Cammereri was another stellar character role which Cage nailed beautifully.

Wild At Heart (+3): At this point, Nic could still spot a great character, and his role as the Elvis-idolizing Sailor Ripley in one of David Lynch’s more mainstream pictures was another scorcher. Our boy is on a role.

Honeymoon in Vegas (+1): Say what you will, but this is a hell of a cute movie. Don’t deny it. I said don’t deny it!

Amos & Andrew (-2): Two points are deducted here because he was paired with Samuel L. Jackson (pre-Pulp), but Jackson has a long history of making co-stars look better than they are. And nothing could save this good-guy-bad-guy buddy movie.

Red Rock West (+1): The film about a drifter coaxed into killing a woman’s murder plot is as old as the hills, but this title still gets trotted out whenever the story is re-made (again), even though Blood Simple should have that honor. Still, a win.

Guarding Tess (-1): Another water-testing for Cage into cutesy comedies, Guarding Tess saw Cage as a secret service agent protecting Shirley McClaine. There’s a reason this isn’t shown on TNT or TBS anymore, trust me.

It Could Happen to You: (even): Fresh out of Guarding Tess, Cage paired with shrill harpy Rosie Perez in this tale of a cop who leaves a waitress a lottery ticket which wins her millions. If we’re being honest, if viewed in a Frank Capra-esque vein, it’s not terrible. But it’s also not great. It’s just there. No points either way.

Trapped in Paradise (-3): This probably looked good when the studios pitched it to him, but by 1994 he should have known there wasn’t much market for a Jon Lovitz/Dana Carvey vehicle. We’d all moved on to Adam Sandler/Chris Farley by that point. Sorry.

Kiss of Death (-2): Supporting character to David Caruso. Enough said. Hadn’t he seen Jade? It should be noted, however, that this film bears traces of today’s Cage in his bizarrely characterized role of a crime kingpin.

Leaving Las Vegas (+8): Big score. With Academy Award noms for best director, best screenplay, best actor and best actress (Elisabeth Shue), Cage nets the statue. He’s now “Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage.” This movie is also very, very sad, however, and most people will only watch it one time.

The Rock/Con Air: (+5): Let’s loop these two together, both from the heyday of the mid-nineties blockbusters. The Rock had great interplay with “Academy Award-winner Sean Connery,” and was a pretty solid actioner. Con Air was also fun, but largely not because of Cage, who was playing a boring, stripped-down version of H.I. McDunnough. Still, let’s give him five points for the pair. Just for the entertainment value.

City of Angels (-2): This movie almost beached two careers: Nicolas Cage’s and Meg Ryan’s. I guarantee the only reason you pretended to like this movie was to get some action from a date, because there’s no way you came away from this uber-melodramatic angels-and-humans tale thinking it was a winner. Still, it did give us Sarah McLachlan’s “In the Arms of the Angels,” which guarantees you’ll have to remember super-sad-angel Nicolas Cage at numerous funerals and/or when you see abandoned pets.

8MM (+3): This Joel Schumacher film was pretty gutsy in the pre-embracing-porn world of 1999, and it’s a pretty interesting tale of a cop going deep into the sexual underground of Los Angeles to solve the mystery behind a secret snuff film. Moody and creepy, this is an underrated film.

Snake Eyes (-1): To quote a line from the aforementioned 8MM, “There are somethings you can see that can’t be unseen.” Like Snake Eyes.

Bringing Out the Dead (-1): You might scorn me for deducting a point for this because Martin Scorsese directed it, but I’ll call to attention the fact that it’s the most forgettable Martin Scorsese film in the last twenty-five years. Yes, Kundun included.

The Family Man (+2): This gets one point for being a surprisingly well-liked movie by many people I know, and another for being a movie you’ll still find in rotation during the holiday season.

Windtalkers (-1): I think I saw this at one point, but I don’t remember much about it. Didn’t it have to do with using native american terms to communicate during World War II? Ah yes. Fascinating. Point deducted.

Adaptation (+4): Smart move teaming up with Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. As neurotic twins in cut-throat Hollywood, this meta-tale was a worthy follow-up for Being John Malkovich and garnered several Oscar nominations. Big ups.

Matchstick Men (+2): Another smart move, teaming with Ridley Scott and the soon-to-be-beloved Sam Rockwell. Though this is another Cage film that gets lost in the shuffle, it’s pretty sound as a quiet con movie.

National Treasure (+1): A box-office success about buried treasure, this film was a huge commercial success, even if it did fancy itself a modern-day Indiana Jones tale (which it wasn’t). Plus, if you’re like me, you’re constantly surprised at how often you’ll catch a glimpse of this movie on the bottom someone’s DVD shelf, which means it’s good for a point.

World Trade Center (-1): Too soon. America wasn’t ready.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets (-1): Too soon. America wasn’t ready.

The Wicker Man (-1): Hey, did you see the original Wicker Man? Yeah, this was way shittier than that one.

Ghost Rider (-2): This movie is almost camp-worthy, it’s so ridiculous. And I’ll admit to actually being halfway into it and thinking “hey, this isn’t bad.” Then a loose piece of ceiling plaster dropped onto my head and I realized it was terrible.

Grindhouse (+1): Cage’s appearance as Fu Manchu in Rob Zombie’s fake-trailer Werewolf Women of the S.S. was great fun — and Cage earns a point for that kind of cool, fringe cameo.

Next/Knowing (-3): I think these are the same movie. And that movie was terrible.

Bangkok Dangerous/Bad Lieutenant (even): 2008-2009 marked a phase of Cage’s career where he wanted to be a super bad-ass. While Bangkok was just another Asian cinema rip-off, Bad Lieutenant was fairly decent as a gritty follow-up to the gritty original — so we’ll call this one a wash.

G-Force (-1): It should be noted that the bad-ass phase of Cage’s career did not include his voice role as “Speckles the star-nosed mole.”

Kick-Ass (+2): Violent and wild, Cage was a great call to play established superhero/vigilante Big Daddy in this comic adaptation, and it worked in a great way. Point.

Season of the Witch (-3): Quick! On the count of three, let’s both say if we saw this movie. One, two, three! No! But the fact that this movie sat in a can for two years before release means a lot, and for a big star that’s a bad sign.

Drive Angry 3-D (no points): I can’t judge this, because I haven’t seen it, and reviews have been mixed, ranging from positives which call it a fun, ultra-violent bloodfest to negatives which call it an awful, ultra-violent blood fest. Therefore, can’t award a point either way.

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Nicolas Cage’s Overall Score: 26

The hastily-configured scoring system:

50 or higher: You have made a ton of fantastic movies.

40-50: You’ve done pretty well for yourself. Good on ya.

30-40: We still like you. But you need to pick it up a little.

20-30: You’ve made some good movies. But probably more bad ones.

10-20: You either lost it or you never had it.

0-10: Many of your films are still available on VHS at an interstate truck stop.

0 or negative points: You are comedian Jackie Mason.

Clocking in with 26 overall points, Nicolas Cage squeaks in at just over 50% on the TBTS Actor Evaluation scale, which sounds just about right. Cage isn’t terrible, after all. He’s made some really strong movies — unfortunately, many of them were in the late eighties and early nineties, and he’s still fairly young by Hollywood standards. Here’s hoping things get better. What’s that, Nic? A Ghost Rider sequel in 2012? Oh. Never mind, then.

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3 Comments
  1. sasheel permalink
    March 8, 2011 12:30 am

    Really, Nicolas Cage’s true masterpieces are the zany TV commercials he did in Japan LOL!
    http://www.japansugoi.com/wordpress/nicholas-cage-in-japanese-pachinko-tv-commercial/

  2. Brian permalink
    March 8, 2011 10:55 am

    So no points (positive or negative) for Gone in 60 Seconds?

  3. March 8, 2011 7:40 pm

    8mm should only be watched in your middle teen years with your parents because your dad likes Nicholas Cage. Thank you Movie Warehouse.

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