The Craziest, Cage-iest Moments of Nicolas Cage
The first weekend of 2017 will also give us the first Nicolas Cage movie of 2017 (but by no means the last; according to IMDb, Cage will appear in at least five more films this year). It’s called Arsenal, and in most respects it is a fairly standard DTV crime thriller; Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech play brothers who get entangled in the criminal underworld and have to fight their way out.
The wild card here — as it is in so many of his movies — is Cage. He plays Eddie King, a big gangster type with ties to Grenier and Schaech’s pasts. In typically nutty Nicolas Cage fashion, Eddie sports an outlandish wig and mustache (he looks like Tony Clifton’s stunt double), snorts prodigious amounts of cocaine, and is prone to occasional bouts of explosive rage. But that’s not even the nuttiest part: Cage has actually played Eddie before, in the little-seen 1993 neo-noir Deadfall, which makes the otherwise nondescript Arsenal into a sly de facto sequel — a Cagequel, if you will.
In honor of a new milestone in the ongoing magnificence that is Nicolas Cage’s career, the staff of ScreenCrush humbly offers this illustrated history of his craziest moments to date. We kept the definition of “craziest moments” narrow, focusing mostly on his best (and “Cage-iest”) outbursts. Cage’s accent in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, for example, represents a kind of madness, but not the kind we’re documenting here.
Be warned: In a few cases there will be SPOILERS in the clips, plus a fair amount of NSFW language throughout. It wouldn’t be a Nicolas Cage onscreen meltdown without a few F-bombs. Over the course of three decades, Cage has appeared in some masterpieces and some absolute disasters. But whether the movie around him is good or bad, Cage himself always remains eternally compelling. It’s what still keeps us coming back time and again. His star power may have dimmed slightly, but his ability to work himself into a frenzy has not.
1. Vampire's Kiss (1988)
Directed by Robert Bierman
It’s an old cliche: So and so is such a great actor that they “could make reading the phone book interesting!” To the best of my knowledge, Nicolas Cage has never read the phone book in a movie. But he did once recite the ABCs, in the incredibly strange Vampire’s Kiss, and it was spectacular. The film, a curious blend of horror (Cage’s Peter Lowe believes he’s turning into a vampire) and comedy (Cage suggests Peter’s inner turmoil by running down the streets of New York screaming “I’m a vampire!” over and over). I would love to know what was going through the mind of the actor playing Peter’s therapist in this scene.
2. Wild at Heart (1990)
Directed by David Lynch
David Lynch’s Palme d’Or winner about a pair of young lovers is often admired by Cage devotees for his signature line about his snakeskin jacket. (“it's a symbol of my individuality, and my belief in personal freedom.”) But Cage’s work in the scene above should not be overlooked. Not only does he scream, howl, and throw a few choice karate kicks, he flips out of the couple’s convertible without the assistance of a stunt double. I like to imagine this is how Nic Cage exits every car in his life — even the ones that aren’t convertibles.
3. Zandalee (1991)
Directed by Sam Pillsbury
This drama about a love triangle between Cage, Erika Anderson, and Judge Reinhold (!!) would have been long forgotten if not for Cage’s performance, particularly in this scene, one of his most famous, where he destroys a bunch of art with wild abandon and then covers himself in black paint while shouting “Black it out! Black it out!” This would make a great Halloween costume if you live in a warm climate, by the way. (“Who are you exactly?” “Oh I’m Nic Cage from Zandalee. Here, toss me that bucket and I’ll show you.”) Come to Zandalee for this marvelous moment, stay for Cage’s delivery of the line “I wanna shake you naked and eat you alive, Zandalee.”
4. Deadfall (1993)
Directed by Christopher Coppola
The aforementioned Deadfall will forever be known as the movie that first gave us Cage’s Eddie, a frenetic, cartoonish gangster with two primary habits: Coke abuse and bizarre screaming jags. Pretty much every single second of Cage’s Deadfall performance is a highlight, but the standout sequence comes after someone’s tried to kill Eddie and he returns home to his girlfriend (Sarah Trigger) who has to try to soothe his wounded soul. Good luck with that. Aside from an also-weird Charlie Sheen cameo as a pool shark, the rest of Deadfall is pretty forgettable, but no one would ever use that word to describe Cage’s work in the film. To watch this movie once is to have it tattooed on your brain forever.
5. Face/Off (1997)
Directed by John Woo
As Cage’s star rose in Hollywood, he began to temper his eccentricities. When the role called for it, though, Cage could still unleash his full fury, as he did with great aplomb in John Woo’s Face/Off. His Castor Troy is one of the most dangerous and unhinged criminals on the planet. So how do you introduce such a reprobate? Simple! You dress Cage like a priest and let him do unspeakable things to a young woman. When Nicolas Cage passes away, hopefully many many decades from now, I hope the thumbnail from this YouTube video is the still they use to commemorate Cage during that year’s Academy Awards “In Memorium” montage.
6. Matchstick Men (2003)
Directed by Ridley Scott
This standard con man picture is enlivened by Cage’s electric performance, most notably in this scene where his character, a grifter who struggles with obsessive-compulsive disorder, tries to renew his prescription for the only medication that helps calm him down. Bonus points for the random moment in the middle of this tirade where Cage suddenly busts out a random accent for no reason. (“Bulls--- mon!”) I often find that when my pharmacist gives me a hard time, it helps to start screaming at him in a different voice. It works every time. And I learned it all from Matchstick Men.
7. The Wicker Man (2006)
Directed by Neil LaBute
2006’s The Wicker Man might be the nadir of Hollywood remakes, but it also might be the pinnacle of wacky Cage performances. Investigating a young girl’s disappearance on a small island, Cage’s Edward Malus, a grieving police detective, runs afoul of a community of angry pagans who stymie his quest at every turn. Eventually, Cage’s frustration boils over until he just starts running around this community sucker punching and kicking one woman after another (sometimes he even does it in a bear costume). Why? I don’t know. Great art cannot be explained. It can only be appreciated.
8. National Treasure: Book of Secrets (2007)
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
If you need someone to cause a scene and provide a distraction for a bunch of history nerd super thieves, Nicolas Cage is your man. And if you ever need a man to just scream random British things in Buckingham Palace, Nicolas Cage is also your man. And if you want a movie where Nicolas Cage provides a distraction for a bunch of history nerd super thieves by screaming random British things in Buckingham Palace, National Treasure: Book of Secrets is your movie.
9. Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Directed by Werner Herzog
What is it with Nic Cage and pharmacies? He just doesn’t have a lot of luck there. Poor guy. Here all his bad lieutenant character wants are some drugs. Is that too much to ask?!? I particularly like the naturalistic quality everything except Cage has in this scene; the production design, the performances of the other actors in the scene. It looks like Cage just wandered into a real pharmacy and started screaming at the real staff. The best part of this scene is that Cage’s character is out of his mind cuckoo, threatening security guards with his gigantic gun, and he still knows what his copay on the medication is. Way to keep your head in the game, dude.
10. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2011)
Directed by Neveldine/Taylor
This Ghost Rider sequel was one of Cage’s final big-screen blockbusters before his current consignment to the world of direct-to-video thrillers and low-budget dramas, and its quirky energy didn’t connect with audiences conditioned to more conventional superhero movies (including the first Ghost Rider, which also starred Cage). But the movie smartly paired Cage with directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, whose camerawork and editing can be just as jittery and manic as Cage’s monologues. Spirit of Vengeance could have used a bit more of that demented hysteria, but when those flights of delirium occur, as in this supernatural interrogation scene, it’s a hoot.