In the history of cinema few actors have had the impact of Nicolas Cage. He’s had his highs and his lows, most certainly, but along the way he’s carved out a path that isn’t likely to ever be duplicated. Unfortunately, I think the general public as a whole may have lost sight of that fact. When people hear the name Nicolas Cage these days they don’t have the most positive thoughts. They think about bad hairlines, over-acting, and silly movies that make little sense. With the internet and YouTube people make memes and post clips of scenes taken out of context from various Cage movies to get a quick laugh. I get the humor and when these things first popped up I was amused as well, but it’s gone too far.
Whenever I talk to someone who likes Cage they seem to only “like” him ironically. What that really means is they love to watch him in bad films (Cageomasochists). They’ll put on a Nicolas Cage movie with the sole purpose of laughing at things that are not intended to be funny. No one should ever watch a movie with intentions of hating and making fun of it. If that’s the plan going in then why even watch it? That’s not to say it’s wrong to dislike a movie, but every film deserves a fair chance to succeed. For the last 10 years or so films starring Nicolas Cage have essentially been deemed failuress before most people, and on some occasions before anyone, actually sees them. It wasn’t always that way.
There was a time Cage was quite respected by virtually everyone. In 1996 Cage won an Oscar for his role in LEAVING LAS VEGAS. He was nominated a second time in 2003 for ADAPTATION. He won a Golden Globe and was nominated three additional times. He was nominated for two BAFTA’s and has two Jupiter Award wins as well as a third nomination. Per Box Office Mojo he has a lifetime domestic box office gross of over $2billion, ranking him 56th all-time amongst actors. On average his films make just under $42million with an average opening weekend of $15million (39th all-time). He’s worked with the best directors in the business – the Coen Brothers, Francis Ford Coppola, David Lynch, Alan Parker, Brian De Palma, Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog and David Gordon Green.
So, why treat him like a joke?
I’ve gotten into a number of discussions with people I know regarding this subject trying to grasp why Cage is written off so quickly these days. Despite bringing up his success the conversation always gets to the point when they ask, “Well, when was the last time Nicolas Cage made a good movie?” My response is always the same – “When was the last time you actually watched a Nicolas Cage movie?”
This notion that Nicolas Cage no longer makes good movies seems to have started with THE WICKER MAN. I’m not sure why there is a great fascination with this movie. I understand not liking the movie because it’s not very good but it’s hardly the worst movie ever made. For whatever reason people get stuck on it and feeds the false narrative that every Cage movie following that film must be bad. The reality of the situation is this – Cage and Neil LaBute tried to do something interesting by re-making a fairly obscure British horror film from the 70s. Ultimately it was a swing and miss but that happens sometimes.
Brian Collins, a writer for Birth.Movies.Death. and author of the wonderful Horror Movie A Day: The Book, recently wrote a piece defending THE WICKER MAN. Collins makes a number of good points in the piece but one thing really stuck out – his experience at a recent revival screening of THE WICKER MAN. Collins had to leave the screening early because people were laughing so much that he couldn’t hear the dialogue. He specifically calls out the audience laughing at Cage opening a door. This is the equivalent of seeing a comedian and laughing at the setup rather than the joke. I’d wager good money that the majority of the people at that screening had never seen the movie before but we’re going there to laugh at it because the internet tells them it’s funny. That’s not the proper way to watch a movie.
I understand having a little fun with a bad movie. I’m a big fan of the podcast How Did this Get Made? The difference between How Did this Get Made? and someone laughing at Cage opening a door is that the former tries to determine the thought process that goes into the decisions that lead to a bad movie whereas the latter is just sort of being a dick.
We’re approaching the 10-year anniversary of THE WICKER MAN and I wanted to take a look at everything since and see if I can figure out what the issue is that people seemingly have with Cage. Since that film, Cage has had 18 theatrical releases per Box Office Mojo. Some of them are bad and in fact a few are worse than, but a number of them are good with a few standing out as great.
Looking at the 18 movies I have to remove both LEFT BEHIND and STOLEN because I haven’t seen either one. That leaves us with 16 movies that I put into four categories:
The Bad, But Still Much Better than You Might Think – GHOST RIDER, NEXT, NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS, SEASON OF THE WITCH, TRESPASS, SEEKING JUSTICE
The Not Quite Bad, Not Quite Good, But Definitely Enjoyable- BANGKOK DANGEROUS
The Good to Very Good – KNOWING, ASTRO BOY, KICK-ASS, THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE, DRIVE ANGRY, THE CROODS
The Awesome – GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE
The Great – BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS and JOE
Whether or not a movie is any good is of course a matter of opinion. Just because I think something is good doesn’t mean everyone else will and that’s perfectly fine. But out of all the people that I’ve heard ask, “When was the last time Nicolas Cage made a good movie,” I wonder how many have actually seen the 18 films he’s released in the last ten years? In my experience people that ask that question haven’t seen many. Judging from box office numbers alone it appears people have only seen the GHOST RIDER films, THE CROODS, KICK-ASS, and SORCERER’S APPRENTICE.
That means out of the 18 movies Cage has made after THE WICKER MAN most people have only seen about 1/3 of them and yet I still hear the question, “When was the last time Nicolas Cage made a good movie?” The issue isn’t that Nicolas Cage fails to make good movies, but that we’re too caught up in looking for his “bad” movies that we completely ignore the good ones. What if we spent as much time praising the brilliance of films like PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS and JOE as we spend bashing films we deem as not worthy? Wouldn’t our modern perception of Nicolas Cage and film in general be far different than it currently is?
As bad as it to miss out on Cage’s good work in order to make jokes about his bad work, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes how Cage is perceived today. The larger, more glaring problem for me is this insane idea that in recent years Cage has been doing nothing but cash grabs. If you think Nicolas Cage views any of his roles as an easy way to earn a quick buck, you’ve never actually watched this man act.
The late Roger Ebert was a big fan of Cage and once described him by saying, “He’s daring and fearless in his choice of roles, and unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air. No one else can project inner trembling so effectively…he always seems so earnest.” I think this is the best description of Cage I’ve ever heard and that last snippet I’m especially fond of.
If you sit down and watch a Nicolas Cage performance, and I mean genuinely watch it, don’t look to find things to laugh at, you’ll see a man completely devoted to his craft. He brings more conviction to the screen than any other actor I’ve ever witnessed. He may not give a great performance every time out, but he tackles every role with complete sincerity. Nicolas Cage doesn’t care what anyone else thinks and as a result he’s not afraid to take risks.
Does Cage tend to take on a lot of roles that sound bat-shit crazy? Yes, absolutely. But that’s hardly a new development and part of what makes him so great. Look at a movie like WILD AT HEART. You could argue that it’s just as insane as THE WICKER MAN, and in fact I’d say it’s more so. Neither movie would exist if Cage wasn’t willing to put himself out there.
Dislike Nicolas Cage if you want. Make fun of his movies if you must. But don’t dare say he’s just out to make a quick buck, because that’s simply not true.
So what’s the point of all this meandering? Am I trying to convince people which Nicolas Cage movies are good and which are bad? No, not at all. More than anything I’m taking this opportunity to talk about my favorite actor and in doing so I’m hoping to shine a light on a talent that we may be taking for granted. No number of memes will ever change the fact that Nicolas Cage is one of the most interesting and daring American actors to ever live. Let’s re-adjust our focus and start to appreciate his great work once again.
Let’s end Cageomasochism.