The Tao of Nicolas Cage: Is a Renaissance on the Horizon?

The days of Nicolas Cage being a significant box office draw are long behind us. Will they ever return?
By  · Published on July 21st, 2017

The days of Nicolas Cage being a significant box office draw are long behind us. Will they ever return?

Whenever I tell someone that I have a weekly Nicolas Cage column they usually respond with some variation of “I used to love Nicolas Cage!” It’s always past tense. They typically make some sort of reference to how his early work was great and nowadays it’s a shame that he’ll accept anything that offers him a paycheck.

On most occasions, I’ll try and explain that part of why I do the column is because I believe he’s still churning out interesting performances even if the general consensus is newer Cage is a far cry from the mid-to-late 90’s peak Cage era. I fully acknowledge that as a whole his last 15 years or so of work isn’t as good as what came before but for the most part, I feel he’s still been quite good. The issues reside less with Cage the actor and more with the movies themselves and the ever-changing cinema culture.

The modern box office is dominated by superhero flicks and other similarly big budgeted spectacles and those type of films have never really been Cage’s forte. Of course, he’s had Face/Off, Con Air, and other big summer set pieces of that ilk but he was never The Rock. In many ways, he became an accidental action star. What made Cage special was his smaller scale works like Raising Arizona or Red Rock West. Movies that didn’t get much in the way of a theatrical release or were a modest success at best at the box office.

I look at movies like Moonstruck and Leaving Las Vegas, both of which were critically acclaimed and played in well over a thousand theaters, and wonder what their releases would look like if they came out today. In the current landscape Leaving Las Vegas is probably a limited release that quickly hits on-demand and streaming services. Moonstruck would likely rack in the cash still but there’s no way it’s the 5th highest grossing film of any modern year like it was back in 1987.

Cage hasn’t been completely absent from the modern blockbuster, however. He did give the superhero genre a go with the two Ghost Rider movies but that was before studios fully figured out how to turn comic book movies into well-respected money makers they now are. Had those movies been released even 5 years later than they were we could be viewing them differently.

The best of modern Cage has been movies like The Weather Man, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans and Joe. These are the type of films that even if they were released in his heyday of the 90’s wouldn’t have registered much of a blip on the theatrical radar. Today their box office numbers are almost nonexistent. It’s tough to maintain a positive public image when your best work sneaks by people.

When I’m faced with these comments from people about how they used to like Cage it does make me wonder if he’ll ever have mainstream success again. And to be clear when I say mainstream success that’s something entirely different than merely making good movies. I think he still makes good movies and I believe he’ll continue to pop out the occasional great movie but they’ll be the ones that go unnoticed — the upcoming Mandy from Beyond the Black Rainbow director Panos Cosmatos will likely be the next example of this. What I’m curious about is his public perception and whether or not modern audiences will ever welcome him back in their good graces.

My gut reaction is to say no. A large part of that is due to his personality. Cage is a weird dude and more and more people struggle to separate actors from their performances. I’ve read plenty of negative reviews of Cage films that talk more about Cage the person than Cage the actor. The biggest factor though is that I don’t think Cage cares all that much about how the public views him. Would he welcome wide-scale success again? I’m sure he would but I doubt that’s his goal. He’s going to continue to do what he wants.

What does give me hope is seeing Kurt Russell in Guardians of the Galaxy and Dolph Lundgren in Aquaman. Younger directors that are starting to take over Hollywood are starting to sprinkle in older actors that they likely grew up loving. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone like James Gunn, James Wan, Taika Waititi or Edgar Wright were a huge fan of Cage. And if they were I could see them casting him in one of their larger movies, even if only in a small role. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before Nicolas Winding Refn finally directs Cage. Or maybe it’s another up-and-coming director on the rise. Maybe it’s Cosmatos.

If he does start a working relationship with one of these young directors will that be enough? Will we ever get a Nicolas Cage renaissance that finally gets people to stop giving the ole “I like his old stuff” disclaimer when his name comes up? I have no clue but I’m fascinated to find out and eager to write about it every step of the way.

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Chris Coffel is a contributor at Film School Rejects. He’s a connoisseur of Christmas horror, a Nic Cage fanatic, and bad at Rocket League. He can be found on Twitter here: @Chris_Coffel. (He/Him)