Movies · TV

The Tao of Nicolas Cage: The Best of Times

By  · Published on December 16th, 2016

A young Cage makes his acting debut in an ABC pilot.

“Remember Rocky? Boy what a movie! The best scene was when Stallone kept hitting that side of beef. Remember that?”

In 1981 a 17-year-old Nicolas Cage, then going by his birth name of Nicolas Coppola, made his acting debut in a television pilot for ABC called The Best of Times


We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming to bring you this breaking news bulletin.

…Yesterday the trailer dropped for Steven C. Miller’s new southern thriller Arsenal starring Adrien Grenier, Johnathon Schaech, John Cusack and Nicolas Cage. Give it a watch.

Die-hard Cageamaniacs may have noticed something familiar in that trailer. Our hero appears to be sporting a look we’ve seen before. That ‘stache, that hair, it’s not new. Is it possible that Cage is reprising his infamous role of Eddie from 1993’s Deadfall? Surely this is a mere coincidence, right? Matt Singer of Screen Crush decided to go straight to the source to get to the bottom of this intriguing mystery.

Oh…my…god! This is gloriously unexpected news! Out of all the off-the-wall characters Cage has portrayed over the years, Eddie may very well be the…strangest. I’ll get into this more once I actually see Arsenal, it has a scheduled release date of 1/6/2017, but it wouldn’t have been right to let this week’s column go by without mention.

It’s also worth pointing out that Miller later tweeted that this is an “homage” to Deadfall rather than a sequel. So Cage may not be playing the exact same character as Eddie, but rather one that’s heavily inspired by Eddie. And if you remember the end of Deadfall this does make a bit more sense. Anywho, more to come on this later on down the line…

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, already in progress.

…Joining Cage in making his debut was another eccentric 17-year-old would-be Hollywood weirdo in Crispin Glover. So how is it possible that Cage and Glover both made their debuts in a relatively unknown pilot? Let’s find out!

So what the heck was The Best of Times? The internet doesn’t have a ton of information but here’s what an anonymous user on IMDB wrote for the plot synopsis:

This ABC pilot starred 7 teenagers in a 80’s style Laugh-In. It told the light and dark side of teenage thoughts with dancing and singing added in for color. It would have done well in a Saturday morning slot, but alas, it was put up with the big guys and was swallowed up before it even had a chance. Bummer!

Strangely that’s a pretty accurate description. Good job anonymous IMDB user!

This failed pilot was completely unknown to me until last week when I was doing research for this very article. How this gem of a program slipped under my radar all these years I’ll never know, but it’s safe to say The Tao of Nicolas Cage is already paying huge dividends. I’ve struck oil, my friends. Or gold. Whatever currency you prefer to strike.

Cage plays a teenager named Nic who appears to be very much into working out. When we first meet him he’s wearing only a pair of cut-off shorts while punching the air and talking about his favorite scene of Rocky. It’s the scene with Rocky punching a big piece of meat. Nic gets a real kick out of this scene and it seems to pump him up. Later in the show we see Cage doing sit-ups on the beach and giving advice on how to pick up chicks.

The best moment of The Best of Times comes in the final third. Nic is walking along the beach when he stops and looks directly into the camera and begins to deliver a monologue. He goes on to talk about the possibility of war and how he could get drafted. He doesn’t like the idea of going to war but his dad says it’s his patriotic duty. On the plus side letting the ladies know you’re heading off for combat is a sure fire way to earn their affection. The war talks leads way to him talking about going to college next year, if he can keep his grades up. Unfortunately he’s never had great grades.

This monologue from Cage is an important moment in the show. Everything else in this pilot is silly fun. There’s singing and dancing, including Cage in some denim overalls signing “9 to 5" while working at a car wash, and a bunch of light hearted humor. This small scene with Cage alone on the beach is the show’s attempt to reach for something more. This is the emotional core of The Best of Times. And you know what? It kind of works.

The monologue is a bit ridiculous and pretty laughable but you can see something there. Nic projects this tough guy exterior but underneath there is a lot of vulnerability. Here’s a kid that oozes confidence but in all reality he’s scared and wildly uncertain when it comes to his future. And Cage, doing what he does best, delivers.

This beach monologue is just over two minutes long and in that short amount of time we get a glimpse at the actor Cage would become. The performance is a bit rough around the edges for sure, but you can sense something more. In this 17-year-old kid you can see the potential of a great actor. At one point his voice begins to crack and it seems as if he’s going to cry. During that moment you understand what he’s feeling and what he’s going through. You feel for the guy and you do so because of Cage’s performance.

Is it possible I’m taking too much away from what could be considered a goofy performance in a pilot that was deemed not worthy of going to series? No, absolutely not.

If The Best of Times was pitched as your regular weekday prime time show like the IMDB synopsis seems to suggest, I can understand why it wasn’t picked up. But as a Saturday morning show to follow cartoons I think this could have found an audience. The Best of Times could have been Saved by the Bell or California Dreams but with singing and Cage. And how great would have Saved by the Bell been if you replaced Mario Lopez with Cage and let him sing and dance? In my humble opinion pretty damn great.

The Best of Times may have fallen into obscurity, that is until it blows up from people reading this, but it is fascinating to think about what would have happened had the series been picked up. Both Cage and Glover would later go on to nab pretty iconic roles in some of the biggest films from the 80’s and the 90’s. It’s very possible that had The Best of Times gone to series that the course of cinema as we know it would have been greatly altered.

Would Cage have still gone on to be H.I. McDunnough or Ronny Cammareri? Maybe or maybe not. Maybe he would have gone on to even bigger and better roles. Or maybe he would have gotten stuck in the rut of television, you know prior to good television.

Looking back I think it’s safe to say things worked out pretty well for Cage in the end. Still it’s very interesting to think about what could have been. And on that note I’ll leave you to get to thinking and in order to help get the juices flowing here’s The Best of Times:

Related Topics: ,

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)