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The 8 best Nicolas Cage movies: from Con Air to Pig

Nicolas Cage in Con Air
(Image credit: RGR Collection / Alamy Stock Photo)

Nicolas Cage is an iconic figure of film; an actor who is instantly recognizable and elicits absolute fascination from his audiences. Nobody does what he does on-screen. 

A recent string of successes is reminding everyone how good of an actor Cage is, including his most recent outing in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, so we’ve compiled a list of eight of our favorite Nicolas Cage movies.

Moonstruck (1987)

Cher and Nicolas Cage in "Moonstruck."

Cher and Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck (Image credit: MGM)

Nicolas Cage is a fascinating actor because he’s always been that level of, to put it mildly, unconventionally committed. He didn’t have to mature into that mania. For evidence of that, check out one of his earliest films, the near-perfect romantic comedy Moonstruck.

Cage plays a Byronic baker who falls for his brother’s fiancé, played by Cher in an Oscar-winning performance. Their chemistry is off-the-charts, even when Cage is screaming like a feral dog about his wooden hand. Moonstruck is one of the best rom-coms ever made, an endlessly charming story of second chances, family secrets and finding that one person who makes you feel the most like yourself.

If the idea of Cage as a romantic hero strikes you as odd, watch Moonstruck and have your mind changed.

How to watch Moonstruck: HBO Max in the US; MGM Prime Video channel in the UK

Wild at Heart (1990)

Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in "Wild at Heart."

Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern in Wild at Heart (Image credit: Samuel Goldwyn Entertainment.)

It feels wrong Cage has only been in one David Lynch film since the two seem so well matched in terms of earnest chaos and challenging audiences’ expectations. But at least their sole collaboration, Wild at Heart, is a great experience.

Cage plays a swaggering murderer who goes on the run with his girlfriend to avoid her monstrous mother. It’s perhaps Lynch’s most self-consciously over-the-top film, a violent cartoon with grotesque characters, Chris Isaak songs and myriad references to The Wizard of Oz. Yet what it lacks in consistency, it makes up for with pure frenetic energy.

How to watch Wild at Heart: Currently only available on DVD in the US; NOW TV in the UK

Leaving Las Vegas

Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue in "Leaving Las Vegas."

Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue in Leaving Las Vegas (Image credit: MGM)

Cage took home the Oscar for Best Actor for this bleak drama directed by Mike Figgis. He plays an alcoholic screenwriter who, after losing his job and family, decides to move to Las Vegas and drink himself to death. There he meets a sex worker trapped in an abusive relationship and forms a unique yet mutually destructive relationship with her.

Leaving Las Vegas is unflinching in its depiction of addiction and how it ravages the mind, body and soul. Cage takes what could have been a stock sadsack and turns him into a palpably real and painfully familiar man.

How to watch Leaving Las Vegas: Prime Video, Tubi in the US; digital on-demand in the UK

Con Air (1997)

Nicolas Cage in "Con Air."

Nicolas Cage and John Malkovich in Con Air (Image credit: Touchstone Pictures)

While Cage has many action movies under his belt, few beat Con Air for sheer propulsive thrills. This movie proved Cage could hold his own amid lavish set-pieces and delightfully ludicrous spectacle. It's the pure unfettered id of the Jerry Bruckheimer model that doesn't stop for close to two hours and has no time for subtlety or regard for human life and property. 

But it knows how silly it is and that's why it's so much fun. Cage is perfectly attuned to its self-aware nonsense and plays it completely straight, complete with an occasionally questionable Southern accent. Con Air is the epitome of '90s action schlock and it’s still a blast in 2022.

How to watch Con Air: Prime Video in the US, Disney Plus in the UK

Bringing Out the Dead (1999)

Nicolas Cage in "Bringing Out the Dead."

Nicolas Cage in Bringing Out the Dead (Image credit: Paramount)

An underrated Martin Scorsese film, with a script by the ever-unpredictable Paul Schrader, Bringing Out the Dead is one of Cage's more esoteric movies. He plays a burned-out paramedic who hasn’t saved a patient in months and has begun to hallucinate the ghosts of those who died. 

It’s a metaphorical and increasingly literal descent into hell and feels like the halfway point between Scorsese and Schrader’s other collaborations, Taxi Driver and The Last Temptation of Christ. Scorsese's deeply empathetic traits find a perfect conduit in Cage, examining emotional rawness and how trauma can strip us of our very humanity.

How to watch Bringing Out the Dead: Prime Video on-demand, Hulu premium channel in US; Disney Plus UK.

Adaptation (2002)

Nicolas Cage (and Nicolas Cage) in "Adaptation."

Nicolas Cage (twice) in Adaptation (Image credit: Sony)

Cage played writer Charlie Kaufman and his fictional twin, Donald, in this twisty meta-comedy about the perils of screenwriting and trying to retain your artistic dignity in the face of commercial madness. Director Spike Jonze has a blast blending true life with fiction, mirroring Kaufman’s own struggles to adapt an unadaptable non-fiction book while his writer’s block and anxiety smothers him. 

Cage gained a much-deserved Oscar nomination for his dual turn. Few films have captured the exhausting thrill and aggravation of being a full-time writer.

How to watch Adaptation: HBO Max in the US; digital on-demand in the UK

Mandy (2018)

Nicolas Cage in "Mandy."

Nicolas Cage in Mandy (Image credit: SpectreVision)

For many, Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy was the start of Cage’s 21st century renaissance and we don’t blame them for that. It may be the single most visually beautiful film on his resume. 

Cage plays a quiet yet troubled man who goes on a murderous rampage when a wannabe Charles Manson cult leader murders his beloved girlfriend. The first half is a languid, achingly romantic tale of two lost souls who found one another in a hopeless place. The second half features cocaine, giant chainsaws, motorcycle demons, a tiger and the cheddar goblin. It shouldn’t work but it does, resulting in an instant cult classic.

How to watch Mandy: Prime Video in the US; digital on-demand in the UK

Pig (2021)

Nicolas Cage in Pig.

(Image credit: Neon)

Cage’s quiet, controlled and layered performance as a truffle hunter seeking revenge for his stolen pig was one of 2021’s best performances. What sounds like a John Wick rip-off is actually a simmering tale of solitude and sticking to one’s beliefs as an artist, albeit with Cage taking a few punches along the way. 

Pig's meditative take on loss feels decidedly un-Cage, yet he’s truly excellent in a role that requires him to hold back all of his usual baroque tics. Pig proved that Cage at the top of his game is still unbeatable.

How to watch Pig: Hulu in the US; Sky Go, NOW TV in the UK

Kayleigh Donaldson
Kayleigh Donaldson

Kayleigh is a pop culture writer and critic based in Dundee, Scotland. Her work can be found on Pajiba, IGN, Uproxx, RogerEbert.com, SlashFilm, and WhatToWatch, among other places. She's also the creator of the newsletter The Gossip Reading Club.