Nicolas Cage was once considered one of the world’s greatest living actors, but much like Orson Welles, his career descended into insanity after he was featured in classic films. Cage, whose actual last name is Coppola, as in the film auteur dynasty, was tremendous in Valley Girl (1983), and demonstrated an ability to control wacky characters within a captivating story in films like Face/Off, Moonstruck, Leaving Las Vegas, and the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona. However, none of those incredible films are available to stream on Netflix. Only Cage’s darkest moments are currently streamable, so let’s go where Francis Ford Coppola’s black sheep nephew may not want us to go: to the bottom of the list.
What are the hallmarks of a stupendously bad Nic Cage movie? First, he needs to be the only noteworthy star — when Cage shares the screen with another actor, he tends to water down the wacky and act like a human. Second, he’s best during the period between 1995 and 2010, in which he sported several strange, unflattering haircuts. Third, if he yells anything during a conversation that had previously been spoken using a normal volume, the film is likely a Prime Cage Pick. Here’s what’s on Netflix now:
At the time of this writing, there are 13 live action Nicolas Cage films on Netflix, and only one is any good. Matchstick Men was directed by Ridley Scott in 2003, and though it bombed at the box office, it’s considered one of Cage’s best. He plays a troubled con man, opposite Sam Rockwell, and he discovers that he has a fourteen-year-old daughter he never knew. It’s a dark, dark comedy with actual merit, but not fun to watch in a “so bad it’s good” sort of way. That’s alternate Cage fodder. We’ll have to go deeper.
We can skip The Trust (2007) and Dog Eat Dog (2016) because, while bad, they’re not spectacularly, explosively bad in the way that certain Cage films can be.
Pharmacist #1: Sir, please wait your turn.
Roy: I know, I know. B-but this; is an emergency.
Man in Line: Hey buddy, ever heard a line?
Roy: Hey have you ever been dragged to the sidewalk and beaten till you PISSED… BLOOD?
Next, hilariously, is not the only film in which Nic Cage’s character can see the future. It is however, the only Nic-Cage-saves-the-world film in which he sports a greasy mullet.
Based loosely on a Philip K Dick novel, Next follows Nic Cage as he works in Las Vegas as a magician, while simultaneously attempting to figure out why he has supernatural powers. When the world is suddenly threatened by nuclear holocaust, it’s up to FBI Agent Julianne Moore to convince Cage that he’s the only psychic magician out there who can save the day.
Cris: (has a premonition of them kissing) Wow. That was incredible.
Liz: What was?
Cris: This. (actually kisses her)
So, in this one, Nic Cage plays a bespectacled diamond broker plagued by the sniffles. He and his wife (Nicole Kidman) have been kidnapped for ransom, and throughout the film, they attempt to negotiate, escape, and attack the bad guys. The film was directed by Joel Schumacher and was a catastrophic commercial and critical flop.
Nic Cage single-handedly saves his wife while holding back what sounds like a very annoying post-nasal drip.
In 2012, Nic Cage starred in a rip-off of Liam Neeson vehicle Taken. The film, called Stolen instead, follows Cage’s reformed thief as he searches for his kidnapped daughter and tries to atone for his crimes.
Vincent: The only thing that had the balls to come to New Orleans… WAS THE HURRICANE!
Nic Cage plays a “humble English teacher” in 2011’s Seeking Justice, a film that would be ripped apart if released today for throwing its only female star under the bus. Cage’s wife, played by January Jones, is raped by a veritable stranger. Cage turns to a group of vigilantes and has them murder the rapist — but, in turn for the favor, the group asks Nic Cage to murder someone else. The only thing to do is to seek justice.
Throughout the film, members of the vigilante group use the phrase “the hungry rabbit jumps” to identify one another. Eventually, a couple characters discuss what the phrase actually means, and the proposed explanation sounds like: “It’s not what a lawyer tells me I must do, but it’s what humanity, reason, and justice tell me I ought to do. Edmund Burke said it. Hungry: humanity, rabbit: reason, jumps: justice.”
Now we’re getting into the masterpieces of Z-grade cinema. Brian De Palma, one of the greatest pulp directors of the 80s and 90s, directs Nic Cage in Snake Eyes, the story of a crooked cop who tries to solve a murder at an Atlantic City boxing match. Cage’s facial expressions are off the charts wacky, everyone’s costumes are glitzy and over the top, and the plot revolves around a classic murder-most-foul.
Kevin Dunne: Terri likes to talk to me during sex. Last night she called me from the hotel.
Pay the Ghost
Okay, get this. Nic Cage’s son is kidnapped on Halloween, and in the year following, he and his wife begin hearing their son’s voice from beyond the grave. The best part of the opening sequence is that Nic Cage has decided to dress up as a cowboy for Halloween. Anyway, after the kidnapping, they keep hearing the phrase “pay the ghost” over and over, and they even see it spray-painted on walls.
Charlie: Daddy, can we pay the ghost?
Mike Lawford: Pay the what?
Mike Lawford: [after seeing a wall with “Pay the Ghost” written all over it] What does it mean?
This horrendously awful movie follows Nic Cage, an ex-pat living in China who the Chinese locals call The White Ghost. His former protege, a Crusader played by Hayden Christensen, struggles with an opiate addiction, and the two men team up to take down a Chinese villain.
Jacob: Men cannot know God’s will, and when they pretend to, it ends in blood.
Gallain: That I’ll drink to!
USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage
One of Cage’s worst films ever, USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage, alternate title USS Indianapolis: Disaster in the Philippine Sea, went straight to On Demand and only appeared in American theaters over Veterans Day weekend in 2016.
Cage plays a sea captain whose ship sinks, killing hundreds of crew members. After he survives the crash, he eventually kills himself on land because his former crewmates’ families send him so many angry letters.
2014’s Rage is the source of Nic Cage’s best onscreen freak-outs, and in this film, he even gets gravelly-voiced advice from Danny Glover. The best part of this movie is the insinuation that Nicolas Cage, with his tall frame and inability to use a poker face, was once a terrifying crime-lord. It’s a combination of John Wick, Taken, and A History of Violence, all punctuated with Cage’s intermediate flip outs.
Paul Maguire: Lives are quiet. Like knives.
This particular film, directed by Alex Proyas (The Crow), is so transcendently dark, strange, and confusingly written that it actually merits rewatching several times. It’s a gift to us all that Netflix has made it available to stream.
The multiple reveals in KNOW1NG are so mind-boggling that it’s honestly better to just watch the film with your mind as a clean-slate. What I can say is that Cage is yet again tasked with saving the entire world, which he does with basic math, by running around and yelling on the phone, and by freaking out his coworkers. Also, his son ends up being a religious figure, and there are aliens involved. It’s nutty. Just watch it.
John Koestler: The caves won’t save us! Nothing can!