25 years ago, Nic Cage made his most explosive sci-fi movie ever — it was almost even better
Can you improve on perfection?
It’s a good time to be a fan of Nicolas Cage. The actor, who has been chewing up scenery for decades with mixed results, is entering a new era of stardom. But for hardcore Cage fans, it doesn’t get much better than Face/Off. Except, it turns out the Face/Off was almost even better than Face/Off.
Directed by the legendary John Woo, Face/Off is a cat-and-mouse crime thriller with a science-fiction twist. In the movie, FBI special agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) uses a cutting-edge medical procedure to swap faces with the murderous criminal Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). Troy then flips things around by stealing Archer’s face in return. It sounds ridiculous, but it works. However, as Inverse learned in our recent oral history of Face/Off, the plot was almost even more absurd.
When screenwriters Mike Werb and Michael Colleary were originally coming up with the story, there was one major difference: it was a lot more futuristic. However, once Paramount Pictures bought the project, it became clear that something needed to change, both for narrative and financial reasons.
“Mike [Werb] and I had come around to the conclusion that we didn’t need all the futuristic stuff,” Michael Colleary tells Inverse. “It actually distracted from the story and it was crazy expensive. We started to make it more gritty, five minutes into the future.”
Face/Off producer Barrie Osborne cuts straight to the heart of the matter.
“At a certain point in time, if we did everything that was in that script, it was going to be over $100 million,” he says. “The biggest single cut was bringing it out of the future.... that allowed me to cut $20 million out of the budget right away.”
We’ll likely never know what a more futuristic version of the movie would have looked like. On the one hand, Face/Off is a perfect film. On the other hand... imagine the same plot, but in a sci-fi setting. Personally, that’s a movie I’d pay to see.
It’s possible we’ll get a glimpse into that bizarre future with Paramount’s planned Face/Off sequel, but for now, the project remains a mystery. If we ever really do get a Face/Off 2, maybe it can borrow some of Werb and Colleary’s unused ideas. Then again, maybe we’re better off just imagining what John Woo’s vision of the future might have been than letting some other writer and director take a crack at it.