He’s been praised, applauded, mocked, and maligned, but no matter what, Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage has given his everything; pouring his heart and soul into each movie role he’s had. Occasionally his go-for-broke creative choices have led him into the heart of Meme Country, but there’s no denying Cage’s vigorous, explosive talent.
He’s been in acclaimed rom-coms, soul-crushing dramas, and of course, some of the biggest and best action hits of the 1990s. Nic Cage’s resume is so dense in fact, that we’ve allowed this “Best Of” to go to 15, rather than the usual top 10. He’s worked with powerhouse directors like David Lynch, Martin Scorsese, Michael Bay, Ridley Scott, and his own uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, turning in some of the most memorable performances in movie history. Speaking of memorable, be sure to also see 40 best Nicolas Cage moments written by a Cage superfan who has seen every Nic Cage film.
Having tackled every genre there is in his four decades of acting; whether it’s saving San Francisco from a chemical gas attack or heading to Las Vegas for a lethal bender to—well, play himself—in a meta-adventure about his own career, these are our picks for Nicolas Cage’s best movies ever.
15. Color Out of Space (2020)
Where to Watch: AMC+, Shudder, DirecTV or rentable on most platforms.
Nicolas Cage’s output may have increased in recent years due to him having to pay down money owed to the IRS but that never meant he still didn’t manage to average at least one pretty great film each year during this deluge. In 2019, his best work, and the only one of his nine movies that year to get theatrical release, was Richard Stanley’s hypnotic gross-out Color Out of Space, based on an H.P. Lovecraft short story. Cage plays a father who, along with his wife and kids, succumb to the cosmic forces of a glowing meteor that crashes on their farm. It’s a grim, ghastly horror trip that should definitely be included in your Spooky Season marathons.
Read our Color Out of Space review.
14: The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
Where to Watch: Rentable on Prime Video and most platforms.
Nicolas Cage found himself in a bit of a career resurgence in 2022 as recent critical indifference sort of spun full circle into a newfound appreciation as the loopy, delightful film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent hit theaters and Cage delighted audiences as a pompously sweet version of himself, getting caught up in an comedic espionage adventure after accepting a million bucks to attend a wealthy super-fan’s birthday bash. The film works as an absurdly fun and winking bookend for Cage’s career (which isn’t over yet, of course).
Read our The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent Review.
13. Kick-Ass (2010)
Where to Watch: HBO, HBO Max, DirecTV or rentable on most platforms.
Cage wasn’t the headlining star of Matthew Vaughn’s Kick-Ass, a full-throttle adaptation of the Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr. comic series, but he stood out in a super-duper supporting role as Big Daddy, the Batman-style vigilante who raised his daughter, Hit-Girl, to be just as violently unforgiving of crime as he was. Cage got to pass his action hero torch to a new crew of young in this pre-MCU hero-verse of Rated R mayhem.
Read our Kick-Ass review.
12. Red Rock West (1993)
Where to Watch: Unavailable to stream.
After an impressive debut run in the ’80s, Nic Cage’s ’90s were an eclectic mix of blockbusters, rom-com chaos, and gritty crime dramas—much like Red Rock West, from neo-noir notable John Dahl. Cage played a down-on-his-luck discharged Marine whose search for honest work in Wyoming plunges him into a murder-for-hire mess between Dennis Hopper, J.T. Walsh, and Lara Flynn Boyle. This suspenseful gem featured more of a subdued “everyman” performance from Cage, leading him into bigger action hero roles down the line.
11. Pig (2021)
Where to Watch: Hulu or rentable on most platforms.
Cage garnered some of the best reviews of his career, and even some Oscar buzz, for 2021’s Pig, the surprisingly moving story about an isolated Oregon truffle-hunter whose beloved pig gets kidnapped. It’s a mesmerizing odyssey about love and loss that deftly plays against expectations, reminding us how completely captivating Nic Cage can be in sad, subtle roles.
Read our Pig review.
10. Con Air (1997)
Where to Watch: AMC+, Turner apps or rentable on most platforms.
Con-Air is an absolutely preposterous joy ride from start to finish. As a fast-moving blast-em-up, Con Air keeps its tongue firmly in its cheek as Cage, and his wind blown hair, embody Cameron Poe, an Army Ranger who gets convicted of manslaughter and must hitch a ride aboard a prison transport plane full of the worst criminals imaginable. When John Malkovich’s psycho mastermind Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom takes over the flight, it puts Poe’s plans to reunite with his wife and daughter in danger, causing this terse Terminator to fight back. It’s a rambunctious, over-the-top classic.
9. Wild at Heart (1990)
Where to Watch: Unavailable to stream.
Cage and co-star Laura Dern sizzled and steamed as Sailor and Lula in David Lynch’s unbridled romance, Wild at Heart. It’s a sultry love-on-the-run dark comedy that allowed Cage and Dern to tap into their craziness while also bringing Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” into heavy rotation on MTV. Winner of the Palme d’Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, Wild at Heart is an insane must-see, as polarizing as a Lynch film can get.
8. National Treasure (2004)
Where to Watch: Disney+ or rentable on most platforms.
The first of Cage’s two mini-franchises (the other being Ghost Rider), National Treasure was Indiana Jones with United States history. Cage leads as treasure hunter and cryptographer while Benjamin Gates must steal the Declaration of Independence in order to keep hidden gold out of the hands of a crime boss. It’s a strong, delightfully dorky family adventure outing for Cage, who dedicated most of his career to the offbeat and outlandish.
Read our National Treasure review.
7. The Rock (1996)
Where to Watch: Peacock, Turner apps or rentable on most platforms.
The Rock is one of the purest, most perfect ’90s Michael Bay extravaganzas, with Cage and Sean Connery teaming up to thwart domestic terrorists’ plans to annihilate the Bay Area. Cage got to mix his quirky indie film comedy chops into an underdog action hero as Stanley Goodspeed, a biochemist in over his head. He’s surrounded by actual soldiers meant to protect him and rises to the occasion by becoming a full champion. The Rock, as awesome and grandiose as it was, solidified Cage as a viable player in the realm of mega-movies.
6. Mandy (2018)
Where to Watch: AMC+, Shudder, Hoopla or rentable on most platforms.
Cage’s superior, standout film from 2018—that wasn’t a voice role in either Teen Titans Go! To the Movies or Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse—was the psychedelic madhouse Mandy. The film is about a peaceful logger, Red, living in the woods of the Pacific Northwest in the ’80s, whose life gets horrifically upended by a deranged cult. Red then spirals into surreal rampage of vengeance, armed with with a crossbow and axe. Mandy is artful gonzo violence mixed with feral performances and altered states. It’s one of Cage’s most triumphant modern flicks.
Read our Mandy review.
5. Raising Arizona (1987)
Where to Watch: YouTube, Hoopla or rentable on Prime Video and most platforms.
One of Cage’s first starring roles came in one of the Coen Brothers’ first feature films, Raising Arizona. As perpetual convict H.I. McDunnough, Cage emanated cartoonish sweetness as he and Holly Hunter’s Edwina helped themselves to one of a local couples’ newborn pentuplets (Nathan Jr., we think) because the paper said “they got more than they can handle.” What follows is the most joyful, rollicking, absurd movie about—er—child kidnapping ever, that both solidified Cage as a formidably funny performer and the Coens as cockeyed craftsmen.
Read our Raising Arizona review.
4. Valley Girl (1983)
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime Video or rentable on most platforms.
In Nic Cage’s second-ever movie, he landed his first starring role as one half of a star-crossed rom-com duo. 1983’s Valley Girl was key in introducing “valley” culture (and “valleyspeak”) to the rest of America, as Deborah Foreman plays picture-perfect Julie of the materialistic, mall-obsessed San Fernando Valley. You can guess what comes next as Julie falls for the brooding Hollywood punk, Randy (Cage). It’s an adorable, amiable, young love story that showcased Cage’s charisma and locked him into wonderful romantic lead roles for years following.
3. Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Where to Watch: Paramount+, Epix, DirecTV or rentable on most platforms.
Nicolas Cage became one of the few, elite performers in the business to win a Best Actor Oscar. Cage was awarded this for Mike Figgis’ Leaving Las Vegas, a powerful piece of ’90s grime about a man with a sad, singular plan: go to Las Vegas and drink yourself to death. Co-starring Elisabeth Shue (who received a Best Actress nomination), Leaving Las Vegas is a hard, heavy watch, but also a crucial, excellent example of yesteryear indie cinema. It’s riveting and dark portrait of self-destruction.
2. Moonstruck (1987)
Where to Watch: HBO, HBO Max, Cinemax Go or rentable on most platforms.
At only 22 years old, Nic Cage made a huge, hilarious splash opposite Cher in the Oscar-nominated box office hit, Moonstruck. This instant classic rom-com features Cher as a widow, Loretta, who thinks her love life is cursed, while Cage plays the wily, resentful brother of Loretta’s new fiancé. Loretta learns to believe in impulsive, passionate love in this winning, endearing love story that gave us one of Cage’s earliest, and best, over-the-top line deliveries. Moonstruck, like Cage himself, is timeless.
1. Face/Off (1997)
Where to Watch: Fubo, DirecTV or rentable on Prime Video or most platforms.
Face/Off is considered by many to be the “ultimate John Woo movie” for several reasons. Firstly, it employs all of the director’s Hong Kong cinema hallmarks (double guns, doves, guns drawn on each other, etc.) but it also fully engages in its preposterous premise to the point where you’re in, baby. You don’t question it for a second and just go along for the insane ride. On top of this, Nic Cage, and co-star John Travolta, were two of the biggest movie stars in the world at the time, and this film squeezes them for all the dopamine delivery they’re worth. These two got to play both hero and villain in the same movie, even unleashing slight impersonations of each other in the process; and for Cage, it was a chance to showcase every operatic ability he brings to the table as an actor.
What is your #1 Nic Cage film? Let us know in the comments.
Matt Fowler is a freelance entertainment writer/critic, covering TV news, reviews, interviews and features on IGN for 13+ years.