Thanks to the diligence of the Internal Revenue Service, Nicolas Cage has been the hardest-working actor in Hollywood over the past decade. Back in 2009, Cage was assessed with a gigantic tax bill, the result of famously extravagant purchases that included “the most haunted mansion in America,” two castles, and a Tarbosaurus skull (since returned to the government of Mongolia). Then he was hit with another, and another. By his own admission, Cage owed the U.S. government something close to $14 million.
Since then, no script has been too bad for Cage to sign on to. In the past eight years, he’s appeared in a whopping 29 movies. If you’re a Cage fanatic, you treasure some of these films: You can recite every line from the Season of the Witch trailer, and you’ve reenacted the iguana scene from Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans more times than you can count. But there are countless more Nic Cage movies that never even attracted the internet’s derision. (One of them, the revenge drama Vengeance: A Love Story, just came out last week.) Some of them are good; most of them are bad. These are their stories.
It’s a sign of how much Cage’s star has declined in the past six years that even this forgettable home-invasion thriller seems a world away from most of his current efforts. His co-star is Nicole Kidman! (A pre-renaissance Nicole Kidman, but as the trailer helpfully reminds us, still an Oscar winner.) The director isn’t somebody’s nephew, but Joel Schumacher, who’s made real movies! And the baddie is Bloodline’s own Ben Mendelsohn! It’s still terrible, but it’s terrible in a slightly higher-class way than the Nicolas Cage movies of the future would be.
Seeking Justice (2011)
If nobody in a pitch meeting described Seeking Justice as “Strangers on a Train meets Fight Club,” I’ll eat my shoe. Cage plays a milquetoast professor whose wife (January Jones) is raped; he’s then approached by the head of an underground vigilante group (Guy Pearce), who promises to kill the man responsible as long as Cage repays the debt later. He takes the deal. Jones’s character is cool with it.
Stolen contains many trademarks of what we might call Nic Cage’s VOD period: Shot in New Orleans, it stars Cage as an ex-con with a heart of gold, who’s forced to pull off an impossible heist to save his daughter, who’s in peril. Only the lack of questionable facial hair keeps it from achieving perfect Caginess.
Cage received some of the best reviews of his career for this David Gordon Green film, in which he plays a mysterious loner who becomes an unlikely father figure for a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan) in the Texas backwoods. Unfortunately, it had the bad luck to come out after the similarly monosyllabic Mud, in which Matthew McConaughey plays a mysterious loner who becomes an unlikely father figure for a teenage boy (Tye Sheridan) in the Arkansas backwoods. Mud was an indie hit, grossing $30 million; released a year later, Joe only made $2 million.
The Frozen Ground (2013)
Cage’s reunion with Con Air co-star John Cusack finds them once again on opposite sides of the law. Cusack is serial killer Robert Hansen, who murdered at least 17 women in the Alaskan bush; Cage is the cop trying to take him down, only to be stymied by that old movie bugaboo, lack of evidence. The film takes several liberties with the real-life story, most notably with the addition of 50 Cent as an unsavory pimp, though the part about Hansen killing his victims Most Dangerous Game–style comes from real life.
The same year as John Wick, Cage got his own chance to come out of retirement and kill a bunch of Russian mobsters. Only here he’s not getting revenge for a dead dog, but for his missing daughter, yet another unfortunate wife/daughter in Cage’s filmography. At this point, if you were a young actress auditioning for a Nicolas Cage film, it was safe to assume that some terrible things were going to happen to you.
Did you really think Nicolas Cage would make it this far in his career without starring in a Chinese-American co-production? Even Matt Damon’s doing it these days! Just like in Great Wall, Cage and Hayden Christensen (who’s sporting the world’s most 21st-century haircut) play white guys in medieval China. Christensen is an ex-Crusader; Cage is his mentor, who’s now a famous bandit; together they help a teenage prince take the throne from his evil brother. The movie avoided the white-savior controversy that engulfed Great Wall through the savvy strategy of not being released in the United States.
Left Behind (2014)
Even Christian cinema is not immune from Hollywood’s reboot fever: Nine years after the last movie in the original Left Behind series (you know, the Kirk Cameron one), Cage starred in another adaptation of the iconic 1995 novel, which came after a long legal battle between the book’s authors and the producers of the original series. The new version strips down the book’s narrative, concentrating on the plight of an adulterous airline pilot (Cage) who’s forced to land a plane after all the good Christians are called up to heaven. Fans of Nicolae Carpathia will be disappointed to learn he does not appear in this version.
Dying of the Light (2015)
There are films whose titles are way too big for them, and then there’s Dying of the Light, which uses the famous Dylan Thomas quote to tell a story about a CIA agent suffering from dementia who tries to catch his terrorist nemesis before his mind goes completely. Director Paul Schrader claims the movie was “taken away” from him and reedited without his consent, and the circumstantial evidence is strong: His original script was once good enough to enlist the services of Harrison Ford and Nicolas Winding Refn; the version that hit theaters and VOD has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 9.
The Runner (2015)
Were you aware the Nic Cage had his own Treme? This political drama stars Cage as an ambitious Louisiana congressman who flies high, loses it all, and then rededicates himself to the community after the Deepwater Horizon spill. It got terrible reviews, but at least it gave Cage the opportunity to break out his New Orleans accent, as well as utter the immortal line, “Even though this is a British Petroleum spill, it is America’s ocean.”
Pay the Ghost (2015)
Have you heard the ghost story about the woman who was burned to death in 17th-century New York, and now comes back every Halloween to snatch three children, keeping them in a strange spirit world that their parents have a year to rescue them from, or else they’ll stay there permanently? Now you have!
The Trust (2016)
Cage and Elijah Wood play low-level Las Vegas cops who get the bright idea to break into a drug dealer’s secret safe. It does not go well for them. Besides Cage and Wood, this DirecTV movie’s incredibly bizarre cast also includes Sky Ferreira and Jerry Lewis, in his final film role.*
U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage (2016)
As anyone who remembers Robert Shaw’s famous monologue from Jaws knows, nearly 1,000 men went into the water when the U.S.S. Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine… and only 316 came out. If you’d prefer that harrowing three-minute speech in the form of a mid-budget action film directed by Mario Van Peebles, U.S.S. Indianapolis: Men of Courage is the movie for you. Cage steps into some Navy whites to play Captain Charles McVay, commander of the ill-fated cruiser, who would later be scapegoated by the top brass for the loss of the ship. It’s the rare war thriller turned shark movie turned legal drama.
Dog Eat Dog (2016)
Another gonzo crime film on Cage’s C.V., this one’s got a better pedigree than most: It’s from Schrader, and stars Cage and Willem Dafoe as two ex-cons who get embroiled in a baby-napping scheme. Our own David Edelstein called it “exuberantly tacky.” That means he liked it!
Army of One (2016)
One of Hollywood’s periodic attempts to find the fun in America’s misadventures in the Muslim world, Army of One stars Cage as Gary Faulker, the real-life construction worker who flew to Pakistan on a mission from God (played here by Russell Brand) to find Osama bin Laden. Cage straps on a gray wig and sends his voice into its upper registers—it’s the silliest performance he’s given since Adaptation.
Cage reunites with Cusack again for this revenge tale about a pair of brothers (Adrian Grenier and Johnathon Schaech) going to war against a local mob boss. (That’s Cage, wearing fake nose and a mustache than can only be described as “limp.”) Upon its release, the L.A. Times was confident enough to dub Arsenal a contender for the worst movie of 2017. It came out the first week of January.
No, it’s not a behind-the-scenes retelling of the production of The Princess Bride. Instead, Inconceivable only has the second-most-ludicrous premise for a film with that title: It’s a glossy Fatal Attraction–style thriller about surrogate pregnancy. Cage and Gina Gershon play a loving couple who want one more child. Luckily, their nanny (Nicky Whelan, who replaced Lindsay Lohan) volunteers to act as a surrogate. Unluckily, she’s a murderer! Cage isn’t even the lead here; that’s Gershon, who is thankfully spared many of the traditional horrors that await Nic Cage’s on-screen wives.
*Correction, Sept. 21, 2017: This post originally misspelled DirecTV.