The Age of Cage: The Transformative Career of Nicolas Cage

No one does madness like Nicolas Cage.


National treasure, Academy Award-winner and now famed meme icon, Nicolas Coppola, better known to the rest of us as Nicolas Cage, is no stranger to the film world. The highly esteemed actor has given us some of the most memorable performances in cinema history, with a career that spans over 4 decades, starring in over a hundred movies (and still counting), it seems like this man has no plans on stopping anytime soon.

Having an illustrious career for that long is bound to involve some sort of rebranding somewhere in between, and Nic Cage is no exception to that rule. From being a romantic love interest to leading action man to serious dramatic actor, as well as trying his hand at the superhero genre, Cage is one of the few actors working today who could truly say that they’ve done it all. However, with the turn of the late 2010s’, it seems like we’ve entered into a new phase of the Cage.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact time as to when this happened, but I’d like to think that it was in 2017, just a year shy from his cult classic film, Mandy, when Cage starred in a little independent film called Mom & Dad.

Mom & Dad was written and directed Brian Taylor (one half of the duo who directed Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, also starring Nicolas Cage). Mom & Dad largely follows that same formula by having an insane plot with a lot of truly incredible Cage freak-out moments. In my opinion, this was where it started, this was the rebirth of Nicolas Cage.

Following the success of Mom & Dad, Cage then starred in arguably one of his best works to date the very next year, the psychedelic trip bloodfest that is 2018’s Mandy. Directed by Panos Cosmatos, who prior to this only had 1 film under his belt. In it, Cage plays a logger who lives in the woods with his girlfriend — the titular character Mandy – and their quiet peaceful life is soon disrupted by some raging cult members. It has a pretty lengthy first act that kind of feels like it drags on for too long, but if you just push through it and make it past the first hour of the film, you’re in for one of the wildest Nicolas Cage rides you’ve ever seen.

Mandy is an arthouse horror film that plays out like a 70s’ metal album. It’s filled to the brim with surreal and atmospheric imagery, while telling a tale of grief and loss. As mentioned earlier, the narrative of this film is as basic as they come, but I feel like that was an intentional decision by Cosmatos. When people talk about Mandy, they’re rarely talking about the plot but rather the layers that this film has buried underneath the surface.

After the brutal murder of Mandy, Red (Cage) embarks on a journey to avenge her death. Everything that happens from this point on is just a bloodfest that’s done so tastefully that it almost feels like a gruesome painting. Nicolas Cage lets loose here by doing some of the craziest things we’ve ever seen – well, for starters, he takes a copious amount of cocaine and LSD and begins to hallucinate, wields a crossbow and an axe and also has a chainsaw duel.

His performance here is noteworthy and is up there as one his best works up to that point. And because no Nic Cage film is complete without his signature freak-out moment, this film graces us with some of that too. Mandy is a visceral experience that is not for everyone but for the people that it does resonate with; it’s high up there as one of the best arthouse horror films ever made.

Mandy movie
Cage in Mandy

I could talk about this film for days, and I bet you will too after seeing it.

In 2019, Cage starred in a Lovecraftian horror film called Color Out of Space, where he plays a farmer and the father of the Gardner family. This was yet another home run for Nicolas Cage, a film tastefully sprinkled with some of the best freak out moments. From here on out, Cage had his fair share of duds, starring in 5 other direct-to-video releases that you’d be much better off not knowing about. In 2020, he had a voice role in The Croods sequel A New Age, reprising his role as Grug and it was pretty well received by critics. It is also worth mentioning that the 2013 film, The Croods, is the highest grossing film of his career.

2021 was the year that the Cage Renaissance was really starting to take shape. Starring in 3 bizarre films that were all completely different from one another, it was as if Nicolas Cage had finally realized what the audience truly wanted of him and completely honed in on it. The first was a horror Western film directed by Sion Sono titled Prisoners of the Ghostland. In this, Cage plays a criminal named Hero who is sent on a rescue mission to retrieve the governor’s adopted granddaughter. The film received mixed to positive reviews, with most critics praising the direction of the film. However, the film fell short and is quite forgettable in comparison to the other 2 releases.

His next film was something that felt like it came out straight from the screens of a horror video game. Willy’s Wonderland was directed by Kevin Lewis and features Nicolas Cage as a janitor at a Chuck E. Cheese-esque family restaurant filled with animatronic characters. If that premise sounds familiar to you, that’s because this film draws a lot of influence from the indie survival horror video game, Five Nights at Freddy’s.

This film is pure madness and it’s essentially Nic Cage battling these animatronics that come to life at night and try to kill him for 90-minutes. It may feel like a one off gag that got stretched out for too long, and quite honestly it does at times, but the film also has its moments of fun. Cage has zero dialogue in this film, thus we lose those staple freak-out moments, however, the film does make up for it with its action choreography and stylistic edits. It’s a lot better than his earlier film, Prisoners of Ghostland, but still kind of a letdown.

In July 2021, Cage gave his best performance of his entire career, starring in a film about a truffle forager who gets his pig taken from him. Pig was the ultimate Nicolas Cage experience and it turned a lot of heads in the industry. There were talks of him possibly getting nominated for an Oscar after he received a nomination for Best Actor at the 27th Critics’ Choice Awards. Pig is a film that reminds you why you jumped on the Nicolas Cage train in the first place. We know that the man is a perfectly capable actor, heck, he’s even been nominated for an Oscar before this, but this is different. This is a new Age of the Cage similar to that of Adam Sandler’s unexpected and phenomenal performance in 2019’s Uncut Gems.

If this turn of the Cage is here to stay, then I think that we’re in for one hell of a journey, and I am extremely excited to see what the man has in store for us moving forward. Cage is set to star in Tom Gormican’s The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, where he plays a fictional version of himself and if that doesn’t sound meta enough to you, then I don’t know what is. The film is slated to release this April so be sure to mark your calendars.

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