Regardless of how inconsistent his filmography may be, Nicolas Cage is undoubtedly a Hollywood legend. He’s been acting in movies for over 40 years and has appeared in every genre under the sun. Even when the film he’s in isn’t perfect, Cage always commits 100% to every role he plays, meaning that his filmography is a great deal of fun to explore (or occasionally endure).
With well over 100 acting credits since the early 1980s, there are many underappreciated gems inside Nicolas Cage’s body of work. Beyond beloved classics like Face/Off, Leaving Las Vegas, Kick-Ass, The Rock, and National Treasure (to name just a few), there are countless lesser-known Cage films that are worth your time.
Updated April 13, 2023, by Jeremy Urquhart:
Nicolas Cage has proven himself able to continue shocking, surprising, and entertaining movie fans well into the 2020s. His most recent film, Renfield (April 14), looks to be a fun and typically bizarre blend of horror and comedy, and the anticipation around it makes now a great time to look back on his career. Plenty of great performances go under the radar when actors have 106 (and counting) credits to their name, with the following films being some of Cage’s best and most underrated.
15 ‘Valley Girl’ (1983)
Valley Girl is a romantic teen comedy where it’s almost impossible to tell apart the actors who play the parents and those who play the children. Once you get used to that, it ends up being a surprisingly funny and easy-to-watch comedy, and it’s fantastic to see a baby-faced Nicolas Cage start to chew scenery, foreshadowing the way he’d end up devouring it in the coming years.
It certainly feels like a product of its time, but given that 1980s nostalgia has been popular for years, that shouldn’t turn off too many. It captures the era in a goofy and very enjoyable way and also features a fantastic soundtrack filled with ’80s hits, some popular and some more offbeat.
Watch on Showtime
14 ‘The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans’ (2009)
Werner Herzog is a filmmaker well-known for making feature films and documentaries. Regardless of the format, he always brings his singular vision to the various non-fiction and fiction stories he tackles, resulting in often unusual and offbeat films.
This made Herzog teaming with Nicolas Cage for The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans a match made in heaven. With unexpected decisions made both in front of and behind the camera, this is a police procedural like no other, being a darkly funny look at an unhinged detective who’ll do whatever it takes to solve the grisly murder case he’s been assigned to.
Watch on Peacock
13 ‘Pig’ (2021)
While Pig might sound like another over-the-top Nicolas Cage movie on paper, it’s anything but. It takes a solemn and grounded look at its central character, who lives a solitary life in a cabin with his prized foraging pig. He’s thrust back into a world he left when the pig is stolen, and he sets off trying to find out who took it and why.
It got a decent amount of love from critics upon release, but Pig still stands as underrated because it was overlooked during the 2021 awards season. It’s one of Cage’s best performances, and he brings a quiet intensity to the role, ensuring this simple story becomes a riveting character study. Anyone who thinks Cage is just an over-the-top actor who isn’t able to excel in more quiet, restrained roles needs to see Pig.
Watch on Hulu
12 ‘Knowing’ (2009)
Though there’s no shortage of disaster movies out there, Knowing manages to stand out because of its unique premise. It follows one man finding some sort of code in a time capsule that appears to be predicting various disastrous events while also hinting that the world’s end is imminent. As such, he races against time to prevent this before it’s too late.
Though its premise is a little far-fetched, getting on board with Knowing leads to a surprisingly good watch for most of its runtime (it does lose steam in the final half-hour or so, unfortunately). Cage himself is fairly restrained, all things considered, but still gives a solid performance that’s restrained enough to ensure he doesn’t distract from the film’s spectacle and big special effects-heavy sequences.
Watch on HBO Max
11 ‘Color Out of Space’ (2019)
Color Out of Space is an H.P. Lovecraft adaptation that does a decent job of capturing the otherworldly horror of the famed writer’s imagination on screen. It centers on a family who go to live on a farm, only to find their once peaceful way of life is interrupted by a meteorite landing nearby, carrying with it a mysterious – and potentially deadly – alien life form.
Some of the horror is lost in the attempt to tell this story visually, because a huge part of the story revolves around an “otherworldly” color, which is simply a shade of purple in the movie itself. Still, it’s fairly enjoyable as a sci-fi/horror movie, and Cage also gives a reliably fun performance as the father of the family.
Watch on Shudder
10 ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ (1988)
On the opposite end of the Cage spectrum, when compared to Pig, is Vampire’s Kiss. This was one of the earliest movies where Cage could go absolutely wild in a leading role, and as a result, Vampire’s Kiss features one of his most entertaining performances.
The plot concerns a successful young man driven to the brink by the thought that he may have been turned into a vampire. Think American Psycho, but with a potential vampire instead of a potential serial killer. While the film around Cage might not be much to write home about, the performance at its center is great stuff and is the reason to watch this otherwise somewhat forgettable late 1980s comedy.
Watch on Tubi
9 ‘Joe’ (2013)
For those who like Nicolas Cage when he’s operating in a more restrained and less bombastic manner, Joe is well-worth watching. It has a similar energy to Pig, as far as Cage’s performance goes, with the film centering on his character protecting a young boy from his abusive father.
It’s a quiet and relatively simple movie, and doesn’t have a great deal of focus on narrative, either. Still, as a straightforward character study depicting the unlikely bond between two people, it largely works, and is an overall solid drama film that contains a fairly underrated lead performance from Nicolas Cage.
Watch on Peacock
8 ‘Mom and Dad’ (2017)
It’s not easy to take an outlandish concept and do it in a way that’s both tense and funny, but Mom and Dad pull it off pretty well. Make no mistake, though: the plot is very silly, as it involves a suburban community where parents suddenly become overcome with violent urges to murder their offspring.
Nicolas Cage commits with a gleeful intensity to the role, elevating the material considerably. It’s certainly not a great movie – and there are admittedly better horror comedies out there – but it’s better than its reputation would suggest, meaning it deserves to be ranked among the other underrated Cage movies.
Watch on Hulu
7 ‘Red Rock West’ (1993)
Red Rock West is an excellent modern film noir, centering on a young man getting caught up in a complex romance and murder plot involving large sums of money and a ruthless hitman. Surprisingly, Cage is quite restrained here, and it’s Dennis Hopper – in a supporting role – who gets to devour the most scenery.
Still, Hopper was one of the best regarding over-the-top performances, so maybe it was wise for Cage to take a backseat in the scenes they share together. After all, Cage usually gets to give the craziest performance in most movies he appears in, so it’s oddly refreshing to see him excel in a movie where another cast member is being louder and more eccentric than him.
6 ‘Birdy’ (1984)
Starring Nicolas Cage and Matthew Modine shortly before they became more well-known, Birdy is a strange yet certainly interesting film. It follows two young men who have been impacted by their experience fighting in the Vietnam War, with Modine’s character having a nervous breakdown that makes him believe he’s a bird.
It sounds a little silly, but it’s primarily a drama and takes the premise very seriously, treating the topic of PTSD with a good deal of respect. It’s interesting to see Modine play the more dramatic role and Cage playing the quieter character, given the kinds of roles they later became known for, but it still works overall, and makes for a decent movie.
Watch on Prime Video
5 ‘Bringing Out the Dead’ (1999)
Bringing Out the Dead is an underrated Martin Scorsese movie and an underrated Nicolas Cage movie. It’s the only time the two have teamed up for a feature film. This one is a psychological thriller about an overworked – and constantly tired – paramedic and all the strange encounters he has while driving an ambulance in Manhattan.
Intensely psychological character studies don’t get much more stomach-churning and relentless than Bringing Out the Dead, meaning it’s not a film for every mood (nor might it be for every viewer). But it is fantastic to see a great director like Scorsese work with a great actor like Cage, and the results are undoubtedly memorable.
Watch on Paramount+
4 ‘The Trust’ (2016)
It’s well-established that the 2010s were a prolific – yet inconsistent – time in Nicolas Cage’s career. He was in plenty of movies throughout the decade, with many going straight to DVD or streaming. By and large, most of the films he was in during this time weren’t great.
However, digging through the pile of Cage movies from the decade will inevitably reveal some decent ones, including The Trust. It’s not a fantastic movie, but it’s an entertaining and decently made one, with Cage and Elijah Wood working well with each other in this story about a risky heist and its dramatic fallout. It might not be surprising or unique, but it’s pretty good and is certainly better than many other Nicolas Cage movies released around the same time.
Watch on Tubi
3 ‘Dog Eat Dog’ (2016)
Dog Eat Dog pairs two iconic actors together by featuring Willem Dafoe and Nicolas Cage in the starring roles, and proves worth watching for that sort of pair-up alone. It follows a group of criminals who are released from prison and find themselves having to adjust to life back in the outside world and struggling with all the challenges that come with re-entering society.
It’s directed by the underrated Paul Schrader, who’s perhaps best-known for his screenplays, despite having a solid number of films he’s directed under his belt. Dog Eat Dog isn’t quite one of his best films, but it’s definitely solid, and the performances manage to shine despite some narrative shortcomings.
Watch on Tubi
2 ‘Army of One’ (2016)
Inspired by a very strange true story, Army of One is about one man who receives a message from God (played by Russell Brand) telling him to travel to Afghanistan and capture Osama bin Laden. And that’s just what this man – played by Cage – does.
The film then becomes about this absurd (and ultimately fruitless) adventure. Unsurprisingly, it was directed by the same director who did Borat (Larry Charles) and feels similar, thanks to its story of one man traveling to another country and being a fish out of water. It’s not nearly as clever or consistently funny as Borat, but there are some laughs to be had…just try your best to ignore the jokes that don’t land. And, if all else fails, focus on Cage giving another wonderfully eccentric performance.
Watch on Roku
1 ‘Honeymoon in Vegas’ (1992)
Honeymoon in Vegas is a strange and somewhat forgotten romantic comedy that doesn’t deserve to languish in obscurity. It’s about a young couple who go to Las Vegas to get married, only for complications to arise when the man (played by Cage) accumulates a $65,000 debt while playing poker with a professional gambler.
The narrative eventually becomes absurd, with some serious suspension of disbelief needed to appreciate the bizarre areas the story goes to. But at the end of the day, it’s a fun movie; it’s got more exciting and unusual energy than your average romance movie, and Cage flexing his comedic chops in a light, goofy comedy is always enjoyable to watch.
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