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How Nicolas Cage Went from the Top, to the Bottom, to the Top Again in Hollywood

It’s hard to find a Hollywood career that is as bombastic and surprising as Nicolas Cage’s, and we wanted to walk you through it the best way we could. Considering that we’re in the middle of a full-blown Nicolas Cage renaissance, it felt like it was time to offer a primer to our favorite national treasure the best way we can. In this article we’re going to talk about his early days, his rise to superstardom, his fall from grace, and the subsequent reclaiming of his legacy that we’ve seen in recent years.

We’re so grateful to be alive during a time that Nicolas Cage exists, and though his “nouveau shamanism” (whatever that means) style of acting isn’t for everybody, we wanted to drive the point home that there is a lot more to Nicolas Cage than meets the eye at a first glance.


Early Rise to Fame

Nicolas Cage has always been a prolific actor since his earliest days in show business. Originally credited as Nicolas Coppola in The Best of Times and Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he adopted the stage-name Nicolas Cage to differentiate himself from his famous Uncle, director Francis Ford Coppola. He didn’t want people to think that he got his early roles through nepotism alone, and he was probably right to do so.

But the thing about nepotism is that although it can get you a job, it’s ultimately your performance that dictates whether you actually get to keep it. It was during this time in the 80s and 90s that Nicolas Cage made a name for himself starring in films like Valley Girl, Peggy Sue Got Married, Wild at Heart, and Raising Arizona. And things only continued to look up for Cage during this time. He was a young actor, full of verve and enthusiasm, and it was always his unwavering commitment to his roles that ultimately turned him into a household name by the mid-’90s.

Related: Nicolas Cage Reveals What Nicolas Cage’s Top 5 Nicolas Cage Movies Are

Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas

Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas
MGM/UA Distribution Co.

In 1995, Nicolas Cage won the highly coveted Academy Award for his lead role in Leaving Las Vegas. The film is a harrowing tale about Ben Sanderson, and the film walks us through his final trip to Las Vegas, in which he intends to drink himself to death (which he does). It’s Cage’s commitment to this role of self-destruction that led to more serious roles throughout the ’90s. But it was this film specifically that showed filmmakers his true potential, and at this point in his career, everybody wanted a piece of Nicolas Cage.

In-Demand Action Hero

Nicolas Cage Castor Troy Face/Off
Paramount Pictures

The mid to late ’90s saw Cage taking on more lead roles in the action/adventure genre, and his momentum seemed unstoppable at the time. After Leaving Las Vegas, Cage starred in films like The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off, and Gone in 60 Seconds. Part of his charm during this phase of his career is that he didn’t seem like your typical action hero, but he always committed to his roles. Nicolas Cage wasn’t the jacked, testosterone-driven action hero that we were used to in the ’80s, and he often played sympathetic characters that were put in extraordinary situations.

This was a refreshing take on the genre, because even though you didn’t expect Nicolas Cage to deliver the goods in a high-budget action film, he was quite good at delivering one-liners, and he had a natural chemistry with all of his co-stars. If you doubt us on this one, give The Rock another look, and tell us that he wasn’t a perfect foil to Sean Connery.

Stepping Away from Big Budget Films

Nicolas Cage in Matchstick Men
Warner Bros. Pictures

Though we’re using the term “big budget” a little loosely here, the late ’90s and early 2000s brought us the next phase in Nicolas Cage’s career. He stopped running from massive explosions, and worked his way back into more nuanced roles that weren’t as high-octane as the ones we got used to seeing him in. One of his more notable performances was his portrayal of strung-out EMT driver Frank Pierce in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead.

And it was during this period that we saw Cage once again flex his comedic muscle in more dramatic films. If you don’t know what we mean by that, we strongly recommend films like Matchstick Men, and The Weather Man. These films show us a more subdued Nicolas Cage, but he still delivers powerhouse performances that are not only emotional, but downright hilarious in some instances.

“Taking Literally Any Role”

Nicolas Cage tied up Mandy
RLJE Films

The late 2000s and 2010s saw Nicolas Cage appearing in a ton of direct-to-video films with no theatrical release. A huge misconception about this phase of his career is that he had to pay off a substantial debt to the IRS, and that he was taking “literally any role,” to get a quick paycheck. Though there is a lot of truth behind this sentiment, there’s more to it beneath the surface. While it’s no mystery that Cage took on some questionable roles like Grand Isle, Running With the Devil, Pay the Ghost, and The Frozen Ground, we’re still seeing Cage in top form even though some of these films are lacking in many ways.

In fact, director Guillermo del Toro went on record stating, “he absolutely never, ever does anything but his best – I’ve said it before: there has not been, nor will there ever be, an actor like Nicolas Cage. A master.” And he’s not wrong to feel this way. There have been several similar reports about Nicolas Cage being a consummate professional throughout the entire run of his career.

Even when he was filming four movies a year, he gained a reputation for being professional, courteous, and always showing up prepared for his role. In other words, even though taking on so many questionable roles during this time was financially motivated, he still took his job seriously, and still put out some excellent films like Joe, Mandy, Color out of Space, and Pig.

Related: 10 Major Roles Nicolas Cage Didn’t Get or Turned Down

Meme Renaissance (r/onetruegod)

Nicolas Cage You Don't Say Vampire's Kiss 1200 x 630
Hemdale Film Corporation

If you find yourself trolling on Reddit, it’s worth noting that Nicolas Cage has quite the presence on the Subreddit r/onetruegod. Boasting the tagline “All Hail Nicolas Cage,” this portion of the internet is the home of humorous photo shops of Cage, and shows the world how truly devoted to his craft his fans are.

Even at the lowest point in his career, Nicolas Cage was kept relevant through the use of online communities that celebrate all of his films, no matter how successful or terrible they turned out to be. And the best part about this meme presence of our “one true God,” is that Nicolas Cage is aware of it, and he seems to be a good sport about all the jokes at his expense.

Ultimate Comeback by Leaning Into His Weirdness

Nic Cage lowers his red sunglasses by the water in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

As we make our way well into the 2020s, it seems that there is simply nothing that can stop the force that is Nicolas Cage. Renfield, which just came out earlier this year, has been very well received, and it’s inspiring casual Nicolas Cage fans to dive into his deeper cuts as well as his classics. And being the ever-prolific actor that he is, Cage is slated to be in several upcoming releases over the next year or two, including The Flash, Sympathy for the Devil, Dream Scenario, and Longlegs.

Though Cage has gone on record in the past stating that he’s going to eventually retire from acting, so he could pursue more directing roles at some point, it looks like he may have had a change of heart, and as long as he’s out there doing his thing, we’re going to keep watching his films as long as he keeps putting them out.

This story originally appeared on Movieweb

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