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Nicolas Cage's Most Outlandish Roles Ever

The nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, Nicolas Cage burst onto the scene in a minor role in the 1982 comedy classic "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," but it wasn't long before he was leading his own films. Though today he's mostly known for his low-budget indie flicks and direct-to-DVD action schlock movies, he's actually an Academy Award-winner and was one of Hollywood's most celebrated young talents in the late '80s thanks to a string of acclaimed hits.

Though he had a career downturn in the 2000s, Cage is back on top of his game in the 2020s, and he's embraced his reputation for playing wild, zany, out-of-control characters. Few can play violent, unhinged madmen as well as quiet, sensitive, quirky everymen, but Cage has pulled them all off time and time again. While most of his films put him in outrageous roles, we went digging for the best. From deranged maniacs and crazed con men to noble superheroes and lovable weirdos, these are Nicolas Cage's most outlandish roles ever.

Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nicolas Cage had long had his eye on a major role in a superhero blockbuster and finally found one when he starred as Johnny Blaze in 2007's "Ghost Rider." Unfortunately, the film wasn't a huge hit, and so when it came time for a sequel "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," producers took a chance and retooled the film with a darker, grittier look, and part of that meant unleashing the wilder, more raucous Nic Cage.

This time around, Johnny is competing with Satan himself (Ciaran Hinds) over the soul of a young boy, and if he beats him, it may be just what he needs to escape the curse of the Ghost Rider, too. In addition to a more stylized tonal make-over, the follow-up film is a bit more tongue-in-cheek. Blaze's transformation from human to flaming skulled hero is hilariously outrageous too, which like a lot of the film embraces its inherent ridiculousness, and Cage's overhauled take on Johnny Blaze is a big part of that.

With a teaser trailer that showed Cage's skeleton biker urinating fire on the movie's logo, you know right away you're in for an appropriately over-the-top and downright weird comic book nastiness. While the film has plenty of faults, its star's hammy performance might be its lone bright spot.

The Janitor in Willy's Wonderland

In the 2020s, actor Nicolas Cage began making something of a late-career resurgence thanks to some outrageous, smartly chosen roles in smaller, but well-made movies. Amidst this comeback is "Willy's Wonderland," a deft mix of action, comedy, and horror that plays off tropes made popular by the video game series "Five Nights at Freddy's" which proved a cult hit and viral sensation in the late 2010s. 

In the film, Cage plays a down-on-his-luck wanderer who finds himself stranded in a small Nevada town when his car breaks down. In exchange for repairs, Cage's character — who goes unnamed — reluctantly takes a job as a janitor at a family entertainment center called Willy's Wonderland (think a more horrifying Chuck E. Cheese). But during his night shift there, Cage learns that the animatronic characters are actually living, crazed killer monsters with a thirst for blood. 

Perhaps just an excuse to unchain Nic Cage's madness on an unsuspecting group of giant furry mascots, "Willy's Wonderland" gives the actor the chance to go postal on some kid's cartoon characters. He brains a gorilla with a toilet plunger before smashing him through a urinal and tears the spine from a robot ostrich after beating it to death with a mop. The lack of an actual story puts the focus squarely on Cage, who is practically rabid in the role, and he relishes every second of it.

Peter Loew in Vampire's Kiss

Arguably Nicolas Cage's most famous ridiculous role, "Vampire's Kiss" is more than just a funny vampire comedy, it also sparked an internet meme that has persisted for years. The film is also the first time Cage gets to play a blood-sucking immortal (sort of), which he'd return for in Chris McKay's "Renfield" more than three decades later. 

In "Vampire's Kiss," Cage stars as Peter Loew, a publishing agent who is the epitome of '80s excess: a big business snob who indulges in drugs and promiscuous sex. But after a night with a woman sporting strange fangs, Peter — who was already struggling with his own sanity — begins to spiral out of control, believing he's been bitten by a vampire lord and is turned into a member of the undead. As his paranoia takes hold, his behavior becomes increasingly deranged, and while those around him think he's going mad, he's more convinced than ever that he needs the blood of innocent women to stay alive.

Though a flop at the box office, "Vampire's Kiss" — like many of Cage's movies — became a cult favorite for its spoof of both psycho-dramas and horror movies. It had plenty of critics on its release, with Caryn James of The New York Times bashing Cage's "chaotic, self-indulgent performance" with "sporadic, exaggerated mannerisms that should never live outside of acting-class exercises." But it's that very thing that has helped "Vampire's Kiss" endure and is the biggest reason to watch.

Big Daddy in Kick-Ass

Nicolas Cage already had his superhero role in "Ghost Rider," but in 2010 he finally had one in a movie that people liked. "Kick-Ass" was just the kind of dark, ultra-violent story that he excels at, but this time he gets to wear a proper superhero outfit as the Batman-like vigilante called Big Daddy, father to kid superhero Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz).

Though the movie is centered on a teenage crime fighter (Aaron Johnson), Cage gets the role of Damon Macready, a former police officer determined to take down the criminal kingpin named Frank D'Amico (Mark Strong). When D'Amico and his son Red Mist (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) become the target of Kick-Ass, Macready and his daughter ally themselves with the new teen hero. Finally, Cage gets a chance to prove he can be a great comic book superhero and shows off just how impressive he can be in a Batman-like role.

Beating down the baddies with sinister savagery you'd never see from the Dark Knight, Big Daddy is a more outlandish hero unafraid to kill, bludgeon, and maim. When you see him in action there's little doubt why Cage was the producer's choice for the role, as he perfectly captures the kind of grim intensity and brutal ferocity required. The film also gives him one of the most visceral death scenes in superhero cinema, pulled off only thanks to Cage's gut-wrenching screams.

John Milton in Drive Angry

In 2011 Nicolas Cage starred in "Drive Angry" in a role that draws obvious comparisons to his part as Johnny Blaze in "Ghost Rider." Like that film, "Drive Angry" makes no apologies for its premise, but plays it far more straight. Here, Cage takes the role of John Milton (raise your hand if you get the joke), a former criminal who must find his way back to Earth from the confines of Hell after a Satanic cult kills his family and takes his infant granddaughter. 

The leader of the death cult wants to sacrifice the baby for a ritual that will bring Hell to the world of the living. Along the way, Milton meets a pretty young waitress named Piper (Amber Heard). Now armed with Satan's own gun and a 1969 Dodge Charger, he sets out to kill the cultists. 

Another movie that could only have worked with Nicolas Cage in the lead role, "Drive Angry" is determined to win you over with sheer hubris. It doesn't always succeed, but like so many others, when it does, it's usually because of Cage, who is deliciously fun and clearly having the time of his life playing an outsized Hell-bound killing machine. As Roger Ebert said in his review, "Nic Cage once again provides the zeal and energy to wade through a violent morass," while the fact that the film was shot in 3D also makes Cage three times as outlandish.

Fu Manchu in Grindhouse

Quentin Tarantino's "Grindhouse" doesn't count towards his promised 10 films, mostly because he only directed one of the movie's two stories, "Death Proof." The other, "Planet Terror," was helmed by Robert Rodriguez, but oddly enough Nicolas Cage doesn't appear in either of them. In between both short films are a series of fake movie trailers directed by the likes of Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright, and Eli Roth.

In Rob Zombie's trailer, "Werewolf Women of the SS," Cage plays what would otherwise be a pretty upsetting role, a villain known as Fu Manchu. On top of using a white actor to play an Asian role (like Christopher Lee in "The Face of Fu Manchu"), he's depicted as a mix of regrettable racial stereotypes, but this is all done to capture the spirit of the kinds of movies it's paying homage to.

The brief trailer advertises the story of an ancient mystic who Adolf Hitler turns to for an army of super-women, and it's absolutely glorious. Cage plays up homage to the Nth degree as only he can, making his entrance on the ringing of a gong, and wildly flailing about while throwing back his head in an evil Ming the Merciless kind of laugh. While two of the fake trailers, "Hobo with a Shotgun" and "Machete," wound up being turned into feature films, no full-length version of "Werewolf Women of the SS" has yet materialized.

H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona

Following their first directorial effort on the dark and violent film noir thriller "Blood Simple," the Coen Brothers turned around and produced a wild, zany comedy called "Raising Arizona." While it may have been different from their debut, the film proved the duo's penchant for mixing clever comedy and crafty crime capers. Like their later hit "The Big Lebowski," there's a kooky character at the center of the story, and here he's played by none other than the wild-eyed wonder Nicolas Cage.

Holly Hunter stars as police woman Ed, who makes a strange choice of lover for her new beau, recently released crook H.I. "Hi" McDunnough. Since they can't have kids and can't adopt, the pair scheme to kidnap one of the quintuplets belonging to furniture magnate Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson). But now they've got a bounty hunter hot on their tail, a pair of troublemaking ex-cons in their house, and a new baby, too. It all adds up to a classic screwball comedy with a wickedly dark sense of humor.

Described once by Simon Pegg as a "living, breathing 'Looney Tunes' cartoon," the British actor called it Nicolas Cage's "best performance ever," and many will likely agree. Frenetic and all over the place, Cage may have caused problems for the film's two directors but you'd never know it from what's on screen, as Hi McDunnough remains one of the best and wackiest characters in his career.

Red Miller in Mandy

A completely unexpected and altogether flabbergasting flick, "Mandy" landed in 2018 with little fanfare and even fewer expectations. A dark and violent arthouse indie movie set in 1983, it puts Nicolas Cage in another role where he's out for deadly justice. This time he's going up against a cult of religious fanatics and a gang of vicious cannibal bikers tripped out on LSD. Did you think it would be anything saner?

Cage plays Red Miller, a former alcoholic recovering in a remote cabin with his girlfriend Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), a talented painter of fantasy art. But when Mandy becomes the target of a cult known as the Children of the New Dawn and the blood-thirsty, satanic Black Skull biker gang, Red is forced to watch his lover burned alive. Now, with a crossbow and a hand-crafted battle axe, Red goes on a blood-soaked quest for vengeance.

Between the film's use of hallucinations and nightmares and Mandy's artwork, the film forges spell-binding visuals. The movie itself becomes a lush, vibrant canvas, and Cage — who once again carries the film with a tour-de-force performance — is an out-of-control artist's brush. At the top of his game, the actor gives everything he's got and more as the brooding, axe-wielding avenger out to get even with those who've wronged him.

Castor Troy in Face/Off

No list of Nicolas Cage's greatest films is complete without arguably the best of them all: the 1997 John Woo action thriller "Face/Off." In a movie with as ludicrously preposterous a premise as any mainstream blockbuster has ever had, Cage fans get to see him in dual roles. Because the actor doesn't just play his own character, he also plays his co-star's too, getting a chance to ham it up as both a malevolent psychopathic terrorist and a noble hero lawman in the same story.

Cage starts out the movie as Castor Troy, a homicidal maniac who kills the son of FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta). But when Troy hides a bomb somewhere in the city, Archer literally swaps their faces using an experimental procedure. While this allows Archer (now played by Cage) to go undercover in the criminal underworld to get the intel he needs to shut down the bomb, Troy (now played by Travolta) escapes custody and begins to sabotage Archer's life.

Chock full of ultra-stylized action as only John Woo could deliver, "Face/Off" is good, campy fun. As for Cage, seeing him play a psychotic madman and an FBI agent pretending to be one is some tremendous entertainment. An admittedly goofy story, it's Cage's theatrics and Woo's direction that elevates it, and it's today remembered as one of the greatest action movies of the decade.

Gary Faulkner in Army of One

Nicolas Cage always seems to be at his best when he's playing a man on a violent quest for justice. Well, in 2016's "Army of One," Cage does it again, but he plays a different kind of vigilante this time around, and it's an altogether unexpected one. Not just because he plays a middle-aged man on a divine quest to hunt and kill Al Qaeda mastermind Osama Bin Laden, but because the man he plays and his mission are based on a remarkable true story.

Though the real-life inspiration was full of very real danger and life-threatening peril, "Army of One" takes a more satirical approach, turning Gary Faulkner's amazing story into a comical misadventure. In the film, Cage plays Faulkner as a dyed-in-the-wool red-blooded patriot known for his freedom-loving rants and for sleeping in an American flag. But when he sees visions of God (played by rowdy British actor Russell Brand), he is told that he must travel to Pakistan to hunt down and kill the man who perpetrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Though he plays Faulkner in a more subdued way than you might expect, he remains silly and superb, putting on a goofy voice to mimic the real-life American crusader. While the true story is no laughing matter, with Cage in the role it's hard not to bust a gut.

Ronny Cammareri in Moonstruck

Nicolas Cage can successfully play a crazed killer, a downtrodden everyman, or a bombastic superhero with equal aplomb. But if Cage has a true talent, it's his ability to be wild and crazy while still expressing sensitivity and vulnerability. Nowhere is this more evident than in "Moonstruck," a vehicle for pop star-turned-actress Cher whose real magic comes from the scene-stealing performance of Nicolas Cage as her new lover Ronny Cammareri.

An endearing, off-kilter romantic comedy, Cher stars as the overly superstitious Loretta, whose last marriage ended in tragedy with the death of her husband. Now engaged to her boyfriend Johnny (Danny Aiello), her obsession with getting her second marriage right is complicated when sparks fly between her and his brother Ronny (Cage). When Johnny heads back to his family home in Italy to tend to a family crisis, Ronny and Loretta set off on a fiery and contentious romance. 

Equal parts eccentric, crazed, and lovable, Cage plays the one-handed Ronny with a game-changing performance. He received rave reviews on the film's release, and critics have only continued to praise the part in the years since. In 2003, Roger Ebert insisted it was still Cage's best character, saying, "In a career of playing goofballs, Cage has never surpassed his Ronny Cammareri."

Nick Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Nicolas Cage has played just about every kind of character you can imagine, from humble ordinary men to whacked-out psychopaths. But in 2022, Cage got his wildest character of all in "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" with the role he was born to play: himself. That's right, in this black comedy action movie, Cage plays a fictionalized version of himself who like in real life, is struggling to find work in major movies.

But unlike in real life, this exaggerated version of Cage gets a strange offer to appear as the guest of honor at a birthday bash for billionaire Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal). Tempted by the million-dollar payday, Cage heads to the coast of Spain where he discovers that far from an innocent tycoon looking to meet his movie idol, Gutierrez may be a dangerous arms dealer. Now, Cage is recruited by the CIA to worm his way into Gutierrez' inner circle and expose him, which means playing along with an improvised film that the playboy has written for him.

A retro action movie and an homage to '80s classics, "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" may not be Cage's most outrageous role, but it might be his strangest. And thanks to his massive talent, it totally works.

Lt. Terence McDonagh in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans

Even in his most over-the-top roles, Nicolas Cage often plays characters that are easy to root for. The same can't be said for his part as New Orleans cop Terence McDonaugh in "The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans." Perhaps named as an homage to his character "Hi" McDunnough from "Raising Arizona," Lieutenant McDonaugh is a cop so dirty and messed up that it can be hard to look at him when he's on-screen ... yet thanks to Cage, one can't look away. 

Following a rescue gone wrong in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, McDonaugh is left with a crippling painkiller addiction that has destroyed his life. Shacked up with his sex worker girlfriend (Eva Mendes), he uses hard drugs and isn't above stealing from the police evidence room and breaking every rule to get a fix. He's also up to his eyeballs in gambling debts, at odds with his partner (Val Kilmer) and he's struggling just to keep everything together as he's tasked with investigating a string of murders that have left five immigrants dead. 

In classic Cage fashion, the sleepless, pill-addicted McDonaugh is out of control and always one hair away from losing his sanity. The character is a swirling vortex of so many overwrought cliches, but somehow, thanks largely to Cage's manic energy and believable unpredictability, it can't help but be on-screen magic.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).