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The Untold Truth Of Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider

"Yeah, I'm good. It feels like my skull is on fire, but I'm good," Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider uttered in the 2007 film. It's probably the most Nicolas Cage line of all time, as it perfectly encapsulates his time as the Spirit of Vengeance. While the two "Ghost Rider" films are nowhere near as revered or celebrated as other Marvel movies, there's a certain manic fury to them that tiptoes the line between sublime and shlock. In fact, it's difficult to imagine any other actor but Cage being able to carry these blockbusters and have people talking about them all these years later.

A project like "Ghost Rider" was never going to be an easy sell in the mid-2000s. How does a studio promote a flaming skull superhero who has the ability to inflict pain on others by staring at them? It sounds like something out of a horror novel and not the pages of Marvel Comics, right? Interestingly enough, that was a debate that both filmmakers and Cage had about the property and how they should tackle the character. The way these two films turned out is a tale that's as fiery and spicy as Johnny Blaze himself, so grab that biker jacket and hop on as we take a ride into the untold truth of Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider.

Nicolas Cage wanted an R-rated Ghost Rider movie

The story of "Ghost Rider" is Faustian in nature. Man makes a deal with the Devil; in return, the Lord of Lies owns his soul and makes him do his bidding until the pact is broken. While Mark Steven Johnson's origin film leaned into the angle ever so slightly, the story didn't drift too far outside the realm of PG-13 because it had to think of the children. If it was up to Nicolas Cage, though, the movie would have been a lot darker and rated R for really terrifying.

"'Ghost Rider' was a movie that always should've been an R-rated movie," Cage told JoBlo. "David Goyer had a brilliant script, which I wanted to do with David, and for whatever reason, they just didn't let us make the movie." The actor cited how "Deadpool" had worked well as an adults-only film and that Ghost Rider as a horror-esque character fits the same sort of mold, too. Unfortunately, it was a case of wrong place, wrong time. Goyer would eventually pen the script for "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance"; however, that film wasn't rated R, either.

Nicolas Cage painted his face to channel the Spirit of Vengeance

No matter which movie he's in, Nicolas Cage fully commits to his roles and channels the power of The Cage as he unleashes surrealism. Realistically, and for safety and staying alive reasons, he was never going to set his own skull on fire to play Ghost Rider. No, he had a different plan to get into the character's mindset and ensure that vengeance was his.

Unlike Jared Leto, who sent gifts to his "Suicide Squad" co-stars in an effort to trick them into believing he was really the Joker, Cage decided to convince everyone he was capable of summoning spirits. But how did he do this? Let him explain in his own words. "To really believe I was this ghost, this spirit of vengeance, painting my face with a kind of Afro-Caribbean voodoo icon, or a new Orleans voodoo icon," Cage told Den of Geek. "I had white paint and black paint and black contact lenses on my eyes, and I sewed bits of ancient Egyptian artefacts into my leather jacket and would channel this spirit of vengeance and really believe I was that." Cage added that he didn't talk to anyone when he arrived on set and looked into their eyes to see if they feared him, which they did. Fortunately, a picture of him in this getup exists, and it's as glorious as it sounds.

The original villain for Nicolas Cage's Ghost Rider was Scarecrow

Did "Ghost Rider" almost feature the first Marvel versus DC crossover? Nope, but that's the reason the studio was hesitant to let Mark Steven Johnson use Scarecrow as the villain in the first film. Speaking to ComicBook.com, Johnson confirmed this detail. "In my first pass at the script, the villain was Scarecrow," he said. "I always loved the Marvel version of Scarecrow and thought he would have made a really cool and sinister adversary for Ghost Rider. But the studio was afraid it would get confused with the DC Scarecrow, and so we ended up with Blackheart." Considering how "Batman Begins" was in theaters two years earlier than "Ghost Rider" and featured Jonathan Crane's Scarecrow as a central character, it's easy to understand the studio's hesitancy here.

In Marvel Comics, Scarecrow's true identity is Ebenezer Laughton, and he started out as an adversary of Iron Man (via Marvel). After starting out with the circus and contortionism in particular, he turned to a life of crime and decided the best way to do this was by dressing up as a Scarecrow. However, he didn't just throw a bag over his head and call it a day since he also trained birds to respond to his nefarious commands. So no, Scarecrow wasn't just a character that Marvel stole from DC.

Eric Bana chose Hulk over Ghost Rider

Ang Lee's "Hulk" was an unappreciated comic book film that was well and truly ahead of its time in 2003. Instead of focusing on non-stop action, it chose to be a character study of Bruce Banner. As Newsweek's review eloquently put it: "Bruce, like the heroes of most Freudian dramas, is suppressing a buried primal trauma, images of an Oedipal nightmare he can't quite remember." The film proved to be the underrated Eric Bana's last rodeo as the lean, green, smashing machine. However, his time as a superhero could have been much more different had he chosen a different role.

"He'd heard [Nicolas Cage] might get the job but wanted to meet anyway because he's a professional biker," producer Avi Arad told Variety before revealing that Bana signed on to play Hulk after their initial meeting. In a later interview with ComicBook.com, Mark Steven Johnson stated that Cage had always been his first pick for the part of Johnny Blaze, and he hadn't even discussed another actor. Bana probably sensed this, too, hence him picking "Hulk" after meeting with the producers.

Eva Mendes turned down Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

While Nicolas Cage fired up the screen as Johnny Blaze/Ghost Rider, Eva Mendes — his co-star in the first film — played a central role in the plot as his love interest, Roxanne Simpson. So it was surprising to see how a character that was such a crucial part of the movie's jigsaw puzzle didn't return for the sequel, "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance." Judging by Mendes' comments, she had no intention of doing so at all, making it absolutely clear that she wouldn't return as Roxanne.

As news of the sequel circulated through Hollywood in 2008, Mendes provided her honest thoughts on the topic to MTV. "I think 'Ghost Rider' had its moment," she said. "I don't know about a sequel, but I don't think it needs one." The part of Roxanne wasn't recast in the sequel; instead, the film decided to disregard the character entirely. Somewhere in Marvel's multiverse, though, Roxanne is still standing in the middle of the field, waiting for Johnny Blaze to come back and pick her up as per the last scene in the film. Seriously, where was her ride back home?

Nicolas Cage said Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was a reboot

When "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance" was released, there was a weird narrative around it. Sure, it had Nicolas Cage returning as the hothead rider, yet it seemed to all but forget about the previous film's events. Considering how the bulk of the cast from the 2007 movie didn't return, it was easy to skate over this. But was this supposed to be a reboot or a requel?

"It is a completely different film," Cage revealed to Gizmodo. "The first one, which I won't denigrate — I liked the first one, but it was almost like a fairy tale. Almost like a Disney fairy tale interpretation of Faust. This one is completely reconceived, it's not even connected to the first one, it's a different origin sequence." However, when screenwriter David S. Goyer spoke to MTV about the film (via Coming Soon), he stated that the story was meant to take place eight years after the first movie and wasn't a reboot per se. Judging by the conflicting comments, it appears as if no one is really sure of where it fits in the timeline.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance was rewritten more times than anyone can remember

While "Ghost Rider" wasn't warmly received by critics, chalking up a pitiful 26% approval on Rotten Tomatoes, the response to "Spirit of Vengeance" was even worse, with only 18% critical approval. In The Guardian's review of the film, critic Philip French wrote: "A wisp of a story with no variation in pace links cycle chases and violent battles." Criticism of the script seemed to be a common thread in most of the reviews, and co-director Brian Taylor agreed that it was a weak point that did the film no favors.

Chatting to Flickering Myth, Taylor revealed how he wanted to work with David S. Goyer's script from over a decade earlier, which would have made the film scarier and rated R — something that Nicolas Cage himself also championed. "Then, in the time between that and the second movie, the script had been rewritten literally 14 times or 16 times or something like that to the point where it was kind of a mess," Taylor said. "It was also just a little too clean and a little too restrained." Taylor added that it was a personal regret the film wasn't made for mature audiences since it could have become a definitive "Ghost Rider" story.

Nicolas Cage wanted to see Ghost Rider beat up Spider-Man

Both "Ghost Rider" films and Sam Raimi's "Spider-Man" trilogy were released by Sony Pictures. If it were today, fans would be debating about how and when Spidey and Johnny Blaze would be crossing over and whether they'd be friends or foes. In 2007, it was a different time for comic book movies, and crossovers films were about as rare as a good video game adaptation. Fans still dreamt of it, though, and so did Nicolas Cage.

At the 2006 San Diego Comic-Con International, Cage was part of a roundtable to promote "Ghost Rider" (via IGN). A question was posed about the possibility of a Marvel team-up down the line, and Cage responded enthusiastically, "I would actually like to see it. To actually have the comic book characters team-up? Because, and once again, I'm speaking to the Ghost Rider family, we all know that Ghost Rider can kick Spider-Man's a**! With one look. And I want to see that happen." Unfortunately, this crossover hasn't happened to date, but anything is possible with everyone being under the MCU umbrella now.

Ghost Rider urinating fire wasn't Nicolas Cage's idea

Across both "Ghost Rider" films, there were a few bizarre scenes that had fans raising their eyebrows and stroking their chins. None were quite as outlandish as watching Ghost Rider urinating flames in "Spirit of Vengeance": It answered a question that no one knew needed to be asked at the time. Considering some of Nicolas Cage's prior performances and his ability to embrace the eccentric, many fans presumed this scene was straight out of his playbook. Well, it wasn't.

"I had nothing to do with it," Cage told HuffPost. "That was [Mark] Neveldine and [Brian] Taylor. And I knew, having seen their work, that they were capable of going into a pop-art, lowbrow spectrum — all the way to the sublime. Kind of like a Robert Williams painting." Cage revealed that he was even surprised when he read the scene in the script and questioned whether he'd do it or not. Ultimately, he decided that he simply had to, knowing this sort of scene was what the directors had become renowned for, and he wanted to be a part of it.

Nicolas Cage's abs were real

Much like most people only realize what they have once it's truly gone, fans are now starting to appreciate what Nicolas Cage brought to the "Ghost Rider" films. The MCU's multiverse allows for characters such as Cage's Johnny Blaze to return and fit into the universe like a glove; however, the actor has been rather — ahem — cagey about it. One of the reasons is because of the drama surrounding his abs — or more specifically, Blaze's abs. Considering the amount of CGI that went into making "Ghost Rider," many wondered if Cage's impressive physique in the film was real or a bit of movie magic.

"They are real," Cage revealed to GQ. "And that's why I will never work out that hard again because no one wanted to believe they were real. They wanted to believe it was CGI, which it wasn't. So what's the point?" Poor guy. We didn't hear anyone asking if Henry Cavill was really that ripped in "Man of Steel," now did we?

Nicolas Cage thought Ghost Rider was a better match for him than Superman

In the mid-'90s, Nicolas Cage was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Whether he was breaking into Alcatraz in "The Rock" or switching mugs with John Travolta in "Face/Off," everyone wanted a piece of the Cage — even Tim Burton. The "Batman" director had taken on a new project, "Superman Lives," which would have been a drastic reinvention of the character, and he wanted Cage to play the Man of Steel. Sadly, "Superman Lives" was never made, but many fans have pondered what type of performance the actor would have brought to the film.

In an interview with HuffPost, Cage revealed that he'd love to work with Burton on a film, but he has no regrets over the outcome of "Superman Lives." "We were both the victims of a very unfortunate studio bureaucracy," he said. "So it didn't work out. But I'm not upset about it, because I do genuinely think that Ghost Rider is a better match for me. And I think Ghost Rider had more of an effect on me, even as a child." Eventually, Cage did get a shot at playing Superman, as he voiced the character in the animated film "Teen Titans Go! To the Movies."

Nicolas Cage says Ghost Rider was his 'philosophical awakening'

When it comes to choosing roles, Nicolas Cage sees something that no one else does. What might appear madcap for a star of his stature is an opportunity for him to flex his acting muscles. However, the role of Ghost Rider is still one that perplexes many. As it turns out, the character is much more significant to him than most people give credit for.

In a career-spanning interview with The Scotsman, Cage explained how picking up a "Ghost Rider" comic book changed his life and showed him how something so terrifying could also be a symbol of good. "To me it was my first philosophical awakening — how is this possible, this duality?" he said. "From then on, I wanted to explore characters who are overcoming obstacles within themselves or outside of themselves and who try to live life and survive with those obstacles." Cage added that the character has also served as a major inspiration for his other roles. Huh. It just goes to show — there's a little bit of Ghost Rider in all of us.