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Cage's Oscar-winning film Leaving Las Vegas first hit theaters 20 years ago this week

By Drew Mackie
Updated October 27, 2015 03:15 PM
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Credit: Everett

Nicolas Cage has appeared in nearly 75 movies. This week, one of his all-time best turned 20 years old: Leaving Las Vegas, which first opened in theaters on Oct. 29, 1995, and scored Cage his first Oscar win for Best Actor.

The win was deserved: Cage channeled some of his wide-eyed energy into playing Ben Sanderson, a failing, flailing Hollywood screenwriter who heads out to Las Vegas for one last bender. The dark romantic drama shows a side of Cage we don’t often see in his other films, and we’re taking the occasion of the 20th anniversary to show off his wide range range with a list of Nic Cage movies for any mood.

Well, for any of the very specific moods that match Nicolas Cage movies, that is.

Valley Girl (1983)

Mood: Dopey teenage love

Mooney-eyed teenage romance can overcome anything – even the culture clash inherent in a relationship between the titular valley girl, Julie (Deborah Foreman), and Hollywood punk Randy (Cage).

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Mood: Wistful for what could have been

Just three years after he played the romantic lead in Valley Girl, Cage played Charlie, a doo wop-singing high-schooler in 1960 as well as that character’s adult self. Some of that ’80s-movie time travel we love so much helps the title character (Kathleen Turner) realize there’s still something between her and Charlie, and that’s probably because there’s something special about Nic Cage in any era. (And yes, that is a young Jim Carrey on Cage’s right.)

Raising Arizona (1987)

Mood: Parental dedication at any cost

This Coen Bros. cult favorite doesn’t depict Cage’s excon character as a good father, exactly, but it does show him trying hard anyway. Somehow, robbing a convenience store to get diapers for your kid is almost noble, if boneheaded. It’s maybe a level of desperation that other ill-prepared parents can relate to.

Moonstruck (1987)

Mood: That unique Harold and Maude-style passion

Cher plays a 37-year-old widow. Cage plays the much-younger brother of her husband-to-be. Of course they fall in love, and because both Cher and Cage are at the top of their games, they completely sell this unlikely union between two souls who shouldn’t end up together but do anyway.

Nicolas Cage’s Changing Looks!

Wild at Heart (1990)

Mood: Elvis Presley-esque swagger

It’s not as celebrated as Blue Velvet or as enduring as Twin Peaks, but this David Lynch film offers a side of Nicolas Cage at his most swoonworthy. It’s almost as if he’s playing an accentuated version of himself, just with a Southern accent.

Honeymoon in Vegas (1992)

Mood: Courageous in the way that only love can make you

Jack (Cage) loves Betsy (Sarah Jessica Parker), and is willing to do anything to ensure that he gives her the Las Vegas wedding he promised her, even if that means facing his ultimate fears and jumping out of a plane. Now that’s love.

Guarding Tess (1994)

Mood: Dutiful resignation

Doug Chesnic is an ace Secret Service agent who’s put off by being stuck working as a bodyguard for a former First Lady (Shirley MacLaine). They bicker like The Odd Couple but he eventually realizes the honor in his job.

It Could Happen to You (1994)

Mood: Moral uprightness, no matter what your wife says

This is a love story, but also a movie about getting your just rewards for doing the right thing. A New York cop (Cage) makes good on his promise to split potential lottery winnings with a waitress (Bridget Fonda), but then must contend with his money-grubbing wife (Rosie Perez). It’s not a bad film to watch if feel like everyone in the world but you is a selfish jerk.

Leaving Las Vegas (1995)

Mood: Despair

And not just general hopelessness, but the point of being so beyond saving that you give up and wallow about in the unsolvable crumminess of your life. It’s only when Cage’s character has essentially given up that he meets Sera (Elisabeth Shue), a prostitute with whom he strikes up a relationship on the basis of “Hey, what have we got to lose?”

The Rock (1996)

Mood: Action hero-level gutsiness when the situation demands it

We’ve all been in situations in which we have to seriously step up, and this action flick has Cage playing a behind-the-scenes scientist who suddenly has to go full-on John McClane. Cage himself rose to the challenge, paving the way for him to star in two more major action blockbusters.

Con Air (1997)

Mood: The fear of being found out

Cage plays the one honest prisoner on a plane full of criminal degenerates. Of course, they mutiny, and Cage has to spend the majority of the film playing along with them in their attempt to escape. Cue the dread of being lumped in with a group of people you normally wouldn’t have anything to do with – plus the added fear that they’ll probably kill you.

Face/Off (1997)

Mood: Absolutely crazytown cuckoo

Heads up: This clip features NSFW language, but then again so does just about every scene of Cage in Face/Off. The only thing more unhinged than Cage playing madman Castor Troy is John Travolta playing madman Castor Troy playing someone else. It’s dueling styles of bonkers. If you ever feel like you have too big a personality, watch Face/Off and you’ll conclude you’re actually quite low key.

City of Angels (1998)

Mood: Uncontrollable angry crying

It’s a supernatural romance that has an angel (Cage) falling for a human woman (Meg Ryan). Spoiler warning if you’re still waiting to Redbox this one, but what could have been a touching love story ends in one of the meanest twist endings ever. You’ll want to cry, but you’ll be angry about how manipulative this ending is.

Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000)

Mood: The high-octane thrill of emerging from retirement

It’s an update of the classic “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in” scenario that has an infamous but retired car thief (Cage) joining up for high-revving hijinx in one last caper. It’s fast-paced enough that you won’t realize you’re rooting for people who steal cars for a living, but it’s perhaps more palatable if you think of it as a “retired guy has still got it!” story.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (2001)

Mood: Strummy, heartfelt love amid the boom of war

A seaside tale about how music (but also international war) can bring two people from diverse backgrounds together, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin suggests you focus on a love story amid the horrors of World War II and, if that weren’t enough, an earthquake that decimates the film’s island paradise setting.

Adaptation (2002)

Mood: The tension of having two distinct opinions about a given matter

If you have ever felt like you’re two different people – but, like, not in the dissociative identity disorder sense – this may be the Nic Cage movie for you. He plays both Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter of Being John Malkovich, and his fictional brother twin Donald, who’s a less talented screenwriter. It’s maybe Cage’s best performance ever, even if he won the Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas.

National Treasure (2004)

Mood: Gleefully brimming with conspiracy theories

The best movie ever based on the idea that the whole of American history was written to disguise the location of a ton of loot, National Treasure makes for a decent adventure for anyone who thought The Da Vinci Code took itself too seriously.

The Wicker Man (2006)

Mood: Getting stung by all the bees

(View with caution)

Yeah, there’s conspiracy in this movie too, but everyone’s takeway from the remake of The Wicker Man should be the bee scene. Now that is acting.

Ghost Rider (2007)

Mood: Daring, devilish, possibly on fire

In this lesser-remembered entry in the Marvel cinematic universe, Cage plays Johnny Blaze, the stuntman who by night is transformed into the Ghost Rider, an instrument of supernatural heroism whose head is a flaming skull. Actually, you don’t need our recommendation for this one; you probably know exactly what kind of mood you’d have to be in to watch this one.

The Croods (2013)

Mood: Protective, paternal, Flintstonian

Grug Crood (Cage) is just a good dad trying to watch out for his family, but he doesn’t realize he’s holding his loved ones back from the amazing new world beyond their cave. There’s a metaphor there. Sure, cavemen can teach us metaphors. Why shouldn’t they?