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Why Gen-Z Loves Nicolas Cage and His 10 Insanest Films

I am willing to bet you that Nicolas Cage is that actor that the majority of people have strong opinions about. He’s the kind of performer that appears once in a lifetime.

Nicolas Cage classic "You Don't Say" meme
Credit: Stefan Czapsky.

Gen-Z can’t seem to get enough of Nicolas Cage’s deranged persona. With the release of the new Cage film Arcadian, I took a dive into why Gen-Z can’t get enough of Nic Cage and which 10 of his films we believe are the most memorably absurd.

Those born between 1997 and 2005 have not seen a time in our lives when Nicolas Cage was not front and center on the big screen. We skipped the dead zone between his art film and gritty detective thriller eras. Strictly, people currently in their twenties got to experience the best of the Cage Renaissance. I have identified one consistent reason for this Renaissance and for Gen-Z’s obsession with someone as unusual as Cage.

What Did Nicolas Cage Do To Our Developing Brains?

I conducted a brief poll (about 50 replies) and interviews with people in their 20s about Nicolas Cage. There is one common factor among young people with strong feelings about Cage. We grew up with National Treasure.

It actually became tedious to comb through so many responses about the film. If not National Treasure, it came down to seeing The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) or G-Force (2009). Either way, Gen-Z experienced the “Cage Renaissance” because of the future audience he would get in children’s movies.

Nic Cage in National Treasure (2004)
Nic Cage in National Treasure (2004) / Credit: Caleb Deschanel.

When asked the question, “What was your first exposure to Nic Cage?” long-time friend and Cage buff Kristen A. responded: “NATIONAL TREASURE! I had the DVD when it first came out and I would watch it on the portable DVD player in the car with my older brother on family trips. I still love that movie.”

Fellow Cage enthusiast Jacob C. also came in for comment on the same question with a strikingly similar response, reporting: “National Treasure and I still have my original full-screen DVD of it.” Over seventy percent of those polled cited National Treasure as their first exposure to Cage. Two respondents even said that their tiny child minds had an “inexplicable crush” on Cage and his character.

Plus, He’s a Meme.

Another thing that rocketed Nic Cage to the forefront of every young adult mind is that it’s virtually impossible to go on the internet without seeing his face. His elevation to meme status (much to Cage’s chagrin) is certainly another reason why Cage is a fixture in the life of the 20something.

From that gif (you know the one) to the reversible sequined pillow with his face emblazoned on it, Cage is inescapable. His antics have mythologized his identity, making Cage ripe for the meme-ing. From his expressions, to wild personal anecdotes, onset hijinks, and his ultra-rare bazillion dollar comic book collection that was stolen out of his home , Cage is a walking fable.

When an elaborate performance of the self gets that big, you become infinitely more mockable.

The Top 10 Most Insane Nicolas Cage Films According to Gen-Z

Nicolas Cage’s films all hold a bit of strange, compelling magic in them. He is an Oscar-winning genius actor known for making some of the worst films of all time.

I, supported by 50-under-30 poll respondents, have compiled a list of the top 10 most unhinged Nicolas Cage films. These have to be pretty wild to crack the top 10. The biggest challenge was performing the mental gymnastics necessary to name only 10. Let’s get into it:

10. Moonstruck (1987)

Nicolas Cage with a Wooden Hand in Moonstruck (1987).
Nicolas Cage with a Wooden Hand in Moonstruck (1987) / Credit: David Watkin.

On the surface, this is a fairly regular, albeit quirky rom-com. Nicolas Cage stars opposite Cher in the three-time Oscar-winning film directed by the legendary Norman Jewison. It’s a classic romance miscommunication story. Two Italian-American families fall in and out of love under a full moon in the days before Christmas.

The movie is made weird by Cage and Cage alone. He plays brash, opera-obsessed baker Ronny Cammareri, who “lost” both his fiancée and his hand to a bread slicer. On top of being nuts, Ronny has a wooden hand as a result of that accident. Cage once said Ronny’s wooden hand was the thing that attracted him to the script at all. He took the role because his agent said he could do Vampire’s Kiss when shooting wrapped on this one.

This may be Cage’s most universally adored film, so it had to crack the top 10. Cage-mega fan Leah O. agrees. When asked her Cage film of choice, she responded enthusiastically with Moonstruck. “He’s such a force and I bounce between laughing and falling in love. I just love to see a man so in love that he’d send himself and his lover to hell for a brief earthly affair.” I couldn’t have said it any better.

9. Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)

Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Harry Basil, and Glenn Withrow in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
Nicolas Cage, Jim Carrey, Harry Basil, and Glenn Withrow Singing in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) / Credit: Jordan Cronenweth.

Peggy Sue Got Married is also an early career Nic Cage rom-com. It was directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. It’s Back to the Future (1985) for girls. A woman named Peggy Sue who collapses during her 25-year high school reunion and wakes up seventeen again. Charlie (Cage) is the king of their high school turned burnout furniture salesman. The unusual thing about the movie is the ridiculous, bordering-on-surreal performance given by Cage.

According to Cage, the inspiration for Charlie’s dialect was Pokey, the Horse from Gumby. Cage heard Pokey’s voice channel surfing drunk one night. He decided he would only take the role if he could do the Pokey voice. The voice is a nasally, grating nightmare exacerbated by Cage’s own California accent. Everyone on set, per Zach Schonenfeld’s record in his 2023 book, How Coppola Became Cage, was fed up with both the voice and all things Nic on set.

8. Dream Scenario (2023)

Nicolas Cage Haunts Us in Dream Scenario (2023) / Credit: Benjamin Loeb.

A recent addition to the Cage Canon is reality-blurring Dream Scenario for A24. Cage plays Paul Matthews, a verging on boring college bio professor. All of sudden, his life is altered when he starts appearing in the dreams of people across the globe.

As a result, Paul is loved, hated, feared and even fired from his job for something he can’t control and didn’t choose to do. Because of the dream logic in the film, we get to see Cage do some pretty wild things we could only, well, dream of. It is a film about what would happen if Cage’s face plagued our nightmares and our consumer sphere. Sh*t, wait, sounds familiar…

7. Adaptation. (2002)

Nic Cage and His Twin (Both played by age
Nic Cage as Both of the Kaufman Twins in Adaptation. (2002) / Credit: Lance Acord.

Bear with me.

In this film, Cage plays the real life guy that wrote Being John Malkovich, Charlie Kaufman. He also plays Kaufman’s identical twin, Donald Kaufman. It loosely a film about the making of Being John Malkovich. But more so about the rivalry between twin screenwriters battling for inspiration.

It’s more about Charlie Kaufman’s real life unsuccessful attempt to adapt The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean for the screen. Then, the Kaufman twins go to the everglades chased by insane flower traders. Then the Kaufmans wrestle alligators. There’s some crying and death in there. Then Nic Cage got nominated for an Oscar for it.

Real life Charlie Kaufman does not have an identical twin brother.

6. Mandy (2018)

Nic Cage covered in blood
Nic Cage Covered in Blood in Mandy (2018) / Credit: Benjamin Loeb.

Mandy follows 80s punks Red (Cage) and Mandy (Andrea Risebourgh) that live blissfully in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. Mandy is kidnapped by a hippie BDSM motorcycle cult while Red is having a bad acid trip. Red decides nothing can stop him from getting Mandy back, so he forges his own badass weapons and gets to work turning the demon hippies into bloodmist.

Cage had gone through an unexpected divorce as Mandy began shooting. He says the anger and devastation he felt about the experience was something he was able to relate to the role.

I had some sort of reservation about putting Mandy on this list, because of my internal line of what defines a “weird enough Nic Cage movie.” Though, having to write the descriptor hippie BDSM motorcycle cult helped me determine where this should land on the list. It is a certified insane film.

5. The Wicker Man (2006)

Nicolas Cage Weeps About Bugs and Stuff in The Wicker Man (2006) / Credit: Paul Sarossy
Nicolas Cage Weeps in The Wicker Man (2006) / Credit: Paul Sarossy.

This is the disaster, Razzie award-winning film where Cage says “NOT THE BEES.”

4. Mom and Dad (2017)

Nicolas Cage in Mom and Dad (2017)
Nicolas Cage Goes Berserk in Mom and Dad (2017) / Credit: Daniel Pearl.

I picked up a copy of Mom and Dad at a DVD clearance sale in the mall a few months back. I had never heard of it and wouldn’t have blinked twice at it except for the quote on the case from IndieWire: “NICOLAS CAGE IN FULL ON NUTZOID MODE.” Naturally, I bought it.

Mom and Dad follows a family during a pandemic of some kind that is never fully explained. One day, randomly, a mass hysteria causes parents to attempt to kill their children all across the country for twenty-four hours. Cage plays the Dad.

Objectively, this movie is kind of awful. It looks like it was filmed on a potato. Cage screams the hokey-pokey while he smashes a pool table for a minute-and-a-half. What’s not to love?

3. Willy’s Wonderland (2021)

Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland
Nicolas Cage plunges an animatronic in Willy’s Wonderland (2021) / Credit: David Newbert.

In Willy’s Wonderland, Nic Cage plays The Janitor. He is hired to be the cleanup crew at a Chuck E. Cheese lookalike pizzeria with an animatronic band fronted by a singing weasel named Willy. Of course, the band comes to life when the staff’s not looking. And they’re evil. To survive the night, The Janitor smacks the hell out of Willy and friends.

If the premise isn’t bizarre enough, Cage doesn’t utter a word during the film. He grunts his way through it, never straying from his goal of keeping the joint tidy. All the while, drinking these weird off-brand energy drinks. It seems like a commercial for the nonexistent product.

Since Cage is The Janitor, the weapons used against these animatronic creatures are all cleaning supplies straight from his janitor’s cart. Arguably, the wildest visual sequences of Nic Cage’s career come from Willy’s Wonderland. But maybe plunging a gorilla and strangling an ostrich are just a normal Tuesday night for Nic Cage. Five Nights At Freddy’s, eat your heart out.

2. Vampire’s Kiss (1988)

Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss
Nicolas Cage Loses It in Vampire’s Kiss (1988) / Credit: Stefan Czapsky.

In terms of raw insanity, Vampire’s Kiss is without comparison Nic Cage’s most deranged performance. It was a close contender for the number one slot on this list. Vampire’s Kiss is a genre-defying movie about a yuppie named Peter Loew losing his mind.

After a weird hookup and a bat attack in his apartment, Peter is convinced he is slowly turning into a vampire. Cage does what feels like an impression of a 1980s businessman Donald Trump as he goes from therapy, to work where he abuses his secretary, to trying to impale himself on a wooden stake.

Vampire’s Kiss is the movie that solidified the idea that there is nothing Cage won’t do. Other highlights of the film are Cage eating a live cockroach, biting a woman to death using plastic vampire teeth, shooting himself with gun full of blanks, and stealing a pigeon barehanded off the street.

Oh, and the cover photo on this article.

1. The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)

Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal in the Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal Tripping in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022) / Credit: Nigel Bluck.

There is no premise of a Cage film whackier. Here, Nic Cage plays himself. There’s slightly more of a plot than that, but that’s pretty much it.

Cage’s attendance is requested at the birthday party of an insane billionaire super-fan, Pedro Pascal (he is arguably not playing himself). Cage finds himself in the middle of a family crisis and an FBI/CIA-type informant gig busting a crime ring that the billionaire may be a part of. The story is made up of references to the prior history of Cage’s greatest hits and an adorable obsession with the Paddington films.

They drop acid, drive, and recreate some of Cage’s best scenes. It is without a doubt the most ridiculous of all of Cage’s films. You have to see it to believe it. It’s THE movie every self-respecting Cage should see at least once.

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twenty-three year old lover of film, books and rock n roll

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