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Nic Cage's 7 greatest performances you should watch before seeing 'Renfield'

Get in the Cage! Before Renfield arrives, check out Drive Angry on Peacock and our list of his best genre performances.

By Josh Weiss
Renfield (2023)

Ah, yes ... Nicolas Cage. One of the most fascinating thespians of this (or any) generation. The man, as Willy's Wonderland director Kevin Lewis remarked to SYFY WIRE a few years ago, is a cinematic genre "unto himself."

There's no one like Nicolas Cage, except Nicolas Cage.

Whether he's playing a neurotic treasure hunter, a struggling screenwriter, or an agent of Satan himself, the actor never goes half-ass. His performances are always unique in some way, shape, or form. Cage's Hollywood career is so storied, in fact, that director Tom Gormican looked back on the man's onscreen tenure through the lens of meta comedy. The end result was the critically acclaimed The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which opened last year and starred Cage as a heightened version of himself.

That movie is a wild and unabashed love letter to its leading man — who we'll next see in Universal Pictures' Renfield, due out April 14. Cage stars as Count Dracula in Renfield, while Nicholas Hoult plays the title character, the vampire's servant. 

And if you can't wait to catch Cage in that, check him out in another supernatural horror, Drive Angry, now streaming on Peacock

To help you prepare for Renfield and a rewatch of Drive Angry, head below for our seven favorite genre performances from the one, the only, Nicolas Cage...

1. Peter Loew in Vampire's Kiss (1988)

Nicolas Cage in Vampire's Kiss (1988)

Not only did Vampire's Kiss serve as the basis for the "You Don't Say" meme (see the image above), it also features Nic Cage running through the streets screaming "I'M A VAMPIRE! I'M A VAMPIRE!" at the top of his lungs. It's a great primer for both Massive Talent and Renfield.

Fate nearly deprived the world of such an iconic performance when the actor briefly dropped out of the project (via the film's commentary track) following pressure from his agent. Luckily, Cage changed his mind and the insane character of Peter Loew — a literary executive who truly believes he's been turned into a blood-sucker — was born. Co-star Kasi Lemmons described him best while speaking to The Ringer for a 2016 retrospective: "He was a little kooky."

2. Castor Troy/Sean Archer in Face/Off (1997)

Nicolas Cage and John Travolta in Face/Off (1997)

Cage starts Face/Off as demented domestic terrorist Castor Troy before his performance dictates that he pretend to be John Travolta pretending to be Castor Troy. We promise it's not as confusing as it sounds.

John Woo's 1997 action-thriller wouldn't be half as entertaining without Cage's gonzo commitment to the role. Massive Talent pays homage to the villainous role in a big way via the character of Javi (Pedro Pascal), a Nicolas Cage super-fan who owns a life-sized sculpture of Castor Troy — complete with the character's dual golden guns.

"The more I got involved with the script, the more I became aware that there was something in this character that could be brand-new," the actor said during an interview in 1997. "The more I mediated on it, the idea of wearing the face of the man that killed my son ... it's an extreme situation and I like extreme situations. I like to play extreme situations, so there was a lot of material there for me to explore."

3. Charlie & Donald Kaufman in Adaptation (2002)

Nicolas Cage in Adaptation (2002).

Fun fact: Massive Talent was not Nic Cage's first foray into the realm of meta comedy. That particular honor goes to Adaptation, Spike Jonze's second directorial effort from 2002, which also happened to stem from the ever-intriguing mind of Charlie Kaufman.

Cage tackles a dramatized version of Kaufman, who has been tasked with the particularly tricky job of adapting The Orchid Thief (a real book, by the way) into a movie. The Kaufman of our world really did try to turn the novel into a screenplay, but couldn't quite crack the code. A mix of autobiography and Hollywood fantasy, the film also features Kaufman's fictional twin brother Donald in a prominent role (played by Cage, of course).

"When people say, 'I love Donald,' I get jealous because I don't remember playing Donald," Cage admitted during a video fo GQ in 2018. "I was so into the Charlie Kaufman headspace and Charlie and I would spend hours interviewing. I would interview Charlie and I tape recorded all the interviews. He said, 'Well, I'm gonna let you do this if you promise it never goes anywhere.' And I said, 'Charlie, I'm gonna light them on fire, I promise you.' And I did! I poured kerosene on it, lit them all on fire [and] they're all gone."

4. Ben Gates in National Treasure (2004)

Nicolas Cage in National Treasure (2004)

What do you think of when you hear the words "National Treasure"? There's only one correct answer: Nicolas Cage stealing the Declaration of Independence. In all seriousness, though, this Disney-produced franchise is an Indiana Jones-style adventure series for the modern age that never pales in comparison to the swashbuckling adventures of yesteryear.

Cage's portrayal of Benjamin Gates, a man fascinated by and committed to preserving the American mythology, is really what helps the material transcend its genre trappings. Cage turns what could have easily been campy schlock into an emotional journey by making the audience actually care about the characters as well as the history (however apocryphal it may be).

Speaking to IGN in 2004, Cage likened his passion for acting to Gates' passion for history: "I have had my obsessions, and he certainly is a character who's obsessed about this treasure, this marvelous Templar treasure, and has devoted his entire life and groomed himself to figure out exactly what he needs to do to find it, in the face of great ridicule. And I think I've been obsessed over the years with where I could go with acting, or how I could challenge myself with that."

5. Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider (2007)

Nicholas Cage in Ghost Rider (2007)

This version of classic Marvel character Johnny Blaze has more in common with Nicolas Cage than he does with the hero on the page. That's because the actor playing him made a few creative suggestions, including Johnny's love of Karen Carpenter, chimpanzees, and eating jelly beans out of a martini glass. And when the hero ultimately transforms into the skull-headed, hog-riding Spirit of Vengeance, things go over the top and around again.

"One of my favorite tonalities is horror and comedy," Cage remarked in 2006 (via MTV). "I wanted to see if we could get that or aspire to some sense of that. The character is absurd, it's an absurd situation. You can't take it too seriously, and that's why I wanted to make sure that we were playful."

6. Edward Malus in The Wicker Man (2006)

Nicolas Cage in The Wicker Man (2006).

A remake of the 1973 cult horror classic, the '06 version of The Wicker Man (written and directed by Neil LaBute) contains what may very well be the most important Nicolas Cage line delivery of all time: "NOT THE BEES!" Endlessly parodied online in the form of memes, reaction .gifs, and hit pieces, the over-the-top performance represents Cage at his most unhinged. Instead of pretending that the online ridicule doesn't exist, the actor suggested that Massive Talent feature a small nod to his Wicker Man antics.

"People seem to enjoy it more thinking it was unintentionally funny, but whatever, the audience is never wrong," he said during an interview with Empire magazine. "I thought, 'Okay, let's play with their Frankenstein Monster. Let's play with the 'Not the bees' meme.'"

7. The Janitor in Willy's Wonderland (2020)

Nicolas Cage in Willy's Wonderland (2021)

As close to a Five Nights at Freddy's movie as you're going to get for the time being, Willy's Wonderland is all about a totally silent Nicolas Cage fighting evil animatronics at a rundown pizza arcade. Seriously, what's not to like about that premise?

In between fights, our taciturn protagonist slurps down can after can of "Punch Pop" soda and attempts to get the high score on a pinball machine — all while fulfilling his duties as the night shift janitor (he's agreed to clean up the place in exchange for his car getting serviced).

"Nic's the coolest because he's a genre unto himself and so, I think he really liked the project because of not speaking," director Kevin Lewis explained to SYFY WIRE in 2020. "It's a challenge. I think a lot of other actors would be nervous ... He's just a great guy, works so hard, and really cared about the movie. He had a passion for it."

Renfield hits theaters April 14. For more Cage craziness, head on over to Peacock, where Drive Angry is now streaming.