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If his list of credits is any indication, there is nothing Nicolas Cage can't do.
The enigmatic, Oscar-winning actor has been a stalwart of American cinema since 1982, when he made his on-screen debut in the high school classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Since then, he has gone on to appear in over 100 movies, ranging from his Academy-Award winning performance in 1995's Leaving Las Vegas (1995) to his iconic role as Benjamin Gates in 2004's National Treasure. Most recently, he turned in an all-timer performance as a troubled truffle forager in 2021's Pig.
But we’re not here to talk about any of those movies. We're here to talk about his first venture into comic book movies: 2007's Ghost Rider. Both that film, and its bonkers sequel, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, celebrate their 15th and 10th anniversaries, respectfully, this week. Both films star Cage as Johnny Blaze – AKA “Ghost Rider” – the famous Marvel antihero with a flaming skull and an also-flaming motorcycle for his method of transportation. Ghost Rider was Cage’s first foray into the superhero world, and since then, he has appeared in five other movies in that genre. So, because this is SYFY and not the Academy Awards, we are going to be ranking all six of these films.
6. GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (2012)
Spirit of Vengeance makes its predecessor seem like The Dark Knight in comparison. Cage plays the titular Ghost Rider, but he feels like a completely different character than the one the original Ghost Rider movie introduced us to. The 2007 film portrayed him as a raw antihero; here, Spirit of Vengeance completely flips the script and tries to make him a fast-talking and sarcastic action hero, and it just doesn’t really work. Not to mention that the movie – which surprisingly managed to recruit Idris Elba into its cast – has a contrived plot that feels more like bad Ghost Rider fanfiction. It’s no surprise that after Spirit of Vengeance was met with poor reviews and underwhelming box office, Cage said he was done with the character.
5. GHOST RIDER (2007)
One of Cage’s most endearing qualities as an actor is that, no matter the role, he gives it more than his fullest. Like, at all times. To that point, Ghost Rider is by no means a great movie, but Cage’s Marvel debut sees him truly embody the unhinged essence of Johnny Blaze. Cage is absolutely going for it here, and delivers the campy dialogue with a perfect tinge of action-movie gusto. In one fight scene, Cage’s Ghost Rider is about to kill Gressil, a demonic crony of the villainous Blackheart. As Cage hoists his iconic fiery chain into the air, Gressil squeals, “Please, have mercy!” Cage then responds, in perfect, over-the-top bravado, “Sorry…all out of mercy!” and proceeds to murder the hapless antagonist.
Ghost Rider isn’t in the upper tier of pre-MCU Marvel movies (nor even the middle tier), but that is certainly not Nic Cage’s fault.
4. ASTRO BOY (2009)
So why did no one tell me that Astro Boy is secretly about coping with grief and learning to move on after a tragedy? Because this movie really should have come with an emotional warning label.
In Cage's first animated superhero movie, he voices Dr. Tenma, the head of the Ministry of Science of Metro City and a grief-stricken parent. Dr. Tenma’s son, Toby, is accidentally killed during a test run of one of his own creations, prompting him to create Astro, a robot boy in whom all of his son’s memories have been uploaded. Throughout the movie, Dr. Tenma is torn between rejecting Astro for failing to replace his human son and accepting him as the beacon of hope in his life that was previously lacking. Thankfully, this is a children’s movie (although my description so far definitely wouldn’t make you think that), and Dr. Tenma and Astro live happily ever after as father and son. Like always, Cage gives it his all, and what more can you ask of an animated scientist?
3. TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES (2018)
One of DC's most underrated films, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is a clever, entertaining addition to the company's animated canon. This funny and entertaining 84-minute romp centers around the Teen Titans’ ambitions to star in their own superhero movie after seeing all of their DC contemporaries receive their own live-action turn on the silver screen. Cage voices Superman, except his version of Clark Kent is more concerned with looking good on camera than saving the citizens of Metropolis. What makes this tongue-in-cheek role even better is that Cage had originally been cast as Superman in Tim Burton’s infamously cancelled Superman Lives, back in the late '90s. He didn't get to don the red cape and blue tights then, but this movie serves as a solid consolation prize.
2. KICK-ASS (2010)
Based on the ultra-violent comic by Mark Millar and John Romita Jr., Kick-Ass casts Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready, an ex-cop who moonlights as a DIY, Batman-inspired vigilante by the name of Big Daddy. He works alongside his daughter, the trained killer Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), to seek revenge revenge against the Mafia boss who framed him years earlier. Cage plays the dual nature of the character in exhilarating fashion, alternating between a calm-yet-controlling father figure and a ruthless, violent crime fighter. In terms of emotional superhero movie moments, it doesn’t get much better than the scene where, right before he dies, Big Daddy tells his daughter that he is proud of her. Kick-Ass is a wonder of a movie and is one of the strongest and most entertaining performances of Cage’s career.
1. SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE (2018)
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse redefined what animated storytelling could do in the superhero genre, and although Nicolas Cage only plays a supporting role in it, he steals every scene that he’s in.
Cage voices Spider-Man Noir, a black-and-white version of Spider-Man from a 1930s universe who enters into Miles Morales’ dimension and says things like, “You gonna fight or you just bumping guns, you hard-boiled turtle snapper?” Although he doesn’t quite understand the complexity of a Rubik’s Cube, Spider-Man Noir is one of the various “other” Spider-Men who helps Miles defeat Kingpin en route to returning back to his pulpy, ‘30s underbelly of a universe. Here’s to hoping our black-and-white friend makes a return in the sequels.