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Nicolas Cage Research Part 1 – Career in Retrospect | Swimming the Styx

Nicolas Cage Research Part 1 – Career in Retrospect


“I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion.”

Nicolas Cage

  Nicolas Cage is a man who has in recent decades made a name for himself acting in a long list of movies from a wide variety of genres. Rightly or wrongly he has risen to the forefront of popular culture and his name is now one of the most well known actors of our time. But who is the man really? In this series of posts we’ll be delving into Nicolas Cage’s career by way of statistics gathered from IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes and Box Office Mojo. This post will look at basic descriptive stats and an overview of his career to date to provide a bit of background for upcoming posts. Future posts will seek to answer some of the nitty-gritty questions about Nicolas Cage that have been raised by popular culture, the author’s friends/colleagues or the internet. These will be answered in the most rigorous way possible given data constraints. Some insights into where Cage might be going next are also presented but they are of course entirely speculative.

Biography and Career Overview

Nicolas Cage Time Series Nicolas Cage first began appearing in films in the early 1980’s. Since then he has gone on to act in over 60 movies collecting an Academy Award along with countless other awards and nominations along the way. There is no denying he has achieved a level of success that few others have. Whether he deserves such praise and popularity is a different question entirely, but before answering it there is a more important question to answer: How did he get there? The graph to the right shows the movies of Cage and the IMDB rating (light blue), Rotten Tomatoes rating (dark blue) and total ratings received on IMDB (light green) for each one. This will be analysed in parts to show the different stages of his career. The background shading represents each segment of his career as they are described on the following pages.

Hand Holding: 1982 – 1986

Cage’s film debut was in 1982’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the age of 17. Following this Cage acted in various Comedies and Dramas several of which were directed by his Uncle Francis Ford Coppola. Though none of these films are particularly well recognized anymore, they do appear to do okay in terms of average ratings which rarely venture far from 7 out of 10 stars. The last film he made with Uncle Francis was Peggy Sue Got Married. This marks the beginning of the next stage of Cage’s career.

Bad Comedies, Romances and Dramas: 1987 – 1995

Cage proceeded to act in a number of fairly low budget and low key comedies, dramas and romances for the remainder of the 80’s and the first half of the 90’s. Few of these are well remembered and they show very sporadic ratings with scores dipping as low as 4 out of 10 stars. It seems having left his Uncle’s nest Cage was making some interesting movie choices. This segment ends in 1995 with Kiss of Death (which turned out to not be an omen). Strangely this marked the beginning of the Cage we know today.

90’s Breakthrough: 1995 – 1997

In the mid 1990’s Cage had a massive breakthrough. 1995 brought Leaving Las Vegas with it. It was a romantic drama in which for which Cage received an Academy Award for Best Actor. Cage followed Leaving Las Vegas with The Rock in 1996, then Con Air and Face/Off in 1997. They were directed by Michael Bay, Simon West and John Woo respectively and they were all very well received action flicks. This marks the beginning of the typecast Nicolas Cage we know so well today. Roles of the kind played in these movies are what Cage has become best known for. Most of his popular roles since then have been an emulation of these characters which are all essentially just Nicolas Cage being… well… Nicolas Cage (arguably the best kind of Cage there is). Unfortunately for Cage this spurt of productivity was short lived.

The Slump: 1998 – 2002

Following Face/Off he seemed to have some difficulty finding good roles. The rating for his movies trended downward steadily, though not to horrible levels. Apart from Gone in Sixty Seconds none of his movies until 2002 received a similar level of recognition to what his breakthrough movies did. Though not critically acclaimed, Gone in Sixty Seconds was well received among car freaks and those that were a fan of Cage just being himself.

The Phoenix: 2002 – 2005

That isn’t to say Cage was done though; he wasn’t. In 2002 he had another string of popular and well received films. This started with Adaption in 2002, Matchstick Men in 2003, National Treasure in 2004 and Lord of War in 2005. All received good ratings, from 6.8 to 7.7 stars and are quite well known. But this isn’t to say he had things completely worked out at this point either… he didn’t.

The Second Slump… and The Wickerman: 2005 – 2007

Cage’s choice of movies worsened again and from 2005 to 2007 he acted in a number of movies that were for the most part universally panned. This period also features a movie that is widely regarded as his worst: The Wicker Man. It achieved 3.6 stars (out of 10) on IMDB and is one his most resounding failures since his breakthrough in the 90’s. Though he’s had equally bad movies in the past, none of them are as recent or so well known in popular culture.

Coasting Along: 2007- Current

Since 2007 Cage has been laying relatively low. Although he’s made plenty of movies in that time, very few have been particularly noteworthy or entered into popular culture. The rating scores are average (not awful), but the stranger thing is that it appears most of his recent films have been flying under the radar completely with very few people watching or reviewing them at all. The only stand outs are National Treasure 2, Knowing and Kick-Ass. All others have hardly entered into popular culture.


Given the seemingly random path Nicolas Cage has been following to date it is impossible to say where he might be going next. We’ll be expanding on this in future posts.

Genre Changes

As noted above the kind of movies Cage has acted in has changed substantially over time. This is represented on the graph below which shows the genre keywords associated with his movies for a particular year. Note that movies will often have multiple keywords associated with them.
Movie Genre Shift It is interesting to observe how the types of movies he has been associated with have changed throughout his career. Shades of orange and red represent Action, Adventure, Thriller, Fantasy etc keywords. Shades of blue and green represent Comedy, Drama, Family or Animation keywords. Pink represents the Romance keyword. This correlates fairly well with the different segments of his career we looked at. Bad comedies, romances and dramas feature heavily until his 90’s breakthrough in 1995. After 1995 he begins spending more time on action films while spending less on comedies and dramas.

Up Next…

Expect more posts on Nicolas Cage soon. Soon we’ll be looking at testing a couple of key hypotheses: Is Nicolas Cage a good or a bad actor? Are his films getting progressively worse? Time will tell…

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