In defense of Nicolas Cage, the Internet's most memable actor

While many people today still have a poor view of Cage and his acting skills, he is a unique actor and one of the most talented working in the craft today.

Alexandre Aimbiré
5 min readApr 4, 2023

Nicolas Cage is one of the most recognizable faces to moviegoers everywhere. As an actor, he has a long and prolific career totaling over a hundred film and TV credits. His career spans over four decades and the roles and genres he has chosen along it are very diverse. They include Oscar-winning art-house films, such as 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, action and adventure blockbusters, and many box-office bombs, such as 2014’s Left Behind, a much-maligned Christian propaganda film based on the novel with the same name. He is known for not rejecting any movie roles and many of these choices stem from his much-publicized financial problems.

Having starred in many films that were poorly received by critics and audiences alike, Cage acquired a reputation as a ham actor. Even though he changed his stage name to distance himself from his uncle, film director Francis Ford Coppola, many critics still regard Cage as nothing more than the fruit of nepotism, and many others are turned down by his extravagant performances, which they consider overacting. Newer audiences who are not familiar with his early work mostly know him from internet memes. His unique style, which often involves screaming and exaggerated facial expressions has made him an internet staple, even earning him a dedicated article on the popular meme database Know Your Meme. However, more recent roles, such as his leading roles in Pig and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, where he plays a parody of himself, have shed new light on his career and, especially, on his acting style.

While many people today still have a poor view of Cage and his acting skills, he is a unique actor and one of the most talented working in the craft today. With a wide range of styles and influences, he delivers memorable and singular performances in every movie role, even the bad ones.

It is notorious that Cage has starred in a large number of bad films. However, he also did a lot of good movies and a significant number of critically acclaimed films. Looking at the scores in review score aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, out of a little over 100 film credits 44 of them fall into the “fresh” category, with more than 70% of the specialized critics having a positive rating of a film, and ten of them have over 90% score, which is considered by the site as “universal acclaim”. He worked with some of the most talented and notorious directors in modern cinema, such as Martin Scorsese, Werner Herzog, and David Lynch, who once said that he is the “jazz musician of american acting”. The amount of bad movies is still considerable but is a small fraction compared to his more acclaimed roles.

If he has done more good movies than bad movies, then why does he have the reputation of being a bad actor? Part of the reason may be attributed to the fact that most of the worst movies he has starred in were in the past fifteen years. The audience tends to remember more films that are more recent and there is a whole new generation of movie audiences who started going to cinemas in the last few years that are not akin to his more prestigious roles. However, as Stuart Miller of The Washington Post put it: “Cage remained Cage”.

Even though many of these films were not well received, Cage himself imprinted his unique style in the film, making them memorable. An example of this is 2006’s remake of the classic English horror film, The Wicker Man. With a 15% rating, this film would easily be forgettable, like many horror films that are screened during the summer in the United States. Cage, however, made the film into his own. While it may be hard to recollect the confusing plot of the film or any other of the actors in it, Cage screaming “Not the bees!” and “Why is it burned?” is permanently engraved into our minds and modern pop culture alike.

I'm just going to leave this here…

These flamboyant performances generated countless memes and short clips on websites like YouTube and were spread throughout the internet. This happens not only with the bad movies but also with some of his most well-received films as well. Cage’s acting style many times seems outrageous, especially when taken out of context. There are countless compilation videos of him screaming profanities and making funny faces on YouTube with thousands of views and they are akin to the physical comedy of actors such as Jim Carrey and Jerry Lewis. Arguably some of these memes and videos are more noteworthy than many films in the actor’s recent filmography.

Another reason why Cage’s career is so scorned is his out-of-the-ordinary acting style. Lindsay Gibb, the author of the book National Treasure: Nicolas Cage, argues that Cage is a character actor that has many leading roles and the audience expects a different approach to the acting in these roles. Since the emergence of the talkies, films with synchronized sound and pictures, in the 1930s, acting in American Cinema focused on realism and method acting, a technique in which an actor immerses himself in the role. Robert De Niro and Daniel Day-Lewis are examples of actors that employed method acting in their performances.

Pictured: A very serious actor

While he embraced method acting early in his career, Cage soon abandoned it, seeking to expand the craft into surrealism and experimentalism. Cage takes a completely different approach and experiments on every role, rejecting realism. Among his main influences is kabuki, a Japanese theater genre that combines acting, dancing, and singing with a great focus on physicality, and German Expressionism, a film movement from 1930s Germany. The physical part of the craft is one of his most important trademarks. Cage plans out meticulously every move he will make as a character.

It can be argued that Cage, contrary to what is expected of an actor, does not become the character. He allows the character to become himself, and that is one of the reasons why he is so memorable. Every performance he gives is unique, with him even going to the lengths of adopting a different voice for every role, although they are all Cage. It is almost impossible to picture any other actor performing the same role as him. Whether that be the dual role of Charlie and Donald Kaufmann in Adaptation or Cameron Poe in ConAir, he imprints himself into every role.

This article was originally written as an essay and final assignment for the Written Expression course at the English Language and Literature Undergraduate Program at Universidade de São Paulo in December of 2022.



Alexandre Aimbiré

Sociólogo de boteco, estudante de Letras, guitarrista ocasional, pai, marido e leitor ávido de caixas de sucrilhos. Leio e escrevo sobre o que me dá na telha.