Of all the great mysteries in Hollywood, perhaps the most inexplicable one is Nicolas Cage. For years, we the audience have witnessed the up-and-down trajectory of the Oscar winner’s career which began in the early 1980’s. He’s had plenty of hits, and just as many misses (arguably many more misses), but the silver lining in this great cinematic story is his newfound cult-hero status.
Indeed, the notoriously over-the-top actor has achieved a late level of success in recent years, not so much for his repetoire of forgettable characters of the last 10 years, but more so for his great performances of yesterday. If you’re a cinephile, like all of us here, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Cage has done his fair share of stinkers, but his performances are always memorable. He’s intense, and he knows it.
So the question becomes, why does he do so many bad movies? After all, he is a decorated member of the acting community and he’s worked with some of the best filmmakers in the business. We challenged ourselves with this very quandary, and we have formulated our own hypothesis – Nic Cage is a masochist. We’ve uncovered a number of roles in memorable films that the actor turned down, and a few of them are quite perplexing. Let’s have a look at some of them.
7. THE WRESTLER
Darren Aronofsky’s 2008 chronicle of aging, washed-up professional wrestler Randy “The Ram” Robinson drew high praise for all-but-disappeared actor Mickey Rourke, and is primarily regarded as the film that made him a star again. He also earned an Academy Award nomination for his performance, along with universal praise from audiences and critics alike.
What many do not know, however, is that originally, Aronofsky had offered the role to Nicolas Cage. For months, Cage’s name was attached to the project in some capacity, but in the end he turned it down. The story goes that the film had been in development for years and was written for Rourke specifically, but financiers weren’t too keen on working with the troubled star.
That’s when Cage entered the Fray. Both actors are friends, and Cage graciously bowed out to give Rourke the opportunity when it looked like Aronofsky was able to convince producers to give the role to him. What a guy.
But still – can you imagine Cage playing a professional wrestler? Yikes.
6. DUMB AND DUMBER
By far, the most successful comedy of the early to mid-90’s was Dumb & Dumber. To that end, it may be one of the most successful comedies of all time. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly struck gold with their story of Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas, two slightly deranged Rhode Island losers who unknowingly insert themselves into the middle of a kidnapping plot. The endlessly quotable film has endured for 20 years, and it helped put veteran actor Jeff Daniels and comedy superstar Jim Carrey on the map.
It might surprise you to learn that at one time, Nicolas Cage was pursued for the role of Harry. Yes. The lovable goofball played by Jeff Daniels was almost played by Nicolas Cage. Jim Carrey aggressively tried to convince Cage (they’re friends) to take on the role, but he ultimately passed.
Instead, he moved on to Leaving Las Vegas – the film that earned him his first and only Academy Award. In the end, each side won. Jeff Daniels just simply is Harry, and I can’t imagine anybody else trying to fill those shoes. His chemistry with Carrey was pitch perfect, and we can’t wait to see them reunite later this year for Dumb and Dumber To.
Although if you really use your imagination, you can vaguely put together that Cage-injected Harry. Conclusion: TERRIFYING.
Although not regarded as one of the most memorable contributions to the DC Comics big-screen brand, 2005’s Constantine has still remained on a number of radars due to its cult status. Starring Keanu Reeves as the eponymous character, Constantine tells the story of a supernatural detective who battles demons for a living. While helping a police detective prove her sister did not commit suicide, Constantine stumbles into conflict with the worst creatures that Hell has to offer. The film, from director Francis Lawrence, is beautifully shot with the only flaw being a sometimes weak script. Even so, it’s still entertaining.
At one time, Nic Cage himself was actually cast in the role of John Constantine with director Tarsem Singh (The Immortals) at the helm. Some disagreements over the direction of the film caused a rift between Warner Brothers and Singh, which ultimately led to Lawrence and Reeves boarding the project. The rest is history as they say. Cage would end up starring as the title character in Marvel’s Ghost Rider films, but like Constantine, they didn’t do very well commercially.
As it goes, Reeves was actually a perfect choice for the role, and Cage just wasn’t a good fit.
4. THE BREAKFAST CLUB
John Hughes seminal 80’s brat-pack comedy/drama The Breakfast Club may be one of the most timeless films ever made. The story of five different high school students from different social classes serving a Saturday detention has been a source of endless parody and inspiration to young filmmakers the world over.
It also made actor Judd Nelson an overnight star as the rebellious John Bender, an outcast with a cantankerous and combative attitude. It’s an iconic role that has shown up in different films, as different characters throughout the genre ever since.
When the film was in development, Nelson was not the only actor approached for the part. Folks like Nicolas Cage and John Cusack vied for the role as well. Cusack’s involvement almost instantly vanished, because Hughes felt he wasn’t intimidating enough. Cage eventually lost interest in the role, and it became Nelson’s for the taking.
Since the mid-90’s, Nelson’s most significant contribution to cinema was a role as “The Sheriff” in Kevin Smith’s Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back in 2001. After that, it’s been a series of small TV appearances, straight-to-DVD films and a bunch of SyFy Channel originals like Bigfoot Wars. Maybe Cage dodged a bullet here?
Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor’s high-octane action spectacle Crank is a crown jewel for British badass Jason Statham. He plays hitman Chev Chalios, who learns that his life is in danger. A rival assassin has injected him with a formula that will kill him if his adrenaline levels drop below a certain rate. The film is notable for the insane stunts Statham performs to get his heart rate up, and it’s one of his more memorable characters to date.
Neveldine and Taylor later revealed that they had written the role of Chalios with Nicolas Cage in mind. After seeing the film, you can definitely envision how Cage’s trademark explosiveness could have served the character well. Ultimately, he ended up passing on the role, paving the way for Statham to take it on.
Cage did, however, star in Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengence, which Neveldine and Taylor directed, so maybe it was serendipity that he passed on Crank… or not, because Ghost Rider 2 is complete garbage.
2. THE MATRIX
Many will argue that The Matrix has and always will be Keanu Reeves most iconic role. Released in 1999 from the Wachowski Brothers, the film tells the story of an antisocial computer hacker who learns that the reality he’s always known is manufactured, and that he plays a key role in the war to stop those who control it.
The Matrix is one of the most original entries in the sci-fi genre within the last 30 years. It spawned a trilogy (although both sequels were not as well-received) that eventually would gross a staggering $1.6 billion in worlwide ticket sales, making it one of the most successful franchises in recent film history.
Cage was initially offered the role of Neo, but in his own words, turned it down because he wasn’t interested in spending a lot of time in Australia where The Matrix was shot. Yes, so he turned down a chance for millions of dollars because he didn’t want to spend a couple of months on one of the coolest continents in the world. Makes perfect sense to me. Are we seeing a pattern here folks?
1. THE LORD OF THE RINGS TRILOGY
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for most of your life, then you’ve no doubt seen Peter Jackson’s big screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendary book series The Lord Of The Rings. The epic trilogy of films (The Fellowship Of The Ring, The Two Towers, Return Of The King), made actor Viggo Mortensen one of the most sought-after actors in Hollywood, and has led to opportunities working with some of the world’s best directors.
Cage himself revealed few years back that he and Peter Jackson discussed the possibility of Cage playing the role of Aragorn, the man who would be king, in the series. Cage seriously considered boarding the project, but ultimately declined when he learned that he would have to commit almost three years to the ambitious trilogy and temporarily move to New Zealand, where the film was shot. He decided he would rather spend that time with his family.
Honestly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot for the life of me picture any actor other than Mortensen playing Aragorn. He was perfect, and brought to the role just the right amount of stoicism and boldness that the character required. But still, Cage doesn’t seem to want to do himself any favors, does he?