Nicolas Kim Coppola, nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola, wanted to build his career on his own merits. So the Oscar winner dropped the familiar surname in favor of Cage and has been going his own way ever since -- which is, to say, every way possible.
With the acting chops to move our souls and the ripped biceps of an action star, you'll have equal chances finding him in your local art house as in your mall's multiplex. Cage has worn endless hats -- and hairstyles.
And with his new flick "Drive Angry 3D" hitting theaters, we thought this would be a good time to look back at Cage's finest work and marvel at its dizzying diversity. And did we mention he once owned a castle in Germany?
9. 'National Treasure' (2004)
This lighthearted Disney adventure isn't just mindless entertainment -- it's also a great way to teach your kids about American history! When Benjamin Gates (Cage) goes hunting for treasure in the footsteps of his dad (Jon Voight, weirdly playing another treasure hunter's father) he discovers that our founding fathers were not just about shaping a democratic country of and by the people -- they were also really into hiding treasure in stupendously complicated ways. Okay, so the facts might not all be so factual, but this is still great fun for the whole family.
8. 'Kick-Ass' (2010)
Doing a hilariously halting Adam West impersonation, Cage plays Big Daddy, a wronged ex-cop who, with the help of his militarized daughter (the revelatory Chloe Moretz as Hit-Girl), teaches aspiring superhero Kick-Ass (Aaron Johnson) what it takes to really fight crime. Nic's real life love of comics has been manifested in totally normal ways such as his adoption of his favorite superhero, Luke Cages's, last name, and in christening his son Kal-El (the birth name of Superman). Which is all totally normal.
7. 'Valley Girl' (1983)
You see, boys and girls, back in the decade known (for reasons still unclear) as "the '80s" there was a certain stereotypical gal living in the San Fernando Valley region of L.A. She was spoiled and ditzy and regurgitated such catch phrases as "Gag me with a spoon!" and "Oh my God!" ad nauseam. If you'd like to bone up on your '80s history, this delightful relic is, like, totally, a must-see. It's also the first time Cage is credited as "Nicolas Cage." Tragically, the valley girl was eventually hunted to extinction.
6. 'Wild at Heart' (1990)
David Lynch's films always divide audiences into love-it or hate-it camps and this one's no exception. On its surface, "Wild at Heart" is the tale of a passionate romance between Cage and sexy co-star Laura Dern as mobsters pursue the couple across the country. But then Lynch gets all... well... Lynchian and suddenly Nic's having "Wizard of Oz" hallucinations. If you're into films that are a little off the beaten path, this one's for you. And if you like paths, you should probably steer clear of films with the word "Wild" in the title -- they're all subversive.
5. 'Face/Off' (1997)
We've got to take our hats off to director John Woo's modern facelift on the traditional showdown. On paper, the idea of Nic Cage and John Travolta swapping mugs and living in each other's shoes sounds... really stupid. But they totally pull it off (conceptually and face-wise)! And the two stars clearly have a blast impersonating each other while literally taking shots at themselves in this over-the-top action epic.
4. 'Moonstruck' (1987)
In this charming comic ode to love, food and Italian families, Cage, who was only 23 at the time, had no trouble summoning his powers of timeless manhood to play a 38-year-old and sweep a much-older Cher off her feet. Even with one hand cut off, he proved himself a viable romantic lead and won the hearts of women everywhere.
3. 'Raising Arizona' (1987)
Cage has never been funnier than as the lanky, mustache-clad H.I. McDunnough in this inspired romp from the Coen brothers, set in the boonies of Arizona. Between dispensing half-baked, yokel philosophies with Byronic elocution, and grappling with his hankering for holding up convenience stores, Cage gets his infertile wife (Holly Hunter) a baby the only way he knows how: He steals one. And that all happens before the opening credits.
2. 'Leaving Las Vegas' (1995)
This simple and moving story, based on the life of writer John O'Brien, follows an alcoholic screenwriter who vows to drink himself to death in Vegas. The heartbreaking role won Cage Best Actor at the Academy Awards, making him the fifth youngest to do so at the tender age of 32. O'Brien committed suicide while the film was shooting, and halting the production was considered. But in deference to the author, the film was completed on schedule and released to wide, critical acclaim. It also really bummed everyone out.
1. 'Adaptation' (2002)
The prefix "meta" gets thrown around so much these days by hipsters and wannabe intellectuals. So let's do it some more. There are few films quite as meta as genius screenwriter Charlie Kaufman's story about himself trying to write the film we, the audience are watching. Still with us? Brilliantly representing Kaufman in the tale is Cage, who not only plays the soul-scratching scribe, but also incarnates his fictitious twin who has no reservations writing commercial crap. Funny, touching and playful, Cage is most unforgettable when performing opposite... well... himself.