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Massive Talent on Mini Budgets: Nicolas Cage’s 11 Best Indie Films

Nicolas Cage is a bonafide movie star, but "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" is proof of his career-long commitment to indie films.

When IndieWire first launched at Sundance in 1996, it probably didn’t seem like an industry newsletter strictly focused on non-studio films would have much reason to write about Nicolas Cage. Yes, the eccentric “Wild at Heart” star was just a few weeks away from winning an Oscar for his performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” but his roles had otherwise been trending away from the experimentation that defined the early portion of his career, and towards more conventional multiplex fare like “Guarding Tess” and “It Could Happen to You.” By that point, anyone reading the Hollywood trades already knew that Cage’s next movie would be “The Rock” — if a time-traveler told them that Cage was going to wear John Travolta’s face in a John Woo pistol opera the following summer, odds are they’d say “yeah, that makes sense.”

And yet, you’d be hard-pressed to name an actor who’s been mentioned in as many IndieWire stories over the last 25 years. Sure, that says a lot about how radically this outlet expanded its remit as it evolved into a website and weathered the demands of digital publishing, but it says even more about how relevant and exciting Cage has remained across all facets of the American movie business over that span.

From the explosive highs of his Jerry Bruckheimer joints to the weirdo lows of his debt-mandated DTV mishegoss and the singular arthouse triumphs he continues to make whenever the stars align, Cage has consistently embraced the extremes of his craft in an age defined by corporate synergy and creative fecklessness. The mainstream success he achieved at the end of the 20th century made him a household name, but Cage’s outsized performances in Hollywood fare like “Ghost Rider” and “National Treasure” only cemented his status as someone who brings the wilderness with him wherever he goes.

Tom Gormican’s “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” in which Cage plays a version (or two) of himself, pays tribute to the movie star as an outsider artist. The indie meta-comedy riffs on the actor’s blockbusters, but it only has the ability — or the reason — to exist because of his career-long commitment to a truly independent cinema, which has never wavered since the days of “Wild at Heart” and “Vampire’s Kiss.”

For proof, we offer this decades-spanning list of the 11 greatest indies that Nicolas Cage has ever made.

Eric Kohn, Jude Dry, Ryan Lattanzio, and Christian Zilko also contributed to this article.

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