It may seem hard to believe, but only two decades ago Nic Cage was a highly respected leading man who was cashing some of the biggest checks in Hollywood. He as a bonafide star and the studios loved him. He could give you the Oscar bait like Leaving Las Vegas or go balls to the ball in something like Face/Off

The word you're looking for is versatile. 

He was getting twenty million dollars a movie for things like Con Air and The Rock and rode that fame into becoming a household name. 

People loved working with him. Jerry Bruckheimer once said, “You never know where he’s going. You know, certain actors, you watch them and you know their mannerisms. You know what they’re going to give you. With Nic, you never know what’s going to happen, you he’s going to take a scene, what he’s going to do with a scene, what he does with a character.”

So what happened? 

Last night I was scrolling Hulu and saw that Nic Cage was starring in a digital movie about a white panther he smuggles out of South America...

Where did Nic Cage go? 

The answer is tricky. 

It's safe to say Nic Cage's talent went nowhere. In the last few years he has been astounding in Mandy, fun in Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse, and gloriously ridiculous in Mom and Dad.  

But frankly, he phoned it in for Primal, A Score to Settle feels like he's against trying, and Left Behind is confounding. That's not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to his tendencies. 

As Luke Buckmaster wrote in The Guardian"In Cage's hands, cartoonish moments are imbued with real emotion and real emotions become cartoons. Everything – from individual scenes down to single lines of dialogue – feel like they have been embraced as opportunities for creation. Cage is usually interesting even when his films are not. He is erratic and unpredictable; he is captivating and he is capricious. He is a performer. He is a troubadour. He is a jazz musician."

The jazz of Cage's career is somehow unfathomable. I look at roles like Adaptation, Moonstruck, 8mm, and Matchstick Men and I see one of the singular talents of all time. And even the movies he's not trying in, he brings this ethos that is almost undefinable. 

We got here for a number of reasons...mostly because Nicolas Cage brought us here through his on and off-screen life. 

It's no secret that his tax problems and massive debt forced Cage to find a way to recoup millions of dollars as fast as possible. That led to him taking all the roles offered that met his quote or paid a decent amount. 

That influx of bad stuff along with good stuff diluted his brand. 

Meanwhile, it's not like he was living a quiet life. His over the top antics brought critics and cameras and made him stick out when he was in movies and TV shows. That sticking out limited the good projects that got sent to him. 

People want actors who either blend in or stick out for the right reasons. 

Still, I want to maintain that Cage has been able to use his name and image for projects that he deemed matter. He's so amazing in Mandy that I found myself lost in the narrative. And although Mom and Dad only got mediocre reviews, I found Cage's personality to be the main reason I had fun watching. It was so fun seeing him actually lose his mind. 

Even looking back and watching something like Raising Arizona, there were hints of this almost auteur actor quality. The movies now change to involve his presence, instead of him changing to be in the movies. 

A project like National Treasure really works and does this well, a thing like World Trade Center might not. 

Either way, Cage has become his own brand. And his upcoming starring role as The Tiger King seems to directly feed that frenzy. 

Are you a Cage lover, hater, appreciator? Let me know in the comments!