It’s hard to imagine that there are some roles which Nicolas Cage actually turns down or doesn’t end up playing, since the guy crops up in about forty movies a year. Most of them go straight to DVD or video on demand. The odd couple of them manage to make it into theaters, although more people used to go to them back in the day when he was working with blockbuster directors like Michael Bay and Ridley Scott, and it’s hard to imagine him winning an Oscar today, but historically, he will be remembered as a great and legendary actor. Here are 10 iconic movie roles that were almost played by Nicolas Cage.
10. Andy Garcia’s role in The Godfather Part III
Francis Ford Coppola never actually intended to make a third Godfather movie, since he considered the first two to have told the story of the Corleone crime family perfectly from start to finish. In other words, he didn’t want to do a third movie because the series didn’t need a third movie. But after the monstrous success of the first two – both critically and financially – the studio begged him to complete the trilogy. So, he made the third movie less as a staggering climax to his masterpiece and more as a postscript or an afterthought or an epilogue. Still, audiences went in expecting the staggering climax and so they left the theater feeling underwhelmed and disappointed. As a result, the movie has become maligned. It’s not much of a story about Michael Corleone – it’s more about Andy Garcia’s character Vincent Mancini and Michael’s daughter Mary. Nicolas Cage was one of the actors considered for the role of Vincent, along with Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise, Matt Dillon, Val Kilmer, Charlie Sheen, and Billy Zane. Given that Coppola would eventually be accused of nepotism for casting his daughter as Mary Corleone instead of Winona Ryder, perhaps it was for the best that he didn’t cast his nephew Nicolas Cage as Vincent. Plus, Andy Garcia was great in the role.
When Christopher Nolan stepped in to reboot the Batman movie franchise, he gave us a dark and twisted version of the origin story that featured the iconic comic book villains Ra’s al Ghul and the Scarecrow. Nolan got his regular collaborator Cillian Murphy to play the Scarecrow, but back when Joel Schumacher was planning to make a third Batman movie after he had left the franchise dead in the water with an abysmal entry starring Val Kilmer and an abysmal entry starring George Clooney, he wanted to cast Nicolas Cage as the Scarecrow. The plan was to get Clooney back to play Batman for a second time, Chris O’Donnell back as Robin, Alicia Silverstone back as Batgirl, and for God knows what reason, Courtney Love as Harley Quinn. Given how terrible Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies were – eschewing the dark, gloomy, gothic, noir-ish imagery of the comics for lighthearted comedy, bright visuals, campy dialogue, and lazy storytelling – it’s easy to imagine this sucking. But Nicolas Cage as the Scarecrow probably would’ve been a lot of fun. Plus, it might not have been all bad, since Schumacher was hoping to use this film to achieve redemption in the eyes of Batman fans. He said that he felt he “owe[d] the Batman culture a real Batman movie. I would go back to the basics and make a dark portrayal of the Dark Knight.”
8. Iron Man
It’s hard to imagine anybody besides Robert Downey, Jr. playing the role of Tony Stark on the big screen, since he has proven to suit the role so well and has starred in all kinds of movies in the role over the past ten years in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But on the long road that it took to get the Iron Man character his own movie, a ton of different actors were considered for the role, including Nicolas Cage. It has long been a well known fact that Nicolas Cage is a comic book nerd. He paid through the nose for a copy of the first ever comic book to feature the character of Superman and he took his stage name from the superhero character Luke Cage from the Marvel Comics universe. As far back as 1997, Nicolas Cage had shown his interest in playing the Iron Man character in a movie. This was before Bryan Singer had brought the X-Men to the silver screen and before Sam Raimi had done the same with Spider-Man, so there was no guarantee that movies based on Marvel Comics would find any success at the box office (obviously, there is that guarantee now). By 1998, Cage had been replaced by Tom Cruise and the rest is history.
Yes, Nicolas Cage was under consideration for the role of Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of the literary works of J.R.R. Tolkien, but he turned it down (Daniel Day Lewis, Russell Crowe, and Vin Diesel reportedly did the same before Viggo Mortensen got the part). He hasn’t necessarily said that he regrets turning down the part, but he has cryptically noted that he “probably would have benefited from [doing the trilogy] if circumstances in my life allowed me to [take the role].” It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Since he’s not in it, Cage gets to enjoy watching the movie, simply in the capacity of a moviegoer. If you’re in it, it ruins the viewing experience. Cage explained, “The thing is about those movies, I can watch them. I can enjoy them as an audience member. I don’t really watch my own movies. And so, I genuinely do have the joy of watching these.” It’s kind of awesome to picture an Aragorn played by Nic Cage in Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking blockbuster trilogy, but then again, if Cage had played the character, then the world might not have Viggo Mortensen and all the striking performances he’s given us in darker, artsier films since his time in Middle-earth, so maybe it was for the best that Cage didn’t take the role of Aragorn.
6. John Bender
When John Hughes was casting his high school comedy masterpiece The Breakfast Club (which actually does not stand the test of time, given the current #MeToo climate and the fact that sexual assault and misogyny are played for laughs a lot in the movie), he knew that the whole success of the film was resting on the cast, so he was very careful. Those actors and their chemistry could make or break his movie. For the role of John Bender, he was extra careful. Nicolas Cage was in the running, but his asking price turned out to be too expensive for the film’s budget, so that put him out of the race. At first, Hughes cast John Cusack in the role of John Bender when his search came down to Cusack and Judd Nelson on the shortlist. However, just before filming, the director got cold feet about Cusack and replaced him with Nelson. Hughes feared that Cusack did not look threatening enough to play the part, so he got the rougher and edgier looking Nelson to play the part. It’s fair to say that Hughes made the right decision, since Nelson fits the role perfectly, carries the whole movie, and made John Bender a memorable and iconic character.
If Nicolas Cage had taken the Wachowski siblings up on their offer of the lead role of Thomas Anderson – better known as Neo – in The Matrix, their blend of martial arts movies, anime, Lewis Carroll allusions, wuxia cinema, William Gibson brand cyberpunk, and science fiction, then Keanu Reeves wouldn’t have gotten the redemptive comeback that his career desperately needed in the late ‘90s. He wouldn’t have been reinvented as the action movie badass and today’s generation probably wouldn’t know him as John Wick – they wouldn’t know him at all. So, it’s probably for the best that Cage didn’t take the role, the reason for which he cites as “family obligations,” but it is an interesting thought. The Wachowskis had initially wanted Cage to play Neo, Sean Connery to play Morpheus (which is a crazy idea, considering how perfect Laurence Fishburne turned out to be for the role), and Janet Jackson to play Trinity. The directors also considered Will Smith for the part of Neo, although he feared that he was “not mature enough as an actor” at the time, while the studio wanted Brad Pitt or Val Kilmer for the role. Luckily, it ended up in Reeves’ hands and he carried that movie straight to the top.
4. Harry in Dumb and Dumber
It will either be really difficult or really easy to imagine that Nicolas Cage is very close personal friends with Jim Carrey. On the one hand, they are both vastly different people with vastly different careers and aspirations. On the other hand, they are huge personalities and considered to be two of the craziest, wackiest, daffiest actors working in Hollywood right now. So, it’s a double edged sword. Either it makes sense or it doesn’t. But they are, and back in the ‘90s, they were looking for a project to do together. When the Farrelly brothers came along with an insane script about two idiots driving across America to return a briefcase full of money to someone, Carrey initially wanted Cage to star alongside him in the film. Cage had to turn it down, because at the time, he wanted to do a smaller and more intimate movie. So, he did Leaving Las Vegas and ended up winning an Oscar for it. Jeff Daniels ended up doing a fantastic job in the role of Harry Dunne. He manages to hold his own next to Carrey and the two have incredible chemistry together. It’s sad that Cage and Carrey never got to do a movie together, but as it stands, Dumb and Dumber is one of the funniest movies ever made.
3. Willy Wonka
It’s silly to even imagine a world where Tim Burton makes a movie and then doesn’t cast Johnny Depp as the eccentric male lead, but when he was working with Warner Bros. to make a weird, surreal, gothic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – which had already been adapted in the past with Gene Wilder in the role of Willy Wonka, much to Dahl’s dismay – a few actors were considered, including Nicolas Cage. Other actors considered for the part of Wonka besides Cage include just about every movie star under the sun: Bill Murray, Jim Carrey, Michael Keaton, Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Adam Sandler – the list goes on and on and on. And even prior to Burton’s involvement, a mass of actors were considered: Christopher Walken, Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Robert De Niro (seriously, picture that), Mike Myers, Ben Stiller, Leslie Nielsen, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Michael Palin (those last three are all Pythons and probably would’ve done a hilarious job as Wonka), and oddly enough, Patrick Stewart. For Burton’s very particular vision for the movie, it’s pretty obvious that his main man Johnny Depp was the right guy for the role, but it would have been interesting to see some of these guys play Wonka – especially Nic Cage.
Nicolas Cage was the first actor to be offered the role of Shrek in what would go on to become a massively popular animated movie franchise, but he turned it down. The role then went to Chris Farley, and when Farley died, it ended up in the hands of the Canadian comedy actor who would eventually hammer it home and turn the character into a screen icon with his sultry Scottish accent: Mike Myers. In 2013, Cage elaborated on his decision to turn down the role of Shrek. As it turns out, he doesn’t regret turning down one of the most memorable and beloved roles in film history. He compared Shrek to the DreamWorks Animation character that he would eventually play: Grug, the protective patriarch of a family of prehistoric cavepeople. He explained why he turned down Shrek and yet accepted the part of Grug: “Well, the news said it was because of vanity. I think that’s a bit strong. But the truth is, I’m not afraid to be ugly in a movie…When you’re drawn, in a way, it says more about how children are going to see you than anything else, and I so care about that. I want kids to look at Grug [and think] ‘Well, he’s a little scary, but he’s a big teddy bear.’ And I wasn’t sure I could do that with Shrek.” Fair enough. Luckily, Mike Myers was up to the challenge.
This is easily the most documented and well known lost role of Nicolas Cage. A whole documentary was made about the Superman movie that could’ve been a couple of years ago. The film was to be directed by Tim Burton and a draft of the script was written by Kevin Smith to include a fight between the Man of Steel and a gigantic mechanical spider. Cage is known to be a huge comic book nerd with a particular affinity for the last son of Krypton, so he would have seriously relished this role if the studio had been able to work it out. The plot of all drafts of the script that exist are taken loosely from the iconic “The Death of Superman” storyline from the comic books. The film would see Cage’s Superman squaring off against Brainiac in Metropolis, ultimately dying before being resurrected by his guardian K, who then acts as his suit, artificially producing all of his powers, for the big finale. It’s pretty easy to see how goddamn awesome this movie would’ve been. If the circumstances had just been a little different with the cast and the crew and scheduling and funding and business and the industry at the time, then this little number could be a DVD title on all of our shelves right now.