10 Amazing Roles Almost Played by Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage has a rare combination of gifts amongst Hollywood stars. He's simultaneously a wonderful actor (consider Cage's award-winning performances) and, clearly, a totally out-there person. When you're watching a Nicolas Cage performance, he's expertly portraying a character while also showing us the most insane possible incarnation of that character.

So Honeymoon in Vegas isn't just about some poor schmo whose new bride gets stolen away by a scheming professional gambler. It's about that same set-up happening to a nutcase whose response is to run around Hawaii eloquently swearing at strangers. Face/Off could have been a story about a government agent who trades identities with a mercenary in order to foil an act of terror. Instead, it's about John Travolta assuming the identity of a drug-addled, oversexed bug-eyed lunatic. You see where we're going with this.

Perhaps this rare combination is what makes Cage such a compelling presence on screen, and why so many different filmmakers over the years have been tempted to cast him as larger-than-life on-screen characters.

Cage has not only completed dozens of films in which he plays over-the-top heroes and villains, but he's also been considered for dozens of roles that, for whatever reason, he never got a chance to realize. Sometimes, the movies got made with other actors. On occasion, the films simply fizzled in turnaround or had wildly different visions realized years later by other filmmakers.

Still, looking over the list, you can't help but wonder... "What if that guy had been played by Nicolas Cage?" And then feel a twinge, knowing that you've missed out. For more true stories about your favorite actors, check out these roles Bill Murray almost played and great true stories about Johnny Depp.

Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

  • Superman
    Photo: Superman Lives / Warner Bros

    The failed Superman project of the late 1990s has become the stuff of legend. The tentatively titled Superman Lives was to be based on the Death of Superman storyline, and was at the time being actively pursued by uber-producer Jon Peters. Kevin Smith was sleighted to write the script, while Tim Burton was set to direct.

    Notoriously, Peters's beloved concept for a fight between Superman and a massive robotic spider inspired the climax of his 1999 disaster Wild Wild West. But of course, the tidbit everyone remembers is that Nicolas Cage, the weird not-necessarily-all-that-buff guy far-from-mild-mannered guy, was the main contender to play Superman and his alter-ego, Clark Kent.

    The above image - said to be a test of Cage in what was then being considered as a Superman suit - spread around the Internet, confirming what most had long suspected: Nic Cage as Superman is a weird idea. Also, Cage is either very stoned or his take on Superman is very squinty, like Clark Kent is permanently doing a Clint Eastwood Man With No Name trilogy impression whenever he dons the cape.

    Burton essentially backed off from the entire superhero genre and can currently be seen putting Johnny Depp in silly costumes once a year, for which they are each paid $500 billion. 

    In an odd final twist on this whole story: thieves stole a valuable copy of Action Comics #1 - the 1938 edition that introduced Superman - from Cage's Los Angeles home in 2000. (The comic resurfaced years later in a storage locker and was returned to Cage.) In 2012, afilm about the Nicolas Cage-Superman heist was proposed.

    Who Got the Part:

    Brandon Routh in "Superman Returns" (2006).

  • Aragorn
    Photo: Lord of the Rings / New Line Cinema

    Cage revealed that Peter Jackson had discussed casting him as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings films. Cage reportedly decided to turn down the role of Isildur's heir, not because he didn't feel like it was believable that all the Kingdoms of Men in Middle-Earth would unite behind his rule, but because he wanted to spend more time with his family. 

    As all the Lord of the Rings films were made at the same time, starring in the series required a long time commitment in New Zealand.

    Who Got the Part:

    Interestingly enough, Stuart Townsend was eventually cast in the role of Aragorn and spent two months on set preparing for the films before being hastily fired and replaced by Viggo Mortensen. Nicolas Cage to Stuart Townsend to Viggo Mortensen... seems like PJ couldn't make up his mind about what he was looking for.

  • Neo
    Photo: The Matrix / Warner Bros.

    Nicolas Cage was also in talks to star as Neo in The Matrix trilogy. See, according to Cage, he didn't want to go to Australia, so he was like, "forget appearing in a classic action film that kicked off an entire trilogy for which I would have been handsomely paid for, thus being able to keep my impressive comic book collection and castle-like Los Feliz mansion." Cause that's what, like a 14-hour flight? 

    Who Got the Part:

    Keanu Reeves ended up playing The Chosen One in the Matrix films.

  • Scarecrow
    Photo: Batman Begins / Warner Bros.

    After directing 1995's Batman Forever and then the largely-reviled Batman and Robindirector Joel Schumacher was somehow actually being considered for a third take on Bruce Wayne & Co., the tentatively titled Batman: Triumphant. Because apparently no one at Warner Bros. had bothered to watch those last two, surely still rocking the world of fandom at this point.

    Not only had Schumacher apparently made a deal with Satan for another shot at one of comic-doms most treasured icons, but he was also chasing after Cage for the role of Jonathan Crane, Gotham's mad psychiatrist who transforms into The Scarecrow. The guy's a risk-taker, we'll give him that.

    The film never came to fruition, however. Mercifully for Nicolas Cage, this means he won't have to get dangerously close to any fear toxin any time soon.

    Who Got the Part:

    And mercifully for Caped Crusader fans, Schumacher's third Batman never made it to the big screen, and instead the brilliant Christopher Nolan took over the franchise. Nolan wisely cast Cillian Murphy as Crane/Scarecrow in Batman Begins, which was released in 2005.

  • Chev Chelios
    Photo: Crank / Lionsgate

    During a Q&A at New York Comic-Con in 2011, the duo behind Crank - Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor - mentioned that they had initially written the main character of Chev Chelios as Nic Cage. No word on whether Cage would have done the movies with a Statham-esque raspy British accent, but sources can confirm that, if true, this would be super-awesome.

    It's not terribly hard to envision an amped-up Cage needed to constantly maintain a high state of adrenaline in order to function. Werner Herzog essentially made this same concept a few years ago with his gonzo Bad Lieutenant re-imagining, only with less Amy Smart and more iguanas.

    Who Got the Part:

    The part ended up being memorably inhabited by Jason Statham in two films - Crank (2006) and Crank: High Voltage (2009) - and remains one of his signature characters.

  • 6

    Randy 'The Ram' Robinson

    Randy 'The Ram' Robinson
    Photo: The Wrestler / Fox Searchlight Pictures

    The role of washed-up '80s pro wrestling star Randy "The Ram" Robinson seems such a natural fit for Mickey Rourke, it's impossible to imagine anyone else in the part now. Rourke won a Golden Globe for playing Robinson and was nominated for an Oscar - and it's widely credited with fueling his most recent career revival.

    But it turns out, director Darren Aronofsky had offered the role to Nicolas Cage first, and Cage had actually accepted. Though some reports at the time had said that Cage had been dropped from the movie, the actor himself insisted that he had accepted the role and then thought better of it.

    Specifically, Cage said that he didn't think he could believably look like a steroid abuser without taking steroids himself. Which he would never do, you see. No, really. Cage said that: "I resigned from the movie because I didn't think I had enough time to achieve the look of the wrestler who was on steroids, which I would never do." Thanks for the clarification, N.C. Also, does this mean his guns from Kiss of Death are 100% natural?

    Who Got the Part:

    Aronofsky later told SlashFilm that Cage had "stepped aside" so that he could go with his first choice all along... Mickey Rourke. Details, details.