Why Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage is making straight-to-video movies

Hanna Flint
Why Nicolas Cage makes straight-to-video movies

No matter what you think about Nicolas Cage or his latest cinematic offerings, he will always be one of the finest actors of his generations.

He’s been nominated for two Oscars – winning one of them for Leaving Las Vegas – and since his first feature film, the 1982 teen comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Cage has added a string of critically acclaimed and blockbuster hits to his name.

However, in recent years, the actor has been seen less on the silver screen and more on the small screen which has led to him earning the nickname the “King of VOD.” Direct-to-video movies certainly seem to be the elephant’s graveyard for more eclectic actors of a certain age; John Cusack, John Travolta and Adrien Brody have all gone down the VOD road with minimal cinematic releases on their IMDb pages in comparison.

To Cage’s credit, he has enjoyed a few mainstream outings over the last few years thanks to roles in Kick-Ass and Snowden as well as a critically acclaimed performance in the indie favourite Joe, and recently, his oddball horror Mom and Dad enjoyed a cinematic release.

Nicolas Cage had to go down the VOD route to pay back a lot of debt after the big screen roles started to dry up

But those big screen jobbies are few and far between compared to the number of video-on-demand gigs he has under his belt, and they are not really as representative of his talent as an actor. So why is he making them?

Cage admits that being the “VOD King” was not how he saw his career turning out. “They are not really what I wanted,” he told the LA Times in 2016 and we can believe him; thanks to mounting debt these movies were the fastest way to earn some money, especially when his star power was fading.

The actor had managed to squander much of the $150 million fortune he had amassed from the several big budget movies he had made during the mid-Nineties and early Noughties. $76 million of it was reportedly earned just from the films Gone in Sixty Seconds (2000), National Treasure (2003), Snake Eyes (1998) and Windtalkers (2001). Sadly his spending habits were quite excessive and enough to put Johnny Depp to shame.

Cage splashed a lot of money on property, buying a castle in England and German, a cottage near Glastonbury and even an island in the Bahamas. Other luxury items included a dinosaur skull worth $300,00 – which he reportedly outbid Leonardo DiCaprio for – a $450,000 Lamborghini Miura SVJ, that he bought from the late Shah of Iran in 1997, and four luxury yachts, one of which cost $20 million.

It wasn’t all material items that the actor spent his cash on as he also donated £650,000 to victims of Hurricane Katrina, but he wasn’t putting money aside to pay his taxes and in 2009 he found himself with a tax bill of around $14 million, dating back from 2002.

Cage splashed a lot of his cash on lavish properties across the world

Cage blamed his accountant Sam Levin for mismanaging his money, and even tried to sue him for $20 million but the case was dismissed by the Los Angeles Supreme Court. This meant the actor was forced to sell off several of his properties and lavish purchases to start paying off his debt to the Inland Revenue Service.

He also got into trouble a year earlier when he had to pay $666,000 to the IRS to settle the charges that he improperly deducted personal expenses from his tax bill. Four years later, in 2012, he had managed to pay off $6 million of what he owed, but by that point, the big screen roles had started to dry up so he was forced to look to VOD options instead.

Of course, these movies might not have earned the same sort of gravitas as those released in cinemas but Cage has said that he enjoys the creative freedom that they afford as much as the pay cheque.

“They’ve managed to give these kinds of more challenging plots a chance to be viewed,” he said. “It gives them a place to exist in some way. I think it’s a good thing that at least these movies will be seen on some level and will not become completely extinct.”

Now it’s 2018, the actor has no doubt managed to shave a few more zeroes off his debt but he’s also living a much more minimal lifestyle, at least, that’s what he told The Times. “[It’s] something I’m hopeful I can achieve because I wanna have longevity,” he explained earlier this month. “I don’t wanna be doing Pizza Hut commercials when I’m 75.”

He does, however, want to hit the 150 movie mark like Michael Caine or “the golden-age actors in the old studio system” who hit triple figures. Certainly with his rate of filmmaking he could achieve that pretty soon; Cage has made at least one film a year since 1981 and has so far made 92 credited feature film performances, with five more in the works. 

He just needs 53 more to reach his target.

It’s likely that the majority of them will be completed via the VOD route, but really would that be so bad? So many big budget movies these days are finding their audience online rather than in cinemas and even skipping the latter altogether. The amount of streaming services are vastly increasing too so if Nicolas Cage continues to wear the VOD crown it surely wouldn’t be that much of a blemish on his film career, or his bank account either.

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