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Movies & TV

06th Jun 2022

Released 25 years ago this month, Nic Cage wasn’t the first choice for either of his biggest movies

Rory Cashin

A quarter of a century ago this month, the actor released two of the best action movies ever made.

Before 1996, Nicolas Cage was not an action star. He was the Oscar-winning actor from powerful dramas, he was working with indie-cred directors like David Lynch and the Coen Brothers. But then producer Jerry Bruckheimer cast him in The Rock, and the entire trajectory of his career massively shifted.

1997 would prove to be Cage’s biggest year ever, first of all thanks to Con Air, released on 6 June. It reunited Cage with Bruckheimer on an even-higher-concept action blockbuster, which paid off handsomely at the box office: $75 million budget returned $224 million.

Critics weren’t as kind (56% on Rotten Tomatoes), but time has cemented the movie’s position as an action classic. But Cage was far from the first choice for the role of Cameron Poe.

Reportedly, it was Patrick Swayze was the first choice for the role, but the actor had moved away from the action genre – it was over half a decade since the likes of Point Break and Road House.

Producers then reportedly considered pretty much every major star in Hollywood at the time, including Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Keanu Reeves, Kurt Russell and Bruce Willis.

But it was Cage’s work with Bruckheimer on The Rock, which arrived in cinemas just two weeks before filming on Con-Air began, that nabbed him the role.

The story goes that on the final day of shooting Con-Air, with a single day of a break in between, Nic Cage went to the airport on got a flight to bring him to day one of filming his next movie…

Face/Off was released in cinemas on 27 June, and it was just as big a box office hit: $80 million budget returned $248 million. Critics absolutely loved this one (92% on Rotten Tomatoes), with particular praise being heaped upon Cage and his co-star John Travolta on so perfectly playing each other.

But yes, again, neither one were the original casting choices for the roles…

The script was originally sold in 1991, with Rob Cohen (The Fast and the Furious) reportedly lining up Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone in the lead roles. Cohen was forced to drop out when the production clashed with another movie he was already filming, and the project went to John Woo, who was hot off Hard Target and Broken Arrow.

Johnny Depp was originally interested in the Sean Archer role, but passed on it after reading the script, so producers continued to shop it out to potential pairings.

Bruce Willis and Alec Baldwin. Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal. Denzel Washington and Wesley Snipes. Harrison Ford and Michael Douglas.

They all either passed or couldn’t participate due to scheduling conflicts, but Michael Douglas did stay on board as an executive producer.

Woo fought to have his Broken Arrow star John Travolta back as another villain (for most of the movie’s runtime, anyway), pairing him with Nicolas Cage, and the rest of cinematic history.

Cage would continue to return to the action genre – reuniting with Bruckheimer on Gone In 60 Seconds, working with Woo again on Windtalkers, finally getting to play a superhero in Ghost Rider – but he has to reach the same dizzy heights of 1997.

Con-Air and Face/Off are both available to watch on Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video right now.

Clip via MovieClips & JoBlo Movie Trailers

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