It was twenty years ago today that the movie Con Air hit theaters. It was a run-of-the-mill summer action film, but it is memorable for turning Nicolas Cage into the action hero he has been ever since. Sure, he did The Rock earlier, but he was more emotion than action in that one. Con Air was different, and led to every other action film Cage starred in afterward.
What really makes Con Air the pivot point in Cage’s move to action stardom, however, comes from the fact that he might be the only one underplaying his role. Sure, he’s sporting an absurdly flowing mane of hair, delivering his lines in a wobbly Southern drawl that borders on mumbling, and delivering lines like “Put the bunny back in the box” with straight-faced bravado, but the bug-eyed mania that would become his stock-in-trade is nowhere to be found. Instead, he’s doing what he’s actually done far more of in the intervening decades—namely, make weird choices, hit his marks, and call it a day, commanding attention without once erupting in a look-at-me demonstration of unnecessary bombast. It proved that Cage didn’t always have to dial his intensity up to 11 when he appeared in such films, for good and ill. It was just Nic Cage, action star—no surprise or winking air quotes around the film or his performance.
Read a breakdown of Con Air and what it did to Cage's career at the A.V. Club.