It is my position that National Treasure, the 2004 film that stars Nicolas Cage as a kind of Conspiracy Theory Indiana Jones who must steal the Declaration of Independence to protect America, is the only good movie. This may seem like a reach. I get that. There have been so many other movies, surely at least one of them must be good, right? And, I mean, is National Treasure really even that good? These are fair questions to ask in the face of such a bold assertion.
The answers to the questions, however, are “no” and “how dare you?” Below, in honor of the film’s 15th anniversary, I will lay out my reasoning in a simple five-step process. By the end, I’m sure you will agree that National Treasure is the only good movie. Or you will continue to disagree with me. That’s fine, too. If history and this movie have taught us anything, it’s that a) the Founding Fathers wanted to protect your right to be wrong in the face of truth and reason, and b) the Founding Fathers also hid one billion dollars worth of gold and jewels in a secret cave under a church in Manhattan.
National Treasure stars Nicolas Cage
We — all of us, including Nicolas Cage himself — have turned Nicolas Cage into more meme than man in the past 15 years. It distorts the view of him in a way that can be hard to reverse. I’m going to ask you to try, though. I need you to at least give it a shot. Because if you don’t, my position that Nicolas Cage is one of the last true Movie Stars will look pretty silly. We can’t have that. Humor me.
Start with the resume. Nicolas Cage won an Academy Award for Best Actor (Leaving Las Vegas, 1995) and was nominated again a few years later (Adaptation, 2002). He starred in a whole pile of action movies that still run multiple times a week on basic cable. He made The Rock, Con Air, and Face/Off in one two-year stretch. He’s one of the last action stars whose name could go above the movie’s title on the poster. You would go see “a Nicolas Cage movie,” not “a Marvel movie.” That’s not nothing.
Even his later career… oh, let’s go with “choices,” back up his Movie Star bona fides. Yes, he’s been making a million weird straight-to-VOD movies every year for over a decade. Yes, he does have a movie in production about a man who goes on a rampage when someone kidnaps his truffle-hunting pig. But look deeper. Look at why Nicolas Cage is doing this. He’s making all these movies because he needs the money. And he needs the money because he more or less bankrupted himself by buying castles. Nicolas Cage spent millions and millions of dollars on castles — castles, with an “s,” plural. That kind of eccentricity and flamboyance screams Movie Star louder than any awards or box office success.
On the subject of eccentricity:
- Owns a pyramid-shaped mausoleum in New Orleans where he intends to be buried
- Once had to return a stolen dinosaur skull to the government of Mongolia
- Once sued Kathleen Turner for libel — and won — over accusations that he stole a chihuahua
There’s a certain charm to all of this. A mystery. The type of larger-than-life aura that separates stars from regular people. We’re losing some of that as celebrities become more and more accessible. Nicolas Cage is not accessible. Nicolas Cage is the opposite of accessible. He’s floating way out there in the universe, far away from the rest of us and our tiny little lives. Kind of like… well, kind of like an actual star.
Also, there’s this picture.
Show me one of your beloved Chrises who can pull this off.
National Treasure stars Nicolas Cage as an American historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter
But Nicolas Cage, as we’ve covered, has starred in a ton of movies. What makes National Treasure stand out above the others? This is tricky, especially because, in one of his movies, he and John Travolta switch faces and no one notices despite the fact that they have very different body types. But if I had to pick one reason, I’d have to go with “because Nicolas Cage plays an American historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter in National Treasure.”
Can you think of a better job description for a Nicolas Cage character? Seriously, take some time and try. I did and I cannot. And it gets even better: He’s not just an American historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter. He’s a disgraced American historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter. He believes all kinds of wild theories about the Founding Fathers and the Freemasons. He uses the images on the dollar bill — pyramids, eyes, etc. — to connect dots from clues spread across the country. He’s basically every guy from every video YouTube recommends after you watch a few videos about history. And he’s proven right! About everything! In a big-budget Disney-produced movie!
He’s not just right, either. He is extremely right, always, and extremely fast about it. There’s a scene near the beginning — moments before he almost dies when a ship trapped inside a glacier explodes, which is another reason National Treasure is the only good movie — where he uses his own blood as ink to transfer a coded message from an old pipe to a piece of paper and then decodes it from memory in like 90 seconds. It’s incredible. And it not even a top-five scene in the movie. A big reason for this is because…
National Treasure stars Nicolas Cage as an American historian, cryptologist, and treasure hunter who steals the Declaration of Independence
This is another thing that has been memed beyond recognition but, again, try to strip away the 15 years of jokes that cloud your memory of it. National Treasure is basically a heist movie. Nicolas Cage shows up in a tuxedo during a fancy gala he was not invited to and proceeds to steal the Declaration of Independence. He steals the Declaration of Independence! To protect it! And then finds out — as he suspected! — that it has a hidden treasure map on the back! The entire plot of this movie is insane from beginning to end. There’s no reason any of this should be watchable. And yet, find me a person who has not seen all or parts of this movie over five times. If that’s not the sign of a good movie, buddy, I don’t know what is.
Also, and I think this is important to note, the theft of the Declaration of Independence happens right near the beginning of the movie. Seriously, at about minute 30, Nicolas Cage is sipping champagne at Step Two of a Five-Step plan to steal the Declaration of Independence, and one of the steps involves a laser. It’s not even the main action sequence in the movie. It sets up the main action sequence. Nicolas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence using a laser and it is basically just exposition to get us to the good stuff.
Look at the competition
But I hear you. You’re saying “Aren’t a few other movies good, too?” Let’s take a look:
Citizen Kane: Orson Welles did not steal the Declaration of Independence
The Godfather: Did not feature Sean Bean as a villainous treasure hunter
Avengers: Endgame: Very little talk about ludicrous conspiracy theories involving the Founding Fathers
John Wick: Does not feature Harvey Keitel as a cranky FBI agent
The Thomas Crown Affair: Thomas Crown steals a painting to keep for himself because he’s a bored crappy billionaire; Benjamin Gates steals the Declaration of Independence to prevent villains from finding treasure
Fleabag: Not, technically, a movie
Gone With the Wind: More like Gone From This List
Top Gun: No rooms filled with gold
Lawrence of Arabia: No lasers
Star Wars: Lasers but no chemical tests done on historical documents in the back of a speeding van
National Treasure is the only good movie.