All this week, Uproxx will be paying tribute to the many facets of Nicolas Cage, from his big-screen triumphs to the legends that have come to surround him and the cult following both have helped create. First up: a look at the early years and Cage’s unlikely, but undeniable, ’80s ascent.
When Nicolas Kim Coppola was born in 1964, his uncle Francis was still a fledgling director, who’d just come through the graduate film program at UCLA and had launched his movie career with three fairly unimpressive credits: the “nudie cuties” Tonight for Sure and The Bellboy and the Playgirls, and the gothic horror picture Dementia 13. But by the time Nicolas entered Beverly Hills High School in the mid-‘70s, his Uncle Francis was the multi-Oscar-winning genius behind The Godfather movies and The Conversation, and the Coppola family was in the process of developing into a dynasty.
Nicolas grew up around his actress aunt Talia Shire, and future moviemaking cousins Sofia and Roman Coppola and Jason and Robert Schwartzman. When he got ready to enter the family business as an actor, he followed in his uncle’s footsteps and went to UCLA. He changed his last name to Cage — after one of his favorite comic book characters, Luke Cage — to avoid being judged by his connections. Still, he had every reason to expect that he’d be stepping into the “New Hollywood” that the Coppolas had helped build.
And then the 1980s happened.
There have been multiple books and articles written about the end of the “film school brat” era, and how a combination of expensive, arty flops and a few phenomenal crowd-pleasing blockbusters rapidly altered the major studio business model, taking power out of the hands of auteurs like Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese. In the ‘80s, the balance shifted to younger movie stars, dazzling special effects, and easily understood story ideas—all often packaged together by super-agents, working in concert with studio executives, always with an eye toward maximizing profits rather than making masterpieces. This was showbiz in the go-go Reagan era.