Tales From The Box Office: Nic Cage Battled Nic Cage In The Summer Of '97

There are no actors quite like Nicolas Cage and there will probably never be another actor like him, even if movies exist for another 1,000 years. The man is a complete and utter anomaly, a bonafide movie star who has had several careers all wrapped into one. An Oscar-winner, a direct-to-video maestro, and, perhaps most importantly, a full-blown action star for a time in the mid-90s. This period of Cage's career kicked off in earnest in 1996 with Michael Bay's "The Rock," still often considered to be one of Bay's best films. And one of Cage's as well, for that matter.

But it was truly the summer of 1997 (June to be exact) when Cage would become the man, the myth, and the internet legend he is today in many ways as two of his most iconic films would be released within mere weeks of one another: "Con Air" and "Face/Off." In honor of the release of Cage's latest "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," in which, the actor plays a version of himself, we're going to look back on this wild summer, how it all came together, and what lessons (if any!) can be learned from the craziness that was June of '97.

The movies: Con Air and Face/Off

The earlier part of Cage's career is one that shows a great deal of promise as a serious actor in acclaimed films, ranging from "Raising Arizona," "Moonstruck," "Wild At Heart," and "Leaving Las Vegas" – the latter being particularly important since Cage ultimately went on to win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance. Playing an alcoholic looking to kill himself with one last romp in Vegas put him in another ballpark entirely in the eyes of Hollywood and set the stage for him to become the face of blockbusters, rather than the face of interesting smaller movies that might go on to find more acclaim. Such is the nature of the business.

"The Rock" was already in the books by the time Cage won his Oscar, but the lining up of both "Con Air" from director Simon West (serving as his feature directorial debut) and "Face/Off" from action director extraordinaire John Woo, was a bit of destiny that came about following Cage's newfound place in the spotlight. In the former, he would play Cameron Poe, A freshly paroled ex-con and former military man who winds up trapped aboard a plane full of prisoners who seize control aircraft. In the latter, he would play Castor Troy, the nemesis of FBI agent Sean Archer (played by John Travolta) who undergoes a face transplant (!) to take on the identity of Troy, who murdered his only son. Troy also ends up taking on Archer's face so they can — you guessed it — face off against one another, as one another.

If nothing else, the fact that these two absolutely wacky premises served as bonafide summer blockbusters just shy of 25 years ago speaks to just how much times have changed. It also says a lot about how much evolved between the '80s and the '90s in the action movie space, as we went from the muscle-bound action heroes such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone to the likes of Cage, a lean man who rocked a head full of luscious hair in "Con Air," an image that the internet still makes great use of to this day. In one movie a hero, the other a villain, both of these wild films were set to duke it out in movie theaters in a summer that also saw gigantic films such as "Men in Black" and "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" release. But for one brief but glorious period, it was all Cage, baby.

The financial journey

"Con Air" was the first out of the gate on June 6, 1997, with the film coming from Disney's Touchstone Pictures. It would have a three-week head start on "Face/Off," which would follow on June 27 from Paramount Pictures. One thing that is interesting to note before getting into how these movies performed is that they both came with reported production budgets in the $80 million ballpark, adding to the oddness of this whole Cage vs. Cage moment in movie history.

Debuting at number one in its first weekend, "Con Air" took in $24 million and would go on to have a very successful run in the coming weeks, ultimately finishing up with $101.1 million domestic, though the lion's share of that ($78.5 million) came by the weekend of June 27, as another Cage action vehicle was getting ready to take the spotlight. Internationally, the first Cage film of the summer did quite well, taking in $123 million for a grand total of $224.1 million. At a time when home video sales were far more robust, taking in just shy of three times your production budget was damn fine business.

Then came "Face/Off" which, wouldn't you know it, also debuted at number one in its opening weekend, taking in $23.3 million to start. Right around what "Con Air" had made three weeks prior. The difference here is that Woo's film legged out a bit better, ultimately finishing its domestic run with $112.2 million, to go along with $128.9 million from international markets. That made for a $241.2 million finish, making it the winner of this showdown. In the end, these two blockbusters made a combined $465 million and remain in Cage's top ten highest-grossing movies of his career. All of that within a very short window, making for arguably one of the most impressive one-two punches that an actor has ever had in the same year (the same month for that matter) in history.

The lessons contained within

Quite honestly, this section of the column is often filled with big takeaways that the future of cinema might be able to take away from the movie/movies at hand. But much like Cage himself, the situation being discussed here is a bit of an enigma. It's hard to extract any actionable lessons from all of this. It was a wild moment in time and a true flashpoint in the career of a true icon of American cinema. Cage has been acting steadily for going on 40 years now and, though his career has had major highs and undeniable lows, the man never phones it in and he never went away. It's just so downright uncommon in this business to see that, especially when looking at the sheer breadth of different hits (and misses) he has been involved in during that time. It's kind of miraculous.

Perhaps the real lesson here is to appreciate the unique being that is Nicolas Cage. This is a man that has delivered Oscar-winning performances ("Leaving Las Vegs"), Oscar-worthy performances that failed to be recognized ("Pig"), wackadoo performances for the ages ("Vampire's Kiss"), downright delightful studio blockbusters ("National Treasure"), superhero movies ("Ghost Rider"), and bonkers genre films ("Mandy"). That isn't even the half of it. The fact that Cage is experiencing something of a well-deserved renaissance right now only makes the entire picture of his impressive body of work all the more fascinating. We, as lovers of cinema, would do well to appreciate Cage for as long as he's willing to work. Honestly, could anyone else have done what he did in that fateful summer 25 years ago? Could anyone else have been Cameron Poe and Caster Troy, managing to create two absolute classics of the action genre in the same damn month? I humbly think not.