ByAngelo Delos Trinos, writer at
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Angelo Delos Trinos

This year marks the 20th anniversary of Face/Off, one of the most memorable action movies to come out of the '90s. John Woo's thriller starred John Travolta and Nicolas Cage as an FBI agent and a master criminal, respectively, who assume one another's identity for reasons we'll just say are "movie science." The end result was one of the most explosive, tongue-in-cheek, and awesome action movies of that decade.

But if things had gone as originally planned, Nicolas Cage would've fought someone other than John Travolta. Instead, the star of the Ghost Rider movies may have fought . Yes, that's right, Johnny Depp, best known for his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

When Johnny Nearly Fought Cage

'Face/Off' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]
'Face/Off' [Credit: Paramount Pictures]

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Face/Off, Ralph Jones of Shortlist conducted an in-depth retrospective to uncover some previously unknown facts about the movie. Among the interesting details about Face/Off were the movie's original futuristic setting, Paramount's attempt to include a sentient bomb, and, of course, Johnny Depp originally being cast in the role of FBI agent Sean Archer.

When Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla was still the studio's choice to helm Face/Off, the director wanted to make the cast of the movie much younger. Screenwriter Michael Colleary originally didn't agree with this, but there was little he could do to stop Paramount Pictures from taking Brambilla's idea seriously by offering the movie to the rising star known as Johnny Depp. As Colleary said in his interview with Jones:

"Around this time, Paramount were trying to turn 27-year-old Johnny Depp into a movie star. The studio said that they would only agree to including Nicolas Cage – who wanted to be in the film – if Depp could star opposite him."

'Edward Scissorhands' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]
'Edward Scissorhands' [Credit: 20th Century Fox]

At the time, Depp was best known for starring as the weirdo in movies like Edward Scissorhands and on the TV series 21 Jump Street, which capitalized on his quirky acting style, thus justifying his potential inclusion in something as zany as Face/Off. But the actor would leave the movie before a single scene was shot for the strangest reason imaginable:

"After finally reading the script, however, Depp refused to take part. Having read the title he thought the film would be about hockey. He was disappointed when he discovered that it was not about hockey. He was out – and with him so was Brambilla."

Due to a crippling lack of hockey pucks and goal keepers on ice, Depp decided to pass on the chance to star alongside and explosive doves.

The Face/Off That Never Was

As good as Face/Off is, it would have been interesting to see Cage and Depp portray adversaries and assume the identity of the other. Unlike who is known for more serious roles (unless the move in question is Battlefield: Earth), Depp is almost on par with Cage in terms of onscreen insanity. If Face/Off starred Cage and Depp, seeing the two eccentric actors go at it would've been worth the price of admission.

Alas, Face/Off starred Cage and Travolta as Castor Troy and Sean Archer respectively, but this was possibly all for the better. When it debuted, Face/Off earned upwards $245 million, joining the likes of Jurassic Park and Titanic as one 1997's most lucrative movies. Critical reception for Face/Off was also unanimously positive, currently sitting at an impressive 92% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Troy's and Archer's rivalry has since been immortalized in pop culture and the public conscience, leading to countless memes that almost always utilize the characters' various facial expressions.

To this day, Face/Off remains as one of the most revered action movies to ever hit cinemas, and it owes it all to its off-the-rails plot and execution. As Colleary put it:

"The reason that movie [Face/Off] got made is because it was so crazy."

Agreed, man. Agreed.


Would you have preferred 'Face/Off' if it starred Johnny Depp?


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