For a quarter of a century, we’ve been lucky enough to exist in the same world as Face/Off. Few films can boast such a wonderfully ridiculous premise: FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) has his face surgically removed and replaced with that of his sworn enemy, terrorist Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage, pulling out all the stops), in order to prevent a bomb from going off. What could possibly go wrong?
From John Woo’s bombastic direction to the hilariously over-the-top script, it feels like every aspect of the film was turned up to 11. Each scene boasts another actor that makes you go, That guy! We get a pair of The Wire alums—Robert Wisdom (Bunny Colvin) and Christ Bauer (Frank Sobotka, rest in peace). The supporting cast is just a smorgasbord of talent: Alessandro Nivola (having far more fun than he did in The Many Saints of Newark), John Carroll Lynch, CCH Pounder, Tom Jane, Margaret Cho, Joan Allen, the list goes on.
Speaking of lists, we’re honoring the movie’s 25th anniversary with its 10 most iconic moments in chronological order. Enjoy!
1. Castor Troy dressed as a priest and wreaking havoc
Handel’s “Messiah” may be boring (to Castor Troy, at least), but Cage’s performance is anything but. Whether he’s breaking it down in his priest robe or making a meme-worthy face, he lets us know early on just how weird things are going to get.
2. “You know, I can eat a peach for hours.”
Followed up quickly by: “If I were to let you suck my tongue, would you be grateful?” Truly a top-tier pickup line. Castor Troy’s lascivious use of the word “peaches” throughout the film is enough to turn you off the fruit for a while.
3. The face you make when you just killed an FBI agent
And not just any FBI agent—one he was making out with mere moments before! Nonetheless, Castor Troy will make the same face as an unrepentant frat boy who just spilled a 40 all over your carpet.
4. “Hey Sean, how’s your dead son?”
Oh man, Mr. Clean really showed him!
5. “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!”
In fairness, if I was in Archer’s position I would probably also freak out. But the melodrama of it! He smashes a mirror and tells the surgeon, “When this is over, I want you to take this face and burn it.” Simply breathtaking.
6. No face, just vibes
Is it bad I think Castor Troy looks really cool here? Like, his insides are exposed, but why not light up anyway?
7. “It’s like looking in a mirror, only not.”
John Travolta relishes the opportunity to play a villain. He delivers lines with so much venom and flair that even objectively silly ones (see: above) are instantly quotable.
8. “I’d like to take his face… off.”
Dietrich’s right—no more drugs for this guy!
9. The mirror moment
Sometimes I think that maybe the writers of Face/Off came up with this scene and then constructed the premise around it. And it’s a great scene! The symbolism! Another moment for Woo’s direction to shine! And of course, magically, neither of them die.
10. The boat collision
Action sequences are a dime-a-dozen, and often in trying to outdo their predecessors they end up becoming bloated and strangely boring. Not the final fight in Face/Off, though. Not only does Sean-as-Castor literally water ski using his feet, but the sight of John Travolta and Nic Cage (or rather, their stunt doubles) hurtling through the air will never cease to entertain me.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast and Paste’s assistant comedy editor. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.