On August 23, 1985, the world was introduced to one of the nicest boys in the universe via John Cusack’s breakout role as Lane Meyer in the teen comedy Better Off Dead. While he had bit roles in major hits like Sixteen Candles and starred in a few lesser-known flicks, the summer of ’85 is when Cusack firmly entrenched himself in twee rom-coms for decades to come. During the ensuing three decades, Cusack has carved out a great career and has showcased a range far beyond his original teen-focused work… but playing the kindhearted romantic is still his cinematic bread and butter.
With dozens of performances to choose from, which of his roles were the nicest of guys? That’s what our deep well of Cusack knowledge is for. If you’re a big-haired popular (yet kind) high school girl in the 80s, these Cusack-curated characters will be there for you.
7. Lane Meyer, Better Off Dead (The Rookie Nice Guy)
The key to being a Nice Guy in a movie is to be despondent (but not angry) about romance. In his first major starring role as Lane Meyer, Cusack swung for the fences as a dude so sad about being dumped that he attempts suicide in a variety of manners, because teenage suicide was such a hilarious concept during the 1980s, I guess? This was a fucked-up era.
Another key to Cusack’s early success in this role is a proper Jerk Boyfriend foil. Lane’s girlfriend dumped him for a guy named Roy STALIN, the wealthy captain of the high school ski team, so the major check marks in establishing the “Nice Guy” in this scenario are firmly checked. In the end, Lane is victorious over the jerk and finds a new (even better) love interest in the form of a cute French girl. More importantly Cusack’s ability to play a likable hero was set from the start.
6. Adam Yates, Hot Tub Time Machine (The Straight Man Nice Guy)
If you could go back in time and change your life, would you still be a Nice Guy? This is the question at the heart of Hot Tub Time Machine. In sort of a post-modern Nice Guy role, Cusack plays Adam Yates, a man who has endured heartache after heartache and realizes he can fix his history of lovesickness by making up with a girl he dumped in 1986 when his group of friends finds the eponymous time travel vehicle.
In an unsung facet of Nice Guy-ness, Cusack plays the straight man to all of his co-stars in the movie. While Rob Corddry acts disgusting, Craig Robinson makes snarky comments, and Clark Duke points out the 1980s from a fresh perspective, Cusack delivers a more muted performance about a guy losing (and finding new) love while messing up the space-time continuum. Then Cusack is replaced in Hot Tub Time Machine 2 by his modern-day Nice Guy successor, Adam Scott.
5. Jackson Curtis, 2012 (The Heroic Nice Guy)
Most disaster movie protagonists are scientists, soldiers, or firemen, but could you really buy John Cusack in any of those roles? No, in “2012” Cusack plays Jackson Curtis, a mild-mannered writer who takes a job as a chauffeur to make ends meet and support his family, which is exactly what a Nice Guy would do. When shit goes down and the apocalypse starts, then we get to see a whole new level of compassion from the ‘Cuse.
While most folks facing an extinction-level-event would enter self-preservation mode, Jackson instead acts selflessly to save the lives of his family and thousands of others. Just as an 10.9 magnitude earthquake hits California, he whisks away his family (including his estranged wife played by Amanda Peet), and when a newly created ark housing the remainder of the world’s most important people is about to collide with Mount Everest, there’s Curtis helping to fix the problem steering this ship full of saviors. Most importantly for a Cusack-led role, he makes up with his love interest as the nicest guy in the post-apocalyptic world.
Find out where Cusack’s characters in Stand By Me and Say Anything rank in the pantheon on cinematic sweethearts on the next page!