What the Hell Happened to John Travolta?

john travolta

John Travolta is the King of the Comeback.  Where most careers involve a rise and a fall, Travolta’s career is a roller coaster or peaks and valleys.  In the 70’s, he was a pop culture icon, in the 80’s he was a has-been and in the 90’s, he reinvented himself as an Oscar-nominated tough guy.  Today, you’re more likely to see him on tabloid covers than headlining a movie.  What the hell happened?

travolta - boy in the plastic bubble

Travolta started off on the stage in New York in the touring production of Grease.  Eventually, he moved to California where he started making TV appearances like The Boy in The Plastic Bubble.

travolta - welcome back kotter

We’ve got a lot to cover here, so we’re just going to skip to 1975 when Travolta was cast in Welcome Back Kotter.  Kotter was a sitcom developed around stand-up comedian, Gabe Kaplan.  Kaplan played a teacher at an inner-city school and Travolta played one of his delinquent students known as the “Sweathogs”.

Kotter was a big hit during its first couple of seasons.  This lead to lots of merchandising opportunities including a board game based around Travolta’s catch phrase, “Up your nose with a rubber hose.”

Interestingly enough (for me anyway), the actor standing-in for Travolta in that commercial was a young Steve Guttenberg.

travolta - carrie

While still appearing on Welcome Back Kotter, Travolta made the leap to film with Brian De Palma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, Carrie.

By now, there have been umpteen adaptations of King’s novels.  Some have been adapted more than once.  A remake of Carrie is currently underway.  But De Palma’s Carrie was the first and it set the bar too high for most of the adaptations that would follow.

Travolta’s role was relatively small.  He played the boyfriend of Carrie’s primary tormentor, Chris, who was played by Nancy Allen.  But Travolta was involved in some of the movie’s more memorable scenes.  He was the one who slaughtered the pig for the bloody climax.  And when a blood-soaked Carrie left the flame-engulfed prom, Travolta’s character tried to run her over.

travolta - saturday night fever

The following year, Travolta entered pop culture history with Saturday Night Fever.  The image of Travolta in the white leisure suit dancing to the Bee Gees is bigger than any movie.  It has come to symbolize an entire decade.

But Saturday Night Fever is nothing like its image.  The soundtrack may make you want to dance, but the movie is actually a depressing melodrama about a guy who feels trapped in a meaningless existence he can only escape on the dance floor.

The movie was based on an article in New York magazine about the budding disco culture, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night.  Ironically, the writer of the article later admitted that he had made it all up.  As an Englishman, he was baffled by the American dance craze.  So he based his story on a “Mod” friend instead.

Saturday Night Fever got mostly positive reviews.  It was nominated for several awards including Best Actor for Travolta.  Film critic, Gene Siskel claimed Fever as a personal favorite.  He even went so far as to buy Travolta’s leisure suit at an auction.

saturday night fever soundtrack

Fever wasn’t just a hit.  It was a smash that dominated the pop culture landscape.  It ushered in the Disco Era.  The soundtrack was the best-selling soundtrack album of all times.  Eventually, the popularity of disco eclipsed the movie.  So when the disco backlash started, Saturday Night Fever was marginalized along with it.

Next: Grease and Urban Cowboy

Posted on September 2, 2012, in Movies, What the Hell Happened?, WTHH Actor and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 155 Comments.

  1. it hasnt been that long since he made a good movie 2012 silver linings his best movie in a while hes good iam not sure if he offered raging bull type films in his latter his career i think he at the point where he has accomplished alot and whether pick films he enjoys rather ones that will help his career sure hes made stinkers bullwinkle but he is still top notch in them hes still made hard hitting pieces likes everybodys fine and being flynn because from 70s to 2000s hes had at least a few good movies every decade because of his iconic status he can make 10 flops still be considered great years from now people will remember him for taxi driver not showtime his career is fine. Fans except every movie actor makes to oscar winning master pieces well iam sure actor s want loosen up and have fun daniel day lewis although good actor sometimes he can be hammy hes done comedy nine falls flat in it . he should do more fun popcorn films it would show his range. example cruise is considered one of greatest actors of all time yet hes not afraid to do popcorn films and hes held same regard as lewis. Although as good as lewis is cruise tops him


  2. meet the parents triloghy was funny silver linnings was good


  3. not many great parts wirtten for deniros age but hes like hanks ,ford and pacino no matter how many flops they have they got there iconic status so they will still consider legends its not like deniro will ever be on this actors slow down at certain age hes 70 at his age he needs to choose roles they likes he can have fun with not ones that help his career


  4. John Travolta defends Battlefield Earth:

    John Travolta admits he has no regrets over Battlefield Earth, and would do it all again…


  5. hanks feels that over terminal costner over postman matt damon bagger vance just because audience didnt like dosent they dont people have different taste in movies we dont know those actors experience in film set maybe travolta expereince making it was good


  6. Look Who’s Still Talking – The Strange Hollywood History Of John Travolta:

    John Travolta is as fascinating and complex a member of the Hollywood fraternity as you could wish for. Iconic performer, experienced pilot, vocal Scientologist and mangler of pronunciation of Idina Menzel.

    He has managed to appear in not just some of the best known, but also some of the best-full-stop films of the past forty years – Saturday Night Fever, Carrie, Grease, Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Face/Off, The Thin Red Line, Hairspray and the upcoming Gummy Bear The Movie – whatever one might think of the consistency of his output (and there have been some horrendous misfires), it is hard to imagine too many actors playing Danny Zuko, Vincent Vega, Castor Troy, Sean Archer, Chili Palmer and Edna Turnblad with equal conviction.

    After the temporary resuscitation of Look Who’s Talking turned out to be a false dawn, Tarantino did Travolta a favour of inestimable proportions by casting him in Pulp Fiction, »

    • Dave Roper


  7. he turned down as good as it gets i could actually see him in it that would done wonder for his career but he made face off instead that year which made a lot of money so no lost


  8. Heard Travolta is set to star in FX’s American Crime Story,playing Robert Shapiro alongside
    Gooding’s OJ Simpson………..



  9. I gotta say, I think Lucky Numbers may be a bit of an underrated comedy. I just finished watching it tonight and even after having seen it a few times over the years I still get some good laughs out of it. Travolta is terrific as the smug idiot local weatherman, but one of the film’s strengths is its fine supporting cast, all in top form: Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O’Neill, Bill Pullman, Michael Rapaport, and Michael Moore, all terrific here. Travolta, playing the local small town tv weatherman that is used to the finer things in life like his reserved parking spot and table at the finest bistro in town (the local Denny’s) decides to rig the local lottery when he gets into serious financial trouble. Kudrow’s vapid tv lotto-ball girl readily joins in, giddy at the prospect of being rich.

    It’s a shame that Lucky Numbers released just a couple months after Battlefield Earth, the film couldn’t shake the awful stink that Travolta had on him so soon after that colossal bomb (his career never did really recover fully from that bomb), Lucky Numbers is actually pretty funny and I think the film deserved to do better than it did.


  10. a dark cohen brother comedy i can see him in it


  11. WHITE MAN’S BURDEN (1995):

    The story takes place in alternative America where the blacks are members of social elite, and whites are inhabitants of inner city ghettos. Louis Pinnock is a white worker in a chocolate factory, loving husband and father of two children. While delivering a package for black CEO Thaddeus Thomas, he is mistaken for a voyeur and, as a result, loses his job, gets beaten by black cops and his family gets evicted from their home. Desperate Pinnock takes a gun and kidnaps Thomas, demanding justice.

    Other then supposed role reversal of races in the world there is no story. I understand this was supposed to be a small slice of life on race relations, but there is no history given as to why or how the races have switched places and class.

    Quite honestly the film could have been made without the role reversal and just been about a resentful, White man who is wrongly fired and takes out his anger on his Black boss and complains that the black world is infiltrating his world.

    That could have been an interesting dynamic, but probably afraid the film would be deemed racist. Though could have opened up a discussion of race. Which this film seems to seek. Instead it goes with this rear reversal. Which feels more like a stunt and takes away from the film. So much so that the film feels more racist the way it is.

    Some scenes would plaintive same way. Like when the black son brings home his white girlfriend and his parents try to stay polite despite their disappointment. Or when Travolta’s son wants a black doll over a white one. According to this picture that only works with role reversal?

    It is also disturbing that John Travolta’s performance as a lower income member of society. He speaks with a dialect that is stereotypically associated for African American characters. Almost like a 1950’s melodrama in other films. So it comes off as a bad impression of what he thinks is Ebonics. Her also make his character seem a bit slow. I don’t believe it was malicious, but it is disturbing and sad. Travolta could have played the role just as normal and let the situations do all the talking.

    John Travolta took the role at Quentin Tarantino’s urging.

    Quentin Tarantino also urged Kelly Lynch to do the film. Tarantino’s company, A Band Apart, produced it.

    These films on race relations are fascinating to me because they always seem to leave out other races other then black and white. You wonder where are the Asians, Hispanics and middle easterners? Where do they stand? Especially considering the film is written and directed by an Asian-American.

    This was one of John Travolta’s first films after his comeback from PULP FICTION. I can see he probably thought it was challenging, cutting edge plus returning a favor to the producer Lawrence Bender who also produced PULP FICTION. It did him no favors.

    If the film explored this world more vividly and set-up more situations maybe it could at least make a point. As It stands now it is role reversal. Just to do a pulp-ish story. It feels like an afterthought used as a gimmick to get an audience. A short story idea stretched on for too long.

    This film bombed and it is obvious why. It seems more the type of film John Travolta would take before his comeback when his resume at the time was more straight to home video films. He is a talented actor who has made many bad to questionable film choices who is constantly saved by comebacks.

    This was just a grand disappointment on so many levels.

    It’s a shame Harry Belafonte’s return to the big screen was a DVD. Considering this was written and directed by the screenwriter of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN. I would have expected something more challenging, truthful and controversial. Not to mention better

    Grade: F


  12. John Travolta: 5 Awesome Performances And 5 That Sucked:

    From the man who brought you both Pulp Fiction and Battlefield Earth…


  13. BE COOL (2005):

    Directed By: F. Gary Grey
    Written By: Peter Steinfeld
    Based on the novel by: Elmore Leonard
    Cinematography By: Jeffrey L. Kimball
    Editor: Sheldon Kahn

    Cast: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Harvey Kietel, Christina Milian, Kimberly J. Brown, James Woods, Cedric The Entertainer, Andre Benjamin, Vince Vaughn, Steven Tyler, Danny DeVito, Robert Pastorelli, Dwayne Johnson, Arielle Kebbel, Scott Adsit, Gregory Alan Williams, Paul Adelstein, Debi Mazar

    Streetwise mobster-turned-movie producer Chili Palmer is back, but this time Chili has abandoned the fickle movie industry and veered into the music business, tangling with Russian mobsters and gangsta rappers and taking a talented, feisty young singer named Linda Moon under his wing. From the recording studio to an Aerosmith concert to the MTV Music Awards, he manipulates events to watch them play out the Chili way, using his signature blend of wiseguy skills and negotiation tactics. It’s a dangerous business, and everyone’s looking for their next big hit.

    I don’t know if the reason I don’t like this film is because it is bad alone or because it is a bad sequel compared to GET SHORTY. The film tries to satirize the music business as much as it did the movie business with GET SHORTY. only this film feel majorly defanged and seems more interested in getting an all star cast then quality and story.

    Barry Sonnenfeld originally intended to return as director to this follow-up to his Get Shorty but production delays and scheduling issues precluded that. Brett Ratner was originally set to direct the project, but pulled out.

    Now normally I could blame the problems with this film on the incompetence of some screenwriter trying to make a plot similar to the first film, with just as many colorful and quirky characters while trying to be a sequel. The sad part is I believe they follow the novel of Which this film is based pretty closely.

    It doesn’t stop the film from seeming more like a circus rather than a film in which the whole order of the day seems more like stunt casting. The first film is guilty of it also but at least the characters were fun and somewhat believable not just a joke in of themselves where it is In this film. Look at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson play flamboyant and gay. Yes that’s right the major symbol of masculinity. Watch Vince Vaughn do his white guy trying to be black. Watch Harvey Keitel play a hip gangster turned record exec. Who seems like a menacing charmless hippie pimp monster, like an update I his Character Sport from the film TAXI DRIVER only without any emotions.

    How such a great cast got pulled into this? I don’t know because it wasn’t the script. If only they all could have come together for a good project.

    In the beginning of the film, Chili mentions how a film needs to only use the “F” word more than once in order to get an R rating. He then uses the “F” word – the only use of it in the film – and thus, it gets a PG-13 rating.

    Jennifer Connelly, Charlize Theron, Naomi Watts and Halle Berry were considered for the role of Edie Athens.

    None of this is at all Interesting and casting Uma Thurman who doesn’t have much to do here. She looks lost as there isn’t really a character to play. She seems to be more of a plot point. Reeks more of a gimmick of reuniting her with John Travolta from PULP FICTION and have them even have a gratuitous dance scene. John Travolta suggested Uma Thurman for the role of Edie, wanting to re-create their chemistry from Pulp Fiction all over again.

    Vince Vaughn’s role seems to be a one man minstrel show act; that is just missing the blackface. It’s good for a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit, but stretched out it becomes annoying very fast.

    Joe Pesci was part of the cast before filming began. But, for reasons unknown, he left the project shortly before production started.

    Dwayne Johnson in this film feels more of a stroke of Stunt casting that luckily works out more then anything else.

    As always the lead character played by John Travolta is always a step ahead of all the other characters. So that you know he will prevail by the end. Now in most films you know this but they at least build up some suspense so that you can be interested in how they will get out of the situation. Here they don’t even try it seems more like his character reacting to the ridiculous characters around him. In GET SHORTY he created a comedic character with heart, soul and charisma. Here his character is as vapid, fake and plastic as the people he is dealing with.

    It also doesn’t help that the ingénue played by Christina Milian, that the film hangs onto as her talent is so immaculate, comes up short. She is an o.k. singer nothing to write home about. Which hurts as so much is said about how golden her singing is and when you finally hear it, it’s a letdown, also she is supposed I be so innocent though the way the role is played it seems like she isn’t as naive or innocent as she let’s on and would have been a great conniving character to be revealed in the third act. No they keep her whole act going throughout the film. Her character isn’t as deep and looking for others to so he work for her. That she was too lazy to do herself, but she is hot.

    Now I saw this film when it was in theaters as I was a big fan of GET SHORTY. That film is actually one of the films I believe I have seen the most in theater even before I worked in one. I believe I Saw it 5 – 6 times. So when the sequel was announced I was really looking forward to it, even when I saw the trailer which was weak. I didn’t read the warning signs and still thought it could be worthwhile. I was appalled by what I watched as the audience around me hooted and hollered at the watered down humor and stereotypical jokes. What was supposed to pass for satire. I was not amused and felt embarrassed quite honestly for some of the actors. They heavily feature Steven Tyler playing himself and making jokes about how he never appears in films as it is tacky. Like that is a brilliant joke only of ironic which it is not here.

    It just feels like a film that is coasting more on it’s laurels or more the franchises instead of actually putting in some work and attempting to be a good film. It follows the rules of a sequel by being bigger and more of the same. It’s just majorly disappointing all around.

    Even though the film clearly deviates from the novel, there were some moments in the film which serves as a nod to the source novel: 1) The burn-out photo that Tiffany has (later picked up by Chili) is a nod to the fact that in the novel, the Russians operate a one-hour photo shop instead of the pawn shop. 2) The confrontation between DubMDs and the Russians in Nick’s office is a nod to the intended shoot-out between the two. In the novel, neither parties appear in the second half. 3) When Raji tries to setup Sin LaSalle against Nick, Raji deliberately spell Carr’s last name as CAR. In the novel, Nick’s full last name is Carcaterra.

    The only thing I found kind of funny the whole film was Cedric the Entertainer’s rap manager being Harvard educated and trying to teach his rappers etiquette. Though that bit wore out it’s welcome after it started It becomes over the top and overplayed. Though he seemed to be the only Real interesting character. Though most of his scenes are with Andre Benjamin whose role could have been played by anyone.

    This whole film is a waste, like a studio wrote off to justify expenses and they throw something together and release it to be proof of the spent money. Why not since the first one was successful. It’s a shame it had most of the elements to be a good film, or at least entertaining as the first film. Maybe the great quality of the first film set us up, since it was so good that this one caught is off guard as it offers diminished returns.

    The film just feels like you know what’s going to happen as soon as it is introduced and then feels stale and old.

    Grade: F


  14. All The Famous Tom Hanks Roles John Travolta Passed On And Other Movies He Was Nearly In:


  15. he said he was jealous of hanks career he turned down splash gump apollo 13 green mile gump and apoll 13 were not a loss turing down cause get shorty pulp ficton hits so no big loss. however he made gerneals daughter instead of green mile it did ok not great and he made crap in 1984 instead of splash


  16. 10 Incredible Against-All-Odds Hollywood Comebacks:

    John Travolta

    Travolta shot to fame in the 1970s with two iconic roles in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, as well as a supporting role in Carrie.

    The Downfall: After inspiring a nationwide country music craze with Urban Cowboy, Travolta starred in a series of flops. The Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive was compared unfavourably to the original. Two Of A Kind, which reunited him with Grease co-star Olivia Newton John, was slated by the press and made next-to-nothing at the box-office.

    Barring an underrated performances in the Brian De Palma thriller Blow Out, the ’80s were a bit of a washout for Travolta. He also famously turned down lead roles in American Gigolo and An Officer And A Gentleman, both of which went to Richard Gere (and were huge hits).

    What Brought Him Back: Quentin Tarantino, basically. Although Travolta found success in the Look Who’s Talking series, his resurgence as an actor really began with Pulp Fiction. His performance as Vincent Vega was heralded as an amazing return to form and he received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his effect.

    Tarantino, a huge fan of Travolta’s performance in Blow Out, fought to keep Travolta in the film against the studio’s wishes. The move paid off. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Vega, isn’t it?

    Did It Last?: After Pulp Fiction Travolta found himself back on the A-list and flooded with offers. He followed it up with Get Shorty, Broken Arrow and Face/Off. Unfortunately, it was all ruined with Battlefield Earth.


  17. How John Travolta Hijacked the Oscars:

    After last year’s Adele Dazeem flub, the actor screws up—and seizes the spotlight—again at the 2015 Oscars with his Idina Menzel chin grab, Scarlett Johansson smooch, and other gaffes.

    John Travolta had one job to do at the Oscars—the very same job he royally screwed up during last year’s trophy show.

    Redemption for the 2014 Adele Dazeem brain fart was within his grasp. It would take just one brief moment of cutesy patter to repay Frozen star Idina Menzel for the flub heard “round the world,” set up by the un-bombable Neil Patrick Harris.

    But Travolta wasn’t going out like that.

    His assault on the Academy Awards began hours earlier.

    The 61-year-old actor arrived to present at the 87th Academy Awards and saw his old Love Song for Bobby Long co-star Scarlett Johansson on the pre-Oscars red carpet. He wasn’t the only one; everyone spotted ScarJo as she and her plunging neckline posed for photos rocking a pompadour undercut, all but poured into a stunning forest-green Versace gown.

    Travolta, who’s on the early promo trail for his April opener The Forger, moseyed on over. He approached the unwitting Johansson from behind and planted an unsolicited smooch on her cheek, sliding a hand upon her tiny, unprepared waist.

    Johansson, consummate red-carpet pro that she is, never flinched. She barely registered the intrusion, although paparazzi lenses would capture a brief grimace in her smile in those few unforeseen seconds.

    Travolta almost made it through the telecast being upstaged by NPH’s downward-hosting spiral. Then Menzel took to the stage to introduce their bit with a line of sweet, sterile revenge for Adele Dazeem that, like much of the Oscars show, landed with a gentle thud: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage my very dear friend, Galom Gazingo.”

    In swept Travolta from the blind spot, with an embrace that lingered a beat too long, a foot too close. He grabbed her chin and spoke intimately. “I deserved that, but you, my darling, my beautiful, my wickedly talented Idina Menzel….” He pawed at her cheek, then resumed his grasp on that chin. “Let her goooo!” Twitterers sing-screamed. Menzel squirmed politely. Memes were crafted. Gifs were made.
    Video screenshot

    NPH referenced the awkward face-fondling in his closing “what’s in the box” Oscar predictions gag. Not that anyone could have guessed how thoroughly Travolta would have dominated the Oscars: He even managed to go viral when cameras caught him stealth-gazing at unsuspecting Imitation Game nominee Benedict Cumberbatch from the next row back.

    But as Travolta explained after the night finally brought a merciful end to 2015’s Awkward Oscars, the Adele Dazeem curse that sparked his campaign as Oscar’s #1 Weirdo was really the fault of someone else altogether.

    Gliding breathlessly into Jimmy Kimmel’s studio after the Oscars, a heavily made-up Travolta teased plans to start late-night dance circles at Madonna’s party and addressed “The Incident.”

    “Do you guys think that Jimmy and I look alike?” Travolta asked Kimmel’s audience, leaning in close and grabbing the host’s chin. He acknowledged this year’s Menzel manhandling and its instant Internet critics. “[It’s] what I did with Idina—apparently I played with her chin too much.”

    He blamed last year’s infamous flub on backstage Oscars chaos and the irresistible amazingness of one Goldie Hawn.

    “It was getting close to the time I was supposed to go on—suddenly a page grabbed me and said, ‘You’re on in a minute.’

    Unfortunately for him, Goldie Hawn had sashayed into his eye line “and I was star-struck, hugging and loving her up, forgetting I had to go and do this bit.”

    Pulled onstage, Travolta was horrified to find the Oscars producers had set the Teleprompter to phonetic pronunciation without warning. He saw the unfamiliar words flash on screen: “In my mind I thought, what is that name? I don’t know this name!”

    He said it anyway, and the rest is history.


    • How did John Travolta get so creepy? Yet another weird Oscars moment.


      It started as a moment of glory for John Travolta. Then things got weird.

      But that often seems to be the case, doesn’t it? We all remember last year when Travolta got up on the Oscars stage in front of the world and proudly introduced Idina Menzel as the “wickedly talented Adele Dazeem.”

      You can’t plan for a meme like that. Producers tried to strike gold again on Sunday night as they invited Travolta and Menzel to reunite to present best original song. Menzel appeared first. “Please welcome to the stage my very dear friend, Glom Gazingo,” she announced. Wild applause as an appropriately bashful Travolta walked out and wrapped Menzel in a big hug.

      “I deserve that,” Travolta said, arm still tightly around her waist. Then he grabbed her chin with his hand and pulled her face close, cooing. “But you, you, my darling, my beautiful, my wickedly talented Idina Menzel,” he cooed, stroking her chin.

      “You got it, yayyy,” Menzel trailed off uncomfortably as Travolta’s hand still lingered on the chin.

      Naturally, Twitter blew up as viewers were suddenly really weirded out. And just like that, Travolta became the joke of the Oscars. Also not helping? His touchy-feely picture with an unamused Scarlett Johansson (his former “Love Song for Bobby Long” co-star) on the red carpet.

      Really, who thought this was a good idea? (Mike Nelson/European Pressphoto Agency)

      This screenshot didn’t help, either:

      So John Travolta — what’s going on? How did you become the “creepy uncle” of the award show circuit?

      Part of the reason may be his utter cluelessness that what he’s doing is bizarre. Take his explanation of the face-touching incident after the ceremony on Jimmy Kimmel’s Oscar post-mortem.

      “Apparently, I played with her chin too much,” Travolta joked with Jimmy Kimmel of the incident, in apparent disbelief that there could be too much chin-playing.

      In the same appearance, he tried to explain how the “Adele Dazeem” flub happened in the first place — he was distracted by the “sexy, beautiful” Goldie Hawn.

      “As I get backstage I run into Goldie Hawn,” Travolta said, explaining his flustered behavior. “Now Goldie Hawn is charismatic, sexy, beautiful — got the amazing thing — and I was starstruck. I’m starstruck, hugging and loving her up, and forgetting I have to go and do this bit.”

      Note: When everyone already thinks you’re too handsy, probably don’t talk about “hugging and loving her up.” But again, Travolta doesn’t seem to get it, which makes him seem even more out of touch. He also took credit for Menzel’s dynamite 2014.

      “She’s had one of the best years of her life, and she gives me credit,” he said. That was probably meant as a joke on Menzel’s part . . . unless she really thinks he’s responsible for “Frozen.”

      That leads to the other problem. Travolta, who shot to fame in 1970s with “Welcome Back Kotter” and “Saturday Night Fever” and continued with 90s hits like “Pulp Fiction,” has been out of the spotlight for a while. His last big movie was “Hairspray” in 2007. Though faded A-listers do elicit excitement and nostalgia, Travolta hasn’t been gone quite long enough to really make us miss him. He hasn’t earned his “wacky celebrity” stripes yet, though his goofy attitude suggests that he thinks he has.

      Either way, his misguided attempts to be kooky aren’t exactly working out — and by next year, he should really have some self-awareness of how his goofiness comes across on-screen. Because even if Johansson really was excited to see him, as other pictures suggest:


  18. A 1996 double feature looks at the year of John Travolta:

    As a culture, we can’t quit John Travolta. It doesn’t matter how many terrible films he makes, or how many times he humiliates himself in public: We can’t seem to shake our fascination with him and his ridiculous choices, even if his films now come and go with little notice. Recent Travolta vehicles like From Paris With Love (one of those Eurotrash thrillers Liam Neeson didn’t star in, but might as well have) and Killing Season have made far less of an impression on audiences than the cavalcade of humiliations that constitute Travolta’s personal and professional life. He keeps finding new reasons for people to make fun of him: There’s his hair, which now appears to have come from inside a can of jet-black spraypaint. And there’s a 2012 Christmas album he recorded with Olivia Newton-John that spawned a music video as embarrassing in its own right as Battlefield Earth.

    But before last year, no one was mocking him for his ability to say names. That changed when, in the most magical Oscar fuck-up since the streaker onstage in 1974, Travolta inexplicably pronounced “Idina Menzel” as “Adele Dazeem.” Society rejoiced. While bordering on the fourth decade of its passionate love affair with Travolta—a love affair now largely rooted in ironic appreciation—it had found a new reason to find him ridiculous. The jokes, parodies, and homages were abundant. Consequently, Travolta was invited back to the Oscars this year to redeem himself. And Travolta being Travolta, he kept finding new ways to embarrass himself. This time, his pronunciation was just fine, but he couldn’t stop grabbing women (most notably Menzel and his former Love Song For Bobby Long co-star Scarlett Johansson) and grinning madly.

    These days, Travolta’s personal and professional career, not to mention his religious and sexual lives, emit an enduring trainwreck fascination. But in the aftermath of his career-resurrecting performance in 1994’s Pulp Fiction, and the success of 1995’s Get Shorty, Travolta was so popular, he starred in no fewer than three of the 20 top-grossing films of 1996: Michael, Phenomenon, and Broken Arrow. Yes, there was a time when Travolta’s name in the credits actually encouraged audiences to see a film, when they assumed any film with him in a starring role must be worth seeing. It’s a testament to how popular he was in the mid-1990s that audiences paid good money to see, in Phenomenon and Michael, variations on the same sub-mediocre movie.

    In both, Travolta plays a figure blessed with supernatural gifts. In Michael, he’s the titular angel who invades the lives of a trio of tabloid snoops and teaches them inevitable life lessons. In the Flowers For Algernon rip-off Phenomenon, he plays a humble mechanic who sees a flash in the sky one night and becomes the world’s smartest man. In both films, the outward appearance of Travolta’s characters belies their inner lives and ultimate importance. In Michael, he plays a beer-bellied, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing kook who is actually an honest-to-God angel straight out of heaven, complete with a pair of real wings. In Phenomenon, Travolta looks like a grease monkey who don’t have much book-learning or stuff-knowing until he becomes a super-genius with crazy telekinetic powers.

    Michael is most compelling as an allegory about fame. Michael is the quintessential celebrity. He has an impish twinkle in his eyes and a spring in his step. He’s irresistible to women. He’s a giant baby who eats scoops of sugar and devotes his time to mindless distractions like visiting many of the world’s most banal tourist traps. But he’s separated from the rest of humanity by an inner light, a special magnetism, and in this case at least, an actual pair of wings. Like a movie star, all Michael has to do is flash his million-dollar smile to get out of whatever trouble he finds himself in.

    Directed and co-written by Nora Ephron, Michael lopes into action when disgraced former Chicago Tribune journalist Frank Quinlan (William Hurt) and his photographer sidekick Huey (Robert Pastorelli), who work for a National Enquirer-like tabloid, get a letter from Pansy (Jean Stapleton), a small-town woman who claims to be harboring an angel. The tabloid’s mercurial editor, Vartan Malt (a perpetually apoplectic Bob Hoskins), dispatches Frank and Huey to track down the angel, along with Dorothy Winters (Andie MacDowell), who is presented to Frank and Huey as an expert in angels, and consequently the perfect companion for an angel-hunting expedition. Early on, the film reveals that Dorothy isn’t actually an angel expert, yet the story makes viewers wait 76 minutes for the climactic reveal as to why someone would pretend to be such a thing.

    But I’m not cruel enough to pointlessly withhold banal information in an attempt to generate suspense. Huey, you see, is of value to the paper almost exclusively because he is the owner and caretaker of Sparky The Wonder Dog, the paper’s mascot, and apparently one of the most famous dogs in the world. While Vartan does not think much of Huey, he harbors a love for the dog that borders on creepy. So he bets Frank and Huey that if they don’t come back with conclusive proof that angels are real, he gets to keep the dog. Dorothy isn’t actually an angel expert, but she is a dog expert who has been promised Huey’s job once the hapless trio returns from their trip with no real proof that angels are real beings, who hang out in the Midwest consuming mass quantities of sugar.

    But Dorothy is so much more and less than a dog trainer nefariously pretending to be an angel expert for furtive reasons. She’s also a comically hapless country singer-songwriter with three ex-husbands she references constantly, both in her country songs and outside them. Dorothy isn’t a human being so much as a series of quirks Ephron finds adorable, but she’s hardly alone in that respect. Travolta is also essentially playing a series of quirks. He smells like cookies. He’s a lust object for the entire female population. (Why not men as well? The film doesn’t say.) As previously mentioned, he’s a tourist-trap-loving sugar junkie. Like Mel Brooks’ 2,000 Year Old Man, Michael played a big role at many crucial junctures of human history.

    And because this is a John Travolta vehicle, Michael loves to sing and dance. Travolta plays him as perpetually on the verge of breaking into an elaborate dance routine. In the film’s most shameless and effective sequence, he acts as an angelic pied piper at a road stop when he hypnotizes the entire female contingent into dancing with him to “Chain Of Fools.” The film offers only the flimsiest narrative pretext for the boogieing, but John Travolta dancing is anywhere between two to four minutes of quality entertainment, regardless of the context.

    Where MacDowell doesn’t have the magnetism to make her simultaneously flimsily conceived and overwritten character seem like anything but a screenwriter’s fumbling contrivance, Travolta has the movie-star magnetism to sell Michael as a figure who is irresistible not despite his decadent eccentricities, but because of them. There’s a lightness to his performance the rest of the film would have been wise to emulate, a sense of weightlessness befitting a character with wings. Travolta is a lot of fun in Michael; he’s also the only reason this ramshackle trifle of a road comedy exists, even though there’s something appealingly old-fashioned about the film’s premise. It’d be a lot easier to embrace as half of a double bill in 1941, with Cary Grant as the angel, Dana Andrews as the cynical newsman, and Barbara Stanwyck as the wacky dog trainer.

    Without Travolta, there is no movie. With him, Michael is such a slight wisp of a movie that it barely exists. Yet the public had such a strong emotional attachment to Travolta that it flocked to see the film anyway, even though there’d already been a Travolta crowd-pleaser with a suspiciously similar premise released earlier that year.

    Where Michael benefits from the lightness of Travolta’s twinkling, charming star turn, Phenomenon is lumbering and endless, a dumb person’s fantasy of what super-intelligence might be like. A late-period Bonnie Raitt song of a movie directed by Jon Turteltaub, Phenomenon casts Travolta as George Malley, a mechanic whose greatest joys in life are palling around with Diana Ross-obsessed best friend Nate Pope (Forest Whitaker) and grabbing a brewski down at the local bar.

    Then one day, George sees a burst of light in the night sky, and suddenly discovers that his pokey old average brain has switched into overdrive, and that he can read books and learn languages in the time it takes others to boil an egg. Unlike that asshole Michael, however, George uses his powers to try to help his community. As a mechanic, George fixed cars. As the world’s greatest super-genius, he sets about fixing the world’s agricultural problems.

    But it isn’t just his brain that has made an incredible leap from zero to hero: He finds that by collaborating with the energy in seemingly inanimate objects, he can also control them with willpower. He’s like a cross between Uri Geller, Albert Einstein, the world’s most advanced Scientologist, and Jesus. Finally, there’s someone ready, willing, and able to do something about all the problems plaguing mankind. But George’s powers do not go unnoticed.

    Like a human version of the protagonist of Mac & Me, only less prone to elaborate production numbers at fast-food restaurants and being brought back to life by Coca-Cola, George attracts unwanted attention from the FBI and busybody scientists who’d love to either slice up his super-brain to see what makes it tick, or use it to make Russia spontaneously explode. The FBI nabs George and tries to understand his staggering transformation, but it’s a testament to the film’s poor plotting that after scooping him up and interrogating him, the FBI just lets George go (albeit with the caveat that they will be watching him like a hawk) so that the film can devote itself more fully to its primary focus: George’s romance with Lace Pennamin (Kyra Sedgwick), a single mother scarred by her experiences with men, and gun-shy about new relationships.

    All Michael has to do is be in the same zip code as a women to attract her, but George could literally levitate Lace’s house a thousand feet up in the air, then read her a love poem in every language, and she’d still equivocate about dating him. There are infinite directions the filmmakers could have taken the premise of a simple man who becomes superhuman, and Phenomenon decides to go the route of using this man to teach a bland middle-aged divorcée to open her heart and learn to love again, despite having been hurt in the past.

    Just as Michael is of interest primarily as an allegory for the perennial “Get Out Of Jail Free” card given to celebrities at Travolta’s level, Phenomenon is most compelling as a metaphorical take on Scientology. Because if you were to believe the honeyed promises of L. Ron Hubbard and the central tenets of Scientology, then reaching the highest apexes of the religion gives the devout not just the sense of peace or perspective associated with conventional religious faith, but something approximating genuine superpowers. When George is telling the scientific establishment that he thinks he was blessed with incredible powers to serve as an inspiration for man’s potential, it’s hard not to think of Hubbard and his ideas about the bottomless nature of human potential, and Scientology’s unique ability to realize that potential.

    Travolta and Whitaker reunited just four years later for another science-fiction film revolving around a simple man who becomes a super-genius: Battlefield Earth, a notable debacle that conclusively ended Travolta’s remarkable comeback, though he did go on to have occasional hits, some merited (Hairspray), some less so (Wild Hogs). It was the success of sappy little nothings like Michael and Phenomenon that gave Travolta the leverage over the puny man-animals who run film studios and let him finally make Battlefield Earth. And it seems strangely appropriate that the success of Phenomenon and Michael helped give Travolta the opportunity to realize his dreams—and in the process, to humiliate himself more spectacularly than ever before.


  19. 7 Former Mega Stars Who Lost Their Box Office Appeal:

    John Travolta

    John Travolta was a pretty big deal in the ‘70s; however, during the ‘80s, his career was in decline. In the ‘90s, he was able to make a comeback thanks to his role in the hit movie “Pulp Fiction.” He was nominated for an Academy Award and was inundated with movie offers. He found himself on Hollywood’s A-list as a result, but it didn’t last. By the year 2000, he was no longer considered a box office draw. There were no more Oscar nominations. Instead, he won a Razzie Award for his lackluster performance in the critically reviled flick, “Battlefield Earth.”

    For years now, Travolta has been anything but bankable. He doesn’t do much film work and the sordid details from her personal life are now news. The last successful film he headlined was “Hairspray;” however, there were countless other stars in the film, which may be why it was such a success. His last starring was “Old Dogs.” It was panned by the critics and earned him another Razzie nomination.


  20. How “Going Clear” Outs John Travolta:

    In the new documentary about Scientology, based on the book, Travolta is used as an example of how the church allegedly uses its members’ secrets against them.


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