Screen legend John Travolta remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic and best loved stars. With an immense filmography to his name, spanning everything from action, comedy, musicals, horror, sci-fi and drama, there are far too many memorable Travolta movies to list, but most people have their favourite.
To celebrate the UK release of his tense new thriller The Fanatic, written and directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst (The Education of Charlie Banks) and Travolta playing a role unlike anything we’ve seen before, we delve back to examine his best performances to date.
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
In this classic movie which defined a disco generation, Travolta oozes charisma, charm and dominates the screen as king of the dancefloor, Tony Manero, who endures a poorly paid, dead-end job and living with his parents and family, to hit the clubs anytime he can.
Beyond the attraction to the culture, fashion and music of this period, it’s a great drama and grounds itself in reality by asking what a young man like Tony can do with his passion, to escape a mundane future? The 1983 sequel, Staying Alive, was a success commercially but fared less well with critics.
This feel-good musical masterpiece sees Travolta play high school bad boy Danny Zuko, stealing the show (and many a heart) as the cool Elvis Presley-styled kid who falls in love with Olivia Newton-John’s good Australian girl over one hot summer.
With memorable lines, catchy tunes and endless sing-along moments, Grease is a legend of the stage and the adapted film is a favourite for many, the definition of feel-good entertainment. For a long period, Grease was the third highest-grossing movie of all time, behind Jaws and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Blow Out (1981)
From legendary director Brian De Palma (Scarface, The Untouchables) Blow Out is the film which, for many, first established Travolta as a true force on screen. Playing B-movie sound recordist, Jack, he collects outdoor sound effects and noises for use in his films, and one night accidently records a murder, finding himself drawn into an assassination plot.
Carrying the story through his multi-layered dramatic performance, Blow Out remains a favourite among Travolta fans and established him as a serious, heavyweight actor after what some had seen as lighter dance and musical fare of the 1970’s. In fact, Travolta was said to suffer from insomnia during the shoot and his lack of sleep helped him deliver his moody performance.
Pulp Fiction (1994)
In this complex crime epic, Travolta was hand-picked by writer-director Quentin Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs, Django Unchained), a noted fan of Blow Out, to play heroin-addicted hitman Vincent Vega, a role which catapulted him back into the Hollywood A-list. Beyond this, it launched him back into popular culture, the character now being the subject of comedy sketches, pop art and internet memes, with Travolta famously shown alongside his on-screen partner and brother-in-arms, Jules, played by Samuel L. Jackson (Unbreakable, The Hateful Eight).
Interweaving several stories of LA crime in the 90’s, Tarantino’s razor-sharp dialogue, trademark bursts of violence and dark humour, and an excellent ensemble cast, made this a smash hit in Cannes and a success all over the world. After this, Travolta was back on top.
Get Shorty (1995)
Flexing his acting and wry comedy skills, Travolta plays loan shark gangster Chili Palmer who travels from Florida to Hollywood on a job, and becomes embroiled in the movie business, spotting similarities between the industry and his life of crime.
Based on a popular novel by Elmore Leonard (Jackie Brown), Travolta won a Golden Globe for his lead performance, one of the most entertaining roles of his career, and plays opposite Gene Hackman (The French Connection, The Royal Tenenbaums), Rene Russo (The Thomas Crown Affair, Nightcrawler) and Danny DeVito (Twins, Batman Returns).
While it’s best known as a visceral action film from legendary Hong Kong director John Woo (The Killer, Broken Arrow), the performances from Travolta and Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Mandy) allow both actors to let loose, give heightened performances and even play each other thanks to a wild premise and character swap scenario.
When Travolta’s FBI agent, Sean Archer, finally catches terrorist Castor Troy, he and his team employ a radical, reversible science to take Troy’s actual face in place of Archer’s in order to infiltrate his gang. But when Troy wakes up from an induced coma, steals Archer’s face and kills everyone who knows about the mission, things become complicated. A landmark action film of the 1990’s.
A Civil Action (1998)
Travolta gives a brilliant performance in this tense legal thriller and true story. Travolta’s Jan Schlichtmann is a high-priced personal injury attorney who only takes big-money cases he can settle out of court. While his latest case appears simple, he becomes entangled in a legal battle taking on corporate giants when local people become sick from toxic poisoning.
Sharing the screen with Robert Duvall (The Apostle, Phenomenon) and William H. Macy (Shameless, Fargo), this underrated courtroom drama is now recognised as a powerful, poignant film boasting a nuanced performance from Travolta.
The General’s Daughter (1999)
In this military story, Travolta plays CID investigator Paul Brenner who holds the power to arrest any military person, with any rank or seniority, anywhere in the world. When he’s called to investigate the murder of a female captain, the daughter of another famous general, he begins unravelling a sordid secret buried deep under military secrecy.
Directed with surprising weight by action filmmaker Simon West (Con Air, The Expendables 2), Travolta delivers a strong and thoughtful performance, with the film’s source novel adapted by screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Marathon Man).
The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016)
In the first season of the critically acclaimed American Crime Story anthology series, Travolta plays famed defence lawyer Robert Shapiro in an account of the highly publicised O.J. Simpson trial, with Simpson himself played by Cuba Gooding Jr. (Jerry Maguire, Selma).
Travolta was praised for an excellent performance among a top ensemble cast and the series earned critical acclaim, receiving 22 Emmy nominations in 13 categories, winning nine awards (more than any other show) and even a Golden Globe. The second season takes a new theme and explores the murder of designer Gianni Versace, while the upcoming third season chronicles the impeachment of the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, for charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
The Fanatic (2019)
In one of his most unusual roles, and a style of performance no one has seen from the Hollywood icon, Travolta plays celebrity obsessed autograph hunter, Moose, who is infatuated with his favourite action and horror star, Hunter Dunbar. When he feels slighted by his hero after a signing, he embarks on an unhinged quest to get a response, leading to a home invasion and a very long night that changes both men irreparably.
Reportedly Travolta’s favourite character he’s ever played, he turns in a committed and very affecting performance which plays on the psychology between the sad, desperate Moose and his dismissive, unlikeable idol, played by Devon Sawa (Final Destination, Nikita). This builds towards a shocking and uncomfortable climax which pushes the audience to question who is the hero, and who is the villain? It’s a must-see for Travolta fans.
The Fanatic is released on Digital Download from 8th June and on DVD from 20th July