In the 1970s, thanks to making timeless classics with director Brian De Palma, John Travolta was one of the biggest movie stars in the world. His star faded throughout the 1980s, but he was quickly brought back into the spotlight when Quentin Tarantino gave him the role of Vincent Vega in his 1994 sophomore feature, Pulp Fiction. Over such a long career, Travolta has naturally made a wide variety of movies, and despite a couple of lackluster efforts, plenty of them have turned out to be really good. So, here are John Travolta’s 10 Best Movies (According To Rotten Tomatoes).
10 The Thin Red Line (80%)
Based on a 1962 novel that was previously adapted for the screen in 1964, The Thin Red Line is an epic war movie about the Pacific Theater during World War II. The visionary arthouse filmmaker Terrence Malick wrote and directed this 1998 re-adaptation of the novel, which stars such huge names as George Clooney, Sean Penn, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, and Nick Nolte alongside John Travolta. Hans Zimmer composed the score, which is as sweeping and breathtaking as one would expect from him, and the cinematography was done by back-to-back Oscar winner John Toll, so there’s some impressive talent behind the scenes.
9 Primary Colors (81%)
Mike Nichols directed this satirical political drama from a screenplay by his long-time comedy partner Elaine May, and it was based on the novel of the same name. The novel is a “roman á clef” (French for “novel with a key”), which means a technically fictional work that is heavily influenced by real-world events. Primary Colors is strictly speaking the fictional story of Governor Jack Stanton (later President Jack Stanton), played by John Travolta, and his wife Susan Stanton, played by Emma Thompson, but it was clearly inspired by Bill Clinton’s run for office and his relationship with Hillary Clinton.
8 Saturday Night Fever (83%)
The sight of John Travolta strutting through New York City in a white tux to the funky sounds of the Bee Gees is all this movie is remembered for, but it’s a much more fascinating, deep study of the disco subculture of the ‘70s. This movie acts as a snapshot of youth in New York on the disco scene in the ‘70s, complete with all the tailor-made dancing clothes and sexual liberation. Saturday Night Fever is the movie that birthed Travolta’s film career. He’d made his name on the TV sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, but it was Saturday Night Fever that made him a recognizable movie star.
7 Blow Out (85%)
Film noirs in which a protagonist stumbles upon some information they weren’t supposed to know and suffer from paranoia as the government hunts them down are a dime a dozen, but Brian De Palma’s ‘80s update of the genre stands out as one of the best. Blow Out stars John Travolta as a Foley artist searching for the perfect scream to use as a sound effect in the slasher movie he’s working on. One night, he’s out capturing sounds and he happens to record audio of a shady political assassination that was being framed as an unfortunate accident.
6 Get Shorty (87%)
This darkly comic film adaptation of the Elmore Leonard’s crime novel of the same name has the hilarious energy and brilliantly drawn characters of the source material. John Travolta stars as Chili Palmer, a cool-as-ice criminal fixer who’s planning to get out of the business and looks into becoming a film producer on a job in Hollywood.
Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito provide strong performances in the supporting cast, but it’s really Travolta’s movie. We follow Chili Palmer through the whole plot, and what comes as a shocking twist to us comes as a shocking twist to him.
5 Bolt (89%)
While it’s not Disney’s most popular recent work, Bolt did lead to the revival of the Mouse House’s own animation studio, which eventually gave us Tangled, Frozen, and Moana. This film is about a dog (voiced by Travolta) who stars in a TV show about a dog with superpowers, who actually thinks he has superpowers because he doesn’t know how special effects work. He heads across the country to save his friend from a fictional threat that he believes to be real, picking up a couple of sidekicks from the less pampered side of animal society along the way. Bolt is an almost Pixar-level Disney achievement.
4 Hairspray (91%)
John Travolta turned a lot of heads when he donned a wig to play Edna Turnblad, the lead protagonist’s mother in the musical Hairspray. But the role of Edna has been played by a male performer in all incarnations of the story — it’s a Hairspray tradition. She was played by Divine in the original 1988 movie and by Harvey Fierstein in the Broadway show and in the TV adaptation Hairspray Live! that followed. Travolta reportedly suggested the legendary Christopher Walken for the role of his husband in the 2007 movie, and that’s who the producers ended up choosing for the part.
3 TIE: Face/Off (92%)
John Woo’s action thriller Face/Off was a lot better than anyone ever expected it to be. Its premise sounds ridiculous, as a scorned FBI agent and the ruthless terrorist who killed his son switch faces.
But by casting John Travolta and Nicolas Cage in the lead roles and bringing his distinctive slow-motion shooting techniques to the movie’s operatic set pieces, Woo managed to lean into the crazy aspects of the concept and create something really special. We go in knowing that the technology will be far-fetched, and Woo doubles down on that with a movie that’s tantamount to science fiction.
2 TIE: Carrie (92%)
Stephen King’s debut novel Carrie still stands out as one of his best. The story of a bullied teenager who becomes aware of her telekinetic powers and her overbearing evangelical mother is a horror classic, both on the page and the silver screen. Brian De Palma took the most memorable — which is to say, most gruesome and graphic) scenes from the novel and realized them beautifully on the screen, with Sissy Spacek nailing the title role. Travolta played the boyfriend of one of Carrie’s bullies. In 2013, Carrie was re-adapted, but there was absolutely no need to do that — De Palma’s original adaptation was the perfect translation of the book.
1 TIE: Pulp Fiction (92%)
Quentin Tarantino saved John Travolta from a career slump when he cast him to play Vincent Vega in his second movie, Pulp Fiction. There are no lead characters in Pulp Fiction, since it’s a sprawling crime saga with a huge ensemble cast, but if there was one lead character, then it would probably be Vincent, because he impacts all of the movie’s parallel storylines: he goes to Brett’s apartment with Jules, he takes Mia Wallace out on a date, he gets killed while staking out Butch’s apartment, and he even turns out to be in the diner from the opening scene.
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