John Travolta may not be the box office heartthrob he used to be, but this doesn't mean he hasn't continued to turn out some great performances over the years. After spending several films singing, dancing, or both, Travolta began branching out into other genres. The result? His career took a dip. That is, until a little movie called Pulp Fiction, which reminded everyone Travolta could do more than dance (though he still did it well).
Since then, he's continued churning out memorable performances in various genres, from an FBI agent switching faces with Nicolas Cage to the voice of a not-so-super-powered dog in Disney's Bolt. But, like any other actor, he's also had his fair share of flops, particularly in recent years. In fact, his 2018 biographical crime drama Gotti ended up with the dreaded 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
We're looking back at some of Travolta's best (and worst) films, from the ones he should never have touched to the ones that wouldn't have made it without him.
19 Saved: Saturday Night Fever
What better film to kick off this list than the one that gained disco music and Travolta worldwide fame? Featuring one of cinema's greatest soundtracks and an Oscar-nominated performance by Travolta, Saturday Night Fever holds a firm spot as one of the best movies from the '70s.
18 Ruined: Battlefield Earth
Now, we begin to look at Travolta's ugly side... and, honestly, it can't get much worse than this. Envisioned as a sci-fi epic to represent Scientology, Battlefield Earth will instead be remembered for its nine Razzie wins and as the 20th Century's worst film (according to the Stinkers Bad Movie Awards).
But, while the plot, effects, and cinematography are atrocious, it's Travolta's ridiculous overacting as lead alien Terl that makes it one of cinema's worst productions.
17 Saved: Grease
A year after he dominated the dance floor and the disco community, Travolta set his sights on singing and the greaser culture. And, thus, he further cemented himself as a leading man everyone needed to pay attention to.
With Grammy winner Olivia Newton-John alongside him, Travolta made Grease one of the most successful musicals of all time.
16 Ruined: Hairspray
Yeah, we know. The image above is kind of creepy. But, amazingly, we didn't use Photoshop. That's actually John Travolta portraying Edna Turnblad in the 2007 Hairspray remake.
While it was good that the film continued the tradition of having a man in drag play Edna, Travolta's involvement divided critics. Sure, Travolta was a scene-stealer, but he sometimes proved more distracting than anything.
15 Saved: Face/Off
As with Nicolas Cage, this John Woo blockbuster wouldn't have worked without Travolta, as the two play off each other so well (though, with their characters switching faces, that's kind of a requirement).
Praised for its over-the-top action, thrilling story, and memorably zany humor by both Cage and Travolta, Face/Off is a movie Travolta will likely never forget (if it really is him...).
14 Ruined: Swordfish
Though this film is mostly remembered for Halle Berry's topless scene, it's also worth pointing out how poorly it utilized its all-star cast, including Hugh Jackman, Don Cheadle, and Sam Shepard. However, the actor who arguably had it the worst was John Travolta, whose performance as Gabriel Shear a spy who hires a computer hacker (Jackman) to steal billions in government funds, earned him a Razzie nomination (shared with another performance we'll mention later).
13 Saved: Blow Out
Though John Travolta never got to act in an Alfred Hitchcock film, he got the next best thing by starring in Brian De Palma's 1981 political thriller Blow Out.
Travolta plays a Philadelphia sound technician who rescues a woman from a car crash, only to discover he has captured audio evidence of a possible assassination. From here, Travolta gets involved in a high-stakes political conspiracy that will have you hooked until the film's shocking conclusion.
12 Ruined: The Taking of Pelham 123
Why remake a film with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating? We don't know, but Top Gun director Tony Scott did, and the result was almost half of that. However, it might've done better if John Travolta had been more believable as the main villain.
While Denzel Washington leads the film, it's Travolta's performance that seems to be remembered more by critics, but not in a good way.
11 Saved: Urban Cowboy
While many are quick to label it as a country version of Saturday Night Fever, this romantic drama is much more.
There's also mechanical bull riding for sport (trust us, it's serious business), the trials faced by Travolta's Bud and Debra Winger's Sissy as they go through the ups and down of their new marriage, and yet another great soundtrack.
10 Ruined: Shout
Okay, this is the last John Travolta musical or dance film on this list, we promise. This time, Travolta tries to show us how music is done by playing a rock n' roll music teacher at a strict all-boys school...while he just so happens to be on the run from the law. Now, this could have been cool, if it weren't so forgettable when compared to Travolta's other musical masterpieces.
9 Saved: Get Shorty
Many are quick to point to Men in Black as director Barry Sonnenfeld's best movie...and they're probably right. But, perhaps this perception is the reason his 1995 highly-rated gangster comedy/thriller has seemingly been overshadowed.
Get Shorty not only offered "a sly twist on the usual Hollywood gangster dynamic" (according to Rotten Tomatoes), but also earned John Travolta a Golden Globe. Not an easy task, especially when his main co-star was the great Gene Hackman.
8 Ruined: Domestic Disturbance
Remember that other film we talked about earlier? The one that "helped" Travolta earn a Razzie nomination? Well, the reasoning was very simple: Travolta was cast as the protagonist, and Vince Vaughn played the antagonist...Seriously, what was the casting director thinking?!
Anyways, Travolta plays a boat builder who becomes jealous/suspicious of his ex-wife's new husband and fears for her and his son's safety. While this could've been interesting, it instead ended up predictable and disappointing.
7 Saved: Primary Colors
While John Travolta has yet to play former U.S. President Bill Clinton, he came very close in Primary Colors, which was obviously based on Clinton's controversial presidency. Though supporting actor Kathy Bates was the only one to garner an Oscar nomination, Travolta still shines alongside his First Lady, Emma Thompson.
6 Ruined: The Forger
The most recent film on this list, 2014's The Forger sees John Travolta as an imprisoned thief who strikes a deal with a criminal art dealer for early release to spend time with his sick son. The catch? A team-up with his father (Christopher Plummer) to substitute a famous painting with a copy.
We only wish the director could've swapped this film for something more meaningful.
5 Saved: Michael
Behind Hairspray, this is probably the second weirdest film image on this list. In this instance, however, just like Travolta's Archangel Michael, it's not what you'd expect.
Three reporters hear about a supposed angel staying in Iowa, but, upon travelling there to interview him, they meet Travolta's pot-bellied, smoking, and beer-guzzling bum of an angel enjoying his last vacation on Earth. Needless to say, this film probably wouldn't have done as well without Travolta.
4 Saved: From Paris with Love
After the success of 2010's Taken, director Pierre Morel tried to give fans another fun, memorable action romp...and he arguably succeeded, but only because of John Travolta's over-the-top performance as secret agent Charlie Wax (that name alone makes him interesting).
Incoherent? Sure. Dumb? Absolutely. But, Travolta and his shaven head fit in just fine.
3 Ruined: Killing Season
Robert De Niro is one of the greatest actors alive today, but even he makes bad career choices. First, he shouldn't have expected a good film from the director of Daredevil and Ghost Rider. Second, the moment he heard co-star John Travolta's unnatural Serbian accent, he should've known to jump ship.
Alas, this forgettable thriller about two Bosnian War veterans hunting each other failed to garner much praise, and Travolta's involvement was a primary factor.
2 Ruined: White Man's Burden
There are many great films with racial commentary today that looking back on the bad ones seems pointless. However, we're discussing bad John Travolta movies, and White Man's Burden definitely fits that category.
In an alternate reality where African Americans rule over a white minority, Travolta kidnaps his boss (Harry Belafonte) after getting fired. While Travolta isn't the only thing wrong with the movie, his performance didn't help his post-Pulp Fiction resurgence.
1 Saved: Phenomenon
Over a decade before Bradley Cooper and Scarlett Johansson took drugs to improve their brain function, John Travolta did so by getting struck by a mysterious light in the sky. While this might sound odd, Phenomenon makes for an enjoyable watch...That is, until the film's latter half, when things take a somber turn. Nevertheless, Travolta gave a sympathetic performance and helped it become a box-office success.