His 66th birthday is scheduled for February 18, 2020. Though he’s had a lengthy and varied career, the actor’s has been distinguished by high and low points.
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On Broadway, Travolta appeared in two musicals before launching his acting career. He made his stage debut as “Doody” in the original production of “Grease.” (In the film version, he would play Danny Zuko, the lead character.) “Over Here,” a show starring the Andrews Sisters and starring Travolta opposite newcomers Marilu Henner and Treat Williams, would be his second Broadway engagement.
Once in Los Angeles, Travolta found work in television guest appearances. He made his cinematic debut in a low-budget horror picture starring Eddie Albert, Ernest Borgnine, and Ida Lupino, called “The Devil’s Rain.”
When he was cast as Vinny Barbarino on the popular sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” John Travolta became a household name. Carrie” would provide him a modest role in the film, but it would be his role in “Saturday Night Fever” that launched his film career and earned him his first Best Actor Oscar nomination at the age of 24. He is the fifth-youngest nominee in that category in the history of the award.
Travolta’s next several years would be a roller coaster of a ride. A major success with “Grease” and “Urban Cowboy” came at the expense of a huge failure with “Moment by Moment,” which featured him as an older guy in love with an older woman.
It wasn’t until the mid-1980s, with a sequel to “Saturday Night Fever” and a follow-up to “Two of a Kind” starring Olivia Newton-John, that he attempted to recover some of his early popularity. Despite the fact that both films were poorly regarded, Travolta’s career would take a long time to recover until he appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction and secured his second Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Visit our gallery of the 15 worst to the finest of John Travolta’s greatest performances to celebrate his birthday.
15. SHE’S SO LOVELY (1997)
In this picture, John Cassavetes, who had died eight years before the film’s production, wrote the script, which Travolta produced and co-starred in. His son, Nick Cassavetes, revived and directed the material. This film also features a tiny role for Gena Rowlands, John’s wife and Nick’s maternal grandmother. On his return from the hospital, Sean Penn’s character discovers that his wife (Robin Wright) has married John Travolta. The film earned Penn and his then-wife Wright a Best Actress SAG nomination as well as the Best Actor trophy at Cannes.
14. THE THIN RED LINE (1998)
For 20 years after directing two critically-acclaimed films of the 1970s (Badlands and Days of Heaven), Terrence Malik remained a legend in the film business. His return to filmmaking with “The Thin Red Line” was a triumphant one. The Guadalcanal war was the subject of the film’s all-star cast. He portrays one of the top military officers in the war, played by Travolta.
13. A CIVIL ACTION (1998)
A well-known Boston lawyer, played by John Travolta, takes on the case of a corporation accused of contaminating the local water supply and causing cancer in its residents. A few years later, “Erin Brockovich,” a film with a similar topic, garnered much more notice. Cinematography and Robert Duvall were both nominated for Best Supporting Actor for the film. Best Supporting Actor went to Duvall from SAG.
12. LOOK WHO’S TALKING (1989)
It was an unexpected comedic smash that saved Travolta’s career from the brink of oblivion. As a pregnant lady, Kirstie Alley plays a married man in the film. When she goes into labor and needs a ride to the hospital, she meets a taxi driver (John Travolta). A typical romance comedy was transformed into a unique one when Bruce Willis lent his voice to the baby’s.
11. HAIRSPRAY (2007)
“Hairspray” began as a John Waters film, which was then reworked into a Broadway musical. The musical was then remade as a movie starring Travolta. In the role of Edna, the mother of a young dancer who wishes to join a local TV dance show and also integrate it from its present all-white cast, Edna is played by this actor. Travolta was nominated for a Golden Globe for his work in this gender-bending film.
10. MICHAEL (1996)
Nora Ephron’s romantic comedies include “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally,” and “You’ve Got Mail.” She cast John Travolta as the Archangel Michael, which was a departure for her. Two tabloid reporters examine a rumor about an old woman who claims to have an angel living with her. When they learn that Michael is the real deal, their entire world is turned upside down.
9. FACE/OFF (1997)
John Woo’s action-packed thriller features an FBI agent (Travolta) who undergoes a futuristic operation that replaces his face with that of a terrorist (Nicolas Cage). When the terrorist assumes the identity of an FBI agent, the film enters a more sophisticated narrative where no one is fully sure who they are dealing with.
8. GET SHORTY (1995)
Based on Elmore Leonard’s novel of the same name, Travolta was named Best Comedy/Musical Actor at the 76th Annual Academy Awards. It’s a little surprising that Travolta has only received one major acting prize in a career that has spanned decades.
7. PRIMARY COLORS (1998)
After its publication, the novel “Primary Colors” sparked some controversy because the author was only given the name “Anonymous.” Rumors abounded as to the identity of the author who had inside information about Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, as the novel was plainly a parody of that campaign. When it was discovered to be Joe Klein of New York Magazine, it was a letdown. As Travolta’s charming southern candidate, Emma Thompson (in a perfect American accent) as his stressed-out wife, and particularly Kathy Bates (as a self-destructive political aide) do in the film adaptation, the performances are spot-on. (Bates won the SAG award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Oscar for the picture.)
6. CARRIE (1976)
Although it was released in 1976, the Brian De Palma film version of Stephen King’s first novel remains a cult favorite and is widely considered a pivotal moment in the history of the horror film genre. For horror films, an Oscar nomination is a rare thing. Sissy Spacek and Piper Laurie both received nods. A fragile adolescent (Spacek) is brutally picked on by her peers, but she gets her revenge on them at the senior prom in this film. Travolta as Carrie’s greatest tormentor’s dim-witted lover in the film (Nancy Allen).
5. URBAN COWBOY (1980)
As an oil refinery worker who spends his free time at a country western bar, Travolta gives a memorable performance. Debra Winger’s career was launched and mechanized bull riding became a fashionable craze at the time thanks to the film. When Winger and Travolta go through the highs and lows of their relationship on film, they make for a dynamic duo.
4. BLOW OUT (1981)
Filmmaker Brian De Palma teamed up with actor John Travolta and actress Nancy Allen for this well-received thriller about a movie sound technician who mistakenly films an event in which a political candidate is involved. The movie was well-received by critics but a financial failure. For the next few years, Travolta’s cinematic career would be severely hampered by this and other financial failures. Due in major part to Quentin Tarantino’s frequent declarations that this film ranks among his three all-time favorites, the film has grown in popularity in recent years.
3. GREASE (1978)
In the original Broadway production of “Grease,” Travolta filled in for a minor role that had to be replaced. In the film adaptation, he took on the character of Danny Zuko, the protagonist. An immensely popular soundtrack record with a slew of Top 10 hits was released to accompany the film, which depicts the story of a “good” girl who falls in love with a “bad” male.
2. SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER (1977)
With this film, Travolta ushered in the disco era for a new generation of moviegoers. At night, his character transforms into the ultimate disco king in a local Brooklyn disco, where he performs as a 19-year-old working at a hardware shop by day. The film’s soundtrack CD was one of the most popular of all time, dominated by Bee Gees songs. After the disco period ended, the film’s appeal waned, although it was a box office hit at the time, and Travolta received critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination for his performance.
1. PULP FICTION (1994)
In the 1980s and early 1990s, Travolta’s career took a massive turn for the worse. “Look Who’s Talking” and its sequels were the only projects he worked on. His love for “Blow Out” may have led Quentin Tarantino to pick him as the lead in his second picture. His performance as a hitman garnered him a second Best Actor nomination, and the film’s success gave Travolta’s career a second wind.