Best John Travolta films

Written by:
June 15, 2018
Gareth Cattermole // Getty Images

Best John Travolta films

There are few Hollywood career arcs stranger than that of John Travolta. Even calling it an arc is a misnomer. Travolta took the chance to bully poor, supernatural Carrie White and parlayed it into the role of heartthrob on “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He used his dancing skills in “Saturday Night Fever” and musical theater prowess in “Grease” to become one of the biggest stars in the world, acting in the #1 movie and hitting #1 on the Billboard charts in 1978. Then later that year, he was in a film so horrible it almost ended both his and Lily Tomlin’s careers.

As always Travolta bounced back. His first revival flick was “Urban Cowboy”think “Saturday Night Fever” in a country-western bar; later, the role of a lifetime in “Pulp Fiction” that would bring his career back, again. But even that seemingly un-mess-upable revivalVincent Vega is about as iconic as characters comewas quickly squandered with odd choice after odd choice. His recent role as Robert Shapiro in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” seemed gifted from the gods—producer Ryan Murphy is the king of camp, an arena where Travolta is known to thrive. But even there, his role was overshadowed by others in the all-star cast.

Travolta is undoubtedly one of the most known Hollywood figures of all time. Can he act? Forty years after showing up in Gabe Kaplan’s classroom, it’s still unclear. But will he shock us with a performance no one saw coming? Almost certainly.

In his career, every low point is just stage-setting for a comeback. Prepare for talking dogs, wild hogs, and summer lovin’. These are John Travolta’s 51 Best Films, according to their IMDb rankings.

RELATED: Ranking Adam Sandler movies from worst to first

1 / 51
Warner Bros.

#51. Battlefield Earth

IMDb rating: 2.4
IMDb votes: 70,229
Director: Roger Christian
Release year: 2000

A lot of terrible things have been said about this movieit’s been called a “10-ton turkey,” “appalling,” and the “worst of the millennium”and rightly so: This film based on the L. Ron Hubbard novel of the same name is B-movie bad without any of the fun. The problems are nearly countless, but known Scientologist Travolta’s devotion to the source text, written by the religion’s founder, must have made the adaptation process tricky. Travolta plays an embattled security chief of an alien race that tries to illegally mine gold to pay back to his home country. He wears a codpiece and a dreadlock wig—and it gets worse from there.

2 / 51
Hulton Archive // Getty Images

#50. Moment by Moment

IMDb rating: 2.9
IMDb votes: 948
Director: Jane Wagner
Release year: 1978

Travolta had a three-film run with Cream and Bee Gees producer Robert Stigwood: “Saturday Night Fever,” “Grease,” and then this badly reviewed romancestill a great two-year run. Written and directed by Jane Wagner, “Moment by Moment” tells the story of an older Beverly Hills socialite (Lily Tomlin) who rebounds from her divorce with a pill-head named Strip Sunset (John Travolta). Both actors were at the height of their power, but something just didn’t click and the film was an absolute mess. So bad, in fact, that it nearly derailed both actors' careers. 

3 / 51
Columbia Pictures Corporation

#49. Perfect

IMDb rating: 4.3
IMDb votes: 3,830
Director: James Bridges
Release year: 1985

There’s a great section in Joe Hagan’s biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner where he talks about the misguided decision to play a caricature of himself in this film. Wenner, ever the scenester, thought it would be great to act alongside Travolta and Jamie Lee Curtis, playing Mark Roth, the editor of Rolling Stone who ends up being the villain in “Perfect.” Travolta plays a reporter who falls in love with his subject (Curtis), a workout instructor. Roth ends up changing Travolta’s feature on gyms as the “single bars of the '80s” to make it more salacious. The film not only appears dated in hindsight—it already felt too late upon its release to be relevant, and too self-promotional for Wenner’s magazine to be taken seriously.  

4 / 51
TriStar Pictures

#48. Look Who's Talking Now

IMDb rating: 4.3
IMDb votes: 24,571
Director: Tom Ropelewski
Release year: 1993

The third in the “Look Who’s Talking” trilogy, “Look Who’s Talking Now” adds some talking animals to the fold. The 1993 film follows John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and their two unexpectedly talking babies, who are now old enough to talk without the aid of overdubbed grown-up actors. The family gets some dogsvoiced by Diane Keaton and Danny DeVitowho also have the gift of gab, but apparently it lacked the same magic as its predecessors.

5 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#47. Staying Alive

IMDb rating: 4.5
IMDb votes: 12,581
Director: Sylvester Stallone
Release year: 1983

Somehow, this sequel to “Saturday Night Fever,” penned and directed by Sylvester Stallonewith a soundtrack written by Parkland student bully Frank Stalloneexists. As expected, catching up with disco dancer Tony Manero (John Travolta) a half-decade later—now on Broadway—does not recapture the somewhat gritty, lived-in feeling of the original. The whole product seemed flawed from the start, and pulling genius from a precarious premise is not a speciality of the Brothers Stallone. Still, it’s always a joy to watch Travolta dance.

6 / 51
Big Mouth Productions

#46. Look Who's Talking Too

IMDb rating: 4.5
IMDb votes: 40,162
Director: Amy Heckerling
Release year: 1990

While the second in the “Look Who’s Talking” trilogy is far from a perfect film, it does have a solidly punny title. The young couple (John Travolta and Kirstie Alley) are struggling parents whose lives are further complicated when they add a baby daughtervoiced, and thankfully not tweeted, by Roseanne Barrto their brood. Strangely, Mel Brooks voices a talking toilet. Archeologists will look back at Travolta in this film as the ur-handsome '90s dad.

7 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#45. The Experts

IMDb rating: 4.7
IMDb votes: 2,055
Director: Dave Thomas
Release year: 1989

This 1989 Cold War comedy is an example of a legendary premise that gets botched in execution. “The Experts” follows two American party boys (John Travolta and Arye Gross) who are kidnapped by a Russian spy on the way to a club and transported to a phony American town in the center of the Soviet Union. The town is used to train Soviet spies how to be American, and Travolta and Gross become the ambassadors to America’s way of life. Quickly, the spies begin to fall for the guys’ love of fun and excess, leading to a panic among the higher-ups. Travolta has a truly fantastic mullet in this film. 

8 / 51
Sandy Howard Productions

#44. The Devil's Rain

IMDb rating: 4.8
IMDb votes: 2,547
Director: Robert Fuest
Release year: 1975

Between the end of the "Star Trek" TV series and the beginning of its film run, William Shatner did a few B-movies—including this one, which has him battling a supernaturally powerful satanist. This movie has no business being memorable, but it features a young John Travolta in his first film role, in which he gets indoctrinated into the satanist cult. 

9 / 51
Twentieth Century Fox

#43. Two of a Kind

IMDb rating: 4.8
IMDb votes: 3,442
Director: John Herzfeld
Release year: 1983

It was a big deal to have Travolta and “Grease” co-star Olivia Newton-John reunite five years after their musical mega-hit. Unfortunately, “Two of a Kind”—about an inventor (Travolta) who robs a bank (at which Newton-John is a teller) while God (Gene Hackman) contemplates a second flood—was far from greased lightning. The film flopped and was lampooned by critics, but the Newton-John heavy soundtrack went platinum. One of the singles was “Take a Chance,” a duet with Travolta.  

10 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#42. Lucky Numbers

IMDb rating: 5.0
IMDb votes: 9,137
Director: Nora Ephron
Release year: 2000

Directed by the legendary Nora Ephron, “Lucky Numbers” has all the ingredients of a great film: a deep cast—Travolta, Lisa Kudrow, Tim Roth, Ed O'Neill, Bill Pullman, Michael Rapaport, a fun storyline, and a great director. But unfortunately the film—which follows a beloved but financially distressed weatherman (Travolta) trying to rig the state lottery—did not strike gold. Part of the problem may have been that it was the only Ephron-directed film that she did not write—it could’ve used more of her signature banter. 

11 / 51
Management Company Entertainment Group (MCEG)

#41. Chains of Gold

IMDb rating: 5.1
IMDb votes: 774
Director: Rod Holcomb
Release year: 1991

Travolta wrote this film, which didn’t get a theatrical release and instead aired on Showtime. He stars as an alcoholic-turned-social worker who fights to save a Miami kid from a crack-peddling street gang run by Benjamin Bratt.   

12 / 51
Universal Pictures

#40. Shout

IMDb rating: 5.1
IMDb votes: 1,642
Director: Jeffrey Hornaday
Release year: 1991

In this film, Travolta plays a music teacher at a strict West Texas boys’ school in the 1950s who introduces his students to rock ‘n’ roll—much to the dismay of the headmaster. Heather Graham plays the headmaster’s daughter, who falls for one of the boys, and Gwyneth Paltrow shows up in her first movie role.

13 / 51
Elite Film Productions

#39. Life on the Line

IMDb rating: 5.2
IMDb votes: 3,193
Director: David Hackl
Release year: 2015

Based on a true story, “Life on the Line” follows a crew of linemen fixing a power grid who must survive a barrage of downed power lines during a deadly storm. Travolta plays a member of the crew, but despite the constant sparks, the film has no electricity. Instead, it falls into a classic “based on a true story” trap—being overly reverential and recounting events rather than exploring the characters’ interior lives.

14 / 51
Rysher Entertainment

#38. White Man's Burden

IMDb rating: 5.2
IMDb votes: 4,298
Director: Desmond Nakano
Release year: 1995

It’s hard to believe that this film exists. Clearly birthed from high-minded and hopeful ideas, “White Man’s Burden” imagines a world where white Americans are the underclass while African-Americans make up America’s ruling elite. Travolta plays a white factory worker who is fired by Harry Belafonte’s character, and responds by kidnapping the factory owner. This film wasn’t well-received in the mid-'90s and is even less accepted decades later.

15 / 51
Trans World Entertainment (TWE)

#37. Eyes of an Angel

IMDb rating: 5.3
IMDb votes: 979
Director: Robert Harmon
Release year: 1991

Initially released in France in 1991, “Eyes of an Angel” didn’t get its straight-to-video U.S. release until 1994, after Travolta’s “Pulp Fiction”-charged career revival. The film follows widower Bobby (Travolta) who steals money from his brother-in-law and flees across the country with his 10-year-old daughter. They are pursued by the brother-in-law and a sweet dog that has bonded with the little girl.

16 / 51
Hannibal Classics

#36. I Am Wrath

IMDb rating: 5.3
IMDb votes: 9,697
Director: Chuck Russell
Release year: 2016

This action film follows a former Black Ops agent (Travolta), who turns into a vigilante to avenge his wife’s murder at the hands of a street gang. This film is another entry in the seemingly endless pool of old action star revenge flicks; the standout of this one is that Travolta gets a back tattoo that says, “I am wrath.”

17 / 51
Millennium Films

#35. Killing Season

IMDb rating: 5.4
IMDb votes: 31,807
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Release year: 2013

This film was a flop, even though it featured the much-awaited pairing of Robert De Niro and Travolta. In the film, De Niro plays a retired colonel who oversaw the execution of Serbians during the Bosnian War. Travoltadonning a misguided beard and accentplays a survivor of the shootings, bent on revenge, who tracks down De Niro at his rural cabin and befriends him under false pretenses. A compelling, and then anti-climatic, face-off ensues. 

18 / 51
Walt Disney Pictures

#34. Old Dogs

IMDb rating: 5.4
IMDb votes: 33,431
Director: Walt Becker
Release year: 2009

This Golden Raspberry Nominee for Worst Picture features an incredibly single Travolta who is whisked into a co-parenting role with his business partner (Robin Williams), who just has learned a tropical vacation fling resulted in two twins. As Kyle Smith of the New York Post put it: “‘Old Dogs’ does to the screen what old dogs do to the carpet.” Travolta also secured a Golden Raspberry Worst Actor nomination for his performance.

19 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#33. Domestic Disturbance

IMDb rating: 5.5
IMDb votes: 22,707
Director: Harold Becker
Release year: 2001

This thriller stars Travolta as a divorced ship builder whose wife (Teri Polo) remarries a pillar of the community who has a dark secret (Vince Vaughn). While Travolta and Vaughn do fine, the film never unleashes the kind of bizarre Vaughnian menace of a much better, if still disappointing, thriller, "Psycho" (1998).

20 / 51
Saban Films

#32. The Forger

IMDb rating: 5.7
IMDb votes: 10,320
Director: Philip Martin
Release year: 2014

In this crime thriller, Travolta stars as a thief and art forger who is released from jail on a favor from a crime syndicate to see his dying son (Tye Sheridan). Once outside, the syndicate asks him to create a fake Monet and pull off a heist, so he enlists his son and his thief of a father (Christopher Plummer) to help him pull it off. A family drama or a heist film with these three actors had the potential to be great. Unfortunately, the two plots never quite connect.

21 / 51
Turner Pictures

#31. Michael

IMDb rating: 5.7
IMDb votes: 37,268
Director: Nora Ephron
Release year: 1996

In this Nora Ephron film, Travolta plays the archangel Michael, who was brought to Earth to get two tabloid reporters togetherGod works in mysterious ways. Travolta’s Michael is a booze-dipped, cigarette-stained angel, but reveals the goodness within him as the film goes on. “Michael” is scored by Randy Newman, who starred in one of the great music videos of all time and wrote the songs for “Toy Story.”

22 / 51
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#30. Be Cool

IMDb rating: 5.7
IMDb votes: 62,951
Director: F. Gary Gray
Release year: 2005

The sequel to the fantastic “Get Shorty” sees the return of Travolta as Chili Palmer, a hitman-turned-film-producer, who now wants to break into the music industry. Both the original and this sequel were based on crime-writing legend Elmore Leonard novels; both are hilarious and star-studded. Travolta is great as the tough-yet-kind Palmer, but Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson steals the show as a bodyguard named Elliott.

23 / 51
Capacity Pictures

#29. Criminal Activities

IMDb rating: 5.8
IMDb votes: 7,305
Director: Jackie Earle Haley
Release year: 2015

“Criminal Activities” follows four young men, including Dan Stevens from “Downton Abbey,” who invest borrowed money in a can’t-miss company, that, because of regulatory scrutiny, manages to miss. Travolta plays the mobster who cashes in by having them kidnap a high-powered crime lord’s nephew. As expected, things go horribly wrong.

24 / 51
TriStar Pictures

#28. Look Who's Talking

IMDb rating: 5.8
IMDb votes: 69,731
Director: Amy Heckerling
Release year: 1989

The original of the talking baby franchise was the brainchild of Amy Heckerling, who also directed “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and “Clueless.” In this film, Kirstie Alley is left with a newborn by her older, married co-parent (George Segal) and dives back into the dating pool, eventually re-meeting the handsome cabbie (Travolta) who had helped her while she was in labor. The title refers to the film’s most memorable gag: Alley’s baby is voiced by a cynical and rude, but funny Bruce Willis.  

25 / 51
Miramax Films

#27. She's So Lovely

IMDb rating: 5.9
IMDb votes: 7,455
Director: Nick Cassavetes
Release year: 1997

This film was written by the legendary actor and director John Cassavetes and finally brought to the screen a decade laterand eight years after the elder Cassavetes’ deathby his son, the director Nick Cassavetes. Sean Penn and Robin Wright play a young married couple whose lives are derailed when their violent neighbor (James Gandolfini) beats up Wright. Penn’s character seeks vengeance and ends up in an insane asylum, and Wright remarries a construction manager played by Travolta. Penn won the Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance.

26 / 51
Touchstone Pictures

#26. Wild Hogs

IMDb rating: 5.9
IMDb votes: 106,470
Director: Walt Becker
Release year: 2007

By the same director as “Old Dogs,” “Wild Hogs” tells the story of a group of middle-aged friends (Martin Lawrence, Tim Allen, William H. Macy, and Travolta) who put on lots of leather and go on a motorcycle road trip. Critics hated this film, but it was a hit at the box office. Disney canceled the planned sequel after “Old Dogs” bombed at the box office.

27 / 51
Universal Pictures

#25. In a Valley of Violence

IMDb rating: 6.0
IMDb votes: 11,267
Director: Ti West
Release year: 2016

This Western, which premiered at South by Southwest, stars Ethan Hawke as a drifter who finds himself and his dog in trouble. Travolta plays Marshal, the father of Gilly (James Ransome) who runs the violent town Hawke must cross to get to Mexico. Jason Blum’s Blumhouse—the lucrative indie studio dominating the box office in the horror genre—produced this film. Yet unlike “Get Out” or “The Purge,” it was not a runaway hit.

28 / 51
Twentieth Century Fox

#24. Broken Arrow

IMDb rating: 6.0
IMDb votes: 82,924
Director: John Woo
Release year: 1996

In director John Woo’s second English-language movie, “Broken Arrow” stars Travolta as an Air Force pilot whose co-pilot (Christian Slater) intentionally crashes their plane in Death Valley in order to make a nuclear arms deal. Travolta must team up with a park ranger (Samantha Mathis) to save the day. Luckily for the world, Woo liked working with Travolta enough to bring him on for “Face Off” the next year.

29 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#23. Urban Cowboy

IMDb rating: 6.2
IMDb votes: 11,298
Director: James Bridges
Release year: 1980

“Urban Cowboy” is basically “Saturday Night Fever,” but with country-western music and mechanical bulls in place of disco balls and leisure suits. Travolta plays the titular character who moves to Houston and finds a home at a bar centered around robo-bull-riding. Debra Winger plays the scene-stealing love interest, who emerged as the breakout star of the film. Though the film didn’t reach the heights of either “Grease” or “Saturday Night Fever,” it was considered big enough to bring Travolta back from the edge of the career disaster caused by “Moment by Moment.”

30 / 51
Warnder Bros.

#22. Mad City

IMDb rating: 6.2
IMDb votes: 17,648
Director: Costa-Gavras
Release year: 1997

“Mad City” tells the story of an aggrieved, recently fired museum security guard (Travolta) who returns to his former place of business with a shotgun, looking for vengeance. A reporter (Dustin Hoffman) happens to be inside, and uses the exclusive access as a means to revive his fading career. The film, by the director Costa-Gavras, was a flop.

31 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#21. The General's Daughter

IMDb rating: 6.3
IMDb votes: 46,872
Director: Simon West
Release year: 1999

Based on the novel by Nelson DeMille, “The General’s Daughter” was director Simon West’s follow up to the dumb-yet-fun “Con Air.” In this film, Travolta is brought onto a military base, undercover, to investigate the death of Gen. Campbell’s (James Cromwell) daughter, who is a highly respected captain on the base. As Travolta and his partner (Madeleine Stowe) start digging, they see that neither the general nor the captain are as they seem. The film was disliked by critics, but made its money back at the box office.

32 / 51
Touchstone Pictures

#20. Phenomenon

IMDb rating: 6.4
IMDb votes: 68,490
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Release year: 1996

“Phenomenon” tells the story of a small-town mechanic (Travolta) who suffers a supernatural head injury and awakens with genius-level intellect and telekinesis. This Disney film looks at how the life of the mechanic and those around him change after he sees the light. Many think the film is meant to depict the state within Scientology calls “going clear,” but it’s no “Battlefield: Earth.”

33 / 51
Columbia Pictures

#19. The Taking of Pelham 123

IMDb rating: 6.4
IMDb votes: 165,186
Director: Tony Scott
Release year: 2009

In this remake of the 1974 film, Travolta plays a criminal that takes a subway train hostage. Denzel Washington is tasked with negotiating the terms of the release, and James Gandolfini plays the mayor of New York City. The thriller was not hated, but not well-loved, ultimately falling short of high expectations on account of its cast and director.

34 / 51
Millennium Films

#18. Lonely Hearts

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 18,869
Director: Todd Robinson
Release year: 2006

“Lonely Hearts” is based on the true story of Raymond Fernandez (Jared Leto) and Martha Beck (Salma Hayek)—dubbed “The Lonely Heart Killers” after a murder spree in the 1940s. Travolta and James Gandolfini play detectives tasked with catching the killer couple. The film made rounds at festivals, but never got a wide release.

35 / 51
Touchstone Pictures

#17. A Civil Action

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 24,939
Director: Steven Zaillian
Release year: 1998

Based on the non-fiction best-seller by Jonathan Harr, “A Civil Action” tells the true story of a 1980s class-action lawsuit against two large corporations who have dumped toxins into a community in Washington. Travolta plays a conceited attorney who decides to take on the giant companies, and eventually lets his desire to do good override his ability to represent his clients in the best way. John Lithgow plays the judge and Robert Duvall plays the corporate defense lawyer—Duvall was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance.

36 / 51
Touchstone Pictures

#16. Ladder 49

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 51,248
Director: Jay Russell
Release year: 2004

This moving film tells the story of Baltimore firefighter Jack Morrison (Joaquin Phoenix) who runs into a burning building to save a man’s life and becomes trapped. “Ladder 49” features heavy flashbacks, telling the story of Morrison’s life and how he became the person who would run into the building. Travolta plays the firehouse’s chief and Morrison’s mentor, who eventually has to decide whether Morrison is beyond saving. The film is moving if a bit two-dimensional.

37 / 51
Phoenix Pictures

#15. Basic

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 54,085
Director: John McTiernan
Release year: 2003

In “Basic,” Travolta plays an ex-Army Ranger brought in to investigate the disappearance of Sgt. West (Samuel L. Jackson) and some Special Forces trainees in the jungle of Panama. The film is something like “A Few Good Men,” mixed with M. Night Shyamalan-level twists and a heavy dose of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Unfortunately, despite a skilled performance from Travolta, this film’s many twists wrestle free from director John McTiernan’s grips.

38 / 51

#14. From Paris with Love

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 104,079
Director: Pierre Morel
Release year: 2010

This action movie, created by French director Pierre Morel, stars Travolta as an experienced CIA agent sent to Paris to investigate a drug ring tied to Pakistani terrorists. Travolta works with and becomes a mentor to a young aide to the U.S. Ambassador to France, who also works with the CIA. The film was a huge flop, which clipped the wings of director Morel, who had just directed the mega-hit “Taken” the year before.

39 / 51
Lions Gate Films

#13. The Punisher

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 136,899
Director: Jonathan Hensleigh
Release year: 2004

The film tells the comic book story of Frank Castle (Thomas Jane), an FBI agent who kills the son of crime boss Howard Saint (John Travolta)—who retaliates by killing Castle’s whole family. The film follows Castle as he becomes the darkened vigilante, The Punisher, and seeks revenge on the world. This Marvel movie was successful, but far from a smash hit—four years later, “Iron Man” would begin the Marvel Cinematic Universe and change the entire film industry.

40 / 51
Hollywood Licensing Group

#12. Swordfish

IMDb rating: 6.5
IMDb votes: 164,647
Director: Dominic Sena
Release year: 2001

This heist thriller centers around a recently paroled computer hacker (Hugh Jackman) who is convinced to help with a billion-dollar heist by the beautiful Ginger Knowles (Halle Berry) on behalf of her boss, Gabriel Shear (Travolta). The world of “Swordfish” is dramatically lit and overly sexualized in a '90s action film kind of wayBerry was paid $500,000 on top of her $2 million salary to appear topless in a scene, and Jackman must prove his hacking prowess by cracking into a government server while having a… sensual experience of sorts. Travolta received a Golden Raspberry Nomination for Worst Actor for his portrayal of the criminal mastermind, but the film is fun throughout.

41 / 51
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)

#11. Primary Colors

IMDb rating: 6.7
IMDb votes: 25,268
Director: Mike Nichols
Release year: 1998

Based on the partly fiction book written by a correspondent covering the 1992 Clinton Campaign, “Primary Colors” is a comedic drama that covers the rise of a charismatic Southern politician while all hell breaks loose with behind-the-scenes sex scandals. Travolta plays Bill Clinton-lite, and Emma Thompson plays the Hillary Clinton stand-in—the rest of the cast includes Billy Bob Thornton, Kathy Bates, and Maura Tierney. The legendary Mike Nichols, who has the distinct honor of reaching EGOT status, directed the film.

42 / 51
New Line Cinema

#10. Hairspray

IMDb rating: 6.7
IMDb votes: 107,705
Director: Adam Shankman
Release year: 2007

Based on the 1988 John Waters’ classic and the subsequent Broadway hit, 2007’s “Hairspray” is a light, goofy musical about teenagers on a 1950s Baltimore dance show, but it does highlight integrational issues of the time. The film was a hit, securing the biggest-ever opening weekend for a movie musical at the time—the star-studded cast included Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Zac Efron, and many more. Travolta played protagonist Tracy Turnblad’s (Nikki Blonsky) mother Edna—a part traditionally played by a man in drag. 

43 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#9. Saturday Night Fever

IMDb rating: 6.8
IMDb votes: 60,933
Director: John Badham
Release year: 1977

Based on a 1976 article in New York Magazinewhich was revealed to be faked two decades later by its writer“Saturday Night Fever” tells the story of a Brooklyn kid (Travolta) working a boring job who becomes a hit at a disco club called 2001 Odyssey. The film follows Travolta’s Tony Manero through complicated love affairs, family issues, and run-ins with a local gang. The film was a mega-hit and Travolta’s performance secured him a Best Actor nomination at the Academy Awards. Suddenly, the “Welcome Back, Kotter” heartthrob was a legitimate movie star.

44 / 51
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#8. Get Shorty

IMDb rating: 6.9
IMDb votes: 68,052
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Release year: 1995

Based on the Elmore Leonard classic, "Get Shorty" follows Chili Palmer (Travolta), an East Coast loan shark sent to Hollywood to settle a debt, who then ends up falling for the industry. Travolta is perfect as the silky smooth and incredibly tough gangster with a heart of gold—Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, and Danny DeVito are all hilarious in their performances that knowingly lampoon Hollywood types. Director Barry Sonnenfeld keeps everything fast-paced and stays out of the way of his fantastic cast. 

45 / 51
Walt Disney Animation Studios

#7. Bolt

IMDb rating: 6.9
IMDb votes: 164,246
Directors: Byron Howard, Chris Williams
Release year: 2008

This Disney animated feature about a famous dog (voiced by Travolta) and his co-star, owner, and best friend Penny (voiced by Miley Cyrus) was a critical darling, but is most important for its future impact. “Bolt” was nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Academy Awards and helped spur Disney to get serious about animation again—five years later, “Frozen” made over $1 billion for the studio.

46 / 51
Lions Gate Films

#6. A Love Song for Bobby Long

IMDb rating: 7.2
IMDb votes: 23,435
Director: Shainee Gabel
Release year: 2004

Based on the novel “Off Magazine Street,” this film tells the story of an 18 year old (Scarlett Johansson) who returns to her hometown of New Orleans after her jazz singing mother’s death and finds two highly literate, yet alcoholic men living in the house (Travolta and Gabriel Macht). The three become a strange, dysfunctional family; Johansson’s character learns about her mother and her past from a cache of letters. This film was far from a hit and not loved by critics, but Johansson received her third Golden Globe nominee for her performance.

47 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#5. Grease

IMDb rating: 7.2
IMDb votes: 193,834
Director: Randal Kleiser
Release year: 1978

Travolta followed up the runaway success of “Saturday Night Fever” with another massive hit that showcased his charm, and his dancing and singing skills. The iconic “Grease” tells the story of a bad boy (John Travolta) who falls for the beautiful, sweet transfer student (Olivia Newton-John) in a high school star-crossed lover tale set in 1950s California. The film did gangbusters at the box officeit was fourth highest-grossing film of the 1970s after "Star Wars: Episode IV," "Jaws," and "The Exorcist." The Travolta/Newton-John duet “You’re The One That I Want” reached #1 on the Billboard Chart in June 1978.

48 / 51
Paramount Pictures

#4. Face/Off

IMDb rating: 7.3
IMDb votes: 311,171
Director: John Woo
Release year: 1997

This was an elevator pitch for the ages: What if in order to foil a criminal mastermind’s evil plot, a cop got elective surgery to switch faces with him, but then the records of the surgery disappear, and the cop now must live his life as the criminal mastermind and vice versa? Luckily for moviegoers everywhere, director John Woo shot the film with a level of seriousness that makes this Nicholas Cage-John Travolta schlockfest a cinematic marvel. “Face/Off” is just one endless exclamation point, but reaches its absolute apex when Travolta plays Cage playing Travolta after the face-swapping surgery. It also led to arguably the greatest “How Did This Get Made?” episode ever recorded

49 / 51
Cinema 77

#3. Blow Out

IMDb rating: 7.4
IMDb votes: 33,743
Director: Brian De Palma
Release year: 1981

From the mind of legendary director Brian De Palma and created as an homage to the 1960s art film “Blow-Up,” “Blow Out” tells the story of a sound engineer (Travolta) who sees a car fly from a bridge while recording in the wilderness at night. He manages to save Sally (Nancy Allen), but not the other passenger, who turns out to have been a presidential hopeful. Travolta’s character becomes obsessed with the tape of the incident, which he believes is proof of foul play. The film is a gripping '70s-style thriller that was not a hit at the box office, but was loved by critics—and marked Travolta as an actor capable of serious roles.

50 / 51
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

#2. Carrie

IMDb rating: 7.4
IMDb votes: 142,494
Director: Brian De Palma
Release year: 1976

Based on Stephen King’s first novel, Brian De Palma’s film tells the story of Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) who lashes out after being tormented by a truly terrible practical joke. The film is pitch-perfect—frightening, upsetting, entertaining, and a bit campy for good measure. Travolta had a minor yet important role as the bully who plays the brutal prank on Carrie—his performance helped launch the young actor’s career. Spacek as well as Piper Laurie, who played her abusive mother, were both nominated for Oscars for their performances. This was the first film adaptation of a Stephen King story.

51 / 51

#1. Pulp Fiction

IMDb rating: 8.9
IMDb votes: 1,531,602
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Release year: 1994

Two years after bursting on the scene with the Sundance hit “Reservoir Dogs,” Quentin Tarantino returned with “Pulp Fiction”—a perfectly acted, highly stylized, violent-yet hilarious masterpiece. The film won the Palme D’Or at Cannes Film Festival and is considered the most important film of the 1990s. Tarantino, a lover of genre and camp, gave Travolta—whose career was once again in shambles—the role of a lifetime. As Vincent Vega, Travolta could banter with Samuel L. Jackson and Harvey Keitel, fall in love and win a dance competition with Uma Thurman, and begrudgingly save Ving Rhames’ life. The performance also saved Travolta’s careerfor a moment.

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