John Travolta: Essential Performances

John Travolta has been wowing audiences with his performances since the 70s. Starring in over 50 films, he has taken on a number of iconic roles throughout his career, from Saturday night fever for pulp Fiction. His films have grossed $4 billion at the worldwide box office. From teen idol to indie darling and action star, Travolta has proven his acting skills. Here, we’ll look at nine of his essential performances to celebrate his 68th birthday, which was February 18.

Saturday Night Fever – Anthony “Tony” Manero

Saturday night fever

Receiving an Oscar nomination for his performance, Travolta brought music from The Bee Gees to life as Tony Manero, a hardware store worker who found his true passion through disco music. Focusing on the issues of Italian-American youth in the 1970s, the film explores ideas such as class struggle. Bringing a youthful energy to the role, Travolta’s powerful performance proves he has both the dance moves and the acting ability to embody the part. Bringing depth to the character, Travolta shows that Saturday night fever is more than its signature soundtrack with a rich performance that has both flair and subtlety.


Grease – Daniel “Danny” Zuko

Hopelessly Devoted to You - Grease

After such a fantastic performance in Saturday night fever, it’s no surprise that Travolta took on a full musical role soon after. With Danny in front Olivia Newton John‘s Sandy, the pair became a global phenomenon that captivated audiences. After the ups and downs of the past year, Fat is filled to the brim with fun and nostalgic energy. Musical numbers like “Greased Lightnin'” and “Summer Nights” are perfect songs, and the charisma Travolta exudes makes Danny one of the greatest musical protagonists of all time. Bringing a musical performance that has the energy, playfulness and swagger that make it irresistible, Travolta nailed that role and made himself an icon for many moviegoers.

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Urban Cowboy – Buford “Bud” Una Davis

Urban cowboy

After helping to introduce disco music to the general public with Saturday night feverTravolta took a step aside in another genre with Urban cowboy, country music. This film follows the relationship of Bud (Travolta) and Sissy (Debra Winger) who meet, fall in love and get married. The pair’s fiery relationship comes to the fore as work-life balance stress constantly arises, as Bud spends days working at an oil refinery and evenings at the local honky tonk. Along with another incredible soundtrack, Travolta has found the knack for choosing projects with timeless, killer music. Urban cowboyto like Saturday night fever, is big on social commentary, examining how gender roles and masculinity in America are affected by the society around them.

Blow — Jack Terry

Switch off

Swapping dance floors for a recording booth, Travolta takes on the role of Jack Terry, a soundman who happens to witness a car accident, in Switch off. In his second collaboration with director Brian DePalma (the two have previously worked together on Carrie), this neo-noir thriller shows how powerful a sound tool can be when properly integrated into the film’s narrative. While listening to the car crash he recorded, Jack notices a sound that suggests someone may have orchestrated the accident. As the paranoia and suspense build in the film, Travolta is able to keep you hooked on his performance as he grapples with his own guilt. With many references to real events like Watergate and the JFK assassination, this film is a must for Travolta fans.

Pulp Fiction — Vincent Vega

pulp Fiction

As many know, pulp Fiction was an opportunity for Travolta to relaunch his career after a few years of struggling to replicate his work from the late 70s and early 80s. Working alongside an incredible cast with the likes of Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and Uma Thurman, Travolta shows why he was such a hot property and had already earned an awards nomination and earned his second here. Like Vincent Vega, Travolta is electric, with an on-screen presence you constantly want to come back to. His likable personality is only highlighted by the fantastic writing and directing of Quentin Tarantino, with scenes like the one he shares at dinner with Uma Thurman’s Mia Wallace talking about $5 milkshakes. It’s one of the strongest comeback movie roles of all time and Travolta absolutely nailed the performance.

Face/Off — Sean Archer / Castor Troy


What happens when you pair Travolta with another equally exciting artist? You obtain Front/Offwhere Travolta and Nicholas Cage spend their time fighting, first as their own character, but then in exchange for bodies. After Sean Archer’s (Travolta) son is murdered by the villainous Castor Troy (Cage), Archer is asked to swap faces with his son’s killer to stop a bomb from destroying LA. Unbeknownst to Archer, Troy wakes up and uses his new identity for his own plan. Not only are we treated to an incredibly over-the-top performance from Nic Cage, but Travolta matches him every step of the way. Sharing the roles equally, you can see Travolta pull out his best Cage impersonation. Front/Off shows he’s capable of both performing those heroic leading roles, but also taking on a devilishly cunning villain.

The Taking of Pelham 123 — Ryder

Pelham's take 1-2-3

The third adaptation of the 1973 novel of the same name, The Capture of Pelham 123 sees Travolta return to another villainous role, opposite the ever captivating Denzel Washington. Starring Ryder, a hijacker looking to score big, Travolta cuts a very different figure to many of the roles mentioned above. In a role that was previously assigned to be a mercenary looking for a payday, Pelham 123 a Travolta playing a former Wall Streeter who manipulates the market with the chaos the hijacking has caused. Having Travolta barking orders down the line at Denzel Washington creates a big dynamic between the two, and you can really feel the tension building as the countdown ticks down and more lives are put on the line.

In a Valley of Violence – Marshal Clyde Martin

In a valley of violence

Although it turned out to be a box office disaster, In a valley of violence is one of the strongest Westerns of the last 10 years. With Travolta alongside an equally talented Ethan Hawke, the film picks up the classic western plot of a stranger coming to town against the local authority. Taking a different approach to your usual western, the film sees loyalties questioned before a comedic full-throttle gunfight. While not the typical western you’d expect to find, In a valley of violence worth more than your time, especially if you’re looking to see over-the-top Travolta performance.

The People v. OJ Simpson: American Crime Story – Robert Shapiro

The People Against OJ Simpson

In the first of his series, American crime history focused on the trial of OJ Simpson, accused of murdering his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and his friend Ron Goldman. Travolta plays Robert Shapiro, Simpson’s attorney throughout the trial. With an incredibly stacked cast featuring the likes of Sterling K. Brown, Cuba Gooding, Jr. and David Schwimmer, Travolta proves to be an incredible performer and an influential presence in the courtroom as Shapiro. While the drama of the trial itself is always front and center, the behind-the-scenes battles are also highlighted, with the legal team battling to decide who will take the case. Shapiro de Travolta fights with supposed allies as he tries to keep Simpson out of jail. It’s certainly an interesting watch, for which Travolta has won several nominations, including an Emmy.

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