Following the exciting announcement that Hollywood mega-star John Travolta is heading Down Under to meet his Aussie fans at Supanova Comic Con & Gaming Adelaide (Sunday, November 3) and Brisbane (Friday, November 8), we’ve all been struck with a serious case of Saturday Night Fever.
While we await Travolta’s arrival, let’s take a look at some of his most memorable roles, a.k.a. essential viewing ahead of Supanova next month.
Gabriel Shear – Swordfish (2001)
Back in 2001, Travolta continued a streak of action-focused roles from the late ‘90s by headlining cyber-crime thriller Swordfish, alongside leading lady Halle Berry and a young Aussie star by the name of Hugh Jackman, fresh from his first stint as X-Men icon Wolverine. In Swordfish, Travolta donned the role of uber-cool Gabriel Shear, the head of an off-the-books counter-terrorism unit dubbed Black Cell.
Shear hires Stanley Jobson (Hugh Jackman) to hack into government servers and help him steal a hidden fortune leftover from a now-defunct DEA program, money which Shear plans to use to up the stakes in his ongoing fight against international terrorists.
Major Vic Deakins – Broken Arrow (1996)
In his first collaboration with acclaimed director John Woo, Travolta took on the role of Major Vic “Deak” Deakins, a US Air Force co-pilot of a stealth bomber undertaking a training exercise armed with a pair of live nuclear warheads. When Deakins intentionally crashes the bomber into the Nevada desert mid-exercise, he sets in motion a dastardly plan to steal one of the warheads and covers his tracks by detonating a second. Only Deakins’ co-pilot, played by Christian Slater, is there to stand in the way.
Michael – Michael (1996)
In the same year that Broken Arrow was released, Travolta went from being a nuclear-weapon-stealing bad guy to as good a guy as one could possibly be (minus all the belching and smoking), playing the archangel Michael in this romantic comedy alongside Andie MacDowell and William Hurt.
When news of an angel living with an elderly woman in Iowa reaches a tabloid newspaper, a pair of reporters travel to investigate the claim, along with an “angel expert” played by MacDowell. When the elderly woman dies, the reporters convince Travolta’s Michael to join them on a road trip back to Chicago, but the archangel has other plans for the cynical reporter and the angel expert.
James Ubriacco – Look Who’s Talking (1989)
In the film that first saw him team up with long-time friend Kirstie Alley, Travolta plays a taxi driver and aspiring airline pilot, James Ubriacco, in the romantic comedy Look Who’s Talking. Finding himself entangled in the life of single mother Mollie, whose newborn baby Mikey is voiced by Bruce Willis, the unlikely couple eventually find love with a little help from Mikey.
Not only did the film spawn two sequels, Look Who’s Talking Too (1990) and Look Who’s Talking Now (1993), there is talk of a series reboot with the character of Mikey grown up and the father of the baby in the film.
This film series also saw Travolta’s real-life love of flying – being a licensed commercial pilot and owner of four aircraft – entwined with his on-screen persona. When John heads Down Under this November, he will be flying his own ex-Qantas Boeing 707, which he is donating to the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society near Wollongong.
Edna Turnblad – Hairspray (2007)
In the 2007 musical reboot of Hairspray, Travolta takes on the role of the agoraphobic mother of the film’s lead character, Tracy. Following the tradition of having the role played by a man in drag, as per the original 1988 film and the Broadway musical it later inspired, the studio’s executives were reportedly eyeing comedic actors such as Robin Williams and Steve Martin, however, the film’s producers only had Travolta firmly in mind for the role and pursued him aggressively due to his prior involvement in Grease.
Vincent Vega – Pulp Fiction (1994)
Do you know what they call a Quarter Pounder with Cheese in France? Thanks to Travolta’s casting as the hit-man Vincent Vega in Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 crime masterpiece, not only do we know about the Royale with Cheese (because they have the metric system), but this film also earned Travolta his first Academy Award nomination since his role as Danny Zuko in Grease.
Interestingly, Travolta’s character Vincent was actually written by Tarantino as the brother of Vic Vega, the character played by Michael Madsen in 1992’s Reservoir Dogs. In 2004, Tarantino had spoken about the idea of bringing Travolta back to star alongside Madsen in a prequel to both films, though unfortunately, it was an idea which never coalesced into reality.
Tony Manero – Saturday Night Fever (1977)
Another film to provide Travolta with an Academy Award nomination, Saturday Night Fever was the film which turned the actor behind TV’s Vinnie Barbarino from Welcome Back, Kotter into a genuine film star and household name. Boasting a disco soundtrack by Australian band the Bee Gees, which went on to become one of the best-selling film soundtracks of all time, it was also selected in 2010 by the US Library of Congress to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and earned itself a coveted place amongst the select film archives of the US National Film Registry.
In 1983, Travolta reprised the role of Manero in a sequel, Staying Alive, directed by none other than Sylvester Stallone.
Chili Palmer – Get Shorty (1995)
Based on the Elmore Leonard novel of the same name, Get Shorty saw Travolta play another uber-cool character in the form of Chili Palmer, a Miami-based loan shark who finds himself caught up in the world of Hollywood filmmaking, when he is sent to collect on a debt owed by B-Grade film producer Harry Zimm, played by Gene Hackman. Instead, Travolta’s Palmer ends up pitching a movie idea based on his own life and all kinds of wackiness and double-crossing ensues.
Earning Travolta a Golden Globe for Best Actor, and the film itself a Globe for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Get Shorty was followed up in 2005 with Be Cool which also reunited Travolta with his Pulp Fiction co-star Uma Thurman.
Sean Archer/Castor Troy – Face/Off (1997)
Proving that no-one can play Nicolas Cage quite like John Travolta (and vice-versa), Face/Off is Travolta’s second collaboration with director John Woo. At the start of the film, Travolta plays FBI Special Agent Sean Archer, who has a personal vendetta against international terrorist for hire Castor Troy (Nicolas Cage). When Archer finally captures Troy, who is shot and put into a coma in the process, Archer finds himself having to go undercover as his own nemesis by undergoing extreme plastic surgery and having a literal face-swap operation.
Whilst Sean Archer (now played by Nicolas Cage) is busy pretending to be Castor Troy, the real Troy (now played by John Travolta) wakes from his coma and begins assuming Sean Archer’s life and identity. What ensues are a series of super-slick action sequences punctuated by Travolta doing some very convincing Nicolas Cage impersonations.
Danny Zuko – Grease (1978)
There could only be one Travolta film to take our top pick. You can’t go past the iconic musical Grease where Travolta, well known for being the coolest of cool cats, plays the T-Bird greaser Danny Zuko alongside Aussie darling Olivia Newton-John. In 1978, the film earned its place as the highest-grossing big-screen musical of all time (beating The Sound of Music, which had previously held the record for 13 years) and continuously held that record for another 30 years until it was knocked off its pedestal by 2008’s Mamma Mia.
The film would go on to inspire a 1982 sequel, which starred Travolta’s Hairspray co-star Michelle Pfeiffer, and most recently, Paramount announced earlier this year that a prequel film Summer Loving, which will focus on the summer vacation where Travolta’s Danny and Newton-John’s Sandy first met, is currently in the pipeline. We can’t even begin to imagine which actor will have enough cool factor in store to try and match Travolta’s own performance in the role.
‘Nova with Cheese’ John Travolta Specialty Passes for Supanova 2019 – Adelaide and Brisbane are on sale now via Moshtix (strictly limited).