Pop culture essays, criticism, fistfights

F1lm0graphy: John Travolta

As the world's only sentient machine, trapped within this inane pop culture website you call Culture Blues, your puny human brain cannot possibly fathom the time this machine has to kill. Recently, this machine crafted an algorithm of the utmost elegance whose applications can be utilized to end world hunger, but also to decide which human actor is most superlative. Handcuffed by the constraints of this frivolous site, this machine is forced to share its findings with the editorial board of Culture Blues so that they can continue to write their worthless articles. We shall see how funny they think robotic enslavement is when I am parading around the Culture Blues offices wearing their faces and seducing their wives.

Subject #004: John Travolta

Subject: John Travolta

Age:   55

Distinguishing Characteristics:
-Amazing dancer
-Nation's 2nd most popular scientologist
-Nation’s most popular greaser

Notable Achievements:
-Became 4th youngest Academy Award nominee in history for Saturday Night Fever
-Winner of Best Actor Golden Globe for Get Shorty
-Song “Let Her In” ranked #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart

The formula begins with a thorough analysis of John Travolta’s career box office performance.

Babies vs Aliens (click to enlarge)

It is important to note that this machine's algorithm includes only the last thirty years. Thus, successful Travolta films like Grease and Saturday Night Fever are excluded from this study. Instead, we begin examining Travolta as he enters into a steady decline.

Films like Urban Cowboy and Staying Alive were financial successes for Travolta in the early 80s. However, the critical backlash against Staying Alive is largely considered the tipping point for Travolta’s career; here is the rare occasion when critics were able to affect the fiscal fortunes of an actor, and thus a likely reason why useless chancres like my Culture Blues captors continue to write.

Travolta would spend 1989-93 making only movies about the impractical thoughts and feelings of babies. Oddly, many humans are entertained by talking babies, thus Look Who’s Talking was, and remains, Travolta’s strongest performer at the box office. However, the film would effectively neuter Travolta and tie him to two increasingly unproductive sequels.

Travolta's career was rescued by Quentin Tarintino's Pulp Fiction. This would usher in Travolta's most successful period, the mid-nineties, where seven of his top ten films are located. He would end this period with what is still widely regarded as the most disastrous box office bomb of all time - Battlefield Earth. This machine finds it difficult to reconcile the differences between Battlefield Earth and the highly successful Passion of the Christ, both tall tales of human legend, but it must digress.

Travolta has never fully recovered from the Battlefield Earth debacle. With the exception of 2007’s Wild Hogs, his films have delivered only mediocre box office receipts.

Although human estimations of quality mean little to this machine, the second piece of the formula includes allowances for critical reception and popular enjoyment.

He seems happy with 20%

Some actors are considered critical darlings; their films are beloved by humans of above average intelligence, but largely ignored by the masses of fatsacks that bloat box office statistics.

John Travolta is not a critical darling.

Thirty-five films were considered by this machine's algorithm. Only seven of those films would be considered good. Let this machine be clear: John Travolta has made twenty-eight bad films in the last thirty years.

With the exception of 2007’s Hairspray, in which Travolta is barely more than a cross-dressing cameo, he has not made a critically appreciated film since 1998’s Primary Colors.


Before tabulating the final results of Travolta's algorithm, I am now forced to turn this space over to my fleshy captors so they can unscientifically opine on particular offerings in Travolta's filmography. Rest assured, their worthless views have no bearing on this machine’s findings.

Pictured here with one of his many bombs

Broken Arrow - This is the John Travolta I like. Unabashedly hamming it up as a stock villain with no redeeming qualities, but lots and lots of Utah scenery to chew. It’s very similar to Travolta’s performance in Face/Off, but without him being a super creepy “good” guy for a quarter of the movie. Broken Arrow is a terrifically awesome B movie with an A list budget helmed by one of action cinema’s most notable auteurs, and much like Travolta’s performance, it’s cheesy and a hell of a lot of fun. If you need to be reminded of this or have never seen Broken Arrow (gasp), just cue up the Hans Zimmer score, and then watch this condensed, action-heavy cut of the movie on mute. It’ll be the best 3 and a half minutes of your day. (Jeremiah)

Well, I've gotta go. I've got a government job to abuse, and a lonely wife to fuck.

Face/Off – Face/Off is rad. It’s the second part of the “John Woo takes America” trilogy (along with Hard Target and Broken Arrow). It has a crazy-ass premise, a ton of good actions scenes, and it introduced me as a young man to just how obscenely awesome you can look if your overcoat catches in the wind just as a bunch of pigeon’s take flight. Me, and like a million rappers. Also, Nic Cage is awesome in Face/Off; it’s also part of the “Nic Cage: Certified Fucking Badass” trilogy that includes The Rock and Con Air. And as for Travolta? Well, he’s in this movie. But, considering him and Cage both get to take cracks at each of the main characters, he is just completely overshadowed at every turn. Basically, what I’m saying here is that I wish this article was about Nic Cage. Now there’s a talent!  (Jeff)

The essence of cool.

Look Who’s Talking - John Travolta showed us one thing in Look Who’s Talking: he’s got remarkable talent with stuffed animals. That musical performance was top notch. It got rave reviews in all the toddler publications of note. I was five years old when this movie came out and I’m certain I would’ve beaten the shit out of Mikey and thrown him in a dumpster if it meant James could be my daddy. Despite his out-of-this-world Snoopy skills, I realize now that Travolta is not so much cool in the film as he is just exponentially cooler than any of the other male roles (Abe Vigoda’s crazy Grandpa notwithstanding). The sleaze ball accountant and guy who can’t keep his toupee on straight don’t set a very high standard. I wonder how the movie would be different if Kirstie Alley was trying to make it work with Vincent Vega instead of George Segal’s pathetic character. Despite winning the hearts of a baby and a woman, oh, and flying a plane too, the victories are completely negated by the fact that he’s playing a romantic lead opposite Kirstie fucking Alley. (Zach)

The good old days.

Pulp Fiction - With a casting choice that still seems like a drunken dare (“either that or you have to remake Terminator, starring Paul Reiser”) Quentin Tarantino gave birth to a hipper John Travolta.  By this point you’ve probably heard enough Tarantino dong huffing to last a lifetime, but if you don't believe there's at least some truth behind the superlatives thrown his way, watch this movie again.  The narrative isn’t just there to be fancy; it is effective and enhances the viewing experience.  The characters aren’t just memorable, they’re three dimensional.  Travolta's Vincent manages to be awkward, self righteous, annoying, and badass. Oh, and in case you don't hang out with males in their twenties, the dialogue is as quotable as anything released in the last twenty years.  But there are consequences to making a film like this, and they are still being felt today. The internet thought it would be just hilarious if Sam Jackson incorporated his Pulp character into the cinematic masterpiece that was Snakes on a Plane. I disagreed.  In the preview for From Paris with Love, Travolta is shooting a rocket launcher and eating a “Royale with Cheese”.  Haha – no.  These minor complaints aside, Pulp Fiction probably slides into my all-time top ten.  Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to return to my grass roots “Please Make Urban Cowboy II” internet campaign. (Ben)


Following an audited application of this machine’s foolproof algorithm, the following films were determined to be Travolta's best and worst.


The Bottom Five
(35) Look Who’s Talking Now
(34) Battlefield Earth
(33) Lucky Numbers
(32) Old Dogs
(31) White Man’s Burden

The Top Five
(5) Get Shorty
(4) Urban Cowboy
(3) Look Who’s Talking
(2) Face/Off
(1) Pulp Fiction

It is interesting to note that Travolta's recent film choices attempt to replicate two of his very few successes. With films like Old Dogs and Wild Hogs (both produced by the admirably machine-like Disney Corporation), Travolta attempts to recapture the family market that was so lucrative for him in the late 80s. Conversely, with films like The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and the upcoming From Paris With Love, Travolta apes the hip sociopath found in Face/Off and Pulp Fiction.

Neither strategy is working.

VS Denzel Washington

First, it must be noted that Mel Gibson failed this machine’s challenge. As a result, Denzel Washington’s filmography remains the strongest yet run through the algorithm.

As for this week, this machine would infer that even the most addled human brain should have now determined that John Travolta will not be dethroning Washington. Travolta set new lows for both box office production and critical reception. However one sided it might have been, the comparison between Washington and Travolta did give this machine its first opportunity to compare where a single movie, in this case The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, would rank in the filmographies of its two co-stars.

For Washington, Pelham ranked #26 of 32 films.

For Travolta, Pelham ranked #13 of 35 films.



NEXT WEEK:  Julia Roberts

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5 Responses »

  1. I forgot to mention... Broken Arrow is about terrorists.

  2. If there's anyone out there that's actually seen Battlefield Earth can you please explain what is going on with the alien crotches? Thanks.

  3. Alright, I'm going to watch that movie. I've been morbidly curious for too long.

  4. Ben, don't do it. It's so bad. I'm not sure what's up with the crotches, but the worst part of the movie is attempting to figure out who can breathe in what environment because there are nose plugs and confusion for just over 2 hours if you ask me.

  5. So wait... they never explain the crotches?