A 40-year career in Hollywood is bound to have its peaks and valleys, but few actors have had as many high highs and low lows as 1970s sex-icon-cum-sentient-wax-figure John Travolta.
Travolta’s latest film, Gotti, in which Travolta portrays real-life mob boss John Gotti, currently sports an astonishing 0 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. To be clear: That doesn’t mean the film scored a zero on a scale of 100 (its “average rating” is 2.4/10). It does mean, however, that out of all the professional film critics who saw the film, absolutely none of them gave it a positive review.
Shockingly, this isn’t the first time a Travolta-led film has achieved such a remarkable feat. Travolta’s last movie, Life on the Line, a little-seen action film about the heroes who repair our power lines (seriously) also boasts a goose egg on the Tomatometer. His earlier films Staying Alive (1983) and Look Who’s Talking Now (1993) also sport perfect zeros.
These films stand in stark contrast to Travolta’s legacy of delivering iconic performances in canonical films, including Saturday Night Fever (1997, 85 percent); Urban Cowboy (1980, 69 percent (nice!)); Pulp Fiction (1994, 94 percent); Get Shorty (1995, 87 percent); The Thin Red Line (1998, 79 percent); and Hairspray (2007, 89 percent). Much like his Face/Off (1997, 92 percent) costar Nicolas Cage, Travolta’s career vacillates between glimpses of legitimate acting brilliance and being a caricature of himself in ham-fisted action roles.
But maybe there’s something to Travolta’s many infamously bad acting turns? Something the LIBERAL ELITES in the cinema cognoscenti aren’t picking up on?
Fans seem to love Gotti, for instance. The film has a 74 audience score on Rotten Tomatoes, a full 74 percentage points higher than the critical consensus. Rotten Tomatoes users also give at an average rating of 3.8 out of five possible stars. “Don’t listen to the critics!! Was it as good as Goodfellas or A Bronx Tale? No, but it was still thoroughly enjoyable, and I thought Travolta played a great Gotti,” reads an enthusiastic Rotten Tomatoes review from Frangelica R.
The discrepancy between critics and ordinary viewers has become so large that the film has incorporated some Trump-ian, anti-elitist messaging into its marketing.
Never ones to look down upon lowbrow culture, we here at MEL thought it’d be useful to search the seedy underbelly of Travolta’s career for any redeeming but critically misunderstood titles.
‘Staying Alive’ (1983)
Critic score: 0 percent
Audience score: 38 percent
It’s not like audiences raved about this film; a measly 38 percent of people view it favorably. But we’re dealing with the lowest of bars with a 0 percent on the official Tomatometer.
Staying Alive was the heavily-anticipated sequel to Travolta’s breakout role as Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever, the film that launched a thousand leisure suits. Set six years after the first film, Staying Alive finds the blue-collar Brooklynite Manero in Manhattan trying to make it on Broadway, and completely bastardized the original classic. The dance sequences are “uninspired,” the music is forgettable and the end result is “shockingly embarrassing and unnecessary,” according to Rotten Tomatoes’ critics consensus.
If you’re wondering how a sequel can so thoroughly misunderstand its predecessor, it’s instructive to know the film was written and directed by Sylvester Stallone, and that his brother Frank did the soundtrack, even going so far as to perform some of the songs himself.
Audiences, however, are more forgiving of this shameless cash grab sequel, saying that, while Staying Alive has its faults, it’s an enjoyable dance romp once you set aside the weak script and hollow characters.
‘The General’s Daughter’ (1999)
Critic score: 22 percent
Audience score: 46 percent
A contrived military-based, murder mystery, The General’s Daughter features Travolta over-acting as an internal affairs officer investigating the death of an Army general’s daughter and a pre-heel turn James Woods doing what he does best: playing an unabashed scumbag.
The critics’ consensus is that this combination of “contrived performances and over-the-top sequences” amounts to little emotional resonance, but don’t tell that to Rotten Tomatoes Super Reviewer Lynn Woods, who was shaken to her core by the daughter’s traumatic life and premature death: “The secrets revealed in this story is sickening and really broke my heart for Elisabeth Campbell. … It was disturbing and gut wrenching watching what happened to her. The movie is one of the better mystery thrillers I have ever seen. A must see in my opinion.”
Critic score: 26 percent
Audience score: 60 percent
Travolta sporting a ridiculous coiff, Hugh Jackman playing the most handsome hacker in the history of computing, and of course, a Halle Berry topless scene (for which she was reportedly paid a $500,000 bonus). Similar to The Rock (starring Travolta’s spiritual equal, Cage), Swordfish is the quintessential mindless, bro-y, shoot-em-up action flick.
That would explain the yawning gap between the film’s critical and commercial consensus. Swordfish is big on explosions and short on plot and logic, critics say. Fans agree, but say that’s exactly why it’s awesome. “From the beginning to the end it’s non-stop, high-adrenaline stuff,” writes Robert A.
Hell yeah, bro. Save the “logic” for the nerds; just gimme the boobs and bombs.
Critic score: 21 percent
Audience score: 63 percent
I saw this film with noted movie-disliker Mike McDermott (aka my father), meaning it joins Super Troopers, Inception and Dunkirk on the very short list of films my father and I ever saw in the theaters together.
Basic again finds Travolta leading an investigation into a military crime, and the film plays as a poor man’s Usual Suspects. It’s chock-full of feints and misdirects that are unnecessarily convoluted, according to critics, and fail to deliver a satisfying payoff. My only two memories of this film are that a tattoo of a lemniscate is an important plot point, and Travolta holds a guy’s face up to a whirling airplane propeller to coerce a confession (badass). What I’m saying is this film is boring and forgettable.
But super reviewer Al S calls it, “An edge of your seat ride with suspense and surprises that you will never see coming.”
‘Old Dogs’ (2009)
Critic score: 5 percent
Audience score: 44 percent
If nothing else, you have to admire Travolta’s refusal to surrender to the forces of going bald. Old Dogs has him sporting another absurd wig, this time alongside some impressive comedic talent in Seth Green and Robin Williams.
But the whole is decidedly less than the sum of its parts, according to critics, who found the film profoundly unfunny. Two critics called it “imbecilic.” In particular, New York Post critic Kyle Smith was unsparing in his critique: “Old Dogs does to the screen what old dogs do to the carpet. It’s unfortunate that only the latter can be taken out and shot.”
Never underestimate people’s capacity for inane bullshit, though, as a majority of movie-watchers enjoyed this film. Here is Conner Rainwater — a man with either an incredibly cool or incredibly made-up name — on Old Dogs [all sic]:
I really love Old Dogs. Even just on the soul fact that John Travolta and Robin Williams are in a movie together was enough to get my attention, but the result is comic gold. After seeing this around three times for some reason, I still think it’s just as funny. Now I can see why this was critically bashed beyond belief and people in general just hate it, but it doesn’t affect me in the slightest. I think the reason I find this to be so funny is the fact that it takes middle-aged jokes to the extreme. The pill mix-up thing gets me every time as well as the extra tan session. Then there’s the great cameos from Matt Dillon and a redneck Justin Long that really send it over the top.