Can Quentin Tarantino Revive John Travolta’s Career Once Again?

It seems we'll soon find out

Samuel L. Jackson, awarded director Quentin Tarantino, Kathleen Turner and John Travolta attend the 47th Cannes Film Festival on May 1994 in Cannes, France. (Photo by FocKan/WireImage)
Samuel L. Jackson, Quentin Tarantino, Kathleen Turner and John Travolta at the 47th Cannes Film Festival
Photo by FocKan / WireImage

John Travolta has already enjoyed not just one but two significant stretches as a Hollywood A-Lister. A third? That’s even better than a foot massage. According to Los Angeles magazine writer Jeff Sneider, Travolta is rumored to be in the running for a role in Quentin Tarantino’s final film, The Movie Critic. Gossip around town also says Samuel L. Jackson and Bruce Willis may be cast in the flick. If that comes to pass, it would reunite three of the most prominent stars from arguably Tarantino’s most highly regarded offering to date, Pulp Fiction.

Since the release of that film in 1994, Tarantino has directed Jackson in multiple movies, including Jackie Brown, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight. If Willis shows up in The Movie Critic, Tarantino would have willed him out of retirement. Willis’ family announced last year that he would no longer act after being diagnosed with aphasia, a disorder caused by brain damage that affects a person’s ability to communicate. In the case of Travolta, Tarantino may once again play savior.

After earning a small part in Brian De Palma’s 1976 horror flick Carrie, Travolta became one of the biggest actors in the world a year later with the release of Saturday Night Fever. He portrayed Brooklyn disco club dancer (and sexual deviant) Tony Manero in that film, and his star only rose a year after that with Grease, in which he played the dancing Danny Zuko. He led a few other quality films in the early ’80s, but by the middle of the decade, after a string of notable poor performances and box office flops, his career hit the skids. Travolta was out of movies altogether for four years before he turned up in Look Who’s Talking, which turned out to be a hit but did not lead to a series of fresh successes.

Then he put his dancing shoes back on (before taking them off again to twist with Uma Thurman in his socks) in Pulp Fiction. After earning a Best Actor Oscar nod for his role in the breakout Tarantino movie, Travolta ran off a series of hits, including Broken Arrow and Face/Off, among others.

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But since pretty much the start of this century, when he starred in Battlefield Earth — a widely panned sci-fi flick written by L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Scientology religion that counts Travolta as a devotee — he’s been on the outs with moviegoers and Hollywood’s elite filmmakers. Mostly he’s acted in straight-to-video films across the past decade, and in 2019, The Ringer asked, “Is Travolta’s phenomenal movie-star run finally finished?”

Maybe rumors of his career death have been greatly exaggerated and Tarantino’s the man to revive him again. For Tarantino’s part, he certainly seems poised to make whatever he does with Travolta and the rest of his cast count. When asked about whether or not he’ll end his directorial career at 10 films, at times Tarantino has played coy — even though it’s something he suggested in the first place. But he’s now adamant that The Movie Critic, his 10th film if you count both Kill Bill features as one, will be his last. He’s still seeking a Best Picture Academy Award and has appeared to make movies with that goal in mind before. The Movie Critic is another film that, to an extent, appears to be about the art form of filmmaking, something the Academy loves.

Once upon two times in Hollywood, Travolta ruled. We’ll see what he’s able to do with this potential opportunity from his old friend Tarantino, should he get it. Don’t forget, these days we’re getting a lot of mainstream movies with his Face/Off co-star, Nicholas Cage, who for a time himself seemed strictly relegated to the straight-to-video racks.

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