There are bad movies and then there is John Travolta’s 2000 Battlefield Earth. Sometimes, though, they have to be seen to be believed and such is the case with this John Travolta film that was just added to Netflix.
Battlefield Earth tells the story–poorly we might add–of an Earth set in the year 3000. It’s a desolate wasteland. Earth has been ruled for 1,000 years by brutal giant humanoid aliens called Psychlos and they use humans as slave labor to strip the land’s minerals and any other needed resources. Their main desire, though, is gold.
Among a group of hunter-gather tribes of humans that live in freedom in remote areas is Jonnie Goodboy Tyler (Barry Pepper). His tribe has given up hope of ever regaining control of their planet, but not Jonnie. Instead, he leaves his tribe with the nomad hunter Carlo (Kim Coates) on a journey of exploration.
On their journey, they are captured by a raiding party and taken to a nearby slave camp, which is covered by a large dome. Earth’s atmosphere is toxic to Psychlos, so the dome protects them.
John Travolta is Terl, a Psychlo security chief. He is aided by his deputy Ker (Forest Whitaker). Terl has been assigned to the slave camp for a couple of indiscretions with the Senator’s daughter. He has a plan, though, to win back favor by mining gold in areas of high radiation. Psychlos avoid these areas as the radiation reacts explosively with the gas mixture that they need to breathe.
Terl can see that Jonnie is a capable human, so he chooses Jonnie and a group of slaves for his gold mining project. Resourceful Jonnie finds a huge amount of gold at Fort Knox but along with it, he also finds an underground military base that has working Harrier jump-jets as well as weapons and fuel.
Terl believes that Jonnie and the group of slaves are mining his gold when, in fact, they are training to attack and regain control of Earth.
For years John Travolta had wanted to make Battlefield Earth, which was based on the novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. At the time, Travolta had lost his Hollywood influence as he was coming off a couple of flops. But his resurgence with the 1994 hit Pulp Fiction, which got him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor, also brought back to him some Hollywood love, and he was able to get Battlefield Earth rolling.
John Travolta, a noted Scientologist, started adapting the novel in the mid-‘90s but was unable to get a big movie studio behind the project because of concerns surrounding the script and its close connections to Scientology. Travolta went to all the major studios, and they all shut him down. Bill Mechanic, who was the head at 20th Century Fox at the time, even spoke of how Travolta recruited fellow Scientologists to try to promote the movie. “John wanted me to make Battlefield Earth,” Mechanic said via Letters from Las Cruces. “He had Scientologists all over me. They come up to you and they know who you are. And they go, ‘We’re really excited about Battlefield Earth.’ Do you think in any way, shape, or form that weirding me out is going to make me want to make this movie?”
Franchise Pictures, who were known to save big stars troubled productions, came to the rescue, though they probably wish they didn’t. The movie is oft considered the worst ever, even being named the Worst Picture of the Decade. Franchise Pictures found themselves in hot water when they were sued for over-inflating the movie’s budget by some $31 million, forcing the company to go bankrupt.
The movie was intended to be the first of two parts, but audiences have thankfully been spared. The poor reception the movie received (it sits at a 3% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes), as well as the Franchise Pictures debacle, took care of ideas of a second part.
In terms of who did what in this John Travolta passion project that went south, Roger Christian directed the movie from a script written by J.D. Shapiro and Corey Mandell. In what is now a fun fact, Travolta first took the script to Quentin Tarantino, who smartly turned it down.
At the box office, Battlefield Earth bombed. Christian was given a $44 million budget (way down from the initial $100 million Travolta was asking for) and the movie only brought in $29.7 million.
As we said earlier, some movies need to be seen to be believed. Kind of like other crap-fests such as Reefer Madness or Plan 9 From Outer Space or Caligula or the 1981 Tarzan, the Ape Man. Battlefield Earth falls into this category.
Thankfully, John Travolta has moved on from the horror that is Battlefield Earth. He has redeemed himself with movies such as Basic, Be Cool, Savages, the television series American Crime Story, and Gotti. He may never hit the high he once had with Grease, Urban Cowboy, and especially Pulp Fiction but there is a rumor going around that Travolta is ready to team up one more time with Nic Cage in a sequel to their wildly popular 1997 hit Face/Off.
Who knows, maybe some of you GFR’ers will find something worthy in this movie. May as well give it a shot. Battlefield Earth can be found streaming on Netflix.