The Best John Travolta Movie And Why It’s Not Pulp Fiction

By Matthew Creith | 6 days ago

John travolta

John Travolta has had a rollercoaster of a film career, to say the least. With more bombs than blockbuster successes, the New Jersey native has seen many highs and lows since his start on TV’s Welcome Back Kotter almost 50 years ago. But, Travolta is an actor that has had several resurgences, thanks in part to his willingness to risk it all on roles that set him apart from fellow performers. One of those performances is the movie Primary Colors.

John travolta

Primary Colors isn’t normally the film that one thinks of when John Travolta’s name is mentioned. It isn’t a John Travolta movie that exudes sexiness and pop culture appeal, as opposed to his earlier work in Saturday Night Fever, Pulp Fiction, and Face/Off. Those movies helped to build Travolta’s brand as an electric protagonist, dripping with charisma and humor. However, Primary Colors is the film that proved that there is more to Travolta’s acting abilities than just looking the part.

Set against the backdrop of political division in the 1990s, Primary Colors debuted in 1998, the same year as President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. The film is a comedic drama adapted from Joe Klein’s novel of the same name, a fictional work based on real people and events. The novel was originally published anonymously, but it was later revealed to have been written by Klein, who had covered Clinton’s 1992 campaign. John Travolta plays Jack Stanton, a very Clintonesque Governor of Arkansas, who is on the campaign trail as he runs as a candidate for the Presidential Democratic nomination.

primary colors

Primary Colors is the prototypical ’90s movie, as John Travolta leads an all-star cast that helps elevate his charm and wit as Jack Stanton. Emma Thompson plays Stanton’s wife Susan, an obvious nod to Hillary Clinton, hair and all. Kathy Bates plays Libby Holden, Stanton’s trusted political consultant, a role that earned Bates an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The ensemble cast also includes Billy Bob Thornton, Larry Hagman, Diane Ladd, and Maura Tierney.

When I say that Primary Colors is the best John Travolta movie, I don’t state that fact lightly. Mostly known to audiences as a leading man with an attractive and engaging personality, Travolta’s characters are typically ones who use charm to impress or manipulate others. In Primary Colors, Travolta is given the chance to take those personality traits and use them to political advantage. The character of Jack Stanton is unapologetically middle-aged, and Travolta famously gained weight for the role. According to Herald Weekly, Travolta confirmed that the filmmakers asked him to gain thirty pounds, which was quite the departure from his slender body types in movies like Saturday Night Fever and Grease.

John travolta

Obvious from the start of the film, John Travolta was concerned with his acting prowess rather than the way he might be portrayed onscreen. Giving everything he had to a likable but complicated character, Travolta actually channels Bill Clinton’s mannerisms, speech, and strut throughout much of the movie. Every character is seen as a facsimile of their real-life counterparts, but it’s Travolta’s take on the character that brings life to a tired political trope. Tom Hanks was the original choice for the role, but as Entertainment Weekly reported in 1996, Travolta took the character on when Hanks declined.

As the film progresses, John Travolta’s candidate character goes from an also-ran type to a leading contender. Despite potential sex scandals and seemingly dishonest behavior that plagues Stanton’s candidacy, he is presented as the comeback kid from outside parties, especially after successful debates. It’s in these little moments that Travolta shines the most, as he runs the gamut of cunning misogynist and opportunistic Presidential hopeful. By the climax, we witness Travolta’s stunning ability to foster Stanton’s complete reversal of eccentricity, as he gains the endorsement of a political foe and ascends to the Presidency in the end.

Often seen as a lesser film in John Travolta’s canon of performances, Primary Colors is a movie to be reckoned with. While IMDB has a user score at 6.7 and Rotten Tomatoes has an Audience Score rating of 64%, Primary Colors deserves a second look. Travolta’s willingness to give everything he has as an actor to the role of Jack Stanton, to take risks when other actors declined to take on the role, and to lead an ensemble cast of A-list talent proves that Primary Colors is a film to be remembered. With a script by Elaine May and directed by the incomparable Mike Nichols, we promise that Primary Colors is the best John Travolta movie to date.