John Travolta's 65th Birthday: His 15 Best Movies Ranked

Born on February 18, 1954, John Travolta turns 65 today. A unique star with a singular career, Travolta is a true Hollywood survivor. He first gained notice in the mid-1970s playing high-school students in Carrie and Welcome Back, Kotter, though already in his early 20s.

Then came the two roles that defined his movie stardom: Saturday Night Fever (1977) and Grease (1978). In both movies, he played a working-class rebel who found purpose and escape in youth culture—disco clubs in Saturday Night Fever and 1950s greaser gangs in Grease.

Both movies were huge commercial and critical hits; Saturday Night Fever earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor at just 24 years old.

In 1980, he played another disaffected youth—this time a honky-tonk oil field worker in Urban Cowboy. His star power was so strong that the film helped bring modern country music out of the Deep South and into the American mainstream.

But his career stalled as the 80s continued. Although the Saturday Night Fever sequel Staying Alive was a minor commercial success, the zeitgeist had moved on from disco. He was offered roles in American Gigolo and An Officer and a Gentleman, but he turned them down—likely to the delight of Richard Gere, who took both leads instead.

He made a lot of money with the critically-mauled Look Who's Taking franchise, but it took Quentin Tarantino's recognition of his unique appeal to bring him firmly back into the critical mainstream.

He received another Academy Award nomination in 1994 for his work in Pulp Fiction, and has been riding this second career wind ever since, although he's yet to choose a project with the same impact.

His off-screen life continues to make headlines, from his devotion to the Church of Scientology to his incredible continued musical collaboration with Grease co-star Olivia Newton-John.

To celebrate Travolta's 65th birthday, Newsweek has collected data from critical review websites Metacritic, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDb to find his 15 most critically-acclaimed movie and TV projects in his career so far.

01 Broken Arrow
Twentieth Century Fox

15. Broken Arrow (1996). Total score: 59.38%. IMDb users: 6. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 5.8. Rotten Tomatoes users: 2.9.

Directed by: John Woo. Starring: John Travolta, Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Delroy Lindo.

Plot summary: Terrorists steal nuclear warheads from the U.S. military but don't count on a pilot and park ranger spoiling their plans.

Adjusted domestic box office: $144,582,400.

What the critics said: "John Travolta is seriously miscast as a nuclear terrorist. Say what you will about the guy, he doesn't come across as a heavy." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

02 Urban Cowboy
Paramount Pictures

14. Urban Cowboy (1980). Total score: 63.63%. IMDb users: 6.3. Metacritic: 61. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.5. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.4.

Directed by: James Bridges. Starring: John Travolta, Debra Winger, Scott Glenn.

Plot summary: Bud is a young man from the country who learns about life and love in a Houston bar.

Adjusted domestic box office: $157,498,900.

What the critics said: "John Travolta and Debra Winger make for a very sexy married couple in this James Bridges' musical drama, which launched the country and Western fad in music and film." Emanuel Levy, EmanuelLevy.Com.

03 In a Valley of Violence
Focus World

13. In a Valley of Violence (2016). Total score: 65%. IMDb users: 6. Metacritic: 64. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.8. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.2.

Directed by: Ti West. Starring: Ethan Hawke, John Travolta, Taissa Farmiga, Karen Gillan, Burn Gorman.

Plot summary: A mysterious stranger and a random act of violence drag a town of misfits and nitwits into the bloody crosshairs of revenge.

Adjusted domestic box office: $55,100.

What the critics said: "Ti West's In a Valley of Violence plays like a grim, Eastwood-style genre revival before some conspicuous Tarantino-influenced humor infects its climactic showdown." John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter.

04 A Civil Action
Buena Vista Pictures

12. A Civil Action (1998). Total score: 65.5%. IMDb users: 6.6. Metacritic: 68. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.4. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1.

Directed by: Steven Zaillian. Starring: John Travolta, Robert Duvall, Kathleen Quinlan, Tony Shalhoub, William H. Macy, John Lithgow, James Gandolfini, Stephen Fry.

Plot summary: A tenacious lawyer takes on a case involving a major company responsible for causing several people to be diagnosed with leukemia due to the town's water supply being contaminated, at the risk of bankrupting his firm and career.

Adjusted domestic box office: $100,828,300.

What the critics said: "Travolta captures the complexity of a man whose motives for doing good have as much to do with vanity as anything else." Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle.

05 Grease
Paramount Pictures

11. Grease (1978). Total score: 69.63%. IMDb users: 7.2. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 6.7. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.7.

Directed by: Randal Kleiser. Starring: John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, Stockard Channing, Jeff Conway, Didi Conn, Frankie Avalon, Sid Caesar.

Plot summary: Good girl Sandy and greaser Danny fell in love over the summer. When they unexpectedly discover they're now in the same high school, will they be able to rekindle their romance?

Adjusted domestic box office: $696,200,000.

What the critics said: "There's a surprising strain of filth—this is much closer to Hairspray than High School Musical. The message is: burn rubber, have sex, strut about like a chicken. It's one that's hard to resist." Catherine Shoard, The Guardian.

06 Primary Colors
Universal Pictures

10. Primary Colors (1998). Total score: 69.75%. IMDb users: 6.7. Metacritic: 70. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.1.

Directed by: Mike Nichols. Starring: John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Larry Hagman.

Plot summary: A man joins the political campaign of a smooth-operator candidate for president of the USA.

Adjusted domestic box office: $75,091,800.

What the critics said: "Of course the movie resonates with its parallels to the lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton, but it's a lot more than a disguised exposé. It's a superb film—funny, insightful and very wise about the realities of political life" Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

07 Saturday Night Fever 1
Paramount Pictures

9. Saturday Night Fever (1977). Total score: 73.88%. IMDb users: 6.8. Metacritic: 77. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.6. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.2.

Directed by: John Badham. Starring: John Travolta, Karen Lynn Gorney, Barry Miller.

Plot summary: Anxious about his future after high school, a 19-year-old Italian American from Brooklyn tries to escape the harsh reality of his bleak family life by dominating the dance floor at the local disco.

Adjusted domestic box office: $366,660,800.

What the critics said: "Saturday Night Fever is wonderfully honest and completely accurate when it comes to depicting that stagnant environment that keeps young people like Tony pinned down." Kathleen Carroll, New York Daily News.

08 The Thin Red Line
Twentieth Century Fox

8. The Thin Red Line (1998). Total score: 74.88%. IMDb users: 7.6. Metacritic: 78. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.3. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.5.

Directed by: Terrence Malick. Starring: Jim Caviezel, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Adrien Brody, Ben Chaplin, George Clooney, John Cusack, Woody Harrelson, Nick Nolte, John C. Reilly, John Travolta.

Plot summary: Adaptation of James Jones' autobiographical 1962 novel, focusing on the conflict at Guadalcanal during the Second World War.

Adjusted domestic box office: $64,799,300.

What the critics said: "It wrestles with complexity, speaks to us in poetry, weaves multiple narrative strands into a tapestry, opens the festering wounds of war and gazes inside without blinking." Norman Green, Film.com.

09 Get Shorty
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM)

7. Get Shorty (1995). Total score: 76.25%. IMDb users: 6.9. Metacritic: 82. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.7. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.2.

Directed by: Barry Sonnenfeld. Starring: John Travolta, Gene Hackman, Rene Russo, Danny DeVito, Delroy Lindo, James Gandolfini.

Plot summary: A mobster travels to Hollywood to collect a debt, and discovers that the movie business is much the same as his current job.

Adjusted domestic box office: $149,673,000.

What the critics said: "It's Travolta—smooth, commanding, handsome as ever, a cool, rhythmic bop in his walk—who owns the film." Edward Guthmann, San Francisco Chronicle.

10 Hairspray
New Line Cinema

6. Hairspray (2007). Total score: 77.75%. IMDb users: 6.7. Metacritic: 81. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.9.

Directed by: Adam Shankman. Starring: John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Queen Latifah, Nikki Blonsky, James Marsden, Zac Efron, Allison Janney.

Plot summary: Pleasantly plump teenager Tracy Turnblad teaches 1962 Baltimore a thing or two about integration after landing a spot on a local TV dance show.

Adjusted domestic box office: $156,019,300.

What the critics said: "John Travolta takes on John Waters in Hairspray, and the result is anything but a drag in this appealingly goofy, all-singing, all-dancing screen adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 1988 film." Michael Rechtshaffen, Hollywood Reporter.

11 Face/Off
Paramount Pictures

5. Face/Off (1997). Total score: 78.25%. IMDb users: 7.3. Metacritic: 82. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.9. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.5.

Directed by: John Woo. Starring: John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen.

Plot summary: In order to foil an extortion plot, an FBI agent undergoes a facial transplant surgery and assumes the identity and physical appearance of a terrorist, but the plan turns from bad to worse when the same terrorist impersonates the FBI agent.

Adjusted domestic box office: $220,883,100.

What the critics said: "Watching John Travolta and Nicolas Cage square off and literally exchange roles brings back the old-fashioned pleasure of astutely judged movie star pairings in a major way." Todd McCarthy, Variety.

12 Blow Out
Filmways Pictures

4. Blow Out (1981). Total score: 79.63%. IMDb users: 7.4. Metacritic: 85. Rotten Tomatoes: 7.8. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.7.

Directed by: Brian De Palma. Starring: John Travolta, Nancy Allen, John Lithgow, Dennis franz.

Plot summary: A movie sound recordist accidentally records the evidence that proves that a car accident was actually murder and consequently finds himself in danger.

Adjusted domestic box office: $38,978,400.

What the critics said: "Blow Out is the work of a high-spirited, irrepressible director who takes the effects movies can produce far more seriously than he takes the characters they seem to be about." Vincent Canby, New York Times.

13 Carrie
United Artists

3. Carrie (1976). Total score: 81.13%. IMDb users: 7.4. Metacritic: 85. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.4. Rotten Tomatoes users: 3.4.

Directed by: Brian De Palma. Starring: Sissy Spacek, Piper Laurie, Amy Irving, John Travolta, Nancy Allen.

Plot summary: Carrie White, a shy, friendless teenage girl who is sheltered by her domineering, religious mother, unleashes her telekinetic powers after being humiliated by her classmates at her senior prom.

Adjusted domestic box office: $143,293,000.

What the critics said: "Brian De Palma's Carrie is an absolutely spellbinding horror movie... It's also (and this is what makes it so good) an observant human portrait." Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times.

14 The People v
FX Network

2. The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (2016) TV series. Total score: 88.25%. IMDb users: 8.5. Metacritic: 90. Rotten Tomatoes: 8.7. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.5.

Created by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Tom Rob Smith. Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Sarah Paulson, David Schwimmer, John Travolta, Sterling K. Brown.

Plot summary: An anthology series centered around America's most notorious crimes and criminals.

Adjusted domestic box office: (n/a).

What the critics said: "The cast is the highlight here, with special nods toward Sarah Paulson's Marcia Clark and, shockingly, Mr. Travolta's portrayal of Shapiro, which is just enough parts measured and absurd to be a scene-stealer." Vinnie Mancuso, Observer.

15 Pulp Fiction
Miramax

1. Pulp Fiction (1994). Total score: 91%. IMDb users: 8.9. Metacritic: 94. Rotten Tomatoes: 9.1. Rotten Tomatoes users: 4.2.

Directed by: Quentin Tarantino. Starring: John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Bruce Willis, Ving Rhames, Rosanna Arquette, Christopher Walken.

Plot summary: The lives of two mob hitmen, a boxer, a gangster's wife, and a pair of diner bandits intertwine in four tales of violence and redemption.

Adjusted domestic box office: $229,242,000.

What the critics said: "It resurrects John Travolta from Look Who's Talking hell, it makes Bruce Willis into a serious actor and it honors the power and fancy of intelligent dialogue (written by the director himself)." Jami Bernard, New York Daily News.