10 Hair-raising Moments With John Travolta

From greased lightnin' to buxom beehive, we celebrate the man's contribution to film follicles -- and plain old folly

by | August 27, 2009 | Comments


Dear John: what the hell is that? Travolta’s brutal butch hair — or lack thereof, handlebar moustache aside — in this week’s remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 got us nostalgic for ol’ dimple chin’s former career of chaotic coiffure. From those grease-slick quiffs of his jive-talkin’ daze through the ’80s aerobic mullets, ’90s hitman mops and one almighty intergalactic octopus that took up residence on his skull in the dying embers of the millennium, the state of Travolta’s pate has never been less than eclectic. And so we present a best and worst gallery — how could it be anything else with this guy? — to salute Travolta’s tonsorial tenacity in contributing some of movies’ most hair-raising moments.

10. Swordfish (2001)

Alright, let’s just get this monstrosity out of the way swiftly, shall we, and move on? Like Vincent Vega if he’d wandered into Toni & Guy and — instead of “taking care” of the place — paid too much for a bad colour and blow-dry, Travolta’s Euro-villain-meets-sales-douche oddity sure is ghastly. But it’s that creepy landing-strip chin divider that really takes this one into the hall of shame.

9. Staying Alive (1983)

Travolta’s return as twinkle-toed tough guy Tony Manero in this disastrous sequel to Saturday Night Fever saw him go from aspiring disco hoofer to aspiring star of Broadway — where apparently, in 1983, product-drenched tresses lifted by bright headbands were the ticket to stardom. It was era of Flashdance, we guess. And the director? Sylvester Stallone, betraying the fact that Rambo‘s sweaty head look wasn’t nearly as macho as he thought it was.

8. Michael (1996)

You’ve gotta admire Travolta’s nerve: after a spectaular return to his peak in Pulp Fiction, the man quickly cashed in his chips with a run of mixed-to-horrible films — and dazzled us yet again by defying the tastemakers ruling the whims of contemporary hair. Really, what kind of style does a chainsmoking angel favour, anyway? Why, a wild mullet and salt-and-pepper stubble, of course. Turned out it was influential on Tom Hanks’ look in The Da Vinci Code, too.

7. Primary Colors (1998)

The picture says it all, doesn’t it? There’s just one person happy with their hair among those three; although Emma Thompson’s expression is tending toward puzzled disdain. Travolta’s looking mighty pleased with his silver-haired self here, and why not? His Clinton-esque governor in Mike Nichols’ political satire is some of his best late-’90s work. Mostly on account of the eyebrows.

6. Carrie (1976)

Welcome back, Vinny Barbarino. The still baby-faced, 22-year-old Travolta’s big-screen break in Brian De Palma’s horror captured his locks in full mid-’70s bloom — looking like the kind of guy you’d let make off with your daughter in their Corvette, despite the potential mischief lurking behind those sparkling baby blues. His hair was yet to be liberated from that of his small-screen Kotter counterpart, but that was all about to change…

5. Saturday Night Fever (1977)

He had the “wings of heaven” on his dancing shoes in the Bee Gees-scored disco smash of ’77, and by extension the breath of angels — or a 10,000 watt hairdryer — elevating his newly-trim ‘do to the glittery night skies. So important is Travolta’s hair to the strutting Saturday Night Fever that an entire scene is devoted to fetishising Tony Manero’s styling and teasing it. Disco doesn’t suck — it blows.

4. Pulp Fiction (1994)

Part-comedic, part-badass and all-memorable, Travolta’s oily rug in his celebrated comeback role was the perfect companion to his world-weary, wise-cracking and permanently high hitman Vincent Vega. Whether worn in a ponytail for the Jack Rabbit Slim’s Twist or flapping free in the Inglewood breeze, it’s kind of a character unto itself. And who could forget Travolta and Sam Jackson picking the bits of brain and skull out of that hair?

3. Hairspray (2007)

Edna Turnblad might blithely believe that Jackie O.’s weave is “all natural”, but there’s no mistaking the industrial-strength amount of holding product that went into Travolta’s buxom bouffant — the movie is called Hairspray, after all. Kudos to Travolta for going all the way with a cross-dressing, fat-suit creation that paid fond homage to John Waters’ original trash star Divine. But then, there really wasn’t anywhere left to go when he’d already done…

2. Battlefield Earth (1999)

Xenu be praised! Say what you will about this colossal 1999 flop, we defy you to watch and not be mesmerised by the follicular masterpiece crowning the evil mug of Travolta’s Psychlo alien overlord. When you’re ready to enslave an entire planet of puny, inferior beings, be sure to stop by your local galactic stylist and have them make you over like this.

1. Grease (1978)

Oh, we know — it’s automatic and it’s hyyyyyyyy-dromatic, but how could anyone go past Danny Zuko’s evergreen T-bird quiff?

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