1. Welcome Back, Kotter
In 1975, John Travolta landed a star-making role on this classic TV sitcom. As Vinnie Barbarino, the cocky leader of a group of teenage misfits, John sent teen girls' hearts aflutter. Vinnie is best known for his long locks, lower-than-average IQ and not-so-catchy catchphrases. "Up your nose with a rubber hose," really?
During his stint as a James Buchanan High School "Sweathog," John earned his heartthrob status, which led to a string of film roles.
Photo: ABC via Getty Images
2. The Boy in the Plastic Bubble
John first showed his sensitive side in this 1976 made-for-TV movie. In the film, which is based on a true story, John plays Tod Lubitch, a boy born with an immune deficiency who must be protected from the outside world. He lives his life from inside a plastic bubble, where he eats, studies, reads, exercises and falls in love with his next-door neighbor.
3. Saturday Night Fever
If you've ever been to a wedding, bat mitzvah or high school dance and seen people flail their hips about while pointing their fingers in the air, blame John. In 1977, he donned platform shoes and a tight white suit to play Tony Manero, a Brooklyn man who escapes his troubles through disco. On the weekends, Tony slicks back his hair and becomes a disco king. But, during the week, he's a working-class guy dealing with a dead-end job and a dysfunctional family.
For better or for worse, some credit this movie with popularizing disco around the world. To this day, Saturday Night Fever has one of the best-selling soundtracks of all time.
Generations of women have fallen for Danny Zuko, one of John's most famous characters. Whether you love him for his hip-swiveling moves, his sideburns or his sensitive side, Danny is the one we need...oh yes indeed!
Since the movie hit theaters in 1978, Danny and his good-girl-gone-bad love interest, Sandy (played by Olivia Newton-John), have inspired many summer romances, slumber party sing-alongs and off-key karaoke imitations.
5. Pulp Fiction
Unlike some of John's handsome, wholesome characters, Vincent Vega is not the kind of guy you want to introduce to Mom and Dad. Don't let the bolo tie fool you. This professional hitman guns down anyone who gets in his way and doesn't blink an eye at blood splatters. John's Oscar®-nominated role—created by director Quentin Tarantino—is gritty, a little greasy and unforgettable.
6. Primary Colors
If you know anything about American politics, then you know who inspired John's charismatic character in Primary Colors, a film adapted from a best-selling novel. John packed on a few pounds and dyed his hair gray to play Jack Stanton, the governor of a Southern state who becomes a political powerhouse and, eventually, a presidential candidate. The campaign, marred by accusations of adultery and corruption, is seen through the eyes of an idealistic aide, Henry Burton.
Photo: David James/New Line Cinema
After playing heartthrobs and villains for decades, John slipped into a housedress and heels to play Edna Turnblad in John Waters' 2007 remake of Hairspray. Under the brunet wig and fat suit, fans still recognize John's signature dance moves and vocals.
As Edna, the overprotective mother of a pleasantly plump teenager named Tracy, John gives heart and soul to this rolicking musical.
Stepping out of his comfort zone yet again, John gets animated in this children's film. He lends his distinctive voice to the title character, Bolt, a cartoon pup who thinks he has superpowers. When Bolt mistakenly believes Penny, his human companion (voiced by Miley Cyrus), is kidnapped, he sets out to save her. If you look closely, John's voice isn't the only thing you'll recognize. Bolt and John share the same soulful eyes and expressions.