How John Travolta Lost $10 Million Betting on ‘Battlefield Earth’

John Travolta has starred in so many classic movies. Even so, the star of Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and countless others has had a wildly rocky career. Among his rough spots was the release of Battlefield Earth in 2000. The movie not only proved to be an infamous flop but also reportedly cost Travolta $10 million. Here’s how that happened and how Battlefield Earth was a turning point in Travolta’s career.

John Travolta scowls in a scene from 'Battlefield Earth'
John Travolta | Warner Brothers/Getty Images

John Travolta experienced a comeback in the mid-1990s

After his rise to leading-man status in the late 1970s, Travolta’s acting career has slowed by the 1990s. In 1993, for instance, his big role was starring in Look Who’s Talking Now. In this second sequel to Look Who’s Talking, stars Travolta and Kirstie Alley play second fiddle to a pair of talking dogs voiced by Danny DeVito and Diane Keaton. Even compared to its predecessors, the movie was a major disappointment.

Thankfully, Travolta linked up with Quentin Tarantino. The actor starred in Pulp Fiction the very next year. For his role as hitman Vincent Vega, Travolta earned his second Oscar nomination, his first since Saturday Night Fever. And the years that followed saw the actor headline a string of hits that included Get Shorty, Phenomenon, Michael, Face/Off, and The General’s Daughter. Then one movie put that streak to a swift stop.

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‘Battlefield Earth’ threw a major hurdle into his career

Based on the sci-fi novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, Travolta considered Battlefield Earth a passion project. After all, Travolta is a devout Scientologist and wanted to use his power to get the film made. In fact, he was so committed to it that he cut his $20 million salary in half, according to Yahoo! Instead, Travolta signed on to star and produce with a $10 million payday upfront and $15 million on the back end.

However, that $15 million was contingent on the movie reaching $55 million at the box office. Battlefield Earth hit theaters and soon gained a reputation as one of the worst sci-fi movies ever. It only earned $21 million in domestic grosses against a $73 million production budget, according to Box Office Mojo. So Travolta’s misplaced faith in Battlefield Earth robbed him of the extra $10 million he would have otherwise made.

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John Travolta’s star power arguably never fully recovered

Following the failure of Battlefield Earth, Travolta’s career hot streak came to an end. He still starred in hits such as Wild Hogs, Hairspray, and Swordfish. But these were mostly ensemble casts. The actor’s days as the sole leading man who could carry just about any movie to box office success were behind him.

Throughout the 2010s, Travolta has been mostly appearing in a series of films that have released limited theatrical runs. In some cases, the title have even debuted directly on demand to poor receptions. These include Gotti, Life on the Line, I Am Wrath, and — most recently — 2019’s The Fanatic.