Why John Travolta Wanted Sylvester Stallone to Direct ‘Saturday Night Fever”s Sequel

It might surprise some fans to know Sylvester Stallone directed one of John Travolta’s movies. The movie in question, Staying Alive, was a horrible flop despite being the sequel to one of Travolta’s most iconic films, Saturday Night Fever. Travolta explained why he wanted Stallone to direct the film — and defended it for taking liberties with Saturday Night Fever.

John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone in suits
John Travolta and Sylvester Stallone | Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

The movie that made John Travolta want Sylvester Stallone to direct one of his movies

Welcome Back, Kotter turned Travolta into a television star but one movie made him an icon: Saturday Night Fever. Without it, it’s difficult to imagine Travolta garnering star roles in other classics like Grease, Pulp Fiction, and Get Shorty. The wild success of Saturday Night Fever predictably led to a sequel called Staying Alive, a reference to a famous Bee Gees song used in the first film. Staying Alive was directed by Stallone, who has a few directing credits under his belt including Rocky II, Rocky III, and Rocky IV. One of Stallone’s movies made Travolta want him to direct Staying Alive.

“I had just seen Rocky III, and I said to my agent, ‘This is a wild idea, but if I could get the kind of energy and excitement and pacing that Stallone brought to Rocky III, that’s where I think this movie is going,’” Travolta told The New York Times. “A month went by, and I was doing a play in Aspen when my agent called me and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, but Michael Eisner at Paramount wants to ask Stallone to direct Staying Alive.”

A Rocky III trailer

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John Travolta defended ‘Staying Alive’ from changing his character from ‘Saturday Night Fever’

Near the end of Saturday Night Fever, Tony learns to be more respectful of women. However, Margy Rochlin of Interview Magazine noted Tony is depicted as more misogynistic in the sequel to Saturday Night Fever, Staying Alive. Travolta defended the characterization of Tony in Staying Alive.

“There’s no rule that everyone has to change,” Travolta said. “I loved Staying Alive. Also, the promise of change doesn’t always mean something changes. I mean, the guy at the end of Saturday Night Fever was so distraught—his friend had committed suicide, this girl was sexually frustrating him. He didn’t know where to turn. He turned to someone who he thought might be a friend. Who knows what happened to that relationship? Maybe she didn’t turn out to be the kind of woman who could help him learn to be a friend to women and not treat them as sex objects…. It’s just that we chose to write the more entertaining choice versus the more artistic one.”

A trailer for Sylvester Stallone’s Staying Alive

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Critics really didn’t like ‘Staying Alive’

Travolta liked the portrayal of Tony in the film. However, critics did not. Staying Alive is one of the rare films to receive a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s incredible to think not a single notable critic enjoyed the movie. Regardless, Staying Alive remains an unexpected collaboration between two 1970s/1980s icons.