Shouting Match: Denzel Washington vs. John Travolta – FACE/OFF!


First things first. Apologies for no “SM” last week. We were going to debate whether or not Will Ferrell still registered with audiences, but the weekend’s box office receipts settled that debate for us. However, we’re back to chomp our teeth into this week’s release of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 – and whether or not Denzel Washington or John Travolta has had the better career. Adam Sweeney and FSR Resident Devil’s Advocate Josh Radde get awkwardly revealing in this debate.

Opening Argument (Josh)

Dear FSR Readers,

Mr. Sweeney is going to tell you about how Denzel Washington has had a better career than John Travolta, his co-star in the new Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 remake. Allow me to “8 Mile” his ass for a moment. He could tell you that Mr. Washington is a 2-time recipient of a golden statue known as “Oscar,” and respectable force in the acting community. He may tell you that over the course of their careers, Mr. Washington has had far less dubious choices in his resume than Mr. Travolta (Battlefield Earth? Lucky Numbers?) He may tell you that from an objective observer, Denzel’s acting chops are far more sharp and pristine than those attached to Johnny T.

And by all accounts, he would be right.

But we are not judging the caliber of talent or the number of gold-plated bling given to each actor. We aren’t even talking about who’s been more consistent with their abilities. We’re talking about who’s had the better career – who’s filmography rests higher on the echelon of Hollywood importance. This is not the case of Mr. Keanu Reeves, in which Sweens and I discussed the importance of the thespian’s career, this is Travolta vs. Denzel.

In this regard, Travolta hovers above. Travolta was in two of the most recognizable films from the 70’s – Saturday Night Fever and Grease. He was a staple on a popular TV show from the same era. He had a lull in his career in the 80’s but still managed to pop out the everlastingly charming Look Who’s Talking. In the 90’s he gave us Vincent Vega, a character more memorable than any of the ones that garnered Denzel an Oscar nom. Simply put, the highs in Travolta’s career are higher than Denzel’s and the lows are much more embarrassing and lower – but they still matter. Travolta still registers with audiences in a way that Denzel never really could…hence, why Wild Hogs made a boat-load of money. I do not begrudge or belittle any of Denzel’s success, I merely state that Travolta’s career has been more notable. Denzel may have more consistency, but Travolta has had the grander career.


Rebuttal (Adam)

Fellow Rejects,

You have to applaud Josh’s opening strategy. The Eminem Defense ranks up there in the list of great arguments right next to The Chewbacca Defense and “He Who Smelt it Dealt it.” I’m kidding but really, the 8-Mile move can only be used by a bleached blonde rapper that hates his mother and allows Sasha Baron Cohen to put his ass in his face at the MTV Movie Awards. You’re one dye job away from reaching the goal, Josh!

I really like John Travolta. After all, we share the same birthday and his wife, Kelly Preston, is gorgeous. In many ways he has represented coolness at certain points in his career. But coolness doesn’t equate to greatness, always.

Denzel Washington is clearly the better actor of the two. Watch Glory and that argument is put to bed. The man commands respect. Does Travolta? I’m not so sure. I think people laughed a little bit when they see him try to play a badass. Denzel, however, won an Oscar for kicking ass in Training Day. He honestly should have 3 or 4 of them.

A lot of success comes from the opportunities given to an actor, and let’s be real, Denzel wasn’t ever going to be considered for Grease or Saturday Night Fever. Also, Tarantino had to help resurrect Travolta’s career, which he has tried to ruin yet again. Battlefield Earth has to be mentioned. It was getting-your-balls-cut-off-and-eaten-in-front-of-you bad. His success comes from taking more films that can be easily consumed, which is why Wild Hogs did well. That and much of the mainstream audience are idiots. I submit Paul Blart: Mall Cop‘s success as exhibit A, your honor. Denzel doesn’t take those roles, which is why his career has been better and smoother, unlike Mr. Travolta’s Wild Ride.


Closing Argument (Josh)

Respect? Pssh, overrated.

At the end of the day, here’s what we’re talking about, essentially: Let’s say you have two hookers. One is a classy whore (gets her hair all did and doesn’t have lipstick on her teeth), she doesn’t get in to every car she sees and is more cautious, which is why she asks you 3 to 4 times if you’re a cop. She adheres strictly to the “no kissing” rule and makes you wear a rubber. But you go three blocks down the street, and there’s another street walker. She has one broken heel and a black eye and her breath wreaks of cigarettes, but she pretty much lets you do anything you want. Wanna smack her around? No problem. Wanna blow a load on her face? It’s recommended! At the end of the day, which prostitute makes more money? Which makes her Poppa happy more?

I think we know which Roxanne Denzel is – and we DEFINITELY know which one our Mr. Travolta would be.

My point: I’m not arguing which one can hold their head higher in a room full of actors, I’m arguing which one keeps his pimp (aka “the American public”) in the lifestyle to which he’s become accustomed. Is there integrity in that? Nah. But at least Travolta’s more memorable because he lets us blow in his face. And just in case you were wondering, no, this is no longer a metaphor.

I rest my case.


Final Words (Adam)

Josh, you speak like you’ve had experience in the prostitution ring. For that I fear you but also am somewhat intrigued. But I’ve seen Travolta dressed as a woman in Hairspray, so this gives me a literal interpretation of what he’d look like as a whore. Me no likey. I can imagine him going “Welcome Back, Kotter” on me and yelling, “Put it on my ass, Sassafras.” Thanks but no thanks. We’ve seen him whore himself out enough already.

As much as blowing a load on a Sweathog’s face sounds appealing, I will take Denzel’s career. When I watch his films I don’t feel dirty. Almost all of Travolta’s films have this “They’re so bad that they’re good” feel to them. It’s a guilty pleasure, like groping your partner while they’re sleeping. Is it a bit thrilling? Maybe. But more often than not you don’t want anybody to know about it.

Denzel’s like the girl or guy you bring home to Mom with the degree in neuroscience. He’s respectable and will always challenge you. Travolta? He works at a carnival and may or may not have three nipples and a dick. What’s weird is that the last sentence was quoted from Entertainment Tonight after Travolta went into hiding from the bomb that was Look Who’s Talking Now.

Denzel, for the win.

Well, we could go back and forth discussing this matter all day, trying to gross-out the other, and eventually make out sloppily. But what really matters is what you all think: Who’s had the better career? Who would make a better prostitute?

Josh is a multi-tasker. He's been a cubicle monkey for the last few years, a veteran stage actor of over 10 years, a sometimes commercial actor, occasional writer of articles, a once-legend in the realm of podcastery, purveyor of chuckles in his homecity of Chicago as he has trained with the world renown iO (Improv Olympic) and Second City Conservatory and performed with both theaters, and can be seen doing a thing that actor's do on the website of his online sitcom, LackingDirection.com. Josh also likes to tackle the beef of his bio with one run-on sentence, because it befits his train-of-thought.

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