Disco is dead, but Saturday Night Fever is stayin’ alive. Released across America on Dec. 16, 1977, the story of a working-class teen who dances his way out of a dead-end life in working-class Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, was an immediate sensation. The film displaced Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind to top the box office and remained there for two more months, emerging as the fifth biggest film of the year. Its soundtrack was also No. 1, with a bullet — a full six months atop the charts, only falling off in March 1980, by which time it had sold 16 million records and become the only disco disc to win the Best Album Grammy.
Its director, John Badham, called its success “lightning in a bottle,” recently telling Forbes that the R-rated movie’s profanity and political incorrectness made its distributor, Paramount Pictures, nervous, and that only the efforts of producer Robert Stigwood prevented cuts. In retrospect, the worries were overblown. Like the previous year’s Rocky, it was a gritty “underdog” tale, with a wish fulfillment element that separated it from the dark urban melodramas of the period, like Taxi Driver (1976). And, as Rocky gave audiences Sylvester Stallone, it birthed a major star in 23-year-old John Travolta, who successfully graduated from the TV high school of Welcome Back, Kotter. “The mood, the beat, and the trance rhythm are so purely entertaining, and Travolta is such an original presence, that a viewer spins past the crudeness in the script,” New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael observed. Continue reading at Biography.com.