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Film / Saturday Night Fever

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And that sweet city woman,
She moves through the light,
Controlling my mind and my soul.
When you reach out for me
Yeah, and the feelin' is bright,
Then I get night fever, night fever.
We know how to do it.
The Bee Gees, "Night Fever".

Saturday Night Fever is a 1977 film starring John Travolta in the role that made him a superstar.

The film centers around Tony Manero, a young Italian-American from Brooklyn who likes to spend nights dancing at a local nightclub; his would-be girlfriend and dance partner Stephanie; his unrequited love interest Annette; and their various friends and cohorts.

But the film is mostly remembered for being a reflection of the Disco era at its height in New York in The '70s, and the Unbuilt Trope of the modern dance flick. Subsequently, the film sparked a national Disco craze that didn't die out until the onset of The '80s. Thus, Saturday Night Fever remains a late-Seventies period piece, such as it is. Critic Gene Siskel's favorite movie of all time, its influence has been felt directly and indirectly across many later films, especially in terms of the poster's iconic finger-in-the-air pose.

And it's got Travolta dancing.

Not surprisingly, the soundtrack album to the film is one of the best-selling releases of all time, featuring tracks from The Bee Gees, Walter Murphy, K.C. & the Sunshine Band, and others — it ended up as the most popular album in history for a while, only unseated after Michael Jackson released Thriller.

A sequel titled Staying Alive was released in 1983. It didn't do as well with the critics, especially since director/co-writer Sylvester Stallone also decided to heavily feature his brother Frank on the soundtrack. However, the original movie's adaption as a musical for the stage in 1998 became an international success, still running in various productions. Has an unofficial quasi-sequel in the 2008 Chilean film Tony Manero as well, which is about a creepily obsessed fan of the original movie.

Saturday Night Fever provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The '70s: And how. You can't help but think of the 1970s when you see the film, and you can't help but think of the film when you remember the 1970s.
  • Accidental Suicide: Depending on your interpretation, Bobby C.'s death is either this or Driven to Suicide. Despite climbing the bridge and appearing to reach a Despair Event Horizon, in the end, Bobby C. slips off the bridge and falls to his death; he does not jump. How much you think the latter was intentional is up for debate.
  • Accomplice by Inaction: Tony allowing his guy friends to gang-rape Annette and doing nothing to stop it.
  • Adaptation Amalgamation: The musical is based on the original movie but ends the same as the sequel, with Tony announcing that he's going to strut and then walking around to the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive".
  • Adaptational Villainy:
    • Tony's father is a bit of a Jerkass in the movie but the stage play turns him into a violent alcoholic who once broke Tony's arm as a child.
    • This also applies to Tony and his friends when compared to their original New York Magazine counterparts. While Vincent and his peers were depicted as egomaniacal with violent fantasies and misogynist tendencies, none of them were shown to be involved in any rape attempts or even explicitly portrayed as all that violent.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Annette, who likes Tony, who is interested in Stephanie.
  • Anti-Hero: Some viewers feel that there's little to no redeemable qualities to Tony. While the film ends with him having a kind of psychological break, riding around in graffiti-covered subways looking shattered, it's an easy sort of redemption. It's especially glaring for somebody who's spent a whole movie as a violent misogynist with a buttload of other flaws.
  • Armor-Piercing Response: It takes Tony's Jerkass friends to deliver one to him to make him just sit back and do nothing as they gang-rape Annette.
  • Auto Erotica:
    • Gets averted when a drunk Tony makes a pass at Stephanie in the car and she resists.
    • Played straight earlier when he has sex with Annette in the backseat, but doesn't finish.
    • Also, played straight with one of Tony's friends and some girl he met at the disco. They have to finish while Tony and crew watch.
    • Don't forget when Tony's Jerkass friends raped Annette.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: Was based on Nik Cohn's article, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night about Cohn witnessing a fight outside the 2001 Odyssey disco. 20 years after the article's publication, Cohn admitted it was complete fiction. He basically just took his memories of the Mod movement in Britain in The '60s and plugged them into the New York disco scene a decade later.
  • Bed Trick: Played for Drama. In the car. After Joey finishes having sex with the intoxicated Annette, he trades places with Double J so they could "take turns" with her. She regains some consciousness to pick up on this and protest.
  • Benevolent Boss: Tony's job may be tedious, with long hours, but his boss seems like a nice enough guy, giving him a raise and even rehiring him after Tony angrily quits. The store manager makes a point of how he's had other employees working for him for years upon years. Tony's gratefulness at his boss' actions also softens his character a bit.
  • Betty and Veronica: Stephanie (the Betty) to Annette (the Veronica) over their dance partner Tony (the Archie).
  • Big Applesauce: It's a very N.Y. movie, and the setting is justified because the Big Apple was one of the places where the disco culture originated.
  • Blaming the Victim: Annette gets this from Tony after suffering gang-rape from Joey and Double J while high on ecstacy.
  • Book Ends:
    • The film famously opens with Tony confidently strutting down the streets of New York City to the tune of "Stayin' Alive". The sequel film ends on the exact same image, to the exact same tune.
    • Even within the first film alone, "Stayin' Alive" is the first song played over the opening credits, and the last song played over the closing credits.
    • The stage musical uses this ending but makes it a Megamix of "Night Fever", "Stayin' Alive", "Disco Inferno" and "You Should be Dancing".
  • Bowdlerise: The movie was originally rated "R" in the United States, but after marketing research revealed that most people who were buying the soundtrack album were young children, the studio re-released it to theaters in a "PG" version with little to no profanity, drug use, and nudity. Wikipedia has a picture of the poster that advertised it.
    • The stage musical replaces the word cunt with bitch.
  • Brooklyn Rage: Brooklyn gang violence is mentioned and even given screen time.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Tony is told to mind his own business and back off when his friends take advantage of Annette being under the influence.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Averted. When Tony and Annette have sex in the backseat before the first trip to the Bridge, he stops because she's not "fixed" and he's not wearing a condom.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: This happens in-universe and is Played for Laughs. A drunken girl at the disco mistakes Tony for Al Pacino and urges him to kiss her. Lampshaded when an incredulous Tony wakes up in the morning and asks himself point-blank: "Do I really look like Al Pacino?"
  • Choreography Porn: In Staying Alive, a large percentage of the screen time was of montages of dance rehearsals, as well as the finale Broadway show. All involved heavily choreographed dancing.
  • Commitment Issues: Tony and his friends have this in spades.
  • Country Matters: It's treated as general rule of Tony's crew that if you don't sleep with them you're a cunt, and they'll tell you so to your face.
    • Of course, you're also a cunt if you do sleep with them. Apparently, you have to walk a very fine line to remain a "nice girl".
  • Coitus Uninterruptus: One of Tony's friends gets caught in the middle of having sex with a girl he met at a disco and they just keep on going as Tony and his friends watch.
  • Crowd Song: In the first visit to the club, Tony ends up spontaneously instigating a line dance to "Night Fever" by The Bee Gees.
  • Dancing Royalty: Tony is one of the most popular dancers at a nightclub in New York — to the point of having the dance floor cleared when he's due to jump on — but in the daytime, he's just a normal person with no specified talents. In fact, his mother seems to be embarrassed by him because he isn't as successful as his brother, and even blames him for his brother leaving the priesthood.
  • Date Rape Averted: Tony tries to have his way with Stephanie, but she gets away. Averted with Annette. At first Tony attempted to lead her away and stop his friends from taking advantage of her but they subdue him and he does nothing to stop it.
  • Deconstruction: The film is a deconstruction of the hedonistic culture of the 1970's. Sure, there were beautiful clothes, music, and lots of dancing, but there was a dark side to the life led by such people like Tony and his friends. For example, Tony has no thought for the future (and the culture as a whole didn't either), and his friends are involved with drugs, drinking, and casual sex which causes them many problems. The fact that later films called back to Saturday Night Fever with complex results makes it fundamentally a Unbuilt Trope.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The racist and sexist attitudes of the times shine through in Tony and his crew. Even back then, their portrayal established them as working-class louts, and modern viewers are in for a shock if they're just here for the dancing. Note that the black couple is booed as much as the Hispanic one in the plot-crucial dance contest, and while Tony angrily decries how the non-Italian dancers were unfairly passed over for the top prize, he still uses a racial slur when describing them.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: In-Universe, Tony's father looks at the Farrah Fawcett poster on Tony's bedroom wall like he's never seen nipples before.
  • Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off!: Tony's father slaps him even for minor things.
  • Driven to Suicide: Bobby C.. By the time of his death, Bobby C. is desperate. He has a pregnant, very Catholic girlfriend who he does not want to stay with and is being pressured by his family and hers to marry her. He even asks former priest Frank Jr. if The Pope would give him an exemption. When he starts climbing the bridge he is drunk and acting more recklessly than usual, going on a rant about Tony's lack of care for him, which all points to him reaching a Despair Event Horizon.
  • Fangirl
    • Tony has his fair share of these, most notably Annette, and the Hollywood Homely blonde woman that wiped his forehead after he danced.
    • This is played with as much as its played straight. One girl begs him to kiss her, and she believes she kissed apparently "Al Pacino" (even though Tony looks nothing like him). Tony spends a moment joking with a poster of Pacino later.
  • Feet-First Introduction: This is how we meet Tony. The man's strut is a defining character trait, often parodied in later works. Contrary to rumor, that's all the real Travolta strutting down the streets, with the lone exception of one quick moment (the comparison of Tony's shoe to a shoe in a store window).
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The movie ends with a still shot of the final scene over the credits, showing Tony and Stephanie reconciling and agreeing to be Just Friends with a warm embrace.
  • "Friends" Rent Control: That's a hell of a nice apartment Stephanie has on a dance teacher/secretary's salary. A lot about her background is left often, but she's clearly not that well off. Even in the 70's, it's a little implausible.
  • The Generation Gap: Tony wants to enjoy being young and wild and free, while his parents (and, to a lesser extent, his off-again/on-again girlfriend) encourage him to get a real job, move out, and marry a nice Italian girl.
  • Greek Chorus: The stage version has three guys dressed as The Bee Gees singing in the background.
  • Groin Attack: Tony takes one when he attempted to force himself on Stephanie and she got away.
  • Heroic BSoD: Tony gets hit hard by his friend's death. It's especially stark since he stood there just a few feet away during the fatal fall.
  • Hypocrite: Stephanie calls out Tony during their lunch scene for not having any future prospects and not going to formal education (college), but the rest of the film shows that she isn't the ultra-sophisticated worker she portrays herself as. Scenes both before and after this show her mispronouncing words ("didn't take no college" / her mispronunciation of "vivacious"), her reaction to the name-dropping of Shakespeare leaves the viewer in doubt whether she's ever even heard the name, her claims that she's a bigshot in New York belie the fact that she's only working an entry-level position, and for all her airs, her comments and current situation suggests that she did (or does) allow men to take advantage of her in exchange for favors or connections, to the point that Tony calls her out on this.
  • Iconic Outfit: Travolta's white outfit became synonymous with Disco culture and a sort of a uniform for Disco Dans worldwide.
  • I Feel Guilty; You Take It: Tony and his partner win a dance competition, but he thinks another couple was better and only lost due to being Puerto Rican (in a context judged by Tony's fellow Italian-Americans), so he gives them the top prize. The contrast between him and his friends (who view this as something like a betrayal) shows Tony's Character Development.
  • I Have No Son!: After Frankie leaves the priesthood, his parents are heartbroken (especially his mother), and they eventually seem disown him.
  • Irony:
    • Tony's friends, and a lot of the general crowd of his favorite nightclub, display lot of ignorant prejudice, but none of them seem to have any problem dancing to songs by African-American, LGBT, etc musicians.
    • Tony himself is more sympathetic than the rest of them since he recognizes the futility of dumping on one group of people just because you've gotten dumped on first.
  • Jabba Table Manners: Tony has a habit of eating with his mouth open. Double J even complains about Tony's eating habits at White Castle, when he swallows "great gobs of hamburger" whole.
  • Jerkass: Tony himself is quite a douche, but his friends act like self-absorbed, macho idiots. Tony's parents are this as well to a large degree, especially when they start acting like he's somehow at fault for his brother leaving the priesthood.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: The film tries to set up Tony as this, but how well things work out depends on the viewer. It's undeniable, though, that he's the only one out his regular group of friends (and even his family, excepting his brother) to have some kind of a psychological depth to him. Tony takes dancing seriously enough that he's willing to invest a lot of time and effort to legitimately improve himself, and this bleeds into at least faking an interest in higher-class society more generally. His Heroic BSoD moment after Bobby C's death goes a significant way in making him even more sympathetic.
  • Jewish Mother: Tony's mother, always nagging and criticizing him, and doting on Her Son, The Priest (Tony's older brother Frank) who ends up leaving the priesthood for unknown reasons and becoming estranged from his family.
  • Karma Houdini: This largely applies to Tony's friends apart from Bobby C. Yes, they lose Bobby after he jumps off the bridge. Tony, their de facto leader, also abandons them completely after he decides to move out of Bay Ridge and start over. Yet nothing directly really happens to them.
  • Kick the Dog: Tony ignoring Annette's protests when she is gang-raped by Joey and Double J while high and intoxicated. After the worst is over, he insults and blames her, saying how she had the rapes coming, causing her to run off crying.
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: Tony believes that a girl can be either a "nice girl" you enter into a serious relationship with and maybe even marry eventually or a "cunt" that you sleep with, not both.
  • Meaningful Appearance: The movie opens with a close-up of Tony's shoes. As he struts down the street, he compares his shoes to a store model's and is satisfied that they're similar.
  • Mood Whiplash: The film alternates between dreamy, mesmerizing disco sequences and shallow and violent everyday life of Brooklyn youth. This is kind of the point as Tony's nights spent clubbing are escapism from his everyday life.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Tony, played by the young, Tall, Dark, and Handsome John Travolta is this, big time. Besides his good looks and incredible dancing skills, he has few underwear scenes.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Tony strutting down the street... oh, yeah.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: The stage musical is mostly similar to the movie with most of the songs being played in the disco or the dance school but a few characters burst into song. These are probably the "All In Their Heads" variation.
  • New York Is Only Manhattan: Averted here, which focuses on Brooklyn.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Stephanie and Tony realize that both of them are putting up fronts, as her pursuit of the celebrity-filled high-life has as much phoniness as Tony's dance-fueled hedonism.
  • Only Sane Man: Stephanie and Frank. Tony has shades of this as well, at least compared to his thickheaded friends.
  • Only the Leads Get a Happy Ending: Tony leaves behind his phony life in Brooklyn, and heads to Manhattan to start over. He even gets back together with Stephanie! Unrequited love interest Annette, meanwhile, ends up having been treated like dirt, raped, and forgotten about. And Bobby C. has jumped to his death, leaving behind his Catholic girlfriend whom he wasn't going to marry that is carrying his child. This is heavily implied as a de facto suicide. Whew.
  • Pet the Dog: Perhaps the only truly moral thing Tony does in the film is give the Puerto Rican couple the first prize in the dance contest, realizing that the disco crowd has refused to recognize real talent in favor of racial prejudice. Its quickly contrasted with his worst acts of the film.
  • Post-Rape Taunt: After the deeds are done and Tony's friends exit the car, Tony turns to Annette and tells her "are you happy now?". This causes her to run away and even Tony realizes how wrong he was to say that.
  • Product Placement: Tony, his friends, and Stephanie stop at a White Castle.
  • Rape as Drama: Annette is raped by two of Tony's friends. This is a... weird scene. It's subverted in the sense that her rape is more or less treated as a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment. The lead character, who is sitting in the same car as it happens, decides on the spot to outright ignore it. When the whole group gets out of the car, it's basically as if the whole thing didn't happen. This can be seen as the ultimate dark side of "bros before hos", but then the overall film's story is more coherent if the whole thing is cut out.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Despite his being a Jerkass and having just tried to force himself on Stephanie earlier, even Tony is disgusted when he learns that Joey J and Bobby plan on "taking turns" with the drug-addled Annette.
  • Rock Me, Amadeus!: "A Fifth of Beethoven" and "Night on Disco Mountain" are based on classical pieces by Beethoven and Mussorgsky, respectively.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Tony and his friends ritually stop on the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge to clown around. The bridge has special significance for Tony as a symbol of escape to a better life.
  • Second-Act Breakup: Tony and Stephanie. They get back together at the end of the movie, though.
  • Shirtless Scene: Travolta shows his pectorals a lot. This continues in the sequel, in which he becomes a Walking Shirtless Scene in a Show Within a Show.
  • Shotgun Wedding: Bobby C is unhappy because he is about to be forced into one of these by his pregnant girlfriend's Catholic family and his own family.
  • Shout-Out:
  • Slut-Shaming: Tony slut-shames Stephanie calling her "a cock tease" for supposedly leading him on and then refusing to sleep with him. He does the same to Annette after she suffers a drugged gang-rape.
  • Supermodel Strut: Tony's walking down the street with a swinging strut to the tune of "Staying Alive" is one of the most iconic scenes of the movies, being often parodied or referenced. It illustrates that he's a guy who's confident and cocky in the way he moves, despite his otherwise mundane life and Dysfunctional Family.
  • Teen Pregnancy: Bobby C's unseen girlfriend. The focus is more on Bobby's side of the story. He doesn't want to marry her, but she refuses to get an abortion. He even goes so far as to speculate about bringing a special request to the Pope about it, showing a kind of naive ignorance that's downright painful to watch.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in the World: Tony's philosophy is that a girl can either be a "nice girl" or a "cunt", but not both. He seems to have a case of the Madonna-Whore Complex. He doesn't seem to be alone in that, either...
  • Unbuilt Trope: The movie's portrayal of disco lifestyle is decidedly unsentimental and depressing enough to be labeled as a grim Deconstruction of dance flicks and nightclub culture in general. The scene-to-scene contrast is Mood Whiplash to a T. The twist is that this film was the Trope Maker of The '70s' Disco craze. This somewhat counts as Do Not Do This Cool Thing as Tony's life choices make him miserable but look amazing. The popularity of the softened TV edit (which, in a tweaked form, was even released in theaters) plays a role as well as the nostalgia filter. The fact that the sequel Staying Alive is Lighter and Softer (to the point that it went out with a PG rather than an R) may or may not be a factor, with people mentally conflating the two movies.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Annette, who pines for Tony.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film originated from the article "Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night" that was appeared in the June 7 1976 issue of "New York Magazine'. While the movie itself used the magazine report as just a springboard, since it's now known that the article itself was completely fabricated, made up by famous journalist Nik Cohn. The writer wisely covered himself with the disclaimer: "Everything described in this article is factual and was either witnessed by me or told to me directly by the people involved. Only the names of the main characters have been changed", which basically said "If the people who told it to me are lying, then I'm blameless."note )
    Nik Cohn: My story was a fraud. I'd only recently arrived in New York. Far from being steeped in Brooklyn street life, I hardly knew the place. As for Vincent, my story's hero, he was largely inspired by a Shepherd's Bush mod whom I'd known in The '60s, a one-time king of Goldhawk Road.
  • Walking in Rhythm: Tony, to "Stayin' Alive" at the beginning of the film. One of John Travolta's most famous movie scenes, subject to much Stock Parody. This is revisited in the final scene of the sequel, creating Book Ends. Of all the stores that Tony visits, only Freddy's Pizza still exists today.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: After Bobby C.'s death, Joey, Double J and Annette and the aftermath of their gang-rape situation is never brought up again or resolved.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Stephanie and Tony's friends didn't take too kindly to Tony handing over the first-place dance contest trophy to the Puerto Rican couple who took second. From the audience point of view, though, they're in the wrong and he's in the right, so it counts as Character Development.
    • Tony gives these to his friends when he sees that they're going to take advantage of an intoxicated Annette via gang-rape. He tries to stop them but they tell him to back off.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Staying Alive


Staying Alive

Saturday Night Fever's iconic opening, to the sound of the Bee Gees.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (4 votes)

Example of:

Main / FeetFirstIntroduction

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