What happens when you take an actor who is desperate for an Oscar, give him a way too small budget, hire an inexperienced director and commission a laughable script? In 2018 you’d get what is quite possibly the worst “Oscar-Bait” movie of all time- Gotti.
John Gotti’s story had been told many times before, but never in a prestige picture. John Travolta had envisioned making an epic film about the notorious mobster, a picture that would be in the same rarefied company as The Godfather or Goodfellas. Unfortunately for him, the project was a hard sell around Hollywood. Various scripts had been written and famed director’s attached, but it never quite got off the ground. Travolta’s career has suffered many ups and downs over the years and whenever he built up enough cachet to get the stalled project going, he’d find himself in a low point again.
In 2016, however, things changed. The glut of new streaming outlets and the rise of MoviePass meant that projects that were previously stuck in what the industry calls “turnaround” (A film that is given a ‘yellow’ light but is no longer considered to be in production) were now considered ripe for the taking. MoviePass, which was trying to establish itself as a theatrical exhibition partner, was willing to overlook the problems with Gotti and give it a green light. It seemed like an easy project to approve, since most of the work had already been completed.
The film was not quite out of the woods yet, however. MoviePass and its production partners could only scrape together a minimal budget of $10,000,000. To try to economize, Travolta took a cut of the profits and asked his wife to play Victoria Gotti. Relatively inexperienced director Kevin Connolly was chosen to helm the film. While he had some experience with directing he had never worked on what was considered to be a prestige picture. Gotti would quickly begin production.
After production on the film wrapped, it was set for a December 2017 release by Lionsgate Films. After the studio saw the finished picture, however, it pulled out of its distribution agreement and handed the film back to its producers. The company never officially announced why it pulled out, but most people believed it was due to the film’s lack of quality. This setback would delay the release of the film for a full year.
When the picture finally made it to theaters, the world was able to see what all the fuss was about. Instead of the Oscar caliber film Travolta thought he was making, the picture was a laughable mess. Travolta plays Gotti like he’s acting in a Saturday Night Live sketch. His real life wife portrays Victoria Gotti as a stereotypical Italian goomar in a performance that looks like it belongs in a community theater presentation of Goodfellas. Travolta bizarrely has little onscreen chemistry with his real life wife. The film was a critical and financial disaster. Too bad John didn’t learn his lesson about doing passion projects after Battlefield Earth.