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The Bad Guy and the Cigarette: Analyzing the Villainous Smoking Choices of John Travolta

April 14, 2015

Bad guys need quirks. They need to love cats (Blofeld), do drugs (Stansfield), be articulate (Gruber) or smoke cigarettes in an interesting manner (anything Travolta). I started picking up on John Travolta’s need to smoke cigarettes when playing a bad guy early on. He has a unique style that ranges from cool to unnecessary. The following post covers five films in which he plays a bad guy and smokes cigarettes in an exaggerated manner.

Sidenote: I’ve left out Chili Palmer from Get Shorty because deep down he was a good dude.

If you want to hear more about Travolta’s smoking, check our podcast dedicated to Travolta and other cinematic randomness.


Pulp Fiction and the Classic Cool Smoking

John Travolta Pulp Ficiton


Pulp Fiction is a great movie. John Travolta was great in Pulp Fiction. Travolta mixed up his smoking style and it worked perfectly with his hitman character. Whether he used the thumb/pointer style or reverted to the quirky pointer/middle finger scissor style it worked. At 3:36 in the video you will see the smoking in all its glory.



In the “five dollar shake” scene the smoking is more relaxed. It isn’t stylized and more about actual ease of smoking. He doesn’t have anybody to impress so he simply does the thumb/pointer finger style of smoking. I attribute the cool smoking to Tarantino. His films are highly stylized and I bet he regulated how and when Travolta lit up. Travolta was simply a conduit for Tarantino’s cool smoking direction.



Broken Arrow and Inverted Scissor V-Smoking. 

Travolta Broke Arrow

Some characters smoke, others allow the cigarettes to smoke them. I’m surprised he didn’t cut his cigarettes in half as he hacked into them with his pointer and middle finger. The smoking says “I am the cool bad guy and it worked for me in Pulp Fiction. However, I’ve turned it up to 11 and now it seems like an addiction” The smoking became less of a prop and more of a character trait. I would even say it is a dangerous addiction because he smokes everywhere in this film


Travolta smoking broken arrow

Smoke break after killing a guy

Travolta smoking broken arrow gym

Post-Boxing smoke. Dude smokes indoors and lectures people while smoke rolls into their eyes. Classic jerk move.

desert smoke

Everybody thinks you are dead but you walk out of desert with a lit cigarette

Face-off and the brazen smoking

If you watch the clip it looks like he wants to play darts with the cigarette. I’ve dubbed it “brazen smoking” because at the end of the scene he sits down in a chair, cigarette hanging from his lips and says “I am the king.” I like this smoking more than the Broken Arrow smoking because it actually serves a purpose. Travolta is playing the cool dad and cool dads offers their daughters cigarettes. Right?




Swordfish and the inconvenient smoke. 

This is where Travolta lost me with his smoking. The best way to describe it is when you take a fist full of popcorn and shovel it into your mouth.

Travolta cigarette

So….he takes the cigarette and points it forward. Then, he sort of face palms himself.



The Punisher and the pipe

What do you do when you’ve smoked cigarettes in every way possible? You smoke a pipe!  Nothing says Tampa crime kingpin like packing a pipe, lighting a pipe and creating awkward pauses when you puff on the pipe. Tampa is known for its cigars. Why not smoke a cigar? Too much work? He wasn’t feeling it? They take too long to light? The prop guy forgot and all he had was a pipe?

The punisher pipe


There you have it! Five villainous roles punctuated by five different styles of smoking. The world can rest easy.



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