Premiering in theaters on Dec. 16, 1977, the disco blockbuster opened by blasting the Bee Gees anthem, “Stayin’ Alive,” and the combination of the band’s music and Travolta’s swagger catapulted the movie into the box office stratosphere.
Saturday Night Fever producer, Robert Stigwood, originally intended to save “Stayin’ Alive” for a dance sequence that comes later in the movie. “He wanted me to dance my big solo dance to ‘Stayin’ Alive,'” Travolta revealed to Yahoo Entertainment during a 2019 Role Recall interview.
But Travolta knew it would be a mistake to bury the song later in the movie. He just had to find a diplomatic way to help the producer see the error of his ways.
That argument persuaded the producer, and Travolta hit the pavement in character as Brooklyn disco king, Tony Manero, strutting in time to the music.
Saturday Night Fever’s boisterous opening scene — and the groovy dance numbers — often make people forget that the film itself is actually quite dark and dramatic as it charts Tony’s attempts to flee his working class neighborhood in search of a better future. “The core of it is very dark,” Badham confirmed in his 2017 interview, who added that he approached it as a “documentary of Brooklyn” in the late ’70s, capturing all the violence, economic woes and prejudices of the era.
In the movie’s most notorious scene, Tony’s first dancing partner, Annette (played by Donna Pescow), is raped in the back of his car by his friends, and he doesn’t intervene.
Badham said that he “did his research” before making Saturday Night Fever, visiting discos all over New York City to create the one seen in the movie. Meanwhile, Travolta took charge of Tony’s look, originally preferring a black suit-and-white shirt combination as opposed to the world-famous white polyester suit everyone remembers.
But Travolta said that his first choice in fashion was overruled by the movie’s legendary costume designer, Patricia Field.