'Saturday Night Fever' is staying alive 40 years later

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Story highlights

  • The film premiered in 1977
  • Director said he knew Travolta was a major star

(CNN)"Saturday Night Fever" director John Badham lost a job thanks to his now classic film.

Badham told CNN he was fired from directing the erotic thriller "Windows," after studio executives screened "Saturday Night Fever."
"They saw it and went, 'Oh my God, is this what he's going to do to us?'" Badham said. "Get rid of him."
    But "Saturday Night Fever" would become a '70s classic, featuring John Travolta and a Bee Gees-heavy soundtrack.
    40 years after its debut, a new director's cut of the film is coming to select theaters for two dates in May.
    Travolta played Tony Monero, a Brooklyn guy trying to make his way out of the neighborhood -- with stops on the dance floor along the way.
    Badham said he knew immediately that Travolta had real talent.
    "I called Barry Diller and Michael Eisner, who were the heads of Paramount at that time, and I said 'I don't think you guys realize that you have a major, undiscovered star here," Badham recalled. "And they kind of went 'Yeah, John. Sure, right.' I said 'No, I watch how people relate to him out on the streets.' We were literally having riots out on the streets with people trying to get to him."
    Travolta's performance in "Saturday Night Fever" would earn him an Oscar nomination. The film was credited with re-energizing the disco era.
    "Not my fault," Badham joked when asked about trend.
    "I'll always remember [shooting] in that disco, how magical it was," he said. "You would get the playback going, 50 dancers moving and the cameras all over the place. It was just more exciting than anything I could think of."
    Donna Pescow starred at Annette, the neighborhood girl who wanted to move from Tony's dance partner to love interest.
    Pescow told CNN no one anticipated how big the movie would become.
    "I don't think you can ever perceive this sort of lightening in a bottle," Pescow said. "I think they were hoping it would do at least well enough to make it's money back. Then, suddenly, it became so popular it took on a whole other life."
    The actress said she believes the movie's themes of friendship, struggle and ambition, still hold.
    "I think the story is relatable to any decade," she said. "Its people trying to better their lives. Even though it's not the 1970s or the disco era, you could just change the club to whatever is happening now and it's the same peer pressure, and the same journey of someone wanting to expand themselves."