Something struck me as I was preparing my weekly Oscar predictions that will be up on the blog later today. At this late October date in 2018, Bohemian Rhapsody was about to open. Reviews had trickled out and advance word of mouth was quite mixed. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up at just 61% on Rotten Tomatoes. Yet it turned out to be a box office phenomenon with a $51 million debut and $216 eventual domestic gross.
Looking over my weekly projections from a year ago, Rhapsody wasn’t even in my top 25 possibilities for Best Picture. And Rami Malek was listed at #6 in Best Actor, just on the outside looking in. He ended up winning. It also emerged victorious in Editing, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. The only race in which it was nominated for and didn’t win was Picture. Bohemian Rhapsody, despite its middling critical reaction, was bestowed with four gold statues and that’s more than any other movie last year.
This brings us to Rocketman. The Elton John biopic premiered in May at the Cannes Film Festival just prior to its summer rollout. Reviews were stronger (89% on RT). However, while it was a solid performer financially at $96 million, those aren’t rhapsodic numbers. Maybe it came out too early in the year because Oscar prognosticators (including me) are not seeing it as much of a factor in the awards derby.
Still I can’t help but wonder if we’re shortchanging it considering the Academy love for Bohemian. I currently only have Rocketman slated for nods in both Sound races and Original Song (the Elton and Taron Egerton duet “(Im Gonna) Love Me Again”).
I don’t think it has much of a chance at the moment to break into the Best Picture race (it’s not in my top 15). Taron Egerton is at #7 (even behind Malek at this point a year ago) on my chart. I do ponder, though, whether there’s an outside shot that Rocketman could still be standing as the dust settles.
Rocketman, the biopic of legendary piano man Elton John, exists in familiar territory. Yet it manages to do so in an often inventive fashion with a commanding performance by its lead. The pic is directed by Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on BohemianRhapsody when Bryan Singer was dumped. They share similar themes of a shy boy coming into his own as an eventual iconic music figure. Unlike Rhapsody, Taron Egerton quite capably and bravely provides the vocal work of the man he’s playing.
The opening finds Elton in a high place both literally and figuratively as he’s about to once again play to a sold out crowd. He’s also at a low in terms of multiple kinds of addiction. Finally asking for help via Alcoholics Anonymous, Lee Hall’s screenplay then provides the framework for flashbacks of his life. It begins with him as the pint sized Reginald Dwight in 1950s England. He’s ignored by his father (Steven Mackintosh) and treated with ambivalence by his mum (Bryce Dallas Howard). His discovery of the piano is a watershed moment. Reginald has natural talent but a laser focus on perfecting the craft.
His most significant encounter comes through Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell). He writes the songs and Elton provides the melodies. Bernie is often the only figure in his life who genuinely cares about the newly christened Elton. Fighting through timidity, the newly named vocalist gets loud on the mic and with his outfits. Fame, fortune, and drug addiction follow as they so frequently do.
Those plot points are as known as the lyrics to many Elton tunes. Lucky for us, this isn’t just about a musician. It’s a genuine musical with tightly choreographed numbers set to high energy bangers like “Saturday Night’s Alright” and “The Bitch is Back” and contemplative pieces like “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me” and the title track. It has the second best movie scene set to “Tiny Dancer”. It’s a tall order to top AlmostFamous.
Elton’s love life and homosexuality are explored from an ill-conceived marriage to a woman to his turbulent romance with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). By the time “I’m Still Standing” rises over the speakers, I felt pretty satisfied with this journey through his career and road to sobriety. There’s certainly a theme of Elton forging through his issues and creating his own reality with his outlandish persona. He may not have written all of the words that skyrocketed him to superstardom, but he provided the unforgettable notes. Rocketman often succeeds at capturing them.
After a stellar premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, Rocketman plays its way into theaters next weekend. The long planned biopic of legendary piano man Elton John starring Taron Egerton comes on the heels of similar genre entry and smash hit BohemianRhapsody. It even shares a director in Dexter Fletcher, who filled in on the Freddie Mercury tale after Bryan Singer was dropped from the project. Costars here include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
The film’s French Riviera rollout resulted in praise for Egerton. An Oscar nod for him (especially after Rami Malek won in 2018 as Mercury) is certainly feasible. Some reviews were mixed, but this currently holds an 88% Rotten Tomatoes score.
As mentioned, the easiest comp is Rhapsody, which debuted to an amazing $51 million in November with $216 million total domestically. However, while buzz is strong here, it likely won’t reach those heights in the busy summer season. I still think mid to high 30s can be reached and that would have Elton’s story still standing tall.
Rocketman opening weekend prediction: $36.1 million
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The Cannes Film Festival is in full swing over in France and the highest profile feature so far has screened (with Quentin Tarantino’s OnceUponaTimeinHollywood following next week). That would be Rocketman, a flashy musical biopic featuring Taron Egerton as legendary performer Elton John. Costars include Jamie Bell, Richard Madden, and Bryce Dallas Howard.
Ahead of its May 31st stateside bow, festival goers rewarded the pic with a lengthy standing ovation (with Elton and Egerton attending). This might prove to be an audience pleaser. Some early reviews are glowing while others are more mixed.
Box office could be strong, but will this blast off with awards voters? We have very recent history to consider. I’m referring, of course, to last year’s BohemianRhapsody. Despite its rocky critical reaction, that film was a hit with audiences and Oscar voters. The Freddie Mercury biopic ended up winning four gold statues, including Rami Malek’s portrayal of the Queen frontman in Best Actor.
Rhapsody made an astonishing $903 million worldwide. Rocketman may not reach that territory. If it does, it could be impossible to ignore. Yet even if it turns out to be a sizable crowd favorite, Academy voters could nominate this in a variety of categories. That includes Picture, Actor, and the sound races (for which Bohemian was victorious in both). The comparisons between Rhapsody and Rocketman don’t end there. Dexter Fletcher took over directorial duties from Bryan Singer on the former. He is behind the camera again for the latter.
Bottom line: there’s a chance that voters might not honor Mr. John like they did Mr. Mercury, but Cannes reaction at least indicates it’s a possibility. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody hits many familiar notes and plot points as it explores the great showman that was Freddie Mercury and his iconic band Queen. There’s strain in his family – his actual one and the one that consists of his band mates. There’s the rise to fame and corruption of it. We have relationships strained to the point of apparent breakdown before reconciliation. Truth be told, many of these story arcs are so well-worn that you may feel you already know the words to them in the screenplay before they’re spoken.
However, it manages to succeed in a couple of meaningful ways. More than most music biopics, Rhapsody often captures the sheer magic that was Mercury. In the performance of Rami Malek, we have more than a fine impersonation (with the assistance of fake teeth). His work here captures the magnetism that Queen’s front man had. Additionally, the film builds its tale around their music that culminates in a Live Aid set that plays like a phoenix rising through the ashes.
We first meet the awkward looking Freddie handling luggage at Heathrow in London. He’s shy to a point, but also brimming with confidence in his vocal abilities as he rightly should. Freddie takes advantage of a lead singer opening in the band Smile and dubs it Queen. The rest, as they say, is history.
Regarding that history, Rhapsody has taken its licks for alternating some of the band’s timeline and events. It’s fair criticism, but the aim here is more of a celebration of the tracks that Mercury, Brian Ferry (Gwilym Lee, who nails the guitarist’s look and stance), Roger Taylor (Ben Hardy), and John Deacon (Joseph Mazzello) create. Segments are featured around the title track, “We Will Rock You”, and “Another One Bites the Dust”. Freddie’s relationship with Mary (Lucy Boynton) is chronicled through the creation of “Love of My Life”. She’s his one-time fiancee who realizes his homosexuality perhaps before he does. Yet their bond is stronger than the physical.
The screenplay from Anthony McCarten also delves into the group’s business dealings. There’s a cheeky scene about the release of “Rhapsody” that allows Mike Myers (as a very 1970s looking record exec) to reference his famous head banging scene in Wayne’s World. We see the hangers-on that nearly deep six the band. Contrary to early reports, we do glimpse Freddie’s promiscuity and substance abuse and eventual AIDS diagnosis.
It’s not the movie’s nature to go too far down that rabbit hole. If you are expecting that, you may walk away disappointed. I walked away impressed by its achievement in capturing what made Freddie and his musical family so special. I didn’t walk away sensing any of the well-publicized behind the scenes drama that resulted in director Singer being replaced well into the shooting schedule by Dexter Fletcher. And I certainly left marveling at Malek’s commitment in bringing Freddie to the screen, with the loud and gorgeous sounds of his live performance in front of a billion plus people ringing in my ears.
The review embargo is officially lapsed for next weekend’s BohemianRhapsody, the highly publicized Queen biopic headlined by Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Critical reaction appears to mostly match the social media buzz that emerged a couple of weeks back.
In short – Malek gives a bravura performance as the legendary frontman while the picture itself is more of a mixed and conventional bag. At the moment, its Rotten Tomatoes score stands at just 50%. Don’t expect this to come anywhere near a Best Picture nod. In my weekly prediction posts, I’ve had this hovering in the bottom rungs of 25 possibilities. I anticipate it falling out completely on Thursday.
Malek, on the other hand, is still viable. He could especially find himself making the final five if Rhapsody soars at the box office. Yet I believe it’s a legitimate question as to whether the reviews risk pushing him out of contention.
Bottom line: Bohemian getting Best Picture attention isn’t real life. That’s just fantasy, but Malek’s nomination could still happen.
The film opens November 2. My Oscar Watch posts will continue…
Blogger’s Note (10/30/18): My estimate has been bumped from $31.8M to $41.8M
In the United States, famed British band Queen had two #1 hits with “Another One Bites The Dust” and “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”. Next weekend, a biopic of its legendary lead singer Freddie Mercury is likely to top box office charts when Bohemian Rhapsody debuts. Named after one of their signature tunes (used memorably in 1992’s Wayne’s World), Rami Malek stars as Mercury. The supporting cast includes Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, and Wayne Campbell himself – Mike Myers. The film shares credit for its directors, as original filmmaker Bryan Singer was replaced well into the shooting schedule with Dexter Fletcher. That move attracted plenty of publicity.
With its well-received and rocking trailers, Rhapsody appears poised to knock off Michael Myers from #1 when it opens. It certainly has breakout potential due to familiarity with the band, but it could also leg out well if it achieves positive audience word-of-mouth. Reviews will be out shortly, but early buzz suggests the picture is a bit of a mixed bag while Malek’s portrayal of Mercury could generate Oscar attention.
I’ll say this starts its cinematic journey in the high 30s to low 40s range.
Bohemian Rhapsody opening weekend prediction: $41.8M million
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