How ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ became Queen of the box office
Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody has been the subject of much debate since its release. Unsurprisingly, the film about Queen frontman Freddie Mercury embroiled fans vs. critics as the show rocked (yes, we went there) the box office despite less-than-desirable reviews.
Drawing $50 million in its opening weekend in North America, the first-weekend audiences loved the film, giving it an “A” on CinemaScore. And yet, despite the strong start, the biopic earned feedback that collectively screamed “meh”.
“Despite a strong performance by [Rami] Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody plays out as an excessively sanitized version of Queen’s story, rather than a labor of love,” said Screen Rant’s Sandy Schaefer. “Bohemian Rhapsody struggles to find a fresh way to tell its story,” quipped Steve Rose at The Guardian.
Variety’s Owen Gleiberman added that “despite its electrifying subject, [Bohemian Rhapsody] is a conventional, middle-of-the-road, cut-and-dried, play-it-safe, rather fuddy-duddy old-school biopic, a movie that skitters through events instead of sinking into them.”
Despite the reels of cutting commentary, the movie proved a hit with audiences and, as such, became second-best debut of all time for a music biopic. Numerous factors contributed to its success, one of the most notable being that of the terrific lead performance by Malek, which the critics were more than willing to agree with.
Also, the key to a film such as this is that it appeals to fans no matter what, even when the critics are slamming their gavels. As Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations put it, “I think there are times when critics, who watch film after film after film for a living, and have literally seen it all, are often a bit harsh on movies that primarily cater to a very specific credo: entertaining audiences. It’s a simple as that.”
Vox noted that this same trend unfolded with three of last month’s biggest movies: A Star is Born, Venom, and Halloween: Resurrection. All three were slated by the critics, and all three far exceeded expectations at the box office. The reason? “Leaning on built-in fan bases for a hefty portion of opening-weekend revenues and continued success has proven to be a strong model for Hollywood films for years,” mused Vox.
When it comes to such films, the critics’ opinions certainly help to break down some of the weak spots of a film (in Bohemian Rhapsody’s case, the treatment of Mercury’s bisexuality and eventual AIDS diagnosis). But they don’t hinder fans’ reactions and they don’t affect the number of butts in seats.
As Fox distribution distribution Chris Aronson put it, “Even the bad reviews said Rami Malek’s performance was great. The movie’s audience wasn’t put off by the bad reviews.”
A flop with the critics, a Queen at the box office: here are all the reasons you should see what all the fuss is about.
It will rock you
That’s the last time we mention that song, we promise. Anyway, whether you side with the critics or not, there’s one aspect about the film that just about everyone can agree on – its musical appeal. The movie features strong concert sequences and musical moments, complete with a run-through of all the greatest hits that fans wanted to hear.
“We noted that whether or not we saw the above-noted issues as a deal breaker,” explained critic Scott Mendelson, “even many of the negative reviews admitted that the film offered surface-level entertainment value and superficial musical spectacle.”
Rami Malek, Rami Malek, Rami Malek
Like the point made above, the critics and the audience members could at least agree that Malek soared as the central character. Although we were apprehensive at his attempt to portray the infamous frontman, the Mr. Robot star did so with finesse – it was like he was born for the role.
In particular, many have praised his performance in the final scene in which Live Aid is recreated. Empire wrote about the clip: “Malek wrings every second he has left, performing like it might be Freddie’s last time, and it’s very affecting. If the script hits a lot of bum notes, Malek is always perfectly in key.”
It’s a trip down memory lane (even for those who weren’t there)
Scroll through some of the comments from viewers on Twitter, and you’ll see that one of the strong points about the film is its ability to ignite a sense of awe and nostalgia – even for audience members who weren’t alive at the time when Queen was smashing through the charts.
Morgan Rojas from Cinemacy wrote, “No, I wasn’t alive when Queen reigned supreme, but seeing Bohemian Rhapsody in theaters was the next best thing.” And yes, while the film might’ve been a little paint-by-numbers with the subject matter, it’s received top marks for entertainment value.
“It deserves to be No1,” said Twitter user Sabrina, “especially when it has you singing your heart out in the cinema. As I’ve said, this film will be talked about for years to come. Plus it’s a lovely way for the newer generation to be introduced to Queen / Freddie Mercury.”
Break free from the shackles of critics’ opinions
Don’t get us wrong – critics are important and continue to highlight perspectives upon movies that we might not have otherwise spotted. But the only way for you to know whether Bohemian Rhapsody is worth your time is to go and see it for yourself.
If you’re a Queen fan in search of a watchable portrayal of the band, this film might just be the love of your life. At least for a couple of weeks, anyway.