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Rocketman is not Bohemian Rhapsody. Taron Egerton is aware of it. There are easy comparisons, of course, in that Egerton is playing Elton John in a music biopic the same way Rami Malek played Freddie Mercury. They even have director Dexter Fletcher in common, since Fletcher stepped in to finish Bohemian Rhapsody after Bryan Singer was fired.
Since Bohemian Rhapsody made a mind-boggling $903,175,016 at the box office, off a projected production budget just over $50 million, it's a ridiculously high bar for the next music biopic to face.
Taron Egerton was candid about the comparisons, just hoping for the best:
I'm at peace with however much money it makes. But I hope it does really, really well. If it made half of [Bohemian Rhapsody], it would be terrific for my career.
True. As Taron Egerton suggested in his quote to THR, half of Bohemian Rhapsody's record-breaking money is still about half a billion dollars worldwide, a success by any metric for a film of this size. The 29-year-old actor is clearly keen to advance his career. He's known to many as Eggsy from the Kingsman movies, and also the titular Eddie the Eagle. He also has some singing experience from the movie Sing. And he was the lead of the notorious 2018 bomb Robin Hood.
All it takes is one movie to launch your career -- just ask Rami Malek, who was best known from Mr. Robot before being shot to fame, picking up a Best Actor Oscar for Freddie Mercury, and now playing a Bond villain.
Rocketman will inevitably be judged next to Best Picture-nominated Bohemian Rhapsody, but they aren't exactly apples to apples. For one thing, Rocketman is Rated R, vs. Bohemian Rhapsody at PG-13. They are also telling their stories in very different ways. Rocketman has a lot of sex and drugs -- and that sex is between men, with Taron Egerton's Elton having sex scenes with Richard Madden's John Reid.
Apparently that's one reason why Rocketman stalled at Universal. Producer Matthew Vaughn recalled a conversation with studio chairman Donna Langley:
I rang her up and she's like, 'You definitely want to make it an R-rated film and you're going to make it for over $35 million?' And I said, 'Yes.' And she said, 'Good luck.'
Despite reports that Paramount asked director Dexter Fletcher to tone down the film -- to make it more marketable in a huge box office like China, which usually bans any gay scenes -- the filmmakers say Rocketman still depicts Elton John coming to terms with his sexuality and also shows his issues with substance abuse.
Another difference between Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman is Elton John is still with us (unlike Freddie Mercury) and was able to be there for the film and give his blessing. He praised Taron Egerton's performance to THR, saying the film made him forget it was Taron up there, he thought he was watching himself. "That's the highest compliment I can tell you."
Rocketman is opening in theaters on May 31, which puts it squarely up against Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It's going to have to grab onto the rest of the audience and hope to leg out from there. Early tracking put Rocketman's opening weekend around $20 million.
If Rocketman gets good reviews -- from fans even more than critics -- it could theoretically enjoy success on a level next to Bohemian Rhapsody, which just kept quietly making money week after week until we all turned around and it was knocking on the door of $1 billion worldwide. Most of that money came from overseas, though -- especially Japan, which just went crazy for Queen -- and it's much less likely that Rocketman will be embraced by the foreign box office in the same way. But we'll see. Keep up with all of the 2019 movies ahead with our handy release schedule.