Hollywood Flashback: Freddie Mercury Gave 'Flash Gordon' Its Beat in 1980

Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
The late Freddie Mercury performing in 1981 in a Flash Gordon T-shirt at the Nippon Budokan arena in Tokyo.

"When it was suggested Freddie Mercury and Queen do the music, [producer] Dino [De Laurentiis]'s first reaction was, 'OK, I'll meet the Queen.' He had no idea who they were," says the director of documentary 'Life After Flash.'

Queen, the subject of Fox's Bohemian Rhapsody, opening Nov. 2, recorded their first soundtrack album for 1980's Flash Gordon. The Hollywood Reporter was not impressed. "Queen supplies a rock score that is, to put it kindly, anachronistic," said the review of the operatic score.

But the soundtrack rose to No. 23 on the Billboard 200, and the single "Flash" has had something of an unexpected afterlife. The over-the-top lyrics — "He save with a mighty hand, every man, every woman, every child, with a mighty flash" — play well in comedy, as during Will Ferrell and Jon Heder's ice-skating routine in Blades of Glory

The sci-fi film, with Flash protecting Earth from the ultra-evil Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow), sprang from Dino De Laurentiis' desire to have a Star Wars-type franchise. The producer wanted Federico Fellini to direct but ultimately settled on Mike Hodges. His first choice for music was Pink Floyd, who were not available.

"When it was suggested Freddie Mercury and Queen do the music," says Lisa Downs, who directed the documentary Life After Flash, "Dino's first reaction was, 'OK, I'll meet the Queen.' He had no idea who they were."

The resulting film was, in the words of THR, "curiously unexciting" and did so-so business.

"People try to brainstorm the movie too much," says Sam J. Jones, who played Flash Gordon. "You need to just lay back and enjoy it visually — or audio only." 

This story first appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.