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Overcoming behind-the-scenes drama and mediocre reviews, Bohemian Rhapsody rocked its way to the second-best debut of all time for a music biopic, a testament to the enduring popularity of the 1970s and 1980s British rock band Queen among younger generations.
The movie, from 20th Century Fox, New Regency and GK Films, blew past expectations in opening to $50 million in North America. The only music biopic to have done better is 2015’s Straight Outta Compton with $60.2 million, even when adjusted for inflation.
Bohemian Rhapsody — starring Mr. Robot‘s Rami Malek as legendary frontman Freddie Mercury — accomplished the feat despite dismissive reviews that resulted in a Rotten Tomatoes score of 60 percent. (It’s the second recent film to overcome a bad Rotten Tomatoes score after Venom, which fared far worse with 29 percent.)
While Bohemian Rhapsody‘s critical reception paled in comparison to the 90 percent Rotten Tomatoes score for box-office hit A Star Is Born, which is set in a fictional rock world, Bohemian Rhapsody racked up a bigger opening number than the music-infused remake that debuted to $42.9 million in early October on its way to earning nearly $300 million to date at the worldwide box office.
But like A Star Is Born — which has the advantage of starring Lady Gaga, who boasts a huge younger following — Bohemian Rhapsody, produced by Graham King, succeeded in luring younger moviegoers, so it didn’t have to depend only on the older crowd who were teenagers when Queen rose to fame in the 1970s and then remained popular throughout the 1980s.
According to comScore’s exit polling service PostTrak, 17 percent of ticket buyers were ages 18-24, while 26 percent of the audience was between the ages of 25 and 44, a healthy number for both age groups and on par with A Star Is Born.
For Bohemian Rhapsody, that was followed by 19 percent each for the age groups 35-44 and 45-54. Moviegoers 55 and older made up 14 percent of ticket buyers for Bohemian Rhapsody, versus 22 percent for A Star Is Born.
Bo-Rhap — as it’s affectionately referred to on the Fox lot — also benefited from playing almost evenly gender-wise. Of the opening-weekend audience, 51 percent were female and 49 percent male (that compares to 61 percent female and 39 percent for A Star Is Born). And audience overall gave the film a glowing A CinemaScore.
“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,” says Jeff Bock of Exhibitor Relations.
Or, as Fox distribution distribution Chris Aronson notes, “Even the bad reviews said Rami Malek’s performance was great. The movie’s audience wasn’t put off by the bad reviews. And it is a multigenerational play.”
Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee, Ben Hardy, Joseph Mazzello, Aidan Gillen, Tom Hollander, Allen Leech and Mike Myers co-star, and Queen members Brian May and Roger Taylor, who still tour, were closely involved in the big-screen adaptation, which became mired in controversy when directory Bryan Singer was fired late into the production. He retains sole credit after being replaced by Dexter Fletcher, who finished the film.
Overseas, Bohemian Rhapsody, produced on a budget of $52 million, is also a sensation, earning $72.5 million for the weekend for a global weekend haul of $122.5 million and early global total of $141.7 million worldwide (it opened early in the U.K., where it was immediately embraced by moviegoers).
The movie is a needed win for 20th Century Fox — and a fitting swan song — as it prepares to disappear as a stand-alone studio as it is absorbed by Disney. Indeed, Bohemian Rhapsody made mincemeat of Disney’s new weekend offering, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, which opened to just $20 million.
In fact, Bohemian Rhapsody could be exactly the sort of midrange movie that Disney looks to a pared-down Fox label to make.
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