Bohemian Rhapsody Has Somehow Become the Highest-Grossing Music Biopic Ever

Illustration for article titled iBohemian Rhapsody/i Has Somehow Become the Highest-Grossing Music Biopic Ever
Image: IMdb

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, considering every time I go to karaoke, I hear “Bohemian Rhapsody” probably 27,890 times. But Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury biopic of the same name is now the highest-grossing music biopic of all time.

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All. Time.

Deadline reports that the movie has brought in over $600 million at the global box office, taking the place of the previous highest-grossing music biopic Straight Outta Compton, which brought in over $200 million worldwide.

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The success of Bohemian Rhapsody is frustrating, given that, according to many critics, it’s not just a bad movie but an arguably homophobic one that portrays Mercury’s sexuality as one of the reasons for his death. The film also includes factual inaccuracies, which could be forgiven in most biopics, but in this case makes it seem like Mercury’s HIV diagnosis was one of the reasons for Queen getting back together for Live Aid (when he did not know his diagnosis until a few years later.) That is one sick change to make to his life story just to film a more compelling movie.

So how did this happen? Well, audiences are disinterested in the truth, for one. But maybe Malek was so compelling as Mercury, with his comically oversized teeth, that people just couldn’t look away.

I mean, I certainly can’t look away. Have you seen those teeth?

Pop Culture Reporter, Jezebel

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DISCUSSION

Jerry-Netherland
Jerry-Netherland

Bio-pics are rarely particularly accurate.

Two of the best, most popular and timeless bio-pics about great performers were absolute fiction. I speak of Funny Girl (about Fanny Brice) and Lady Sings the Blues (about Billie Holliday). Both featured great lead stars in their film debuts (respectively, Barbra Streisand, who won an Oscar for it, and Diana Ross, who was nominated for an Oscar). But the only thing in either script that was factual were the names of the principal characters and the fact that they’d been married at some point to the male lead (both love stories were entirely rewritten to reflect conventional tropes; the truths were much seedier).

And yet, they sure are good movies, with sensational soundtracks.

BTW: Screenwriter Isobel Lennart wrote Funny Girl (both play and film), and the excellent 1954 film Love Me or Leave Me, starring Doris Day as 1920s- 30s Ziegfeld star chanteuse Ruth Etting. If you haven’t seen it, it’s excellent and remarkably frank considering it’s MGM in 1954. I bring this up because Ruth Etting and Fanny Brice were both Ziegfeld stars, but the details of their personal lives were quite different. The singular fact in common was that they both married criminals (James Cagney as Marty ‘the Gimp’ Snyder in LMoLM; Omar Sharif as ‘Nick Arnstein’ in FG). By the time Funny Girl made it to the screen, the story ended up being closer to Ruth Etting’s than Fanny Brice’s (seen together, they're too similar). I urge everyone to see them both. Lennart isn’t to blame for the level of fiction in Funny Girl, she was pressured to rework the truth because Nick Arnstein was still alive and threatened to sue and the film was produced by Brice’s son in law Ray Stark. Isobel Lennart was a great screenwriter (who died tragically young), but what studios forced her to write wasn’t non-fiction. Live Me or Leave Me is probably the one musical bio-pic that comes closest to fact (and has arguably Doris Day's greatest dramatic performance of her entire career).

In a similar situation, when Lady Sings the Blues was made, her last (of several) husband Louis McKay was still alice and as surviving spouse had her story completely fictionalized (particularly as regarding him, as played by Billy Dee Williams). They even created the fiction that Billie Holiday wrote the song Strange Fruit, which she did not, but it certainly played well in the film.