EXCLUSIVE: As 20th Century Fox/New Regency/GK Films’ Bohemian Rhapsody continues its supersonic trajectory, the Freddie Mercury biopic will today cross the $500 million mark worldwide. Through Thursday, the movie has hit $156.3M domestic and $341.5M at the international box office for a global running cume of $497.8M. And don’t stop it now, with sing-along screenings being added across the globe and Italy just bowing, the Queen backstory looks to be on a collision course with $600M.
This is another win for Fox with an end-of-year musical that’s showing great legs after 2017’s The Greatest Showman. Overseas, some of the numbers are staggering on the $55M-budget pic which has fans new and old energized. Korea, which has seen week-on-week gains, is already at a phenomenal $40.2M, while the UK leads all play at $52.5M. The sing-along version has been a huge hit across Asia and Latin America — the latter just reaching $50M regionally for the film overall — and will roll out over the holidays in Europe and continue to play into the new year.
The numbers are all the more remarkable given that reviews have been mixed and that the road to fruition was paved with Fox’s firing of director Bryan Singer last December. But audiences are clearly rocking the box office with multi-generational fans of the band doing the fandango all around the world and the crack Fox marketing team — led internationally by Kieran Breen and globally by Pam Levine and Kevin Campbell — again flexing its muscle globally. If this is the last big Fox release before Disney takes over, it’s a great one to go out on.
Fox’s president of International Theatrical Distribution, Andrew Cripps, says, “Some of the more upscale reviewers were critical of the movie, but the most important critics of all, the general public, gave the movie rave reviews and fans are going back for multiple repeat viewings.” There has also been great success with premium formats like Imax and Dolby, and in particular the Screen X format which Cripps says “really takes the live performances to another level.”
Bohemian Rhapsody has something in common with Fox’s 2017 Christmas release The Greatest Showman. Both got dinged on Rotten Tomatoes, but picked up A CinemaScores domestically and were global crowd-pleasers. While Showman’s run was a real sostenuto, legging out over months to $435M worldwide, Bohemian Rhapsody has shot higher faster and is poised to keep going throughout the competitive holiday season. It is currently 135% ahead of Showman which did $16M worth of business in China, while Bohemian Rhapsody has no Middle Kingdom in its mix.
In North America, the film opened to $51M in early November and offshore bowed to $74.8M that same weekend, although the UK had opened one week earlier. That was after a massive world premiere at London’s Wembley Stadium, site of the band’s legendary Live Aid performance. The premiere was attended by 7,000 people and live-streamed into 11 countries on 151 screens in partnership with Odeon. That alone generated over $200K in box office.
The scene of the Live Aid performance in the film was crucial for editor John Ottman who was key in bringing Bohemian Rhapsody home (director Dexter Fletcher, who has an EP credit, stepped in to finish shooting after Singer left).
Producers Graham King, EP Denis O’Sullivan and Queen manager Jim Beach and bandmembers Brian May and Roger Taylor always sought to carry over the joyous feeling of the band’s crowd-participation concerts to the big screen. That’s particularly reflected in numbers out of markets like Korea and Japan where the sing-alongs have helped increase box office since the movie debuted – a rare phenomenon indeed.
Behind the UK and Korea, the Top 5 is currently rounded out by Japan ($24.9M), France ($24.6M) and Australia ($21.5M). Those numbers are all through Thursday.
Fox knew it had a hit on its hands and moved up the release date, taking it off Christmas Day and slating it for November 2 domestically with the UK bowing a week prior. This thrust the film into the middle of the awards conversation. Star Rami Malek received a standing ovation at the Academy’s official screening November 3.
The actor who portrays Mercury was tireless in promoting the film while kudos are due to Fox marketing which, from the onset, when they dropped Bohemian Rhapsody footage at CinemaCon last spring, drove their whole campaign by putting Malek out front and center, describing his emotional metamorphosis to embody Mercury. The story won exhibitors over and Queen fans as well.
Cripps tells me the strategy from day one has been to sell “Freddie’s incredible and inspirational story.” On top of that was “the promise of a foot-stomping celebration of Queen and their music that has broad appeal across all generations and cultures around the world.”
The marketing machine got going in September 2017 with the first-look image of Malek which saw great editorial pick-up. That was followed by the first teaser trailer release in May which Cripps says behaved “more like a trailer for a superhero movie than a music biopic” with a groundswell of positive sentiment. Essentially a music mashup teasing Mercury’s story, the reaction spoke to the power of Queen’s music and the intrigue surrounding the icon.
The global digital experience, PutMeInBohemian.com, was launched with that teaser, and asked fans to record themselves singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” into their mobile phone for the chance to be included in a scene in the film. A selection of fans’ recordings were sent to John Warhurst, the supervising sound and music editor working on the film at Abbey Road studios, who mixed thousands of fans’ recordings together to create part of the crowd singing during the Live Aid performance scene in the movie.
In June, Malek was on hand when European exhibitors saw extended footage at CineEurope in Barcelona. They’d also attended a concert May and Taylor had given earlier in the week in the Spanish city.
In total, Malek traveled to Spain, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Australia and Japan – and attended Queen concerts and award ceremonies in support of the film. The Fox team says, “He has been AMAZING.”
Cinemas throughout the world started lobby campaigns over the summer, with grand pianos that played Queen music as patrons sat at them; standees that played music when someone walked by; and steps in malls and cinema foyers that played music when walked upon. “The strategy was to place the music at the center of everything we did, along with a strong theatrical message to experience the movie on the big screen,” says Cripps. There was “huge take-up from exhibition.” Local cinema chains further created their own lipsyncing ushers videos:
Cripps says Fox worked closely with Universal Music who did big activations and was “very supportive in making sure the music was front and center.” The play was to introduce Queen to a new generation of music fans, so Fox surrounded concerts and music festivals throughout the summer, worked with a collection of international YouTube and Instagram influencers to create a Queen medley and worked closely with Universal Music to identify popular local artists who could cover Queen songs. In addition, Cripps says, “We leveraged bands and celebrities of all generations to talk about how Queen and Freddie Mercury inspired them.”
In September this year, to honor Mercury’s birthday, there were global activations and Fox brought U.S. and international press and influencers to Las Vegas to meet May, Taylor and the cast. There were fan events in almost every country, including a flash mob with baggage handlers at London’s Heathrow airport where Mercury worked before joining Queen:
John Lewis and Waitrose also partnered for a special promo:
After that, the global media and publicity campaign took over local TV talent shows, infiltrated major sporting events, employed outdoor advertising that played music, and hosted exhibitions and costume displays in malls. There was also a limited edition musical version of the Metro newspaper in the UK that played “Bohemian Rhapsody” when it was opened.
Everything culminated in a takeover of London’s Carnaby Street where May, Taylor and the cast switched on holiday lights of Queen lyrics and launched a Bohemian Rhapsody pop-up shop and exhibition.
Singalong screenings will begin to roll out over the holidays in Australia and Europe. They’re already massively popular in Latin America and Asia. The Brazil premiere was itself a singalong version and in Japan Malek turned up to one of the first singalong showings, sending fans loopy. Queen has a special place in Japan’s heart. The band gave one of its early concerts there and ultimately toured six times, putting on 50 performances.
In Korea, the strategy was making sure the movie was relevant to a younger generation. But even Cripps marvels at the hold there, calling it “unbelievable.” In its 3rd frame, Bo Rhap was up 80% over the opening weekend. The singalongs include subtitles with the lyrics in English which make it easier for folks to follow.
Domestically, Bo Rhap premiered on October 30 in New York after the cast had presented Panic! at the American Music Awards earlier that month. Partnerships included Artistic Nail Design, F.Y.E., Guitar Center, Hard Rock Café, Hot Topic, Lucky, School of Rock, T-Mobile, Ubisoft and Vilebrequin.
Domestic media promotions included iHeart Radio which supported the largest audio song roadblock in history playing the full six-minutes of “Bohemian Rhapsody” on all 650+ stations on the Thursday before release. Five days prior, DJs did a countdown to the roadblock stunt. Fox Sports ran a “Greatest Week in Sports” / “Rocktober” anthem spot featuring Joe Buck, Matt Leinart, Charissa Thompson and Terry Bradshaw intermixed with game and movie footage set to “We Will Rock You.” The spots aired 100 times over the window in NFL, World Series, NBA and NHL coverage.
Also in the mix were Nick At Nite with the cast schooling the audience on all things Queen in a themed-vignette; VH1 covering the Bo Rhap experience in Vegas as the net’s Bridget Kelly hung out with the cast and the band; MTV’s custom piece featuring Josh Horwitz live from the Wembley red carpet interviewing the cast about the film; USA giving viewers an inside look at the movie with Malek touching on how he approached the role physically and mentally; FXM’s “Special Look” discussion with the producer and cast; FXX’s custom stack of The Simpsons featuring classic rocker/bands episodes; and an HBO vignette on its social handles in coordination with Fox’s social team beginning in late October.
Offshore, Italy bowed on Thursday to $900K for the 2nd biggest opening day of the year. We’ll be back this weekend with more on this rising Mercury.