When it comes to evaluating the financial performance of top movies, it isn’t about what a film grosses at the box office. The true tale is told when production budgets, P&A, talent participations and other costs collide with box office grosses and ancillary revenues from VOD to DVD and TV. To get close to that mysterious end of the equation, Deadline is repeating our Most Valuable Blockbuster tournament for 2018, using data culled by seasoned and trusted sources.
Who doesn’t love an underdog story? In the wake of director Bryan Singer’s firing from Bohemian Rhapsody two weeks shy of wrapping back in December 2017 (after he became a no-show and clashed with leading man Rami Malek) it would have been easy to expect the worst for the film centering on Queen frontman Freddie Mercury. Instead, Bohemian Rhapsody way overachieved, grossing close to $900 million at the global box office and winning the most Oscars this year (four including Best Actor for Malek’s uncanny transformation into Mercury).
Sacha Baron Cohen initially was touted to play Mercury, but he wanted an edgier look at the singer’s sexuality. Surviving Queen band members and producer Graham King nixed that version, preferring a film that generations of Queen and Mercury fans would cherish, and that’s exactly what worked at the box office. King’s producing partner Denis O’Sullivan suggested Emmy-winning Mr. Robot star Malek and the young actor threw himself into the task and became obsessed with capturing the singer’s mannerisms. He was magnetic, mastering Mercury’s indelible spirit.
“I told Graham King if he gave me this role, I’d bleed for it, and he showed me a picture of blood on the piano keys after the final day of our Live Aid shoot,” says the actor, who pushed the producer to add a day of filming to the shooting schedule so they could capture the entire concert climax from start to finish in 22 minutes.
Further proof that there’s no “I” in team in regards to Bohemian Rhapsody‘s success: Before Dexter Fletcher stepped in to finish the movie (he has his own rock biopic about Elton John hitting theaters on May 31, Paramount’s Rocketman), editor John Ottman delivered a first cut that knocked Fox executives’ socks off. They responded by moving Bohemian Rhapsody up from its Christmas Day release to November 2, an indication they had great faith in the film. Ottman would go on to win an Oscar.
THE BOX SCORE
Here are the costs and revenues as our experts see them:
THE BOTTOM LINE
Film finance sources statistically say that movies with production budgets of $100M-plus have the best chance of turning profits for studios, but here was a middle-budgeted film at $52M in Bohemian Rhapsody, finishing No. 4 in our profit tournament ahead of such superhero tentpoles as Aquaman, Venom and Deadpool 2 with $350.8M in profit. The film steered clear of the standard drugs and rock n’ roll biopic we’ve seen too many times before, and permitted the great concert pieces and Queen songs to take center stage. The approach rocked Bohemian Rhapsody to $680.3M at the overseas box office, repping 75% of its global $896.3M box office. Fox was able to keep the movie in wide release for three months straight as Bohemian Rhapsody rode awards season, ultimately making $216M stateside — just $800,000 more than Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s A Star Is Born. Bohemian Rhapsody has become the template for how to stage rock biopics.