May 26, 2019

Elton John Biopic Movie "Rocketman" Opens Worldwide

You don't have to be a fan of Elton John to know his music; even the most pop culture-oblivious person knows songs including "Bennie and the Jets," "I'm Still Standing", "Crocodile Rock" and of course, "Rocket Man". That's why the biopic movie "Rocketman" which opens this week is so anticipated.

Of course, Elton John is the public half of a genuine creative duo, with the other half being his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin (actor Jamie Bell plays Bernie Taupin in the movie). The duo collaborated on more than thirty albums, even if the Rocketman was arguably the public persona. A great deal is riding on the film "Rocketman's" success.

As the New York Times observed (see its review at for details): "Multiple movie studios passed on the opportunity to make "Rocketman," which is an R-rated musical biopic about music legend Elton John. They said it was too gay. Too expensive. Too reliant on an unproven star.

But one film company, the down-on-its-luck Paramount Pictures, saw the audacious project as a chance to prove something to both Hollywood and Wall Street — namely that, to borrow a reference from Sir Elton, it's still standing.

Now comes the moment of truth."

The New York Times adds that "Rocketman" arrives in theaters on May 31, 2019 as perhaps the most ambitious movie of Hollywood's summer season, a four-month period that typically accounts for 40% of annual ticket sales and relies overwhelmingly on franchises. "Rocketman" stars Taron Egerton and the movie cost an estimated $120 million to make and market worldwide. "Rocketman" trails glitter — a million Swarovski crystals adorn the costumes and eyewear — and even depicts gay sex, a first for a major movie studio.

Taron Egerton, 29, stars as Elton John and is perhaps best known for his role in the "Kingsman" action comedies, but he did all of his own singing, reinterpreting classics like "The Bitch Is Back." There is also intricate choreography (one stylized scene finds an entire London neighborhood dancing in formation) and an orgy musical number set to "Bennie and the Jets." Aside from Egerton playing the Rocketman himself and Bell playing Bernie Taupin, actor Richard Madden plays Elton John's one-time manager and lover.

It was very well-documented that virtually all gay imagery was downplayed in "Bohemian Rhapsody," (catch my review for that movie HERE) sometimes to the dismay of many people eager for Hollywood to prove it is less timid about the topic of homosexuality. Homophobes baselessly assert that exclusion of all reference to Freddie Mercury's sexual orientation was the main reason the film succeeded.

In reality, his sexual orientation was irrelevant. The timing was right for "Bohemian Rhapsody" and the same thing can be said for "Rocketman". The band Queen still resonated with a significant audience (making it relevant to Baby Boomers, Gen Xers and even some younger audiences who have heard of these artists on the radio and on popular TV shows like "Glee"), and more than a few of whom are still old enough to remember when they were still topping the Billboard charts. "Bohemian Rhapsody" became last year's blockbuster Queen biopic, which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture last year among others, and actually won four Oscars. But the gay part in that movie was largely unaddressed.

Freddie Mercury was undeniably gay; in fact, he died from AIDS in 1991 which he'd contracted from unprotected male-on-male sex. But Freddie Mercury was not a solo act like Elton John was; he was merely the front-man for a band. Much of the downplaying of Mercury's sexuality was simply attributed to the existing Queen band members' desire to focus on a story more about the band as a whole, rather than being exclusively about the band's flamboyant front-man.

But unlike Freddie Mercury, Elton John (who is also gay) is still very much alive today and he is also one of "Rocketman's" executive producers, therefore he has been very influential in this movie's story, casting and direction among other things. That said, although a few fear that any depiction of same-sex relationships in "Rocketman" could potentially limit interest in more conservative parts of the U.S., most believe those concerns are vastly overblown, even though the contemporary romantic comedy "Love, Simon" did struggle more than rival films to reach theatrical coverage parts of the country in 2018 because it ventured a kiss between teenage boys.

But Elton John told The Mirror "I'm proud Rocketman is the first major studio film with a gay love sex scene in it. He says the scene was a very, very important part of his personal life. He added "I was a virgin until then [age 23]. I was desperate to be loved and desperate to have a tactile relationship," adding that if they were going to tell his story in the film that it had "to be honest."

He also added "If I'd left it out, I'd have felt I was cheating people. I'm so glad it's in there because I am a gay man and I didn't want to airbrush it under the carpet. If they don't like it, I understand, but it's part of who I am."

However, because the target audience for most movies skews heavily twenty-somethings anyway, many of whom have little issue with LGBT people and ask what the big deal is, it's likely a bit over-simplistic to suggest "Rocketman" won't find audiences even in red-state America. Elton John is not closeted. And national theater chains aren't as afraid of showing such movies as independent theaters once were, and the latter have largely fallen by the wayside in favor of chains. Financially, outside the U.S., "Rocketman" is expected to generate enormous ticket sales in countries like the UK and most of the English-speaking world as well as Western Europe, even though the film will likely not even make it past Chinese censors without severe sanitization, something that executive producer Elton John is likely to deem a nonstarter.

It's worth reminding people that "Bohemian Rhapsody" actually had the seal of approval from all of the surviving members of Queen. Although that film switched producers and lead actors several times before its ultimate release, in the end, the Queen band members all approved. Actor Rami Malek was ultimately selected as the actor, and he is credited with helping to make that film a success.

"Rocketman" has a similar blessing from Elton John. The movie "Rocketman" is also directed by Dexter Fletcher, who also took over the reigns for "Bohemian Rhapsody" once Bryan Singer left. The story for "Rocketman" — developed by the rocket man himself — but very much like "Bohemian Rhapsody" has gone through a number of directors (Michael Gracey) and lead actors (including both Justin Timberlake and Tom Hardy) since it was first announced in 2012.

John and Taupin at the 27th Annual Elton John Aids Foundation Academy Awards viewing party, West Hollywood. Photograph: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for EJAF
Beyond Elton John's sex life, however, perhaps the biggest focus is his downfall into substance abuse, and his recovery from that. Indeed, the movie opens and closes with Elton John speaking from rehab. His subsequent re-emergence as a successful artist is really the central story of "Rocketman". That element is arguably a by-the-numbers biopic focus, although many other biopics feature a tragic downfall without a benefit of recovery and resurrection, which is a somewhat unique perspective for "Rocketman". That recovery and resurrection is what Elton John himself wishes to focus on for "Rocketman".

However, the biggest question is whether the formula used for "Bohemian Rhapsody" by choosing a relatively less-known actor to lead and use of the same director will lead to similar success for "Rocketman"? Paramount certainly hopes so, and the friendship developed between Elton John and actor Taron Egerton who will play him in the movie suggests that "Rocketman" could see similar commercial success (even if the critical reception by the Academy is highly dependent on what else is running in cinemas during the year).

The trailer, as well as two brief interviews with actor appears below, or by visiting

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