“A Star Is Born” and “Black Panther” were supposed to be the year’s two mass-audience Oscar contenders. Now two more have joined the race — and could surpass them. Golden Globes wins for “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Green Book” made Rami Malek’s portrayal of Freddie Mercury a real contender for Best Actor, with Peter Farrelly’s 1960s road trip film now seeing a real chance for Best Picture.
Despite lesser critical support for both films (in the case of “Rhapsody,” nonexistent), these wins didn’t come out of nowhere. They stemmed from a remarkable amount of public support. Neither has the totals for “Black Panther” (over $700 million domestic), or “A Star Is Born” ($202 million), but they’re looking vital at the box office just as Academy members make their nomination selections.
At $194 million and rising, “Bohemian” hovers close to the Top 10 (it was #11 last weekend) 10 weeks into its release. It’s consistently outstripped expectations, leapfrogging past Shakespearean-level production drama surrounding director Bryan Singer’s departure.
Then came the reviews. Metacritic, the most nuanced gauge of significant reviewer support, scored at 49 — the same range as Christmas releases “Aquaman,” “Second Act,” and “Welcome to Marwen,” none of which are remotely considered Oscar contenders.
Rock biopics have never been a big draw. The biggest prior film about a band, or any white non-country star, was Oliver Stone’s “The Doors” at an adjusted $72 million (and as an expensive film, it wasn’t considered a success.) So when pre-opening estimates suggested the film might open to $35 million, that already seemed like a best-case scenario. Then, it opened to $51 million.
Hindsight being what it is, Queen’s popularity is more powerful than many realized. In worldwide certified album sales, among rock groups only the Beatles and Led Zeppelin have sold more. (They top the Rolling Stones, who arrived years earlier and still release records.)
20th Century Fox
Before the Globes made their choice, the public clearly voted for “Rhapsody.” Its release came just weeks after “A Star Is Born,” another backstage rock story, with showings that blasted the very effective “Rhapsody” trailer. With audience-barometer Cinemascore an unexpectedly high A, the film attracted large numbers of ticket buyers who liked it a lot.
It dropped a modest 38 percent in weekend two, with subsequent weeks falling within normal ranges but hardly placing it as a top-tier hold release. Still, it lingered well enough to allow Fox to hold on to 700 theaters by Christmas. Now, against all norms, its theater count stands at 1,080. Fox is expanding it to over 1,300 screens, including some sing-along showings. With its digital/home video release not scheduled until February, “Rhapsody” may add millions more to its totals. It could overtake “A Star Is Born,” which reaches its home viewing window next week.
“Green Book” has grossed far less, currently at $36 million through eight weeks of play. Its widest release was 1,215 theaters. Initially off to a rough start, Universal stuck to its plan of expanding to over 1,000 theaters in week two. At that point, any future for the film depended on word of mouth — and that’s what it got. It did well enough to make the Top Ten for its first four expanded weeks.
Since then, it fell afoul to Universal’s botched Christmas releases; “Mortal Engines” and “Welcome to Marwen” clogged their access to maintaining a fair number of theaters to see full benefit from the holiday. Still, it had the holding power to remain in play into January. Its Globes and guild nominations show industry support, which suggests a strong Oscar nomination showing for the top categories that translate into box office.
Parallel to the nomination, Universal plans to expand the film to its widest point yet, likely between 1,500-2,000 theaters and with advertising to match. Don’t be surprised to see this film add tens of millions to its total and a likely Top 10 return for the film. That doesn’t guarantee a win, but it clearly places it in the middle of the discussion. (It remains to be seen if this week’s revelations about director Peter Farrelly and writer Nick Vallelonga will see any impact.)
The success of “Green Book” is a story of a loving audience. People sustained it over two months, bearing out its top-tier A+ Cinemascore. (Its reviews were a favorable but hardly standout 70 on Metacritic.) If the film didn’t maintain the interest to see its initial expansion, it is far less likely to have been a serious contender.
It remains to be seen if “Rhapsody” gets a one impossibly long-shot Best Picture nomination, or wins Best Actor. If either or both films go on to Oscar glory, sure, the Globes helped. But it will be significantly because they gained most from public support, even if they weren’t the two films initially expected to benefit most.
None of this means “Black Panther” and “A Star Is Born” might not yet show strength; they are established as having public and critical support. But seeming popular right as voting happens is a dream asset.