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‘Rocketman’: Paramount Considered a PG-13 Cut After the Success of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’

They ultimately decided against it, but the massive box-office success of the Queen biopic complicated the path of the Elton John film.

Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman from Paramount Pictures.


David Appleby/Paramount Pictures

The massive success of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even with its myriad behind-the-scenes issues, is still one of 2018’s biggest surprises.

Even before the Queen biopic racked up a handful of Oscar nominations, its box-office take presented a big problem for the creative team behind the Elton John movie “Rocketman.” While “Bohemian Rhapsody” doubled down on being sanitized and crowd-friendly, a recent Vulture article outlines how “Rocketman” struggled with convincing people at various stages in the process that it was worth including the less glossy chapters from John’s life.

With “Bohemian Rhapsody” outperforming expectations as a 20th Century Fox release, Paramount Motion Picture Group Wyck Godfrey said that after greenlighting an R-rated version of the story, there were occasional pressures to go along with the established, proven formula that would get the film a PG-13. Eventually, the studio relented.

“Pretty quickly, we came back around to the fact that we committed and believed in this movie before we knew what ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was going to do. It’s always better to lead than to follow,” Godfrey said.

Matthew Vaughn, who directed John in the 2017 sequel “Kingsman: The Golden Circle,” described the stories that he heard about the troubles with getting “Rocketman” to keep its R rating before the film went into production.

“I asked him what happened with ‘Rocketman’ because it was announced they were making it four years earlier at Cannes,” Vaughn said. “And he said, ‘They’re having problems with the R-rated piece of it. The warts-and-all.’”

Despite that trouble, “Rocketman” director Dexter Fletcher told IndieWire at Cannes this year that pressure never made its way to him. Any scenes with sex or drugs (taken from John’s real-life experiences) that were trimmed down were, according to Fletcher, done for runtime reasons rather than to avoid any content-related backlash.

“R-rated was always part of our aim, our vision [for ‘Rocketman’]” Fletcher said in an interview with Anne Thompson. “I was never unduly pressured by the producers or the studio. There’s quite a lot of R content. I had to say, ‘This is what’s important’ in the course of it, no more than the norm.”

The full Vulture piece is available to read here.

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