Taron Egerton in Rocketman
Source: Paramount Pictures
“Rocketman,” the biographical movie about rock star Elton John, opened this weekend to rave reviews.
And it would seem to follow that this will translate into revived interest in Elton’s vast back catalog, but that remains to be seen.
If “Bohemian Rhapsody” is anything to go by, Elton John’s catalog is about to enjoy a new lease on life. The 2018 movie about the rock band Queen grossed $51 million in its opening weekend and went on to earn $687 million at the worldwide box office, sending the band’s music back to the top of the charts for the first time in decade.
The two movies share other associations that make comparison unavoidable. Both share similar subject matter – classic rock and gay central characters – and Dexter Fletcher, the man who took over when “Bohemian Rhapsody” director Bryan Singer was fired from the production, is the director of “Rocketman.” And if that’s not enough, The Washington Post, the New York Daily News, and Newsweek are among dozens of publications running articles comparing the two films.
Despite the parallels, there are differences between the two movies and these variances are significant enough to make some wonder whether Elton John’s music will really experience the same renaissance that Queen’s did.
For one thing, Rocketman’s opening weekend take was $25 million, less than half of what “Bohemian Rhapsody” grossed in its first weekend.
A major sticking point is the release date. “Bohemian Rhapsody” opened in November,with no real competition, but “Rocketman” opened the same day as “Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” which is heavily favored to dominate the weekend box office. After that, it has to survive the onslaught of blockbusters scheduled throughout June, including “Dark Phoenix” and “Toy Story 4.”
Jazmine Valencia, President of the JV Agency, a music digital marketing company that has worked with such artists as the Killers and Fall Out Boy, said that the release date isn’t the only issue. The promotion for “Rocketman” simply hasn’t been comparable to the relentless advertising campaign that preceded “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
Taron Egerton in Rocketman
Source: Paramount Pictures
“Half of my intern team didn’t know the movie was being released,” she said. “[For] ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ they had all pre-purchased movie tickets, including those who were just really getting into Queen at the time of the release.”
Screenwriter and BMG Music artist Gino McKoy said that while he expects “Rocketman” to find an audience, he doesn’t expect it to give the Elton John catalog a similar boost, for a surprising reason – namely, because Elton John is still alive.
“The worldwide release of the film will reignite interest in his music and revive forgotten classics,” he said. “But it will not have the same impact as films about artists who have passed away prematurely tend to have, such as ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.'”
McKoy has a point when he says that death is great for an artist’s back catalog. When Chester Bennington of Linkin Park died in 2017, Variety reported that streams of the group’s music experienced a 7,000% spike the very next day. When Chuck Berry died that same year, streams of his music increased by 9,000%, even though he had last released a new album in 1979. Queen’s Freddie Mercury has been gone since 1991, but his death nevertheless added poignancy to “Bohemian Rhapsody” that may have made viewers want to re-connect with the music.
Absent that kind of emotional response, will a positive reception to “Rocketman” be enough to work miracles on Elton John’s catalog? Mara Kuge, president and founder of Superior Music Publishing, said that the effect is unlikely to be comparable unless the movie overperforms dramatically.
“If ‘Rocketman’ doesn’t gain that mainstream appeal, then it will be mostly seen by an audience already familiar with his music which, to be fair, is very large,” she said. “These fans may be inspired to go take a fresh listen, but it won’t add that much to his already sizable fanbase.”
If, however, “Rocketman” does better than predicted and succeeds in introducing Elton John to a new generation, she expects sales and streaming of his music to increase quite a bit. And given the enduring popularity of his catalog, that’s not out of the question.
“His music is so classic that there is a wide potential audience for it,” she said.
While some may be hesitant to predict a “Rocketman” effect on Elton John’s catalog, music producer, author and rock historian Denny Somach was very confident about it. He said that he expected the movie to be very good for his songs from the early 1970s in particular.
“Many of them have disappeared from radio playlists over the years, songs like ‘Border Song,’ ‘Amoreena’ and ‘Take Me To The Pilot,'” he said. “I do believe the movie will revive interest in his earlier songs.”
He added that Elton John’s fan base is so large that worries about the movie’s commercial viability are likely not even warranted in the first place.
“Elton John’s music has become cross-generational and has such wide appeal that I think the audience will be quite large,” he said.
Whether that audience will go home and download his albums and listen to him on Spotify, only time will tell.