At the Movies, Music is the New Sports

The recent proliferation of superhero movies leaves us with specific associations regarding blockbusters. Sports films had their heyday in the 1990s, but does the imminent release of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman signal a resurgence of music biopics?

By Serena Ypelaar

Is there a sports team that everybody likes? No way.

Are there bands/musicians that (nearly) everybody likes? I think so!

Why am I asking these questions? Mainly to posit a recent theory of mine that music biopics are the future of the film industry. The upcoming release of movies like Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), in which Rami Malek plays Freddie Mercury of the rock band Queen, and Rocketman (2019), starring Taron Egerton as Elton John, got me thinking about the marketability of popular cinema genres these days.

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Rami Malek as Queen frontman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody (2018). Photo: YouTube

Ever since the Harry Potter films were finished (which in my completely unbiased opinion set the standard for franchise/adaptation blockbusters), I’ve felt like there haven’t been as many blockbusters that don’t wear thin. The creative industry of Hollywood seems increasingly stale with its endless superhero reboots. I feel sorry for the dead horse that is the Marvel franchise – it’s taken so many beatings over the last few years (Infinity War is aptly named). Just when you think nobody wants another superhero flick, people still flock to the theatres without fail.

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Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman (2019). Photo: IMDb

Marvel keeps making the movies because people keep watching. Movies are creative, but they also have to sell, which is where formulas come in. With the ever-pressing need to make more high-grossing films, it looks like we might be in for an oncoming surge in music biopics.

Why do I think music flicks are so universally marketable compared to, say, sports? Well, for starters, I know from experience that sports are highly emotional, and at times, controversial.

  1. Not everyone likes sports. Nearly everyone likes music of some kind (correct me if I’m wrong).
  2. Of those who do like sports, they have a team/athlete they love, and teams/athletes they HATE. Just look around during the World Cup or the NHL – people are at each other’s throats over sports teams.
  3. The competitive nature of sports (win/draw/lose) is much different than the non-discrete, creative nature of music – it’s possible to like many genres without needing to “beat” others (award shows aside).
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Sports disagreements can loom large; there’s a deep sense of loyalty to one’s team that doesn’t hold as much emotional tension in music preferences. Unless you are Nickelback. Photo: Gifer

Maybe my evidence is anecdotal, but there’s a certain type of community that comes from music. There are songs that seem exempt from hatred, and it’s this phenomenon that I think makes music flicks much more viable than sport flicks. Not that there can’t be good sport films, but in terms of mass marketing, making a film about a timeless and popular band has a higher chance of box office success than a movie about a given sport, team, or athlete who has a smaller group of fans.

For instance: one of the most timeless songs of the twenty-first century so far is The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside”. I’d be hard-pressed to find a single person in my generation who couldn’t/wouldn’t belt out the lyrics at a moment’s notice (COMIN’ OUT OF MY CAGE AND I’VE BEEN DOING JUST FINE) upon hearing the opening chords. I wholeheartedly expect a Killers biopic in thirty years’ time titled Mr. Brightside, because what better way to bring in the masses than by using a tune that’s instantly recognizable and which personifies the band itself?

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Swimming through sick lullabies, choking on your alibis… Photo: WeHeartIt

It certainly seems to be the strategy that the teams behind Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman have employed. Based on the widespread popularity of both these musical acts, I almost wonder if the storyline even needs to be stellar, as long as the cast puts on a good show musically (just ask Mamma Mia!). The film industry is under pressure to deliver some fresh takes, but that doesn’t mean it won’t draw upon timeless old classics in a new light. After all, classics are guaranteed popularity.

Perhaps, based on the success of Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman, music flicks will take off – I certainly wouldn’t mind. May they pack a more satisfying punch than the exhausted superheroes can muster.

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