Can ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ Rock the Box Office Despite Tepid Reviews?

Fox tries to leave its mark on awards season while Disney’s “Nutcracker and the Four Realms” faces a poor opening

Last Updated: October 31, 2018 @ 6:47 AM

After an October that blew by everyone’s expectations and set industry records, the calendar now turns to a November that should eventually keep the momentum going after a relatively slow start this weekend, with Fox/New Regency’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” leading the release slate and expected to take No. 1 this weekend with a $35-40 million opening from 4,000+ screens.

The Queen biopic is facing mixed reviews with a 56 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have panned the film’s screenplay for leaning on biopic cliches and heavily altering the history of the famed British rock band, while failing to reveal anything insightful about them.

The parts of the film that did earn praise are the elements that mainstream moviegoers are likely to be interested in, namely the lead performance by Rami Malek as Queen’s iconic frontman Freddie Mercury. The role is getting buzz for potential Oscar contention this winter, and Fox will be looking to that buzz to sustain interest in the film.

The film’s elaborate concert scenes also earned praise, which critics said evoked Queen’s onstage power even as the actors lip-synced to the original band recordings. Casual moviegoers and hardcore Queen fans alike are expected to flock to the film out of interest in seeing the band’s heyday re-enacted on screen, with Fandango and Atom Tickets reporting that presales for the film on their respective sites are beating those of “Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again” and “A Star Is Born,” the latter of which opened to $42 million.

If audiences are as pleased with the film’s spin on “Another One Bites the Dust” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” that may be enough to get the movie the word of mouth it needs.

“For a while, critics and audiences have been on the same page, but with ‘Venom’ and possibly now with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ we may be seeing regular moviegoers reaching a different consensus than the reviews,” said comScore’s Paul Dergarabedian.

“It’s the critics’ job to look closer at things like the script’s historical accuracy, but we’ve seen time and time again that accuracy isn’t really a deal-breaker for moviegoers. If the film delivers the excitement of going to a Queen concert, it’s going to do well,” he added.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” was directed by Bryan Singer, with Dexter Fletcher completing the film after Singer left during production. Anthony McCarten, who earned Oscar nominations as producer and writer for “The Theory of Everything” and “Darkest Hour,” wrote the screenplay.

Also releasing this weekend is Disney’s “Nutcracker and the Four Realms,” a Christmas film hitting theaters just two days after Halloween. Tracking for the film shows the signs of a major bomb, with projections of an opening in the low $20 million range against a reported budget of $130 million.

But if there’s any studio that could take this sort of hit at the box office and easily dust itself off, it’s Disney. We already saw proof of that earlier this year, when “Solo” set a shocking franchise low for “Star Wars,” only for Disney to get back to its winning ways when “Incredibles 2” set a new animation box office record less than a month later.

Even the release date for “Nutcracker” shows the strength of Disney’s slate. The reason why the film isn’t opening closer to Christmas is because the studio is reserving its holiday season slots for two highly anticipated sequels: “Ralph Breaks the Internet” on Thanksgiving and “Mary Poppins Returns” on Christmas. “Ralph” is expected to improve on the $471 million global cume of its 2012 predecessor, while “Mary Poppins” has a strong chance of legging out well into January in the same way that “The Greatest Showman” did last year.

With $2.75 billion already grossed domestically, Disney should easily pass its own industry record for annual domestic gross with $3 billion in 2016. And a lack of interest in “Nutcracker” won’t stop it.

“Nutcracker and the Four Realms” stars Mackenzie Foy as Clara, a girl who receives a key to a priceless Christmas gift from her godfather Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman). But the key disappears into a magical world where, with the help of a soldier named Phillip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), Clara must retrieve the key and save the land’s three peaceful realms from the dark Fourth Realm and its ruler, Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren).

Lasse Hallstrom directed the film, with reshoots directed by Joe Johnston and a screenplay by Ashleigh Powell and Tom McCarthy. Keira Knightley, Misty Copeland, Eugenio Derbez and Richard E. Grant also star.

Finally, there is “Nobody’s Fool,” the latest film from Tyler Perry that sees the prolific actor/writer/director team up with Whoopi Goldberg and Tiffany Haddish in his first R-rated comedy. Distributed by Paramount, the film is projected to open to $12-14 million. While that would be Perry’s lowest opening in more than 10 years, a lower start compared to his past comedies is to be expected given the film’s rating.

Written and directed by Perry, “Nobody’s Fool” stars Haddish as a woman recently released from prison who reunited with her sister (Tika Sumpter) and discovers that she is in an online relationship with a man who might not exist. Goldberg stars as the sisters’ mother, with Omari Hardwick also starring.