Rocketman and Bohemian Rhapsody have a lot in common. They’re both musical biopics. They’re both about flamboyant British pop stars. They’re even both directed by the same person, Dexter Fletcher, who replaced Bryan Singer in the final weeks of filming Bohemian Rhapsody after allegations of Singer’s sexual misconduct came to light. They’re also very different: Not only does Rocketman have a fantasy element to its storytelling and a promise to be less dismissive of its subject’s sexuality than many felt Bohemian Rhapsody was, but those subjects, Elton John and Freddie Mercury, have also had very different careers, thus making for very different films.
But it’s that undeniable set of similarities that’s making headlines in the lead-up to Rocketman’s May 31 release. The comparisons have already been circulating for months, since Rocketman’s first teaser trailer debuted last fall, just as Bohemian Rhapsody’s awards-season hype was kicking into full gear. But they reached new heights this week, when the cast—including Taron Egerton, who plays Elton John; Bryce Dallas Howard, who plays John’s mother; and Jamie Bell, who plays his longtime lyricist Bernie Taupin—as well as the singer’s real-life husband, David Furnish, debuted 20 minutes of high-energy footage from the film for an assembled audience of reviewers and celebrities such as Patrick Stewart and Darren Criss.
Many outlets in attendance at Monday’s presentation, which took place at L.A.’s historic Troubadour club, where John made his U.S. debut, in 1970, have already published reports predicting “Bohemian Rhapsody–levels” of “giddy success” for Rocketman, claiming that the film is “perfectly positioned to draft off the success of last year’s Bohemian Rhapsody.” However, a line has indeed been drawn between the two films: Rocketman stands apart as “much more audacious and unconventional” than its predecessor, per Indiewire, while also delving deeper into its subject’s darker, self-destructive tendencies. There’s also the fact the Egerton did all his own singing (Malek’s voice was mixed with several others to imitate Mercury’s), and that Rocketman has the blessing of its subject—though only on the technicality that said subject is still living.
Of course, the Bohemian Rhapsody comparisons are far from a bad thing. The film racked up five Oscar nominations—winning four, including best actor for Rami Malek—took home piles and piles of other awards, and caused Queen’s music to shoot back to the top of the charts. In those respects, Rocketman would certainly be very fortunate indeed to match up to Bohemian Rhapsody. Still, it does a disservice to Egerton, John, and the entire cast and crew of both films to simply lump them together as cookie-cutter copycats of one another.