Biopics and Oscar buzz: the two go together like, well, a star in search of the role of a lifetime. That’s pretty much what happened with Rami Malek and Bohemian Rhapsody. The actor replaced Sacha Baron Cohen as the Queen frontman fresh off of his 2016 Emmy win for Mr. Robot. From there, it was kinda clear that Malek had a taste for sparkly hardware and that he wanted to add an “O” to his potential future EGOT.
Whether or not he would achieve that “O” has been particularly called into question this week. Since the film’s inception, it’s wrestled with the pervasive perception that it mishandles Freddie Mercury’s bisexuality. Those fears were stoked further when INTO released a video showing Malek stumbling when asked whether or not Mercury was a queer icon — not whether or not Mercury personally identified as queer.
Malek took another personal hit on social media last week when he turned down a fan’s request to star in a video on her camera phone, though he did OK a picture. The star didn’t realize that the fan’s video was already turned on until it was too late. Though Malek is perfectly within his rights to deny a fan video content, the video caused a viral sensation and was viewed more than 3 million times. Some people painted Malek as callous and ungrateful.
But all this negative press seemingly did nothing to stop the inevitable juggernaut that was Bohemian Rhapsody’s box office performance. Though experts predicted that the film would get about $35 million, and critics doled out poor to middling reviews, audiences flocked to the film to the tune of $50 million. They also liked it, giving it an “A” Cinemascore, indicating that the film will have box office legs.
Given the film’s box office success, Malek seems very much back toward the top of the heap for a Best Actor nomination and a true threat to take the statue. To be clear, given how sparse the Best Actor race is (some people disagree) a Malek nomination is a foregone conclusion. But whether or not that would translate to a win is Up in the Air (2009).
To be clear, box office success does not always translate to a win on Oscar night. But it does help. Gary Oldman and Leonardo DiCaprio won for smaller films, but had “overdue” narratives to galvanize voters to give them a win. But, in years where that “overdue” narrative isn’t there, box office certainly helps. Eddie Redmayne won for a biopic (like Bohemian Rhapsody) that earned over $100 million. Day-Lewis got a second Oscar for Lincoln, which was a box office behemoth. (He’s also Daniel Fucking Day-Lewis, so that helps).
But Malek might have a tough road ahead. He not only has to weather the film’s controversy, but also contend with A Star Is Born’s director-writer-actor Bradley Cooper. Given that Cooper is the driving force behind the box office smash, and how damn good he is in the film, it makes sense that they might reward him as an actor; he has three prior nominations and is a first-time director.
It’s clear from Oscar’s misbegotten “Best Popular Film” category that it wants to appeal to movies that everybody watches and not just dole out trophies to indie arthouse fare because it seems more prestigious. That said, while people turned out to see Bohemian Rhapsody, the reviews it garnered were not great. Both Cooper and Malek have box office, but Cooper has critical praise behind him.
Social media outrage didn’t deter people from seeing Bohemian Rhapsody, even if some people only hate-watched it. And it probably won’t stop Malek from being on the shortlist come nomination morning. But whether he nabs a trophy for a role that seems destined to earn someone the Oscar, that remains to be seen.
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