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How 'Bohemian Rhapsody' turned Queen into box office, music chart champions after decades

Key Points
  • The rock band hasn't dropped a music project in nearly 30 years, but thanks to the performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody," their music has been given a new lease on life.
  • After just a few weeks, the biographical film about the band and its late frontman, Freddie Mercury, has made $130 million domestically, and the group's music is topping the charts.
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - OCTOBER 23: (L-R) Ben Hardy, Roger Taylor, Rami Malek, Brian May, Gwilym Lee and Joe Mazzello attend the World Premiere of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' at the SSE Arena Wembley in London. October 23, 2018 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Barcroft Media | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Decades after their last studio album, Queen is the unlikely champions of the box office and music charts.

The rock band hasn't dropped a music project in nearly 30 years, but thanks to the performance of "Bohemian Rhapsody," their music has been given a new lease on life. After just a few weeks, the biographical film about the band and its late frontman, Freddie Mercury, has made $130 million domestically since its November 2 release, according to Box Office Mojo.

That may not seem like much in the era of movies that churn out $1 billion in receipts, but biographical movies about musicians have never been major box office draws. The 2015 biopic "Straight Outta Compton" is the highest-grossing of all time at $161 million, and "Bohemian Rhapsody" is rapidly gaining on it.

The movie has defied the odds on other fronts as well. Director Bryan Singer was fired from the movie due to "unexplained absences from the set," according to the Hollywood Reporter. It also received a reception from critics that were mixed at best.

Yet none of those potential stumbling blocks made any difference, with audiences appearing to flock to "Bohemian Rhapsody" anyway. Queen's music has experienced a renaissance on the charts as a result.

On Spotify, the song "Bohemian Rhapsody" went from 87th place globally one day before the movie's release to 15th place one week later. It also returned to the Billboard Hot 100 chart for a third time, after doing so once upon its initial release, and again after appearing in the 1992 movie "Wayne's World. "

The movie soundtrack charted at number three, the group's highest placement since 1980, and their greatest hits package re-entered the charts at number nine. The movement gave Queen two top ten albums simultaneously, for the first time in the band's history.

8th September 1976: British rock group Queen at Les Ambassadeurs, where they were presented with silver, gold and platinum discs for sales in excess of one million of their hit single 'Bohemian Rhapsody'. The band are, from left to right, John Deacon, Freddie Mercury (Frederick Bulsara, 1946 - 1991), Roger Taylor and Brian May.
Keystone | Hulton Archive | Getty Images

With so much working against it, why was "Bohemian Rhapsody" so successful?

Representatives for the surviving band members could not be reached for comment, but Andrew Selepak, a media professor at the University of Florida, said that one of the reasons that it defied the odds was simply good timing.

The movie "benefited from a release date with limited competition," he said. "Its major competition has been 'A Star Is Born' and two fantasy movies, 'Fantastic Beasts' and 'The Grinch,'" Selepak pointed out.

He added that the movie's poor reviews didn't damage its reception because in the social media age, critics simply aren't as big a factor as they used to be.

"Social media has replaced the traditional movie experts, and the word-of-mouth about "Bohemian Rhapsody" on social media has been positive," he said.

Mara Kuge, president and founder of Superior Music Publishing, said that the movie has done well in part because its subject is so compelling.

"There's a tremendously interesting story there, especially in how Freddie Mercury was in the closet until the day he died," Kuge said, noting that Queen's music has remained consistently popular since the 1970s.

The band's appeal now spans multiple generations, and sports fans are virtually guaranteed to hear "We Will Rock You" at any game that they attend. The band has also been touring again, with guest vocalist Adam Lambert.

As far as the general public is concerned, Queen never really went away – especially given its timeless sound and the enduring popularity of their front man.

"There is simply no denying Freddie's magnificent voice," she said. "Those strong songs and Freddie's voice just shine through."

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How the Bee Gees plan to stay alive in the era of digital music 

Key Points
  • The Bee Gees, one of the most popular acts of the 1970s and early 80s, doesn't appear to be resonating in the digital era.
  • Capitol Records is banking on a way to breathe new life into the group, which has seen weak streaming traffic on platforms like Spotify.