Film

Elton John Biopic ‘Rocketman’ Is First Major Studio Film With Gay Male Sex Scenes

Unfortunately, this is massive news.

Taron Edgerton is Elton John in the new trailer for Rocketman

Where Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody was widely criticised for half-heartedly and implicitly depicting his queerness, it seems that upcoming Elton John biopic Rocketman won’t err the same way. In fact, it’s the first major studio film to depict gay male sex on-screen.

Rocketman is slated for Australian release Thursday May 30, but has made its debut at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

It’s reported the film, directed by Dexter Fletcher,  features multiple sex scenes between Elton John (Taron Egerton) and manager John Reid (Richard Madden).

Unfortunately, this is big news: as The Hollywood Reporter notes, it will be the first major studio film to feature gay sex scenes.

This might cause you to rack your brain — for starters, didn’t Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name, both Academy Award-winning films, feature gay male sex?

Well, the latter depends on your definition of ‘depict’, really, but either way, neither films were actually released on a major studio but by their off-shoots. Unlike Rocketman, which is a Paramount film, Brokeback was released by Universal distributor Focus Features, and Call Me By Your Name was released via Sony Picture Classics. 

Where this may seem like semantics for the average cinema-goer, the difference is huge, in terms of distributing an absolute blockbuster and a potential acclaimed hit: Rocketman is aiming for the former.

And while we’re on semantics, you could go back further to liken 1980 thriller Cruising to a major studio release, it’s somewhat irrelevant — especially given how controversial that film was in the gay community at the time.

The point still stands that major studios just don’t back films that physically depict male-on-male sex. In some parts, that’s because China, a massive market, would likely ban it, which is why the country received a Bohemian Rhapsody edited to remove any queerness. That seems near impossible to do with Rocketman.

Fletcher himself hasn’t minced words about how Rocketman differs from Bohemian Rhapsody, and he would know, given he replaced disgraced director Brian Singer during the last two weeks of shooting Bohemian Rhapsody, but was not credited. He recently told Indiewire his ‘heart wasn’t attached’ to the latter.

Bohemian Rhapsody was the PG version of that story. R-rated was always part of our aim, our vision [for Rocketman]” he said. “I was never unduly pressured by the producers or the studio. There’s quite a lot of R content. I had to say, ‘This is what’s important’ in the course of it, no more than the norm.”

For the record, early reviews from Cannes are quite positive, with most calling it markedly better than Bohemian Rhapsody.

“If Bohemian Rhapsody were the cheeseburger of music icon biopics,” wrote The Sun‘s Dan Wooton, “then Rocketman is the sirloin steak – with lobster on the side.”

Rocketman will be released May 30.