Rocketman is a 2019 biographical musical film based on the life of musician Elton John. Directed by Dexter Fletcher and written by Lee Hall, it stars Taron Egerton as Elton John, with Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin, Richard Madden as John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Eileen. The film follows John in his early days as a prodigy at the Royal Academy of Music through his musical partnership with Taupin. The film is titled after John's 1972 song "Rocket Man."
UK theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Dexter Fletcher|
|Written by||Lee Hall|
|Music by||Matthew Margeson|
|Edited by||Chris Dickens|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$195.2 million|
The film had been in development since the 2000s before it was initially announced in 2013 where Focus Features acquired the rights to the film and director Michael Gracey and actor Tom Hardy were set to direct and star in the project respectively. After Hardy and Gracey left the project following creative differences between Focus and John that halted an initial production start in fall 2014, the project languished for several years until Paramount Pictures and New Republic Pictures took over as distributor in April 2018, where Egerton and Fletcher signed on. Principal photography began in August 2018 and was completed later that year. John served as executive producer, while husband David Furnish produced the film through their Rocket Pictures, alongside Matthew Vaughn's Marv Films.
Rocketman premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019, and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019 and in the United States on 31 May 2019. It grossed $195 million worldwide against its $40 million budget and received largely positive reviews from critics, with general praise for Egerton's performance, the costume design and musical numbers. The film was the first by a major film studio to include a gay male sex scene. For his performance, Egerton received numerous nominations, including the BAFTA Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role, and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. The film also won Best Original Song at the 77th Golden Globe Awards, Best Song at the 25th Critics' Choice Awards, and Best Original Song at the 92nd Academy Awards for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again", and earned four nominations at the 73rd British Academy Film Awards, including Outstanding British Film.
Young Reginald Dwight grows up in 1950s Britain, raised by his unaffectionate mother, Sheila, and more loving grandmother Ivy. Reginald is interested in music and hopes to perform for his father, Stanley, who takes no interest in his son nor his talent ("I Want Love").
Reginald begins piano lessons, making his way into the Royal Academy of Music. Stanley abandons his family after Sheila has an affair. Reginald develops an interest in rock music and begins performing in local pubs ("Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting"). As an adult, Reginald joins the band Bluesology, which is hired to play backup for touring American soul bands, The Isley Brothers and Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. Isley Brothers lead singer, Ronald Isley, recommends that Reginald should write songs and put his old life behind him if he wants to become a famous artist. This inspires Reginald to change his name to Elton John. Elton being the name of the saxophonist of Bluesology and John being adapted from the Beatles' John Lennon.
Elton begins writing music and tries finding success with Dick James' record label DJM Records under the management of Ray Williams. Williams introduces Elton to lyricist Bernie Taupin; they form a friendship ("Border Song") and move into a flat together to work on their songs. When Elton admits he is homosexual, he ends his romantic relationship with their landlady, and he and Bernie are evicted.
Elton and Bernie move in with Elton's grandmother, his mother, and her significant other, where they continue writing and create "Your Song." James sets up a performance for them at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Elton is nervous before his Troubadour debut, but the audience eagerly embraces his performance ("Crocodile Rock"). Elton is overjoyed by his success but feels abandoned when Bernie leaves him at a party to spend time with a woman ("Tiny Dancer"). He is approached by John Reid, a music manager. They sleep together and reunite later ("Take Me to the Pilot").
Reid's influence over Elton launches a downward spiral into a life of debauchery even as his career rises to new heights ("Hercules" / "Don't Go Breaking My Heart"). Elton develops a flamboyant, over-the-top stage persona and becomes one of the most successful artists of the 1970s ("Honky Cat"). Reid's manipulation increases into outright abuse after becoming Elton's manager. Reid insists that Elton come out to his parents as gay, so Elton reconnects with his father, who has a new family but still displays no interest in Elton. Unhappy and hurt, Elton calls his mother and tells her he is gay. She informs him that she already knew, but tells Elton he will be forever unloved. Struggling with parental issues as well as Reid's increasing physical and emotional abuse, Elton becomes addicted to alcohol, cocaine, cannabis, shopping, and sex.
Elton eventually begins to consume cocaine and falls down the stairs of his home. Elton also consumes large amounts of drugs and alcohol to escape his pain and loneliness, but his mood swings and short temper alienate his friends ("Pinball Wizard"). He catches Reid cheating on him with another man and breaks off their relationship. During a party, Elton binges on drugs and alcohol and attempts suicide by jumping into his pool. He is rushed to the hospital, then thrust on stage at Dodger Stadium to perform ("Rocket Man").
Elton descends further into a life of drugs, alcohol, and loneliness ("Bennie and the Jets"). He has a short-lived marriage with a close female friend, Renate, but his homosexuality dooms this relationship ("Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me"). He falls out with his mother and Bernie ("Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word"). Elton's dependence on prescription pills and alcohol result in a heart attack. Realizing his life is out of control, Elton seeks help ("Goodbye Yellow Brick Road"). He enters rehabilitation and realizes he no longer needs support from his parents or Reid. Elton rekindles his friendship with Bernie, who brings him new lyrics. Elton is worried that he cannot perform or compose without alcohol or drugs but writes "I'm Still Standing" and returns to a successful career.
The epilogue notes that Elton has been sober for over 28 years, but "still has issues with shopping." He remains good friends with Bernie and is married to David Furnish, with whom he has two children, and is finally loved properly.
- Taron Egerton as Elton John / Reginald Dwight
- Jamie Bell as Bernie Taupin
- Richard Madden as John Reid
- Gemma Jones as Ivy, Elton's grandmother
- Bryce Dallas Howard as Sheila Dwight
- Stephen Graham as Dick James
- Steven Mackintosh as Stanley Dwight
- Tate Donovan as Doug Weston
- Charlie Rowe as Ray Williams
- Tom Bennett as Fred, Sheila's boyfriend
In addition, Matthew Illesley and Kit Connor play the child and adolescent versions of Reggie Dwight, respectively. Ophelia Lovibond plays Elton's girlfriend Arabella, Rachel Muldoon appears as singer Kiki Dee, and Celinde Schoenmaker plays Elton's wife Renate.
Elton John and husband David Furnish tried to produce a film based on his life for almost two decades. The earliest efforts dated back to the 2000s, when development started at Walt Disney Pictures. Photographer David LaChapelle was set to direct the film after his work on the video for John's 2001 single, “This Train Don't Stop There Anymore", which featured Justin Timberlake as a young John. However, the project languished for nearly two decades. In an article written for The Guardian, John said that he struggled to get the film off the ground due to studios wanting it to be toned down to a PG-13 rating instead of an R.
In January 2012, John announced that he had named Timberlake as his top choice to play him in the film. Lee Hall was set to pen the screenplay. In March 2013, Michael Gracey was hired to direct, with Tom Hardy cast in October to play John and Focus Features acquiring the U.S. distribution rights. Filming was initially planned to start in autumn 2014. However, creative differences between John and Focus, along with budget issues, led him and Furnish to take the project elsewhere.
In July 2017, it was announced that Hardy was no longer involved, and Taron Egerton entered negotiations to replace him. While editing Kingsman: The Golden Circle, Matthew Vaughn learned about the project and took interest in producing the film on the condition that Egerton played John. Vaughn then picked Dexter Fletcher, who had replaced Bryan Singer during the production of the Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, to direct the film since Gracey was busy with The Greatest Showman. The producers then filmed a sequence of Egerton as John performing two of John's songs, and presented it to Jim Gianopulos, who had worked with Vaughn on the Kingsman franchise at 20th Century Fox and was now the CEO of Paramount Pictures. Paramount and New Republic Pictures agreed to finance the film in exchange for worldwide distribution rights. It was reported that Egerton would sing the songs in the film himself, produced by Giles Martin, who was brought on as music director for the project. In an interview at CinemaCon, Egerton stated the film would be more of a fantasy-musical as opposed to a straightforward biopic.
In April 2018, Taron Egerton was officially cast to play the musician in the film. Egerton had previously appeared with John in the 2017 film Kingsman: The Golden Circle, and Egerton, as Johnny the Gorilla, sang John's song "I'm Still Standing" in the 2016 animated film Sing. In June, the role of Bernie Taupin was given to Jamie Bell. In July, Richard Madden entered negotiations to play John Reid, and Bryce Dallas Howard was cast to play John's mother. Gemma Jones was announced as being cast in the film in October.
Rocketman had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on 16 May 2019, and was theatrically released in the United Kingdom on 22 May 2019. The film was initially scheduled to be released in the United States on 17 May 2019, but was pushed back to 31 May 2019.
Rocketman was released on Digital HD on 6 August 2019 and on DVD, Blu-ray, and 4K Ultra HD on 27 August 2019.
In March 2019, it was reported that Paramount Pictures was pressuring director Dexter Fletcher and producer Matthew Vaughn to cut a sex scene between Taron Egerton and Richard Madden, so that the film could receive a PG-13 rating in the United States, as influenced by the financial success of Bohemian Rhapsody the year prior. Fletcher denied the reports, saying that the movie "has and always will be the no holds barred, musical fantasy that Paramount and producers passionately support and believe in" and said the allegations were "nothing but rumors".
In Russia, where the film was released on 6 June 2019, about five minutes of footage were removed from the final cut. Central Partnership, the film's Russian distributor, removed all scenes involving homosexuality and drugs, a move that was criticized by both John and Paramount. The film was censored in Malaysia, sparking condemnation from art critics that the country was becoming a "nanny state". Safaruddin Mohammad Ali, the head of the country's Film Censorship Board, said "We do not allow any scenes that promote LGBTQ in films that are for public viewing", adding that "Although it is about the real life of Elton John, it is not for him to allow the public to see whatever he does or whatever activities he indulges in that is not our culture".
The film was banned in Samoa, a conservative Christian nation. Principal Censor Leiataua Niuapu, of the country's Censorship Board, explained: "It's a good story, in that it's about an individual trying to move on in life. He [John] went through a difficult family life and managed to move on and become very successful. But there are acts that are not good for public viewing and against the law." The film was also banned in Egypt, where Elton John himself was banned from visiting back in 2010. The reason given was his "anti-religious sentiments", though Film Stories journalist Simon Brew argued that the ban "seemed pretty clear it was more to do with [John's] sexuality".
In October 2019, Entertainment Weekly digital director Shana Krochmal accused Delta Air Lines of removing "almost every reference" to John's sexuality in the version of the film shown on the airline, including scenes of kissing and gay sex. In response, a Delta spokesperson said that "Delta's content parameters do not in any way ask for the removal of homosexual content from the film" and that "We value diversity and inclusion as core to our culture and our mission and will review our processes to ensure edited video content doesn't conflict with these values".
Rocketman has grossed $96.4 million in the United States and Canada, and $96.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $195 million, against a production budget of $40 million.
In the United States and Canada, the film was released alongside Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Ma, and was projected to gross $20–25 million from 3,610 theaters in its opening weekend. The film made $9.2 million on its first day, including $1.8 million from Thursday night previews and $580,000 from its 18 May paid advanced Fandango screenings, for a preview total of $2.3 million. It went on to debut to $25.7 million, finishing third, behind Godzilla: King of the Monsters and Aladdin. The film dropped 46% in its second weekend to $14 million, finishing in fifth, and then made $9.4 million in its third weekend, climbing to the fourth position.
In the United Kingdom, it debuted to $6.4 million, finishing second behind fellow new release Aladdin. The following week, the film was projected to gross around $20 million from the international markets it was released in alongside the U.S., and ended up making $19.2 million from 39 non-U.S. countries over the weekend.
On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 89% based on 361 reviews, with an average rating of 7.64/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "It's going to be a long, long time before a rock biopic manages to capture the highs and lows of an artist's life like Rocketman." On Metacritic, it has a weighted average score of 69 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A–" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average 4 out of 5 stars and a 69% "definite recommend".
At its Cannes Film Festival premiere, the film received a standing ovation. It also received a standing ovation from Oscar voters at the Academy screening. Steve Pond of TheWrap said, "It's all grand and fun and corny; a musical fantasy that reaches for the sky and gets there often enough to make it diverting." The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw gave the film three stars out of five, saying Egerton performed a "good impression of the flamboyant musician," and writing, "Rocketman is an honest, heartfelt tribute to Elton John's music and his public image." In the same newspaper, Mark Kermode gave the film five stars, writing that "Fletcher is the real star of this show, a director whose enthusiasm for musical storytelling shines through every frame." Chicago Sun-Times critic Richard Roeper also greatly enjoyed the film, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four and praising its "almost documentary-level eye for detail when it comes to re-creating historic chapters such as the sold-out shows at Dodger Stadium in 1975 when Elton wore a sequined Dodgers uniform and belted out one hit after another to the adoring masses."
|2019||Cannes Film Festival||Queer Palm||Dexter Fletcher||Nominated|||
|2020||Academy Awards||Best Original Song||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Won|||
|2020||Golden Globe Awards||Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy||Rocketman||Nominated|||
|Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy||Taron Egerton||Won|
|Best Original Song||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Won|
|2020||Screen Actors Guild Awards||Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role||Taron Egerton||Nominated|||
|2020||Grammy Awards||Best Compilation Soundtrack for Visual Media||Rocketman||Nominated|||
|2020||British Academy Film Awards||Outstanding British Film||Dexter Fletcher, Adam Bohling, David Furnish,
David Reid, Matthew Vaughn, and Lee Hall
|Best Actor in a Leading Role||Taron Egerton||Nominated|
|Best Makeup and Hair||Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou||Nominated|
|Best Sound||Matthew Collinge, John Hayes,
Mike Prestwood Smith, and Danny Sheehan
|2020||Critics' Choice Movie Award||Best Hair And Makeup||Rocketman||Nominated|||
|Best Costume Design||Julian Day||Nominated|
|Best Song||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Won[a]|
|2019||LA Online Film Critics Society||Midseason Awards: Best Actor||Taron Egerton||Won|||
|2019||Teen Choice Awards||Choice Movie Actor: Drama||Nominated|||
|2019||GQ Awards||Actor of the Year||Won|||
|2019||Attitude Film Awards||Film Award||Won|||
|2019||Hollywood Film Awards||Breakthrough Actor Award||Won|||
|Make-Up & Hair Styling Award||Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, Tapio Salmi and Barrie Gower||Won|
|2019||People's Choice Awards||Drama Movie Star of the Year||Taron Egerton||Nominated|||
|2019||Hollywood Music in Media Awards||Best Original Song – Feature Film||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Nominated|||
|2019||Screen Awards||Theatrical Campaign of the Year||Paramount UK||Won|||
|2019||Satellite Awards||Best Motion Picture – Comedy/Musical||Rocketman||Nominated|||
|Best Actor – Motion Picture Comedy/Musical||Taron Egerton||Won|
|Best Costume Design||Julian Day||Nominated|
|Best Cinematography||George Richmond||Nominated|
|Best Film Editing||Chris Dickens||Nominated|
|Best Original Song||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Won|
|Best Sound||Matthew Collinge and John Hayes||Nominated|
|2020||Hollywood Critics Association||Best Actor||Taron Egerton||Nominated|||
|Best Costume Design||Julian Day||Won|
|Best Hair and Makeup||Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, Tapio Salmi and Barrie Gower||Nominated|
|Best Original Song||Elton John and Bernie Taupin for "(I'm Gonna) Love Me Again"||Nominated|
|2020||Make-Up Artists and Hair Stylists Guild||Best Special Makeup Effects||Barrie Gower, Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou, Victoria Money||Nominated|||
|2020||Santa Barbara International Film Festival||Virtuoso Award||Taron Egerton||Won|||
|2020||MPSE Golden Reel Awards||Outstanding Sound Editing – Film - Musical||Andy Patterson, Cécile Tournesac||Won|||
|2020||Costume Designers Guild Awards||Excellence in Period Film||Julian Day||Nominated|||
|2020||Casting Society of America||Feature Big Budget – Comedy||Reginald Poerscot-Edgerton||Nominated|||
|2020||GLAAD Media Awards||Outstanding Film – Wide Release||Rocketman||Pending|||
As Rocketman was not meant to be a chronologically precise documentary film, creative license was taken with the timing or specifics of the real people or historical events depicted in the film.
- Elton John's mother did not allow him to get an Elvis Presley styled haircut, even though he idolised the American's look.
- "Border Song" wasn't the first song that Elton John and Bernie Taupin wrote together, as they met in 1967 and the song wasn't written until 1969. Their first song was "Scarecrow".
- Elton John didn't audition for Dick James by playing "Daniel" and "I Guess That's Why They Call It the Blues", given that the songs weren't written until 1972 and 1983, respectively.
- Dick James was the one who encouraged then-Reggie Dwight to choose a stage name. On 7 May 1972, he legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John.
- While it's true that Elton John adopted his first name from a Bluesology bandmate, saxophonist Elton Dean, he didn't think about changing his last name while glancing at a photo of John Lennon. Elton was inspired by his early mentor, Long John Baldry, who hired Bluesology as his backup band in 1966. Elton John admired Baldry as one of the few people in the music scene who were both openly gay and highly esteemed.
- Elton John and Bernie Taupin didn't immediately start writing music meant for Elton to record. They spent two years working as staff songwriters for Dick James, beginning in 1968, creating tracks for artists like Roger Cook and Lulu, until the first album full of the pair's music, 1969's Empty Sky.
- Regarding the affirmation that John and Bernie never had an argument, liner notes for the 1975 album Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy features a 12 January 1969 diary entry written by John that reads, "Had row with Bernie." In a 2011 interview, Elton couldn't remember what they had a row about.
- Elton John never dated a landlady named Arabella. He dated a secretary named Linda Hannon (née Woodrow) for two years, and was engaged to her in 1969. John ended up sinking into a suicidal depression due to stress faced with the prospect of living a domestic life in the suburbs, and attempted to kill himself in his kitchen from inert gas asphyxiation (failing to do so by leaving the kitchen windows open, and being found by Bernie). Less than a month before the wedding, John suddenly broke off their engagement, advised by Long John Baldry. Bernie and Elton ended up writing the song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" based on the failed engagement and Baldry's advice. Linda revealed disappointment for not being mentioned in the film.
- Neil Young didn't perform at the Troubadour two weeks before John; his last show in the venue was well over a year prior to Elton's. He hasn't done a concert there since.
- The show at the Troubadour didn't happen on a Monday, but a Tuesday, on 25 August 1970.
- Elton John didn't play "Crocodile Rock" at the Troubadour in 1970, as the song was written in 1972.
- Elton John didn't meet his backing band on the night of the show. He had been touring with bassist Dee Murray and drummer Nigel Olsson all over England since April 1970, four months before they went to Los Angeles.
- There wasn't a guitar player at the Troubadour concert, only Murray and Olsson. Elton John wouldn't have a guitarist until Davey Johnstone in 1972.
- Elton John met John Reid at a Motown Records Christmas party in London in December 1970, not at Mama Cass's house in Los Angeles months earlier.
- Elton John's concert at the Dodger Stadium happened in 1975, one year before the recording of "Don't Go Breaking My Heart".
- Elton John met Renate Blauel while she was working as a sound engineer on one of his albums, but it was not 1979's Victim of Love. They first saw each other during the recordings of 1983's Too Low for Zero. He proposed to her on 10 February 1984 in Australia, and they married in Sydney on Valentine's Day of the same year. They officially announced their divorce on 18 November 1988.
- Although Elton John did cancel a concert at the Madison Square Garden in New York in 1984, claiming he had a viral flu, he only checked into rehab in 1990, at the Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Chicago, after a young friend, Ryan White, had died from AIDS a few months earlier and after a visit to his boyfriend of the time, Hugh Williams, in a rehab facility in Prescott, Arizona. He did not walk out on a concert to go to rehab.
- "I'm Still Standing" was not written while Elton John was in rehab, nor was the music video filmed after he left. The song was recorded in 1982, and the song and the video were released a year later.
Elton John's half-brother Geoff Dwight disputed the characterization of John's father, Stanley Dwight, stating, "My dad was kind and gentle. He spoke his mind but encouraged us all, including Elton, to do what we were good at. As a boy, when he started supporting Watford, it was my father who took him to the matches." In a previous 2010 interview, Geoff recalled, “When I was growing up, Elton was always there and we had a lot of fun on family holidays and things like that". John's stepmother, Edna, told biographer Philip Norman for 2001's Sir Elton: The Definitive Biography that "Stanley's been made out as an overbearing monster. But it’s just not true. He was a lovely man, a good father and a loving husband." She added that, far from discouraging his son's musical talent, Stanley bought him a piano in 1963, showing Norman the receipt. His father also wrote a letter to congratulate Elton on winning his scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.
The depiction of Dick James was disputed by musician Caleb Quaye, who was a member of Elton's former band Bluesology. Quaye described James as "a gentleman,” and criticised him being shown in the film as a boorish, foul-mouthed cockney. “He wasn’t cockney. He was an old-school music man but was smartly dressed, you never heard a cuss word out of him. He was like a father, he gave us an opportunity to learn our craft. I don’t understand the fantasy of depicting him like that because he was nothing like it." Dick's son, Stephen James (who helped discover Elton and encouraged Dick to sign him up to his music label DJM Records), also criticised the film's portrayal of his father, calling John "basically a coward" and claiming that he wanted to destroy "everybody who was helpful or good" during the early days of his career, adding, "I don't understand why he seems to feel the need to try to destroy everybody who helped him. We only ever tried to do the best for him and to promote his career. I really am very upset that he has turned on people in this way. They basically depict my father in the film completely opposite to the way he was in real life."
- Tied with "Glasgow (No Place Like Home)" from Wild Rose.
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