There’s no denying that Bohemian Rhapsody was a box office smash upon its release in 2018, but now the studio behind the biopic, 20th Century Fox, is claiming the film actually lost money to the tune of $51 million.
The claim surfaced as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Queen and Freddie Mercury biopic’s screenwriter, Anthony McCarten, against producer Graham King and his production company GK Films. The filing alleges that McCarten’s agreement with King was to receive five percent of the production company’s backend profit. However, the producer shifted the responsibility for such financial matters to Fox and eventually parent company Disney, and McCarten has yet to be paid.
The studio argues that not only are the terms of McCarten’s deal different under their definition of “defined net proceeds,” but that they shouldn’t have to pay at all if the movie is more than $50 million in the red. How they reached that number isn’t clear; the film’s total budget was around $50 million, and it’s estimated to have grossed just south of a billion dollars worldwide. It doesn’t take a degree in mathematics to think this doesn’t add up.
Hollywood has a long history of creative accounting measures, with studios claiming certain big-budget films didn’t turn a profit even if the box office numbers say otherwise. Take, for example, the financial saga that plagued Lord of the Rings when, back in 2005, Peter Jackson filed a lawsuit alleging he was underpaid by millions of dollars because New Line Cinema fraudulently mishandled the revenue for The Fellowship of the Ring. Responding to the lawsuit, the studio claimed they couldn’t pay Jackson because the trilogy wasn’t really that profitable.
More recently, a 2010 profit and loss statement from Warner Brothers claimed 2007’s Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix lost $167 million despite making a massive $938 million at the worldwide box office, all thanks to their use of net profit accounting.
Bohemian Rhapsody set all-time box office records for the biopic genre and earned a bevy of awards, including four Oscars, two BAFTAs, two Golden Globes, and a SAG Award. In 2019, reports began circulating that a sequel was “being heavily discussed in the Queen family.”
McCarten is currently writing the Whitney Houston biopic, I Wanna Dance with Somebody.