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Why A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody aren’t musicals, according to the Golden Globes

Both films are nominated for Best Picture — Drama, even though they are two of the year’s most musical films.

Both Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born are up for Golden Globes — in drama categories.
Both Bohemian Rhapsody and A Star Is Born are up for Golden Globes — in drama categories.
20th Century Fox/Warner Bros.
Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Two of the year’s most musical films are nominated for Best Picture at the Golden Globes — but not in the category that recognizes musical films.


To the casual observer, the fact that A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody both landed in the Best Picture category for “drama” might seem like an error. (The Golden Globes split their film categories between drama and musical or comedy.)

Bohemian Rhapsody, which focuses on Queen lead singer Freddie Mercury, is full of the band’s songs. And its best scenes are musical — including one in which Queen records “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and one that culminates in an electric recreation of the band’s famous performance at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

A Star Is Born, the third remake of a classic Hollywood film, has a long history of being considered a musical. Its predecessor in 1976, starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, in fact won Best Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes, along with four other awards. And the 1954 version starring Judy Garland and James Mason won two Golden Globes for its leads in the musical and comedy acting categories. This new 2018 version is loaded with original songs; one of them, “Shallow,” was nominated for Best Original Song.

But both of these films showed up in the drama category, not musical or comedy. And there’s a reason for that.

The Golden Globes don’t have an obvious effect on the Oscars. But they can help.

For Hollywood, the Golden Globes are one of the most important stops on the way to the biggest prize of them all: the Oscars. The Globes don’t historically predict the Oscars. But the ceremony takes place the night before the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the industry organization that awards the Oscars, begins filling out ballots for nominations. So a Globes win — or, better, a series of wins — can help a movie stand out in the minds of Academy voters.

That means the people who manage Oscar campaigns for films — which are a lot like political campaigns, but with mercifully shorter timelines — are keen to position their movies properly in the minds of Oscar voters. And as Anne Thompson explains at Indiewire, there are a few reasons that a movie might be submitted as a drama at the Globes, instead of as a comedy/musical.

Sometimes it’s because a movie has a better chance of beating the competition in one category over another. For instance, last year, Lady Bird was submitted as a comedy, and it ended up winning both Best Musical or Comedy and Best Actress for Saoirse Ronan. Eventually, it nabbed five Oscar nominations (though it didn’t win any of them).

Sometimes, though, it’s because the Academy seems to ultimately assign more gravitas to films that competed in the Globes’ drama categories than those that were billed as a comedy or musical. By most reckonings, A Star Is Born is most properly a musical: It’s certainly dramatic, but its original songs advance the plot and describe the emotional state of the characters, which usually is the definition of a musical.

But Warner Bros., the studio behind A Star Is Born, is gunning for a raft of Oscars for the film: acting nods for Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, and possibly supporting actor Sam Elliott; original song (for “Shallow”); Best Director for Bradley Cooper, for whom the movie is his directorial debut; and, of course, Best Picture. Positioning the film as a drama at the Globes — and, with any luck, taking home some trophies — will likely boost its chances of being taken seriously by Academy members when it’s time to fill out Oscar nominations ballots.

And though Bohemian Rhapsody is filled with music, its entry into the drama category is likely for the same reason. Whether the film is really Best Picture material is debatable (I found the movie to be a perfunctory slog), but its studio, 20th Century Fox, is certainly working hard to get Rami Malek, who plays Mercury, a Best Actor berth, and a win in the category at the Globes would boost his chances at the Oscars.

If this all seems like a lot of strange, arbitrary positioning to you, you’re not wrong. Whether a film is nominated as a musical or comedy or as a drama at the Golden Globes may ultimately have an effect on the Oscars in some years. But it just as well may not. There’s no way to ensure a movie gets an Oscar nomination, particularly as the changing and diversifying Academy membership tries to breathe fresh life into what was once a predictable voting body.

Who wins, and in which category, is at best an expensive game — one that Hollywood will obsess over until the credits for the Oscar telecast finally roll in February.

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