Cutting the Rocketman sex scene, as was rumored prior to the film's release, would have actually made the Elton John musical biopic worse. Rocketman, starring Taron Egerton as John, follows the musician's life from learning to play the piano as a child through his rise to fame and his struggles with addiction and depression. The movie also depicts John's sexuality and private life, including his relationship with manager John Reid (Richard Madden). As John and Reid fall in love, Rocketman features a sex scene between Egerton and Madden's characters that became the focus of much discussion prior to the movie's release.
In March, it was reported that studio Paramount demanded director Dexter Fletcher and producer Matthew Vaughn remove the nude sex scene so that Rocketman could get a PG-13 rating in the U.S., presumably with the hopes of opening it up to more viewers and more potential profit. Fletcher was quick to debunk the report that Paramount asked for the Rocketman sex scene to be cut, and Madden has since said it would be a disservice to John to cut a key part of the musician's life. More recently, John wrote about his experience of getting the movie made, and revealed he had to fight to make sure studios made an R-rated Rocketman that didn't tone down the sex and drugs that were part of his life.
Certainly, Rocketman would have been worse without all the other scenes that accurately portray John's life as it was, sex, drugs, profane language and all. (Rocketman is officially rated R for "language throughout, some drug use and sexual content.") But cutting this particular sex scene between John and Reid would have been egregious because it would both erase a core aspect of John's sexuality - the actual sex - and because it's key to understanding John's relationship with Reid.
Throughout the movie, Reid becomes a kind of villain in John's story, someone who manipulated John and outright abused him in one shocking instance. The scene in which Reid hits John is all the more shocking in its physicality because it's contrasted in Rocketman by their sex scene, which is one of happiness and tender vulnerability. Without the sex scene depicting John and Reid forming a true connection, the rest of their relationship pushes the boundaries of belief. Viewers might wonder why John would stay with such a blatantly abusive man, and the answer is in the sex scene: Because Reid is the first man John forms that real connection with and because John loves Reid.
So cutting Rocketman's sex scene would have not only toned down John's sexuality - something Bohemian Rhapsody was accused of doing to Freddie Mercury, for which the movie was rightly criticized - it would have undermined a major narrative thread of the film. It's clear that the sex scene in Rocketman was key to Lee Hall's script and cutting it during the editing process wouldn't have been a simple task. In fact, Rocketman would have been worse for removing the sex scene if Paramount had been pushing for it to be cut. However, the movie is now in theaters with the sex scene in tact, and based on the Rocketman reviews, it seems the film benefits from portraying John's life for exactly how it was, sex, drugs and all.
- Rocketman (2019) release date: May 31, 2019