‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Flies In For Memorial Day Weekend

After 36 years of waiting, Top Gun is finally getting a sequel, and it could not have come at a more opportune time. While the month of May got off to a terrific start led by Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, the box office has been in a free-fall since then, with last weekend’s overall gross of $75.6 million being lower than any pre-pandemic May weekend since 1999. Revving the summer box office back up this Memorial Day weekend is one of Hollywood’s last true movie stars, back in the role that first launched him into the stratosphere.

Tom Cruise returns to the cockpit for Top Gun: Maverick, a film that has been long in the making, with Cruise and Top Gun director Tony Scott in pre-production for the film before Scott’s death in 2012. Joseph Kosinski later got the gig, being no stranger to 80s revivals (Tron: Legacy) or Tom Cruise vehicles (Oblivion). Filming began in 2018, and a June 2020 release date was in place when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, causing a series of delays before it settled for the holiday weekend. Finally, Paramount is releasing it this week in 4,732 domestic locations (one of the widest releases ever) as well as in much of the world, though it hasn’t gotten a release date in China, a major market for Cruise (Mission: Impossible – Fallout grossed $181 million there).

In the new installment, Cruise gets to play both fighter pilot and teacher as Maverick is tasked with training the next generation of Top Gun grads for a secret mission. Miles Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, Glen Powell, Lewis Pullman, Ed Harris, and Val Kilmer co-star. At 97% on Rotten Tomatoes, it is Hollywood’s best reviewed film so far this year, and it has a two-week run to itself to milk the premium screens before Jurassic World Dominion hits. The aerial combat scenes are said to demand the big screen as they set a new benchmark for flight sequences, and as we saw with Cruise’s Mission: Impossible films, the marketing is promoting the practical over CG approach to the filmmaking and the intensive training the cast went through to pull it off.

The question is whether the combination of Cruise, the Top Gun brand, and the promise of real flying and real g-forces can entice both older audiences who made the first film a hit but have been slow to return to cinemas as well as younger audiences who don’t have the same nostalgic attachment to the original. Top Gun was the biggest film of 1986 and in the top ten for the decade, but three and a half decades later it isn’t clear how much pull the idea of a Top Gun sequel still has with moviegoers. Either way, though, it could still lift off in a big way if people see it as a corollary to the Mission: Impossible series, with Cruise continuing to push the envelope stuntwise as he flies fighter jets with IMAX cameras in his face. It could also benefit from stronger legs than the average blockbuster as we saw with the last two Mission: Impossible films which had multipliers of 3.5-3.6, with great reviews and word of mouth propelling them beyond the opening.

Cruise has proven himself to still be a major box office draw…with the right projects. His most recent film Mission: Impossible – Fallout was the highest grossing film of his career worldwide with $791 million, and the previous two M:I films rank second and third, both with cumes approaching $700 million. However, outside of Cruise’s flagship franchise, his recent track record has been spotty despite some modest successes. Excluding the M:I films, The Mummy ($409 million) was his biggest hit globally since War of the Worlds in 2005, and domestically Edge of Tomorrow ($100.2 million) was his biggest since the Spielberg directed alien invasion film (not counting his cameo in Tropic Thunder). This is from the star who could routinely make hits out of original titles that were by no means sure bets, with 12 non-M:I films to gross over $100 million domestically but only one post-2005.

The good news is that Top Gun 2 is expected to play more like one of the Mission: Impossible films than the rest of his recent output, and there is the strong possibility of a career best opening (currently held by War of the Worlds at $64.9 million, though that would have been higher had it not had a Wednesday opening). It looks likely to clear $100 million over the long weekend, which would make it at least a top eight opener for the holiday frame. Factor in the killer reviews and Cruise’s extensive overseas promo tour, and the $170 million budget doesn’t look like it will be hard to recoup even with the biggest international market out of play.

Also going wide this weekend is the animated feature The Bob’s Burgers Movie from 20th Century Studios, based on the acclaimed irreverent sitcom Bob’s Burgers about a family that runs a burger joint. The show has a cult following that has stuck with it through 12 seasons and counting, and even if it largely plays to the devoted it could still be a relatively successful counter-programmer. The strong reviews (92% on RT) indicate that the film has the potential to draw in new fans, and as theatrical comedies and family films are in short supply there is reason to be optimistic that the film will expand from its core fanbase. With a 3400+ theater count, the studio is certainly expecting to preach beyond the choir, and they’re citing a weekend prediction of $10-14 million.

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