Moviegoers feel the need, the need for speed. And as it turns out, nothing will get a bigger plurality of them out on Memorial Day weekend than the image of Tom Cruise speeding away in a fighter jet. Indeed, almost two years exactly since Top Gun: Maverick was originally supposed to be released, the movie now premieres with an opening weekend that gives the star and his studio the last laugh. As it stands, the Top Gun sequel is estimated to shatter multiple box office records, including for Memorial Day weekend* in the U.S. and for Cruise himself.
As per Paramount, Top Gun: Maverick’s box office will take in $124 million over the three-day window and a staggering $151 million across four days when the holiday is included. This blows past the current record-holder for the highest four-day Memorial Day debut, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, which earned $139.8 million over the same weekend in 2007.* Meanwhile it marks the biggest opening bow in Cruise’s history with it more than doubling War of the Worlds’ $64.9 million take in 2005. Even Cruise’s reliable and fairly beloved Mission: Impossible franchise has never opened bigger than 2018’s Fallout, which came out swinging with $61.2 million.
These are obviously big numbers for both Cruise and Paramount, and vindication for the movie that was delayed again and again as Paramount sought the perfect landing conditions. Originally, Top Gun: Maverick was intended to debut in June 2020 before “COVID-19” was in the global lexicon. It subsequently moved numerous times across the 2020 and 2021 movie release calendar before settling on this month’s Memorial Day. Over the years, there was a growing chorus of skepticism online and within corners of the industry about why the studio would not just use Top Gun: Maverick as a loss leader to buoy Paramount+ subscriptions, as Warner Bros. Pictures did with movies like Dune.
However, as Cruise reconfirmed at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this month, he does not make movies for Netflix or other streaming services. “I make movies for the big screen,” he said. And he’s provided striking proof of a different way forward for the industry at a moment where the sheen on streaming appears to be fading.
Of course it also helps that Top Gun: Maverick is the type of event picture that really can take audiences’ breath away. According to industry pollsters at CinemaScore, the Top Gun sequel has rapturous word of mouth, receiving the coveted “A+” rating from polled audiences, besting even the “A” CinemaScore earned by the first Top Gun in 1986. For context, the last major release to receive an “A+” CinemaScore was December’s box office darling, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
Unlike that Marvel Studios effort though, Top Gun: Maverick is bringing in an older-skewing audience, proving there is still at least a few movies big enough to get the over-35 crowd out to the multiplex. As per Deadline, over 45 percent of the audience was over the age of 45, and an impressive 21 percent of the audience was over the age of 55. These are the increasingly hard to reach moviegoers who once reliably went the cinema weekend after weekend, but have largely stayed away since the pandemic, much to the disappointment of movies like The Last Duel and West Side Story.
But those same audiences are now showing up for Cruise in a role that many of them, even those over 40, grew up watching him play. This certainly speaks to the continued value of “legacy sequels,” which famously has been a gimmick used to resurrect classic brands like Star Wars and Jurassic Park. However, it’s worth noting that those legacy sequels really were an attempt to reintroduce the concept to a new generation with new, younger characters taking the lead and then looking fawningly on at the “old guard.”
But, really, Top Gun: Maverick is a true sequel in the classic sense. Cruise’s Maverick isn’t returning in a supporting role to pass the torch to the next generation; he’s here to prove that no one can be better trusted in the cockpit than Mav, even if he’s pushing 60. And part of the appeal of the movie is Cruise’s onscreen persona proves he deserves that kind of following as he took the concept of Top Gun so much further than how it was done in ’86.
Of course the original movie is a classic for the aesthetic beauty director Tony Scott infused in his love letter to the U.S. Navy. Yet, other than a few brief close-ups of Cruise, none of the actors (including Cruise) are in actual aerial maneuvers or real jets for most of that picture. In Top Gun: Maverick, Cruise insisted he and a whole new generation of actors playing Navy pilots, including Miles Teller, Glen Powell, and Monica Barbara, really go up and be filmed while their planes were doing upwards of 6.5 G’s. In an age where most summer movies increasingly are designed in a computer, and everything onscreen has a flattening effect, the emphasis on real-world mountain ranges and deserts whizzing by gives Top Gun: Maverick a rare quality: genuine awe.
That plus the Top Gun sequel’s greater emphasis on plot and characterization over its predecessor makes it the unique sequel that can surpass the original. It also continues the trend we’ve previously observed of Cruise being the one movie star who gets better with age.
Audiences clearly think so, and they’ve given the star the box office to prove it.
(*While the official records place Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Memorial Day weekend box office at $139 million, Disney is stressing in 2022 that this 2007 figures does not include Thursday midnight showings, which were at that time not included in Friday hauls. If it is included, then Pirates would still hold the overall Memorial Day weekend with $153 million.)