It’s been a really incredible year for Paramount Pictures. The studio has been the butt of the joke for quite a while now, in large part due to the fact that they are really lacking in “franchisable” properties in an era where franchises dominate the market. On top of that, their attempts and using the franchises they have left (Transformers, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Trek, a variety of other Nickelodeon properties, etc…) have generally fallen flat both critically and commercially outside of Mission Impossible (a franchise which itself is rumored to be ending with Dead Reckoning Part 2). And yet, in the wake of (and potentially thanks to) a pandemic neutralizing the studios and clearing out the first half of 2022, Paramount has managed to do the seemingly impossible and launch FOUR successful films over the course of the past five months.
January started off with the surprisingly strong launch of Scream (6), which opened number one with $30 million and legged out to gross nearly six times is ‘sexy’ $24 million budget. Jackass Forever followed in February with another surprising number one open of $23 million and legged out thanks to cross generational appeal to $74 million worldwide. The Lost City followed in March, on the heels of The Batman, and showed that, at the very least, Sandra Bullock is still a genuine movie star as the film opened to $30 million in the number one spot and has legged out to (or at least, will leg out to by this weekend) $100 million domestic making it the the best performing, no-IP-based film in at least three years in the US market. It also did this in tandem with the Sonic the Hedgehog sequel opening a week later which has done fantastic business domestically and abroad, outdoing its COVID-kneecapped predecessor and opening number one with $72 million while grossign over four times is $90 million budget. So yeah, Paramount has had a remarkable success story unfold over the course of this year which has seen it launch four successful films in a row, all opening to number one at the weekend box office. This all set the stage for their biggest, most high-profile launch yet: Top Gun Maverick.
A sequel to the 80s classic, this film has been in the works for at least a decade, with many stops and starts, before finally filming in 2018 and being set for a June 2020 release. Of course, that went the way of the doodoo when COVID shutdown the entire film market, and the film was then pushed back at least four times in order to avoid depressed box office before finally settling on a release this weekend. Paramount had, to some “notoriously”, sold off several of its films to streaming services in the wake of the pandemic in order to remain financially solvent (The Lovebirds, The Tomorrow War, Without Remorse, etc…) but remained extremely bullish on Top Gun: Maverick getting a theatrical release, largely because Tom Cruise is arguably (like Sandra Bullock) one of the last real movie stars. Clearly, they knew they had something special on their hands as pre-release buzz for the film was white hot, and the reviews have done nothing but amplify that heat. With a 97% on Rotten Tomates (and an 8.2/10 average score), most critics rave that it surpasses the original (not that hard because the original isn’t all that great, at least in my opinion) in every way and presesnts a production of incredible polish, sophistication, and style that salutes an classical style of spectacle and star-driven filmmaking that hasn’t been seen in mass since th early 90s. Reported to be a throwback in the best possible way, the expectation is that Top Gun: Maverick will open number one at the box office this Memorial day weekend and dominate with potentially our third $100+ million opening weeked of the year. I can wholeheartedly say that I agree with one of those two predictions.
Undeniably, Maverick will open at number one. Memorial day weekend is a fantastic release window for this film given its military angle and its revered treatment of our men and women in service (part of my desire to see this movies comes out of a love for my Grandfather, who was a member of the first graduating class of the Air Force Academy and is the most decorated pilot to come out of the Vietnam War). It also helps that its coming out in relatively empty corridor on the release schedule as its only competition this weekend is that of The Bob’s Burgers Movie, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has already been out for three weeks (and burned out faster than expected), and the two preceeding films from last weekend, Downton Abbey: A New Era and Men, each opened weaker than expected and cater to totally different audiences than the brazenly commercial and spectacle-driven reboot that is Top Gun: Maverick. That’s not to mention that, with four days to spread its wings, Maverick absolutely has a ton of run way to gross millions. My only issue is with just how high many expect this film to go. Man pundits are predicting a potential $120+ million opening for the film, but they seem to be ignoring several factors here.
The larger issue I have with these predictions is that Tom Cruise, while undeniably a box office heavy hitter with tons of very strong box office-performers under his belt, has never been able to open movies very big. The largest box office opening of his career is that of War of the Worlds in 2005, which opened to just $64 million. I know that many movie starts would kill for an opening weekend that big, but given Cruise’s status, you think he could open movies even bigger. This a man whose Mission Impossible films regularly cross $200 million domestically, and yet he’s never had a $100+ million opening in his entire career. His highest grosssing film is Mission Impossible: Fallout which earned $220 million domestically and $787 million worldwide, and prior to Maverick, that is his most recent film! I’m not criticizing Cruise’s box office at all. As I said before, any actor would be thrilled to have a box office resume like his, and he is especially valuable to a study as while his movies don’t open huge, they leg out for months at at time. Fallout, for example, had a x3.6 multiplier, legging from a $61 million opening to the aforementioned $220 million domestic gross, in large part because audiences recognize Cruise’s name as synonymous with high-quality filmmaking and will absolutely see his films in theaters at some point. I think this will absolutely happen to Maverick as its reviews suggest that it delivers the adrenaline and spectacle of his Mission Impossible films (its written by Christopher McQuarrie, who directed the last two M:I films, and directed by Joseph Kosinski, whom I consider to be the most undervalued director currently working in Hollywood, so I believe it) and it has absolutely no competition for the next two weeks until Jurassic World: Dominion hits theaters. All that said, however, I struggle to picture Maverick opening to such massive grosses as $120-150 million over the course of this weekend because Cruise’s appeal has never worked that way. There’s a first time for everything, but I’m not sure its with this film.
The other reason I struggle with this prediction is because, well, this is a Top Gun sequel. That may seem reductive and plain stupid as a statement given just how many reboots and remakes have done very well over the course of the past decade, but the original Top Gun is a very specific film. It was a major success in 1986, grossing $357 million worldwide which was nearly 24x its budget at the time ($15 million to this sequel’s $170 million; holy inflation, Batman!). Directed by the late Tony Scott, Top Gun was stylish, sexy, and offered incredible spectacle in the form of aerial fights that have allowed it to stand the test of time across hundreds of re-release over the years. It continues to be a popular DVD seller and online rental and regularly airs on TV. It helped define a generation of moviegoers and even inspired a large amount of people to join the military. It is undeniably culturally significant, but even the staunchest of Top Gun apologists will not argue the merits of its characters. Outside of the aerial fights, its pretty much universally acknowledged that the film’s story is unengaging, the characters are thinly written, and the movie is overal stronger when they aren’t directly on screen. Bringing this film back, until quite recently, has been something of a joke for a while, in large part because today’s moviegoing audiences, who easy access to the internet and feverishly research deconstruct most films to wild extents before even thinking about purchasing a ticket, are not as easily one over by sheet spectacle. While not universal, it can be argued that most audiences are more discerning today than they were in 80s; maybe a bit too discerning as many moviegoers seem to have forgotten to just have fun with a movie, but the notion still stands. I have no issue believing that older moviegoers will absolutely show up to Maverick as it was a staple of their young adult lives, but younger moviegoers (18-34) who power the box office are less likely to do so a s they have no connection to the original film. That’s another very real hurdle for Maverick to overcoming this weekend.
So just how big will it open? Well, after saying all that, I may need to eat my words as the Friday grosses suggest that I’m a total idiot. Maverick has reportedly pulled in $51.8 million as of yesterday, which pundits say is setting the stage for a likely $150 million in the 4-Day Memorial day weekend frame. With $19.3 million in Thursday previews, its projected that Maverick will see $120+ million in the 3-Day frame as well. It has everything so far, strong box office out of the gate, greate reviews, and even more amazingly, an A+ Cinemascore. Even with all that, however, I still am cautious. I’m still having trouble imaging it going that high for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned. For that, I will keep moderate and predict that it does just about $100 million in the 3-Day corridor, with a ceiling of $120 million in the 4-Day. If it goes higher than that, that’s incredible, and I will happily celebrate; but as Tom Cruise himeself has said, “Show me the money” first.