While Steven Spielberg might have been exaggerating when he told Tom Cruise that Top Gun: Maverick saved cinema, the director was not wrong about the Top Gun sequel’s impact on the industry. Very few movies can boast Top Gun: Maverick’s combination of critical acclaim and financial success. The blockbuster sequel might have taken a lengthy 36 years to make, but when Top Gun’s long-delayed follow-up finally flew into cinemas in the summer of 2022, the resounding response was that the movie was worth the wait. This was reflected in the astounding box office performance of Top Gun: Maverick.
While a lot of blockbusters released between 2020 and 2022 had been optimistically positioned as the movie that would get moviegoers back into cinemas, Top Gun: Maverick definitively earned that title. While Top Gun: Maverick is a great streaming experience too, the movie was designed to be a theatrical spectacle first and foremost. Top Gun: Maverick saw Joseph Kosinski take inspiration from Top Gun’s iconic original director, action cinema legend Tony Scott. As such, it is no surprise that Steven Spielberg acknowledged Top Gun: Maverick’s impact in conversation with Tom Cruise.
Top Gun: Maverick’s Success Was So Important
At a luncheon for Oscar nominees, Spielberg told Tom Cruise that “Top Gun: Maverick might have saved the entire theatrical industry.” At first glance, this could seem like a self-congratulatory remark from one Hollywood titan to another. However, Spielberg is right. The post-pandemic cinema landscape is littered with big movies that were meant to mark the end of COVID-19’s impact on the industry. Until Top Gun: Maverick achieved box office success, all of these projects, from Tenet to No Time To Die, failed to reach the level of cultural impact that would mark the end of cinema’s pandemic era.
Top Gun: Maverick was the first blockbuster that did extraordinary business without requiring the caveat “…for a post-COVID release.” While Tenet was an outright flop, No Time To Die performed well internationally but still struggled to reach or surpass pre-pandemic box-office norms. Spider-Man: No Way Home was undeniably a massive success, but the late 2021 release had the benefit of the MCU’s considerable clout behind it. Not only that, Spider-Man: No Way Home was the only 2021 movie to pass the $1 billion mark. In contrast, the months following Top Gun: Maverick’s release saw both Jurassic World: Dominion and Avatar: The Way of Water reach this milestone.
Why Top Gun: Maverick Needed Theatrical Distribution
Everything about the Tom Cruise movie sequel is designed to be seen on a big screen. It was a gamble to optimize everything from sound mixing to shooting styles for big-screen viewing, but this approach paid off critically and commercially. Top Gun: Maverick’s groundbreaking filming techniques put camera operators inside the cockpits of functioning planes and left actors filming themselves flying real aircraft. These were wild choices that would not have paid off if their impact was limited to a smaller screen upon release. The sort of filmmaking that Top Gun: Maverick utilized demands a big screen, much like Avatar: The Way of Water’s effects-heavy spectacle did later in 2022.
Although Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick romance subplot and character drama were more effective and emotionally engaging than the original movie’s cornier story, this would not have mattered if the sequel failed to deliver on high-octane action. When Paramount repeatedly pushed back the blockbuster’s release date from mid-2020 to late 2021 to May 2022, some commentators understandably wondered whether this would spell the kiss of death for the project. However, as Spielberg noted in his comments to Cruise, Top Gun: Maverick’s success instead proved that the multiplex is still a healthy institution, affirming the industry’s faith in cinemas. The impact of this can already be seen in unexpected places.
How Top Gun: Maverick Impacted The Box Office
Since the success of Top Gun: Maverick, Avatar: The Way of Water has outstripped Cruise’s movie to set a slew of box office records. Thanks to this one-two punch, it can be said for certain that the box office is back in a big way. Elsewhere, two horror movies, the Stephen King adaptation The Boogyeman and franchise reboot Evil Dead Rise, were promoted to theatrical runs after enthusiastic test screenings, even though both movies were originally earmarked for VOD releases.
While Top Gun: Maverick was not quite the miracle cure Steven Spielberg suggests, it triggered a resurgence of big screen spectacle that simply had to be seen in theaters. Even better, the sequel’s influence appears to have carried forward into 2023. Top Gun: Maverick may not have ended up being 2022’s biggest box office earner but, as Spielberg told Cruise, the Top Gun sequel proved cinema has escaped the danger zone.
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