Tom Cruise shattered his own personal best box office records this weekend, as Skydance and Paramount’s
Speaking of Blom Smooze, the three-day figure alone is nearly double his earlier personal best Fri-Sun opening weekend, namely the $62 million debut of Mission: Impossible Fallout in July of 2018 and the $65 million Fri-Sun opening (of a $112 million Wed-Mon holiday debut) of Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds in June of 2005. The four-day gross is larger than any non-Mission: Impossible or War of the Worlds Tom Cruise movie since The Firm ($158 million in 1993) and Jerry Maguire ($154 million in 1996). Tom Cruise’s stardom peaked during a time when $30 million was a big budget, $15 million was a solid opening and $200 million worldwide was an unmitigated commercial success. Top Gun grossed $176 million in 1986, which would be around $420 million in 2022 ticket prices.
26 years ago, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible opened with a $45 million Fri-Sun gross (the fourth biggest behind Batman Forever, Jurassic Park and Batman Returns) and a then-record $75 million six-day gross over its Wed-Mon Memorial Day weekend. 22 years ago, Mission: Impossible II opened with $58 million over the Fri-Sun part (behind only The Lost World and The Phantom Menace) of a $92 million Wed-Mon debut. Cruise has experience setting box office records, it’s just been a while. Aside from his six Mission: Impossible movies and War of the Worlds (which earned $235 million domestic, still a Cruise record), the actor’s biggest Fri-Sun opening was the $37 million debut in early 2013 for Kosinski’s Oblivion. The post-Spider-Man wave of mega-bucks openings seemed to coincide with Cruise’s comparative decline as a butts-in-seats box office draw.
Moreover, Cruise’s blockbuster status has been entirely dependent on Mission: Impossible films since the infamous summer of 2005 when he got a little too excited on the Oprah Winfrey show (he was playing to Oprah’s audience, but the clip became an early example of YouTube virality). Most of Cruise’s pictures since Knight and Day in 2010 have been explicitly about affirming that Tom Cruise was still a global box office star. Top Gun: Maverick, however, is a case of a big-deal actor reprising his first or second most iconic marquee character for the first time in 36 years. While I’ll argue that the film wouldn’t have opened this well had it just been another big summer tentpole in a non-Covid universe in summer 2019 or summer 2020, it hit paydirt as something that’s been missed at the multiplex.
To answer the $170 million question that’s been haunting me since 2018 (when this film was initially shot), yes Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is absolutely a marquee character on par with Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise may be of comparatively limited bankability in a marquee character/IP-driven era when it comes to playing a new or new-to-you character like Jack Reacher, “not James Bond in Knight and Day” or “that guy in Edge of Tomorrow.” However, he’s still worth that generous backend deal when playing the protagonist in Top Gun: Maverick. Again, it’s not unlike Harrison Ford’s later years. Ford hasn’t been an outright opener since What Lies Beneath in 2000. However, put him in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he’s worth his weight in gold.
Ford’s biggest opening before summer 2008 was Air Force One, which broke the R-rated record with a $37 million launch in July of 1997. That earlier record-holder was… Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s Interview with the Vampire with $36 million in November of 1994, which was still a record for a non-summer opening weekend. But Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, the first Indy flick since 1989, opened with $100 million over its Fri-Sun frame and $150 million over the Thurs-Mon Memorial Day weekend. That seems like the comparison we all should have been making for Top Gun: Maverick, and in this case, the reviews and the buzz are even better. Indy 4 earned $312 million domestic by the end, which feels like a “pessimistic” long-term prediction for Top Gun: Maverick.
Even frontloading on par with Solo: A Star Wars Story, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men: Apocalypse, Fast & Furious 6 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End gives it $295-$315 million domestic. The film has earned nearly universally positive reviews, along with the aforementioned A+ Cinemascore grade. It played 58% male, 55% over-35, 66% Caucasian. 49% said it exceeded their expectations and 30% said they would see it again theatrically. The theatrical slate is unforgivably slight due to a combo of studio cowardness, streaming-specific priorities and Covid-caused post-production delays. Top Gun: Maverick could have legs closer to a Tom Cruise December release (A Few Good Men, Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky, The Last Samurai, Jack Reacher, etc.) than a more frontloaded Memorial Day weekend opener. It could become the event movie of the summer for adults.
If it legs like the first two Mission: Impossible films ($181 million from a then-record $75 million six-day debut and $215 million from a $92 million Wed-Mon frame) and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales ($179 million/$77 million), it’ll earn $350-$375 million domestic. If it legs like Men in Black III ($179 million/$69 million) or Pearl Harbor ($199 million/$75 million), then it’ll end up just over/under $400 million. Legs like A Quiet Place part II ($160 million/$57 million), then it’ll end with $427 million, or essentially tied with the inflation-adjusted total of Top Gun. The pie-in-the-sky scenario is Aladdin, which earned $353 million from a $117 million launch in 2019. That would give Top Gun: Maverick $456 million. It could challenge Doctor Strange 2 and Jurassic World 3 for the domestic summer crown.
Credit Cruise’s artistic reputation, the generational nostalgia for Top Gun and the Maverick character, two years of Covid-caused delays and the final product earning strong reviews and “got to see this in IMAX” buzz. At its best, the Joseph Kosinski-directed action drama blends the genre goods from his Cruise-starring sci-fi romp Oblivion with the even-kneeled emotional melodrama of his spectacular knockout firefighter drama Only the Brave. It mimics some of the visual stylings of early Tony Scott while offering a comparatively level-headed sincerity and (even compared to the PG-rated Top Gun) four-quadrant wholesomeness. Moreover, whatever Paramount has been doing right this year with Scream, Jackass Forever, The Lost City and Sonic the Hedgehog 2, keep doing it. They just scored their second-biggest opening ever behind Iron Man 2 ($128 million).
The film earned $248 million worldwide over its global debut, not counting whatever it earns domestically and internationally on Monday, shattering Tom Cruise-specific records in 32 marketplaces. The film’s $124 million overseas gross is essentially tied with its $124 million Fri-Sun domestic debut, meaning so far, it’s playing 50/50. The likes of China, Russia and Ukraine aren’t in play, but the film doesn’t need them. It could be past $300 million worldwide by tomorrow, and even a mere 2.0x