As part of Netflix’s shareholder call yesterday, during which they reported that they had “only” lost 972,000 subscribers in the previous quarter, they tossed out a chart showing Twitter chatter for the big Memorial Day weekend entertainment properties. Simply put, the social media content related to Stranger Things was near the top of the chart, Obi-Wan Kenobi was right in the middle and Top Gun: Maverick was near the bottom. However, as we constantly need to relearn, Twitter discourse is not the real world and doesn’t represent general audience interests, not when its YouTubers complaining about the “M-She-U,” not when its Film Twitter decrying Bohemian Rhapsody and not when, well, almost everything released to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In a related note, Obi-Wan Kenobi has earned zero dollars in revenue, as has Stranger Things season four, while Top Gun: Maverick just passed $623 million in North America alone, past Star Wars: The Last Jedi and The Avengers.
This puts Paramount and Skydance’s $170 million legacy sequel in ninth place on the all-timer domestic earners list and (presuming a continued 50/50 split as of Sunday) around $1.25 billion worldwide, past Fate of the Furious ($1.236 billion) and Incredibles 2 ($1.242 billion) and just behind Beauty and the Beast ($1.273 billion counting a 2020 reissue) for 19th place. It is already the biggest grossing “part two” sequel in raw domestic earnings and the third-biggest worldwide behind Avengers: Age of Ultron ($1.405 billion) and Frozen II ($1.45 billion). The audiences who watched Top Gun 2 in a theater are likely among the demographics not to A) spend much time on social media and B) not breathlessly tweet about their entertainment habits. Oh, and while plenty will live-tweet their favorite television show, I imagine very few people will be live-tweeting during a theatrical showing of Top Gun: Maverick. Those audiences don’t trend, but they did spend.
At this rate, they will keep spending. With just Nope, DC League of Super-Pets and Bullet Train over the next three weeks and little else until mid-September (The Woman King, Don’t Worry Darling, a rerelease of Avatar), we may see the Tom Cruise/Jennifer Connelly/Miles Teller/Glen Powell action drama return to IMAX (and possibly related PLF auditoriums) in mid-August or Labor Day. At this juncture, we could see a domestic total above Jurassic World ($652 million in 2015), Titanic ($659 million counting the 2012 3-D reissue) and possibly Avengers: Infinity War ($679 million in 2018) to place sixth on the all-timer list. I’m guessing Black Panther’s $700 million finish is a bridge too far, both for Top Gun: Maverick and (for what it’s worth) Black Panther: Wakanda Forever when the latter opens in November. If it reaches seventh place, it’ll be the third biggest non-Disney grosser ever behind Sony’s Spider-Man: No Way Home and Fox’s Avatar.
This isn’t to say “theaters > streaming,” although in terms of raw revenue there’s a reason why Hollywood didn’t just walk away from theaters 15 years ago when the technology for streaming and VOD became normalized. However, Paramount is going to make hundreds of millions of dollars in profit from theatrical revenue and the related post-theatrical streams (including, I’d wager, massive DVD/Blu-ray sales) all tied to the jaw-dropping theatrical result. Moreover, Stranger Things season four became Netflix’s first English-language show to earn over one billion hours while Obi-Wan pulled solid Disney+ viewership concurrently with Top Gun: Maverick’s record-crushing theatrical run. All three high profile items pulled arguably best-case-scenario viewership and/or revenue concurrently. As I (and others) have been saying for the last two years, streaming and theaters can coexist if they are allowed to do so. Otherwise, it won’t be one unmitigated victor but (if theaters crumble and streamers become reliant on in-house content) mutually assured destruction.