By Nicole Lyn Pesce
“Top Gun: Maverick” could take Tom Cruise’s career to new heights.
The long-awaited sequel to the 1986 hit “Top Gun” lands in theaters Memorial Day weekend following two years of COVID-induced delays . And analysts are predicting that this will be the biggest opening weekend box office of Cruise’s career.
“Maverick” took off early with $19.3 million in previews from Thursday 3 p.m. showtimes and a one-time 7 p.m. Tuesday fan event, Deadline reports .
That’s the highest-grossing preview ever for the ViacomCBS Inc.-owned Paramount, the report continues, as well as the highest-grossing Memorial Day preview to date.
The “Top Gun” sequel’s trajectory is also aiming to be a personal best for Cruise. While the 59-year-old actor has starred in several iconic 1980s and 1990s films such as “Risky Business,” “Rain Man,” “A Few Good Men” and “Jerry Maguire,” not to mention the “Mission: Impossible” film franchise since then, he has yet to see a film crack $65 million — let alone $100 million — over an opening weekend. “War of the Worlds” in 2005 has been his best opening weekend box office at $64.8 million over three days.
That’s not to say he hasn’t had a successful career; he has earned more than $10 billion at the global box office since 1981. But the “Top Gun” sequel is expected to fly even higher. And the first “Top Gun” opened to $8.1 million the weekend before Memorial Day in 1986, or roughly $21.6 million in today’s money .
Box office analysts are betting that “Top Gun: Maverick” will gross at least $92 million at the domestic box office over the four-day holiday weekend in 2022 — and that’s a conservative estimate. Industry insiders at Box Office Mojo and Deadline have suggested that the sequel could go well over $100 million domestically. Some exhibitors have even speculated the weekend take-home could cross $125 million , according the Hollywood Reporter.
And a blockbuster opening weekend can translate into a fat bonus for Cruise. He is one of a handful of traditional movie stars who gets paid upfront before his studio gets paid from box office receipts, Variety has explained , as well as reaping bonuses for hitting box office milestones on the back end. So while he’s earning a reported $13 million for his upfront acting fee, alone, in “Top Gun: Maverick,” he’s also entitled to tens of millions of dollars after certain box office milestones are achieved over the life of the film, Variety reports. And “Maverick” is expected to soar.
There is still some question as to whether a “Top Gun” sequel has wings 36 years later. Analysts say the signs point to yes.
A recap: The original “Top Gun” saw Cruise playing Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell, a talented by reckless pilot tapped for the elite Naval Fighter Weapons School, or TOPGUN. It was the biggest film of 1986 , and stayed in the top 10 for a decade. And it made Cruise a super star.
He returns in the sequel as Maverick, now a captain and test pilot, who trains a group of younger fighter pilots. Early reviews have been favorable, and the film has scored a 97% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes so far. Pent-up demand and positive word-of-mouth, combined with the fact that there’s no serious summer tentpole movie competition until “Jurassic World Dominion” stomps into theaters two weeks from now, could drive audiences into theaters.
There has also been buzz about how Cruise actually led a three-month flight course for the “Top Gun: Maverick” cast so they could film the pilots in the air in real F-18 fighter jets, actually experiencing g-forces on film. (He feels the need for speed.)
And Cruise has been making the publicity rounds to promote his new film around the world, including a late April preview at Las Vegas CinemaCon; a red carpet world premiere aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier at a San Diego naval base; and Cruise flying into Cannes Film Festival last week for a masterclass and Palme d’Or (Golden Palm) award.
He’s even tweeting about it.
As is Val Kilmer, aka Iceman, who played Cruise’s rival in the first film.