Box Office: ‘Top Gun 2’ Is Paramount’s Biggest Blockbuster Since ‘Titanic’

With $2 million on Monday, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick will today pass $600 million in raw domestic grosses. That keeps it in twelfth place behind Incredibles 2 ($609 million), Star Wars: The Last Jedi ($620 million) and The Avengers ($623 million). Once it passes those films, as early as the end of this weekend, it’s a longer climb to the lifetime totals of Jurassic World ($652 million) and Titanic ($659 million). The original 1997/1998 theatrical run of Titanic, which saw the Kate Winslet/Leonardo DiCaprio melodrama top the weekend box office for 15 straight weekends, totaled $600.7 million. So, sans the 2012 3-D reissue (and obviously sans the upcoming Valentine’s Day 2023 rerelease already on tap), Top Gun: Maverick is now Paramount’s biggest domestic grosser ever. Heck, it’s one of their biggest domestic earners ever even when adjusted for inflation. It’s their biggest “tickets sold” smash since the James Cameron shipwreck masterpiece.

The current $601 million domestic cume is ninth among all Paramount releases in terms of adjusted-for-inflation domestic grosses. It sits behind Beverly Hills Cop ($234 million in 1984, the biggest R-rated grosser until The Matrix Reloaded in the summer of 2003, which comes out to around $616 million adjusted), Love Story ($106 million in 1970/$640 million adjusted), Grease ($159 million in 1978/$190 million counting the 1998 reissue that almost knocked Titanic out of the top spot/$705 million adjusted), Forrest Gump ($329 million in 1994/$719 million adjusted), The Godfather ($133 million in 1972/$722 million adjusted), Raiders of the Lost Ark ($212 million in 1981/$248 million lifetime cume/$810 million adjusted), The Ten Commandments ($65.5 million in 1956/$1.199 billion adjusted) and Titanic ($601 million in 1997/$659 million lifetime cume/$1.24 billion adjusted). Regarding reissues versus original runs, we’ll cross that bridge if Top Gun 2 tops $636 million (Grease) or $712 million (Raiders).

What’s… weirdly fitting about this major theatrical triumph is that the Joseph Kosinski-directed actioner is a prototypical Paramount genre flick. That’s neither a compliment nor a criticism. I’m thinking of Paramount’s 1990’s and 2000s output as stuff like (among other films) The Hunt for Red October, The Firm, Face/Off, Double Jeopardy, Rules of Engagement, The Manchurian Candidate and Eagle Eye. They are all mostly well-made, well-received, star-driven, adult-skewing real-world actioners that mostly play to adults but (depending on the project) can be enjoyed by older kids. Heck, Transformers was arguably a stereotypical Michael Bay action movie with alien robots. At the same time, Jon Favreau’s Iron Man was a real-world Paramount actioner melded with Transformers-style visuals with a costumed superhero. G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was a gee-whiz ensemble action fantasy two years before Thor cemented that tone for the MCU, and Captain America: The Winter Soldier was Tom Clancy in tights.

While Paramount ruled the tentpole game from 2007 (Transformers) to 2014 (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), Disney bought Marvel and then took over the MCU while DreamWorks Animation went to Fox (and then Comcast) while Blumhouse (which delivered Paranormal Activity) now primarily works with Universal. Meanwhile, the star-driven studio programmer collapsed in late 2015/early 2016 as the audience demographic for “just a high concept, star-driven movie” shifted from theaters to streaming platforms. Disney had the prized IP (Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, etc.). Universal had its homegrown franchises (Jurassic, Fast and Furious, Illumination), WB still had DC Comics, their New Line horror titles and J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. Paramount made its name on “just a movie” studio programmers only to watch its best IP go elsewhere and find glory approximating the stereotypical Paramount actioner. See also: Star Trek floundering after Star Wars returned and Guardians of the Galaxy and Fast and Furious rendered it irrelevant.

Paramount wasn’t the only studio dinged by this “marquee characters > IP > actors” shift. While Sony would have welcomed a Ghostbusters III in the 1990s, it wasn’t a necessity that every Sony smash be turned into an eternally monetizable IP, not when “an Adam Sandler comedy” or “a Will Smith actioner” was enough to score a theatrical hit. The first real-world action movie to top the global summer box office since Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible II is Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick. Paramount has slowly watched Disney’s MCU render many of its prized IP franchises (Transformers, Star Trek, G.I. Joe, TMNT, etc.) borderline useless in terms of marquee characters and top-of-the-line spectacle. There is sweet revenge or full circle satisfaction in watching a real-world, adult-skewing, stand-alone (it doesn’t set up a threequel), Tom Cruise-starring fighter pilot action drama towering over the domestic and worldwide competition.

It’s not just that a Paramount franchise flick is tops for the summer (and possibly the year). It’s not even that the domestic gross of Top Gun: Maverick, which is still an IP-specific, nostalgic legacy sequel, is about to pass the Chinese gross of The Battle at Lake Changjin 2 ($612 million) to make it the first time since 2019 (following The Eight Hundred in 2020 and The Battle at Lake Changjin in 2021) that a Hollywood movie has ruled the year for single-market grosses. It’s that a distinctly Paramount picture is achieving these milestones. Next up will be passing Incredibles 2 to become, sans inflation, the biggest-grossing “part two” of all time. Once it passes $621 million, it’ll be behind Shrek 2, The Dark Knight and The Empire Strikes Back among inflation-adjusted first sequels. Your move, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever and Avatar: The Way of Water. How many miracles is that now?

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