Four Ways Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Could Make Box Office History

Skydance and Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick earned another $14.9 million on Wednesday, barely dropping at all from its $15.8 million Tuesday gross. The Monday-to-Tuesday drop was –53%, a terrific hold for a big Memorial Day opener. Aladdin also dropped 53% for a $12 million Tuesday gross in 2019, but then dropped 37% (reasonable under the circumstances) on day six. Top Gun: Maverick dropped… 6%. The film has earned $191.1 million in six days and should fly past $200 million domestic sometime today, possibly ending its first week in North American theaters with around $205 million. It has already leapfrogged past Tron: Legacy ($170 million from a $44 million debut in late 2010) to become director Joseph Kosinski’s biggest domestic earner. Oh, and Kosinski’s true-life firefighter melodrama Only the Brave was one the best movies of 2017 and is available to rent under-$5. Just saying…

Top Gun: Maverick is about to be Tom Cruise’s biggest domestic earner of all time.

With no competition this weekend (all due respect to Crimes of the Future and Watcher) and everything (reviews, word-of-mouth, buzz, etc.) working in its favor, the $170 million sequel should pass Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds ($235 million in 2005) this weekend to become Tom Cruise’s biggest unadjusted domestic grosser ever. Yes, Cruise made his mark in the 1980’s and 1990’s back when a movie like Top Gun ($180 million domestic counting $4 million in reissues) and Rain Man ($176 million) was an unthinkably huge smash hit just for clearing $350 million worldwide. What’s interesting is that Top Gun: Maverick is a distinctly old-school Tom Cruise movie (including an emphasis on real-world drama with no explicit villain sans much “hard” violence and a lack of fantastical gimmicks) that’s playing like a tentpole/IP-era blockbuster. And yeah, at least for now, Pete “Maverick” Mitchell > Ethan Hunt.

Top Gun: Maverick could sell more tickets in North America than even the first Top Gun.

If it keeps playing better than Aladdin in terms of holds and drops, then it’s still looking at a domestic total of over/under $500 million domestic. Likewise, American Sniper (another “huge in the heartland and playing to non-regular moviegoers” blockbuster) opened with $109 million on its wide MLK Fri-Mon debut in 2015, dropped 27% in weekend two and then ended up with a $350 million domestic total. That will also get Top Gun: Maverick past $500 million domestic. If that sounds hyperbolic, it almost certainly is. But plenty of more realistic scenarios (legs like A Quiet Place part II or Men in Black III) put it above $400 million and presumably above Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’s eventual $400 million-plus domestic total and over/under Top Gun’s inflation-adjusted $438 million cume. Top Gun 2, a non-fantastical, star-driven legacy sequel could end up taking the domestic summer crown.

Top Gun: Maverick could be the first Memorial Day opener and the first Tom Cruise movie to win the summer in 22 years.

I don’t automatically see Thor: Love & Thunder cracking $400 million and Jurassic World: Dominion *could* earn closer to $325 million (a drop from Fallen Kingdom on par with Jurassic Park III after The Lost World) than $425 million (essentially tied with Fallen Kingdom’s $417 million finish). If this all goes as hypothesized, and this is *not* a prediction, Top Gun: Maverick would mark Tom Cruise’s first summer-topping (domestically) theatrical release since John Woo’s Mission: Impossible II. Mission: Impossible placed second to Twister and Independence Day in 1996, while War of the Worlds ended behind Revenge of the Sith. Otherwise, the last time a Cruise flick topped the summer was Mission: Impossible II in 2000 and, well, Top Gun in 1986. They were also examples of non-fantastical, real-world actioners placing first, which made them stand out from Star Wars movies and the likes of Batman, Ghost and Jurassic Park.

Mission: Impossible II was also the last “non-fantastical/no superheroes” movie to top a domestic summer movie season.

Mission: Impossible II was the last time a Memorial Day weekend opener won the summer. Moreover, it was the last time a non-fantastical/no-superheroes release topped the summer domestic box office. Since 2000, the “biggest movies of the summer” flicks have been fantastical movies about robots, wizards, pirates, superheroes and animated icons. There was irony in Bad Boys for Life topping the domestic box office 20 years after Mission: Impossible II. I wrote before Covid sent everything to hell that 2020 could mark a return for more human-sized action movies, think Bad Boys for Life (which had passed $205 million domestic), Black Widow, Top Gun: Maverick, Mulan and Tenet. Covid notwithstanding, one overperforming smash doesn’t make that true two years later. However, it does offer some hope that folks will show up in theaters, especially in our Covid/streaming era, for more than superheroes, horror movies and larger-than-life fantasy tentpoles.

Star-driven, life-sized actioners like Rambo: First Blood part II and Beverly Hills Cop II used to regularly rule the box office

If this all comes to pass, and it’s just as possible that Maverick tops out at “only” $375 million as the likes of Doctor Strange 2 and Jurassic World 3 fly higher, it’ll mean that Tom Cruise will have the last two non-fantastical summer chart-toppers since Saving Private Ryan ($218 million) in 1998 and Forrest Gump ($330 million) in 1994. He’ll have the last two Memorial Day releases to have won the domestic summer box office derby since the “the beginning of the blockbuster season” when the Star Wars trilogy (1977, 1980 and 1983), Rambo: First Blood part II ($150 million from a $32 million Wed-Mon debut in 1985) and Beverly Hills Cop II ($156 million from a then-record $40 million Fri-Mon launch in 1987) “won” the summer. Star Wars is Star Wars, but the notion of a star-driven high-concept biggie standing tall used to be par for the course.

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