With another $14 million on Thursday, Skydance and Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick zoomed past $200 million domestic with a $203 million seven-day total. That’s a drop of 4% from its Wednesday gross, a $14.8 million figure that was down 6% from its $15.8 million Tuesday. Its “four-day weekend to domestic cume” multiplier thus far is 1.277x, which is better than even the 1.215x multiplier (a $143 million seven-day total after a $117 million Fri-Mon debut) of Aladdin. We could see a second-weekend drop closer to Men in Black 3 (-48% after a $69 million debut in 2012) than Aladdin (-53% in 2019). Tom Cruise’s legacy sequel has zero new “big” wide releases on its tail this weekend. Presuming it drops 50% this weekend and earns another $63.25 million for a $269 million ten-day total, it’ll zoom past War of the Worlds as Tom Cruise’s biggest domestic grosser of all time.
However, it’s also quickly becoming Paramount’s biggest domestic earner in a generation. It raced past Sonic the Hedgehog 2 ($186 million, no slouch itself) on Wednesday to become the Viacom-owned studio’s biggest domestic earner since Mission: Impossible – Fallout ($220 million in 2018). Once it passes that film and the $245 million gross of Transformers: Age of Extinction (whose $300 million gross in China helped create a decade-long lie that China loved all big-budget Hollywood action blockbusters), it’ll be Paramount’s biggest domestic earner since Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($353 million) in 2011. So, it’ll be Paramount’s biggest grosser since back in the day when Paramount was briefly king of the big-budget fantasy action/franchise tentpole. Paramount was the uncontested king of the tentpole from 2007 (the first Transformers) to 2011 (when they had Thor, Captain America, Kung Fu Panda 2, Transformers 3 and their own counterprogramming with Super 8).
They were the prime distributor of DreamWorks Animation blockbusters like Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and Puss in Boots along with the last two Shrek sequels and the two Madagascar sequels. They launched the MCU with every pre-Avengers flick save for Universal’s The Incredible Hulk (still one of Marvel’s few bombs) before Disney swooped in with The Avengers (after having bought Marvel for $4 billion in 2009) and walked away with all the credit. Michael Bay’s Transformers series essentially invented the modern “kids flicks aimed at nostalgic adults” template for modern IP blockbusters, and Paramount could open G.I Joe: The Rise of Cobra and Avatar: The Last Airbender to $55-$70 million opening weekends. Because audiences still showed up to “normal” movies too, they turned Paranormal Activity into the most profitable movie ever while getting Martin Scorsese’s R-rated Shutter Island to a $40 million opening in early 2010.
Moreover, Disney could still pull a $317 million worldwide gross from The Proposal along with $735 million for Up. Warner Bros. could score $1.34 billion with Harry Potter 7.2 and $586 million with The Hangover part II in the same summer. Universal would struggle with tentpoles in 2012 (see Battleship and its mere $300 million gross on a $210 million budget) but would score $549 million with Set McFarlane’s Ted. What changed for the industry is that audiences stopped showing up with comparative frequency to non-tentpole/non-event movies. The lure of streaming services, prestige television (which at least initially filled in the gap for adult consumers wanting more than just mega-bucks fantasy tentpoles) and affordable home theater systems put a brutal tent in the theatrical commercial potential of the star vehicle, the high-concept original and almost anything that once would have been “just a good movie.”
In 2013, Warner Bros. scored $270 million with the frankly mediocre We’re the Millers. By 2018, it was a near-miracle that the terrific Game Night topped $100 million global. Every studio, starting in late 2015 or early 2016, got dinged by this new normal. But Paramount, which had lost Marvel to Disney and DreamWorks to Fox, faced a new normal where star-driven vehicles were no longer safe bets even on a reasonable budget. Paramount suffered probably worse of all in this ecosystem, stuck with dying or dead franchises (Star Trek, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, etc.), little in the way of promising past-tense IP and little hope that “that Matt Damon comedy” or “that Will Smith actioner” could score theatrically. Their one shining light in this dark period was Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible series, which recovered after a commercially underwhelming third installment ($393 million in 2006) to soar to sky-high heights.
In all of 2016-2019, their biggest non-Mission: Impossible grossers were xXx: Return of Xander Cage ($385 million, including $164 million in China), A Quiet Place ($341 million in 2018) and Transformers: The Last Knight ($605 million in 2017, compared to $1.105 billion for Age of Extinction three years prior). This all brings us back to 2022, during which Paramount (headed by Brian Robbins albeit with a slate greenlit by Jim Gianopulos) has briefly become a total hit machine. They scored solid grosses with a dead horror franchise (Scream earned $141 million on a $24 million budget), a past-its-prime television franchise (Jackass Forever earned $80 million on a $10 million budget), a shockingly good video game franchise (Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with $386 million on a $110 million budget) and an old-school, original, adult-skewing rom-com adventure (Sandra Bullock and Channing Tatum’s The Lost City with $175 million on a $70 million budget).
With the bases loaded, Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick has come to bring everyone home and likely become one of Paramount’s biggest domestic and global grossers ever. A $65 million second-weekend gross followed by a normal rate of descent (losing PLF screens to Jurassic World: Dominion, the amount of demand already met, etc.) still gets Top Gun 2 to $335 million, behind only Transformers: Dark of the Moon ($352 million), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ($402 million) and Titanic ($658 million). Top Gun: Maverick has earned around $390 million worldwide (passing Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s global cume) and will pass $400 million worldwide today. Presuming it holds in North America and overseas (Jurassic World: Dominion is opening in a handful of territories), it should be over/under $500 million worldwide by Sunday night. Paramount’s recent glory days were back when $449 million for Thor was an unmitigated hit.
Top Gun: Maverick could become the eighth Paramount film to cross $700 million, admittedly alongside Interstellar (distributed overseas by Warner Bros.) and Titanic (distributed overseas by Fox). However, their 2022 hits were greenlit by the prior regime. Moreover, Paws of Fury and Smile aren’t expected to set the box office on fire between now and Damien Chazelle’s Babylon (an old-Hollywood melodrama starring Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie) this December. I wouldn’t usually be optimistic about Dungeons and Dragons, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts (presumption of quality thanks to Steven Caple Jr.’s Creed II notwithstanding) or a still theoretical Star Trek 4. Their 2022 streak at least grants them the benefit of the doubt. Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning part I is likely to be even bigger now thanks to residual Maverick goodwill, while Scream 6 and A Quiet Place III will ride the coattails of their well-liked predecessors.
However, Paramount’s recent surge shows the value of theatrical as a revenue generator right as Wall Street has finally realized that streaming isn’t a miracle cure. Moreover, just as importantly, Paramount’s recent run has been varied in terms of genre, demographics and scale. It wasn’t “just a nostalgic IP video game movie” or “just the Tom Cruise action sequel,” but a handful of movies that mostly looks and feels like a regular movie studio. If by some miracle Paw of Fury (an animated remake of Blazing Saddles, so yes you could make Blazing Saddles today) performs halfway decently on July 15 (nearly every single audience member seeing Top Gun 2 in theaters will see that film’s preview too) with Babylon winning commercially and artistically, well, all the better. The studio that most represented streaming’s damage to theatrical has now become an unlikely (and hopefully not temporary) Covid-era multiplex savior.