How Tom Cruise’s ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Set Off a Box Office Sonic Boom

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Frayed nerves can’t begin to describe the mood as Paramount and Skydance finally began firing up the engines to release the Tom Cruise-starrer Top Gun: Maverick after a decade in the making, two years of release delays due to the pandemic and dramatic changes in consumer behavior.

The $170 million movie was always a risk despite Cruise’s star status, considering it was a sequel to a 1986 film that hit theaters more than three decades ago.

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Worry not. Top Gun: Maverick more than delivered when flying into theaters over the long Memorial Day weekend, earning a massive $160.5 million to secure the biggest opening of all time for the holiday, not adjusted for inflation. And it was easily the biggest opening ever for Cruise, according to Comscore. The key reason: Moviegoers over the age of 35 — a demo that has been largely MIA since the pandemic struck — turned out in force.

“I think it opens the door to what is possible,” says Paramount’s domestic distribution president Chris Aronson. Heading into the weekend, tracking had showed Top Gun 2 posting a four-day gross of $95 million.

Throughout the weekend, the estimates kept climbing. Top Gun 2 is now guaranteed to earn $300 million-plus by the end of its domestic run and become Cruise’s biggest earner of all time. War of the Worlds is his highest to date with $234.4 million, followed by Mission: Impossible — Fallout ($220.2 million), according to Comscore.

Adds Imax president of entertainment Megan Colligan: “A whole segment of moviegoers has just come out for the first time. Top Gun is an exceptional movie, and there is a really excellent lineup of movies coming down the pike. You really need that one-two punch.” She’s referring to fellow event pics Jurassic World Dominion, Elvis, Lightyear and Minions: Rise of Gru.

Here’s what to know about the success of Top Gun: Maverick.

The power of appealing to (nearly) all demos.

Until now, the big box office winners of the pandemic era have been superhero films fueled by moviegoers in the 18-34 age group (think Spider-Man: No Way Home). Top Gun 2 shattered that pattern in luring consumers 18 and older (teenagers were the only lagging demo).

Among ticket buyers, 55 percent were 35 and older, including 38 percent over 45 and 18 percent over 55, an unheard-of stat today. By way of comparison, on Doctor Strange 2‘s opening weekend, at least 66 percent of ticket buyers were 34 and younger.

At the same time, 21 percent of Top Gun ticket buyers were between the ages of 18 and 24, meaning the film resonated across generations.

“If you had told me the biggest quadrant would be 18 to 24, I would have told you that you are out of your mind,” says Aronson. “The fact that it is equally spread across all age groups tells you a great deal. You are usually weighted in one or two quadrants on opening weekend.”

Males made up 58 percent of those going to see the film.

The Magic of Critics and Audiences Being in Sync

Top Gun: Maverick earned glowing reviews from critics and a coveted A+ CinemaScore from audiences.

Very few Hollywood tentpoles have earned the coveted A+ grade; among them are some of the top-grossing titles of all time globally, including Titanic, Avengers: Endgame and the third-biggest domestically, Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Top Gun 2 also earned stellar exits on PostTrak, a real-time exit polling service, including five out of five stars.

On the critics’ side, the movie currently boasts a 96 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

The Power of Smaller Cities

Top Gun: Maverick played well across America (the only region that under-indexed was the Northeast).

Top markets that over-indexed included Phoenix, Salt Lake City, Seattle, San Diego, Tampa, Portland (Oregon), Kansas City, Nashville, Oklahoma City and Jacksonville, while the top markets that under-indexed included New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and Baltimore.

Top-grossing theaters came from a geographically diverse swath, including Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, San Antonio, Knoxville, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Washington, D.C., Tampa, Seattle, Phoenix, Fresno and Orlando. Premium-format screens were 22 percent of the overall box office, while Imax screens were 15 percent of overall box office.

Don’t Forget Overseas

Overseas, Top Gun 2 is doing equally impressive business, considering it’s a pro-American military movie. The film opened to $124 million from 62 markets for an early global haul of at least $248 million through Sunday and more than $280 million through Monday. The movie marked Cruise’s top opening weekend ever in 32 markets and Paramount’s biggest live-action bow in 18, led by the U.K. ($19.4 million) and followed by France ($11.7 million) and Australia ($10.7 million). Top Gun 2 lands in South Korea next month.

Box office pundits aren’t yet ready to call an overseas number for the movie in terms of how much it will ultimately earn.

Top Gun: Maverick isn’t expected to play in China, while no Hollywood studio is presently releasing films in Russia.

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