'Top Gun' was the biggest movie of 1986. 36 years later, its sequel is the theater industry's best shot at winning back older moviegoers.

An image of Tom Cruise in "Top Gun: Maverick."
Tom Cruise in "Top Gun: Maverick."Paramount.
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  • "Top Gun: Maverick" finally arrives in theaters this weekend after several delays.

  • Theatrical industry leaders are optimistic it can bring out older moviegoers.

  • Analysts are projecting the movie to earn close to or over $100 million over the three-day weekend.

"Top Gun" was the highest-grossing movie of 1986 with $174 million in the US, which would be $460 million in today's dollars.

This weekend, the movie's long-awaited big-budget sequel, "Top Gun: Maverick," finally arrives in theaters after several pandemic-related delays. It does so with the widest US release of all time, in 4,735 theaters.

Paramount, the movie's distributor (it was coproduced and cofinanced by Skydance), has given its other movies this year, like "The Lost City" and "Scream," 45-day exclusive theatrical windows before they arrive on the streaming service Paramount+. It's shorter than the typical pre-pandemic window of 75 days to 90 days, but is emerging as a new industry standard.

"Maverick," though, is getting a longer window than 45 days, a person familiar with Paramount's plans told Insider.

Even so, in a theatrical market dominated by superhero blockbusters, "Maverick" isn't expected to top the 2022 box office like its predecessor did 36 years ago.

Still, the movie has a lot riding on it.

Moviegoers ages 45 and up have been slow to return to cinemas, and theatrical industry leaders are hoping that "Maverick" will attract them in droves.

"'Maverick' is a perfect, energizing, fun movie with an audience that grew up with Tom Cruise and 'Top Gun'," Rolando Rodriguez, the CEO of Marcus Theatres and chairman of the National Association of Theatre Owners, told Insider during last month's exhibitor conference CinemaCon."If I had to choose one movie, I'd say it's that one that could really break through with a consumer base we want back."

Rich Gelfond, the CEO of the film technology company Imax, which specializes in advanced cameras and projection systems, thinks "Maverick" is better than the first "Top Gun."

"I know that's a bold thing to say because the original is so iconic, but it's the kind of story where if you saw the original, you'll get it and it takes it to a new place," Gelfond said at CinemaCon. "But it also stands on its own if you never saw the original."

Box-office experts think 'Top Gun: Maverick' can bring Gen Xers and Baby Boomers back to theaters

Box-office experts are confident, too.

Shawn Robbins, the chief analyst at Box Office Pro, is projecting a $130 million three-day opening, and $156 million over the four-day Memorial Day weekend.

"As a film that could bring back many Generation Xers and Baby Boomers to theater for one of — if not their first — trips back to a theater since 2019, the 'Top Gun' sequel is modeling near or above where it once was when tracking and marketing first began nearly three years ago," Robbins wrote.

Others have been more conservative with their estimates, but still bullish. Bruce Nash, founder of the box-office analysis site The Numbers, is projecting $92 million over the three-day weekend.

Either way, it would be star Tom Cruise's biggest box-office opening of his career, topping 2005's "War of the Worlds," which earned $65 million in its first weekend. The first "Top Gun" made $8 million in its debut ($21 million after inflation).

Paul Dergarabedian, the Comscore senior media analyst, noted that nearly half of "Downton Abbey: A New Era's" debut audience this past weekend was at least 55 years old.

The movie underperformed compared to the first "Downton Abbey" movie in 2019 — $16 million in its first weekend compared to $31 million. But Dergarabedian said that it's still a sign of growing interest for that age group in returning to cinemas for the right movie.

"Momentum builds momentum," he said.

But he also said: "The mature demographic may not rush out to a movie on the first weekend. They show their enthusiasm in a different way."

Last year's James Bond movie "No Time to Die" might be a better comparison. The Bond franchise typically skews older, and the movie earned a decent but not exceptional $55 million in its opening weekend. Then it went on to gross $160 million in the US after showing strong legs during its theatrical run (and $774 million worldwide).

With a substantial theatrical window, "Maverick" could hold steady at the box office for the duration of the summer movie season if word of mouth is strong enough.

"Maverick" has received near-universal acclaim and has a 97% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes. Indiewire's David Ehrlich called it a "a confidently rapturous, emotionally involving, take-your-breath-away great time at the movies."

Read the original article on Business Insider