As Top Gun: Maverick rides in to the money zone, a new lawsuit threatens to take its breath away

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Top Gun: Maverick
Top Gun: Maverick

Top Gun: Maverick is riding high, with audiences all over the world feeling the need for speed and giving Tom Cruise one of the biggest hits of his entire career, but all of that showboating and fancy-flying has gotten Paramount some attention that it probably would’ve preferred to avoid: According to Deadline, the family of late writer Ehud Yonay, who wrote the 1983 article “Top Guns” for the now-defunct California magazine that inspired the original Top Gun movie, has filed a lawsuit against the studio for infringing on Yonay’s copyright.

Yonay is mentioned in the credits of the original film, which note that the movie was “suggested by” the “Top Guns” article, with this lawsuit explaining that the rights to the article were set to return to the Yonays 35 years after it was originally sold to Paramount—which puts it in January of 2020. In the lead-up to that date, with no Top Gun sequel having been released yet, the Yonays says they went through the requisite copyright hoops to inform Paramount that they would indeed like the rights back once that date had passed.

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With Top Gun: Maverick not coming out until this year, the Yonays argue that it no longer counts as a derivative work that would be covered under the original agreement, meaning Paramount should have worked out a new deal with them before releasing it. Since the studio did not do that, Deadline says the Yonays are looking for “big bucks” in terms of damages and “an injunction to stop screenings and distribution” of the film (even though it has already been in theaters for two weeks now).

Paramount has officially entered its response in court, but a spokesperson told Deadline that the claims “are without merit” and that the studio will defend itself “vigorously.” The studio also reportedly told the Yonays “last month” that Maverick was “sufficiently completed” before January of 2020, which the Yonays believe to be a “disingenuous attempt” to get the new film covered by the old deal.

One wrinkle in this, possibly the most important wrinkle, is that Top Gun: Maverick was delayed many, many times over the years. It was first announced a decade ago but then indefinitely pushed back after the death of original director Tony Scott. The version that eventually came out, directed by Joseph Kosinski, was filmed years ago and was originally set to be released in 2019 before being delayed into 2020 and then delayed again because of the pandemic.

So it seems like the question is how much of the movie was finished by January of 2020 and whether or not that even matters since it wasn’t released until 2022.