When “Top Gun: Maverick” takes flight in North American theaters on Friday, ticket sales for the oft-delayed tentpole may break through the stratosphere.
Thanks to stellar reviews and a healthy dose of nostalgia, Paramount and Skydance’s star-spangled action film — starring Tom Cruise as a fighter pilot who feels the need for speed — is expected to generate a blockbuster $85 million to $100 million over the weekend. Through Memorial Day on Monday, domestic box office receipts could fly as high as $130 million. “Maverick” is playing in 4,732 North American cinemas, the widest theater count in history.
The follow-up to 1986’s “Top Gun” was scheduled to open in the summer of 2020 until COVID-19 scrambled those plans. But Paramount and Cruise were adamant about keeping the film in theaters rather than sending the sequel straight to a streaming service. When Cruise was recently asked at Cannes Film Festival if the sequel would skip the big screen, he told the crowd: “That was never going to happen. Ever.”
That’s already seeming like a prescient decision.
Whether or not “Top Gun: Maverick” surpasses triple-digits in its first three days, the movie is shaping up to be a win for Paramount and cinema operators alike. In today’s moviegoing landscape, it’s rare that Earth-bound adventures like “Top Gun” (though Cruise’s Maverick does, technically, flirt with sky-high altitudes) would be able to rake in that kind of cash in a single weekend. Those towering inaugural weekend returns are usually reserved for Marvel movies or other otherworldly superhero spectacles.
If ticket sales reach the higher end of that range, “Top Gun: Maverick” will rank among the highest-grossing movies of the year in a matter of days. In COVID times, the biggest starts in North America belong to “Spider-Man: No Way Home” ($260 million), “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” ($187 million) and “The Batman” ($134 million). Other notable opening weekends in the pandemic era include “Venom: Let There be Carnage” ($90 million), “Black Widow” ($80 million in theaters and $60 million on Disney Plus) and “Sonic the Hedgehog 2” ($72 million).
For Cruise, even the lower end of projections would land as the biggest opening weekend of his career. Though he’s probably the biggest action star of his generation, none of his movies have opened to more than $65 million at the domestic box office. The actor’s 2005 science-fiction epic “War of the Worlds” currently stands as his best debut with $64 million, followed by 2018’s “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” with $61 million.
“Top Gun: Maverick” cost $170 million to produce, not including the millions spent on promoting the movie to audiences worldwide. In addition to doing his own death-defying stunts, Cruise likes to embark on expensive, globe-trotting press tours. Those efforts included a splashy premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, which culminated with eight fighter jets flying over the Croisette (the French government paid for those). Skydance Media helped front the bill, co-producing and co-financing the film.
A debut anywhere near $100 million would be no small feat considering audiences over 40 years old — the moviegoers who were top of mind when Paramount initially greenlit the sequel — have been the most reluctant to return to theaters. The film’s positive word of mouth should be helpful in reaching younger audiences, who were not alive when “Top Gun” opened 36 years ago.
Joseph Kosinski directed the PG-13 “Top Gun: Maverick,” which picks up decades after the original. In the latest mission, Cruise’s Pete “Maverick” Mitchell trains a new group of cocky aviators for a crucial assignment. The cast includes Miles Teller, Glen Powell, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Connelly and Val Kilmer, who played Iceman in the first “Top Gun.”
Variety’s chief film critic Peter Debruge was impressed by “Maverick,” writing, “Hardly anything in “Top Gun: Maverick” will surprise you, except how well it does nearly all the things audiences want and expect it to do.”
Though “Top Gun: Maverick” is expected to take up most of the oxygen in cinemas, Disney and 20th Century’s “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” is opening in hopes of catering to moviegoers who don’t feel the need for speed. The PG-13 animated musical comedy, based on the popular TV show, is projected to earn $10 million to $15 million from 3,400 theaters over the weekend.
Directed by Bernard Derriman in his feature debut, the well-reviewed “Bob’s Burgers Movie” follows the family as they struggle to pay their loan after a sinkhole opens in front of their restaurant. In Variety’s review, film critic Amy Nicholson liked the film to a supercharged episode of television. When it comes to the hijinks of the Belcher family, she says that’s a good thing, writing “‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie’ knows its recipe and sticks to it.”