The new Top Gun needs powerful wings
If absence makes your heart beat faster, “Top Gun” fans should be over the moon.
Paramount Pictures’ Top Gun: Maverick debuts this weekend almost exactly 36 years after the original film first hit theaters. It could also be one of the most delayed films of the pandemic era, as its release date has been pushed back four times since April 2020. But the studio seems to have chosen its final landing spot well; The domestic box office has reached around $2.3 billion so far this year, fueled by blockbusters like The Batman and Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” — both ranked among the best opening weekends in their respective franchises, even when compared to pre-pandemic releases, according to Box Office Mojo.
However, despite all the trappings of a blockbuster in its own right, the new ‘Top Gun’ is still risky in the Covid era. The domestic box office is trending more than 40% below its pre-pandemic level. The films that have worked are mostly from established franchises in the superhero genre. That creates uncertain prospects for a film with a single prequel that came out during the Cold War. Even young teenagers who loved the first “Top Gun” are now approaching 50 – a demographic that has proven somewhat reluctant to return to theaters.
Still, that one movie was a big deal. The original Top Gun was the highest-grossing film of 1986 and became a cultural touchstone that firmly established Tom Cruise as one of Hollywood’s most bankable leads. Its inflation-adjusted domestic gross of nearly $438 million made it the top-grossing film according to box office data site The Numbers until the release of Batman three years later.
Expectations aren’t quite as high this time, but they’re close. Boxoffice Pro’s Shawn Robbins, which provides forecasts for US box office operators, estimates that Top Gun: Maverick will gross between $280 million and $395 million at the domestic box office. That would place the film firmly in the top 5 films by projected grossing for the summer; Projections for the new “Dr. Strange” and “Jurassic World Dominion”, which will be released in mid-June, are currently higher. Paramount Global,
The recently rebranded parent company of the eponymous studio is expected to report a 71% year-over-year increase in box office receipts in the second quarter to about $229 million — the segment’s highest since the third quarter of 2019, according to consensus estimates from FactSet.
And analysts expect U.S. cinema chains AMC Entertainment and Cinemark to report combined admissions revenue of over $1 billion for the second quarter — another post-pandemic high.
Can the new “Top Gun” hit this target? Yes – provided the film has appeal beyond the Gen X crowd that made the first one so successful. According to a recent survey by Wedbush Securities, more than half of those aged 45 and over have not been to a cinema in the past year, compared with just over 20% of 18 to 24 year olds. However, the same poll found nearly 70% of respondents in the 45-55 age group were planning to go to the cinema this year, with even more in the younger age groups.
To appeal to a wide audience in 2022, the new Top Gun must retain the charm of the original while shedding some of its dated elements. Early reviews suggest it may, with many calling the new film superior to the first and praising the aerial photography and other visual effects, mostly created without computers. And Mr. Cruise, who turns 60 in July, has done well to hold his own in front of a younger film audience. His “Mission: Impossible” franchise alone has grossed nearly $3.6 billion in box office worldwide to date, with two more episodes currently in production.
Paramount also hopes that history will repeat itself in some way. The original “Top Gun” is ranked sixth in “Leggiest Movies” of All Time by The Numbers. This is based on a ratio measuring the size of the spread between a film’s biggest weekend gross and its domestic gross ever, and reflects the fact that the film was shown in theaters from mid-May to late October of that year and was still being shown up until Christmas in more than 450 cinemas.
Such a barrel is a greater relic than the F-14 jet fighters that Mr. Cruise’s character flew in the original. Even before the pandemic, the biggest films had time, at best, about three months after their original theatrical release. Now most major studios give films 30-45 days in theaters before moving them to their own streaming platforms. But Paramount is banking on the sequel, which shows what counts for legs in 2022. In an interview following the company’s first-quarter results earlier this month, Chief Financial Officer Naveen Chopra said that Top Gun: Maverick will have a longer theatrical run than the 45-day window the company has set for most of its theatrical releases.
Maximizing theatrical return is a smart move — especially considering investors have become more skeptical about the economics of streaming recently. And Paramount just received a strong vote of confidence from Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, which reported Monday that it bought a large stake in the company during the first quarter. Paramount is the only major media holding in Berkshire’s portfolio.
At least the Oracle of Omaha doesn’t expect an aging Maverick to crash and burn.
write to Dan Gallagher at [email protected]
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