But there’s Mr. Cruise, rolling along like the world hasn’t changed at all. Not for him in many ways. He was 24 when Top Gun made him a box office hit, and he’s basically stayed there ever since, outliving his contemporaries. He is the last remaining global star still making cinema-only films. He hasn’t ventured into streaming. He didn’t sign up for a limited series. He did not start his own tequila brand.
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Instead, his promotional tour for Top Gun: Maverick, which opens May 27, will last nearly three weeks, stretching from Mexico City to Japan, with a stop in Cannes for the annual film festival. In London, he walked the red carpet with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. (The tour would have been longer and more expansive if Covid protocols hadn’t made things so complicated and if he hadn’t been in the process of completing two Mission Impossible films.)
The actor still has the first dollar gross, which means he’ll receive a percentage of the gross box office once the film hits theaters, in addition to a sizable upfront payment. According to Box Office Mojo, he is one of the last stars in Hollywood to land such a sweetheart deal, buoyed by the fact that his 44 films have grossed $4.4 billion at the box office in the United States and Canada alone. (Most stars today receive an upfront salary, with bonuses when a film brings in certain amounts at the box office.) So when his films are successful, Mr. Cruise makes money. And right now, Hollywood is in dire need of a hit.
Audiences have been sneaking back into theaters since the pandemic shut them down in 2020. Box office analyst David Gross said major Hollywood studios are expected to release around 108 films theatrically this year, down 22 percent from 2019. The year still lags around 40 percent, but recent performances of ” The Batman” and “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” leave theater owners optimistic that audience demand is still there. The question is whether the deal still works for anything other than special effects superhero films.
“Movies like this just don’t get made anymore,” said Brian Robbins, the new CEO of Paramount Pictures, the studio that financed and produced the $170 million Top Gun: Maverick. “This is not a big visual effects film. Tom really trained these actors to fly and perform in real F-18s. Nobody practically ever did what they did in this film. It has scale and scope and it’s also a really emotional film. We don’t usually see that in big tent-poling movies these days.”
A big box office for Top Gun: Maverick would depend in no small part on the over-40 crowd. They’re the moviegoers most fond of remembering the original Top Gun from 36 years ago — and they’re the least likely to return to theaters.
To reaffirm his commitment to the industry, Mr. Cruise sent a video message to theater operators at their annual conference in Las Vegas late last month. From the set of Mission Impossible in South Africa, Mr. Cruise presented new footage from his spy film and the first public screening of Top Gun: Maverick on an airborne biplane. “Let’s have a great summer,” he said, before his director, flying his own biplane alongside Mr. Cruise, called “Action” and the two planes took off across the sky.