“Top Gun: Maverick” was never going to be an easy sell.
Of course, the film starred Tom Cruise, arguably one of Hollywood’s most iconic movie stars, and would be the sequel to “Top Gun,” one of the biggest grossers of all time. But the original “Top Gun” was in theaters when Ronald Reagan was president, leg warmers were still in style and the New York Mets last won the World Series.
The challenge for Paramount, the studio that released the film, and its CEO, Bob Bakish, was how to release a sequel to the 1986 Cold War classic for a world that had apparently left Pete.” Maverick” Mitchell and his “need for speed” back. .
And if that wasn’t enough, the film was scheduled to be released in the summer of 2020, when the world was in the midst of a pandemic that was shutting down entire industries and leaving millions out of work and , yes, closing movie theaters around the world.
“It was pretty clear that it wasn’t a viable idea,” Bakish told CNN Business about the film’s release. “The world was pretty closed off, you weren’t going to put an expensive film that you had real hopes for…in theaters and have nobody come.”
What was Paramount to do? “Maverick” was ready to take off, but had nowhere to land. The film, with its hefty $170 million price tag, could go straight to streaming, as many films did during the pandemic, and as a breakout title likely would have pushed subscribers to the growing streaming service from the studio, Paramount +. However, the company chose to save it for the big screen.
“We really feel, and Tom [Cruise] I was definitely on board with the fact that we had a great big screen movie and we just had to keep it,” Bakish said. “It just felt like the right thing to do.”
Still, it was a big risk. Would audiences leave their homes during a pandemic to see a sequel to a movie over three decades old? Bakish and Paramount wouldn’t find out until about two years after the film’s original release date, after its fourth and final release date of May 27, 2022.
“Top Gun: Maverick” has since become the fifth-highest-grossing film in US history.
“It’s a very, very bad time to have a movie theater.”
Here’s how Brent Lang, executive editor of Variety, described the climate of the film industry during the depths of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020.
The global health crisis closed theaters, delaying movies for months, if not years. That led some in Hollywood to question whether the business, which took in more than $40 billion in global ticket sales in 2019, would ever recover.
Streaming, which had already upended the theatrical model, was booming. Netflix set subscriber records, Disney+ surpassed 100 million subscribers in just 16 months, and other new services appeared seemingly every day.
Amid this landscape, Warner Bros. decided to release its entire 2021 slate of movies directly to theaters and simultaneously on the company’s streaming service, HBO Max, a move that surprised Hollywood. (Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by Warner Bros. Discovery.)
Still, the cineplexes kept trying. In 2021, blockbusters like Sony’s “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Disney’s “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and Universal’s “F9: The Fast Saga” generated sizable ticket sales that help cinemas stay open..
But it wasn’t until Marvel’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” debuted on the big screen in December that movie theaters saw some hope. “No Way Home” made nearly $2 billion worldwide, but didn’t really give the industry the confidence it needed; after all, Marvel movies are supposed to do well at the box office no matter what.
So if a superhero couldn’t save the day, what kind of movie would inject new life into theaters? Enter an arrogant 60-year-old flyboy and his team of young fighter pilots.
“Maverick” hit theaters with a lot of buzz and strong reviews, and that helped the film surpass box office projections for its opening weekend. It earned a Memorial Day weekend record of $160 million at the US box office. That alone would have been a win for Paramount, but the movie was just taking off.
Audiences returned week after week, making “Maverick” the only movie ever to take the top spot on Memorial Day. i Labor Day Weekends. For 75 straight days, the film earned at least $1 million a day, and now accounts for about 12% of the total domestic box office so far this year, according to Comscore ( SCOR ). Simply put, “Maverick” refused to land.
“It was an event-level movie made for theaters,” Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at Boxoffice.com, told CNN Business. “It also recaptured a significant portion of the larger audience that endured during the early months of the film recovery in 2021 and early 2022.”
Even Bakish was surprised by the public’s reaction to the film, noting that Paramount “always knew it was a big movie” but “probably underestimated how big it was because no one could have predicted that it would good”.
But there is also a symbolic aspect to the film’s success. “Maverick” is an old-school blockbuster made for the biggest screen possible that came along just when the future of the industry was very much in doubt. “Maverick” proved that audiences still want to go to the movies.
“The commercial reception of Tom Cruise’s Inherited sequel was the summer miracle cinema needed,” box office reporter Scott Mendelson wrote for Forbes.
“Maverick” was also the kind of hit Paramount, a company in transition, badly needed.
In recent years, the studio behind some of cinema’s biggest films—think “The Godfather,” “Chinatown” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark”—found itself behind competitors in share of box office market
Paramount reunited with CBS in 2019 after splitting from the company in 2006 and rebranded as Paramount Global, rebranding its primary streaming service as Paramount+ during a rapid industry evolution entertainment
For Bakish, Paramount’s current success comes from a focus on “global, multi-platform execution,” or as he puts it, “it’s about theater, TV and streaming.” In other words, Paramount has more than a streaming-centric view of the media business.
The strategy has worked. Paramount (PGRE) has had six No. 1 releases more so far this year than any other studio, with blockbusters across genres, including romantic comedy (“The Lost City”), family (“Sonic the Hedgehog 2”) and terror (“Smile”).
Putting movies in theaters has not hindered Paramount’s streaming efforts, which include Paramount+ and Showtime and have nearly 67 million subscribers worldwide, the company said last week. While it’s behind competitors like Netflix ( NFLX ) and Disney+, Paramount+ is the fastest-growing service in the U.S. so far this year, according to Bloomberg.
And those numbers will likely see a boost in the coming months with international expansion next year and “Maverick” finally coming to Paramount+ in late 2022.
“This is an extraordinary collection of assets,” Bakish said of Paramount’s portfolio of brands. “And right now, and yes, I’m biased, we’re executing pretty well.”
But will this lead to another “Top Gun”?
“You have to get the stars aligned again. You have to have a story that people like and you have to build the team,” Bakish said. “See me.”