How ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Broke All the Rules to Become a $1 Billion Box Office Hit

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Despite a primarily American audience and a summer release, the “Top Gun” sequel has shown unprecedented legs over the last month

top gun: maverick
"Top Gun: Maverick" (Paramount)

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“Top Gun: Maverick” has become the 50th film in box office history to gross $1 billion worldwide, but there’s no film that has had a path to this milestone quite like the one that Paramount, Skydance and Tom Cruise have blazed over the past month.

The sequel to Cruise’s first big blockbuster back in 1986 is expected to hit the $1 billion mark at the end of its fifth weekend in theaters, with $521 million coming from domestic theaters and $484 million from overseas. It is Cruise’s first $1 billion hit in his career — the closest he got previously was 2018’s “Mission: Impossible — Fallout” with $787 million — and is only the fourth Paramount release to hit that mark (after “Titanic” and the “Transformers” films “Dark of the Moon” and “Age of Extinction”).

“It’s rare to get the special kind of alchemy that creates a true event film, and we have been absolutely blown away by the global response to ‘Top Gun: Maverick’,” said Paramount CEO/President Brian Robbins said in a statement Monday.  “Thank you to the incomparable Tom Cruise, our visionary filmmakers and talented cast, and our amazing marketing and distribution teams, for delivering an absolutely perfect movie and theatrical experience for audiences around the world.”

Most films that hit $1 billion are able to do so thanks to strong international performance that makes up more than half of the global gross. While Cruise’s star power and his global press tour for “Top Gun: Maverick” in Cannes, Tokyo and other major global cities certainly boosted the film’s performance abroad, a blockbuster about a team of U.S. Navy fighter pilots was always expected to get the majority of its money from stateside audiences.

Of the fifty $1 billion hits in box office history, “Maverick” is only the fourth to make the majority of its gross from domestic receipts. The other three are “The Dark Knight” in 2008 ($534.9 million domestic/$1 billion worldwide), “Rogue One” in 2016 ($532.1 million domestic/$1.05 billion worldwide) and “Black Panther” in 2018 ($700 million domestic/$1.34 billion worldwide).

And among those four films, “Maverick” still stands out. “Black Panther” and “Rogue One” were released in the winter, a period with fewer major blockbusters packed in on a week-to-week basis. That allows a film with overwhelming popularity to leg out for weeks if not months, as evidenced by the fact that four of the top five highest grossing domestic films ever, including “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and last year’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” were released in the winter months.

While “The Dark Knight” was a summer release, it just squeaked past the $1 billion mark while all signs point to “Maverick” continuing to run strong as it enters its second month in theaters. After posting a record Memorial Day opening weekend, “Maverick” had the strongest second weekend of any film with a $100 million-plus launch, and its weekend drops since then have been held to under 45%.

At this pace, “Maverick” should be able to cross the $600 million mark in North America, putting it alongside the 2015 Universal film “Jurassic World” as the only summer movie that’s not an “Avengers” film to hit that milestone. If it continues to run strong into August and September and hit $700 million, it will join “Avengers: Endgame” as the only summer release to hit that mark.

Again, these numbers, the kinds we have only seen over the past decade for the biggest of the big blockbuster franchises, are being put out by a legacy sequel to a film that came out 36 years ago.

Even with the competition from Universal’s “Jurassic World: Dominion,” another heavyweight franchise entry that is also a lock to hit $1 billion, “Top Gun: Maverick” has captivated an entire nation of moviegoers of all ages with its gripping aerial dogfights, tense plot, heartwarming reconciliation story between Cruise and Miles Teller’s characters and a poignant cameo from Val Kilmer.

The most successful franchise films in the COVID era — MGM’s “No Time to Die,” Sony’s “Spider-Man: No Way Home” and Warner Bros.’ “The Batman” — have been able to provide more than just familiar characters to draw fans. They’ve won over audiences with gripping, blockbuster-level excitement that can’t be replicated when streaming the film at home.

“Top Gun: Maverick” has achieved that “must see in theaters” status to a degree far beyond what can be attributed to mere Gen X nostalgia for the original. It’s now being seen again and again not because of the legacy of its ’80s predecessor, but because of the legacy it is building for itself right now.