If one could somehow travel back in time to the dawn of the pandemic era and tell people that a movie would finally save the theatrical movie experience, very few people would have believed that said movie would be Top Gun: Maverick. After years of uncertainty, outbreaks, and near-bankruptcies, the sequel starring Tom Cruise has done the impossible and brought mainstream audiences of all kinds to theaters in droves. No other film has burst into the public consciousness in quite the same way and turned the return to cinema into a mundane routine. So what made Top Gun: Maverick so special and allowed him to save cinemas?
The COVID-19 pandemic officially began with the declaration of the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. This had far-reaching ramifications on people and businesses of all kinds, including cinemas. With movie theaters temporarily out of service, viewers exclusively received new movies from streaming platforms on their TVs. Not only has this accentuated platforms such as Netflix’s cultural impact, but it has also led studios to heavily consider streaming as a viable release strategy for films slated for theatrical release. Even once the theaters reopened, this change had significantly affected their activity. Almost all films released in theaters after March 2020 had a day and date release with a simultaneous premiere on a streaming platform, with Christopher Nolan Principle being the notable exception.
Delayed several times by the pandemic, Principle was released exclusively in theaters in September with the massive burden (fair or not) of having to “save theaters.” Obviously, he didn’t. But today, nearly two years later, Top Gun: Maverick really succeeded where Principle failed, ushering in newfound stability for theatrical releases. In the months since Top Gun: Maverickof, later theatrical exclusives such as Elvis, Jurassic World Dominion, Minions: The Rise of Gru and The black phone all exceeded expectations and delivered substantial and long box office runs.
A huge factor here is how Top Gun: Maverick targeted whole swathes of the general public (read: older audiences) who simply don’t go to the theater anymore. The movies that performed best after lockdown but beforeSuperior gun were the usual suspects: the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness both worked very well, while Spider-Man: No Coming Home performed so well in December 2021 that it helped usher in a new stage of COVID variants. But the MCU films target younger audiences, who have grown up alongside them and are deeply invested in the backstory and plot machinations of the franchise’s sprawling narrative.
Top Gun: Maverick was made for an audience that cares no less about these things. Whereas No coming home relied heavily on audiences having a pre-established overt familiarity with characters and events from past stories under the guise of nostalgia, Top Gun: Maverick plays best to an audience that has a passing memory of having seen Superior gun in cable reruns. It is not an affront against Superior gun, but congratulations on that. Director Joseph Kosinski and co. crafted an indelible sequel deeply rooted in adoration and reverence for Tony Scott’s 1986 original, but also distinctly crafted as a standalone feature.
Instead, the draw of Top Gun: Maverick was the basic nostalgia to see a sequel to the beloved classic and a serious show starring Tom Cruise. All of the marketing went to great lengths to sell this as a big-screen spectacle that viewers couldn’t replicate at home. The reliance on widespread practical effects only further accentuated this idea than Superior gun would deliver the biggest possible bang for the public’s money.
Another crucial element for Top Gun: MaverickThe success of can be explained by the way it has brilliantly leveraged streaming platforms, turning them from apparent competitors into one of its main marketing assets. In the weeks preceding Top Gun: MaverickMemorial Day Weekend release, the 1986 original Superior gun was put on Netflix and gradually climbed its most-watched list. In the last week before maverickas rave reviews for the sequel poured in, Superior gun shot to the top spot on Netflix, where it remained until it was pulled from the streaming service at the end of the month.
This ingeniously became a symbiotic relationship for Paramount. Putting Superior gun on Netflix, it reaped the rewards of generating more buzz and anticipation for Top Gun: Maverick. Then, as Top Gun: Maverickthe buzz reached astronomical heights, it brought audiences back to the original Superior gun. Having Superior gun projects as the number-one movie in streaming and the number-one movie in theaters led to it absolutely dominating the broader pop-cultural conversation, even as streaming platforms simultaneously released some of their biggest projects (Disney+’s Obi Wan Kenobi and that of Netflix stranger things). And getting that kind of multifaceted success with the original Superior gun rather than release Top Gun: Maverick on streaming, Paramount and Cruise got to have their cake and eat it too.
Now, movie theaters are booming. It’s perhaps telling that one of the few movies to underperform at the box office since maverickthe output was Light year. It was the first Pixar film to hit theaters in three years after Disney sent the studio’s three interim projects (Soul, Lucas and turn red) streamed directly. This has unwittingly conditioned audiences to watch new animated feature films on streaming rather than in theaters. By staying true to its theatrical release intentions throughout the pandemic and waiting for it to be safe to return to theaters, Top Gun: Maverick avoided the pitfalls of movies like Principle or day and date releases fell and became the savior of movie theaters.
Top Gun: Maverick is still in theaters.