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After three years of delays, two due to Covid, Skydance and Paramount’s Top Gun: Maverick took moviegoers’ breath away with a jaw-dropping $51.8 million Friday gross. That includes $19.26 million in pre-release previews, a record for Paramount and Memorial Day weekend, which still gives the $170 million legacy sequel a raw $31.94 million Friday gross. That’s just shy of the biggest “Friday” gross ever for a Memorial Day weekend opener, below the $56 million opening day (including $13 million in previews) for Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Considering the film’s rave reviews and A+ Cinemascore grade, I’d wager it’ll end Monday above the $153 million Fri-Mon opening weekend for Pirates 3. Tom Cruise is out there crushing his personal best records and setting Memorial Day weekend milestones like it’s 1996.
Before this weekend, Tom Cruise’s biggest opening weekend outside of the Mission: Impossible franchise ($62 million for Fallout) and Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds ($65 million over the Fri-Sun part of a $100 million Wed-Sun debut) was… the $37 million domestic debut in early 2013 of Oblivion. As I noted over that film’s opening weekend and many times over the last nine years, Tom Cruise’s stardom peaked when $30 million was a big budget, $15 million was a solid opening weekend and $200 million worldwide was an unmitigated success. Likewise, and this relates to the current Memorial Day blockbuster, Harrison Ford’s biggest opener before Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ($100 million Fri-Sun/$150 million Thurs-Mon) in 2008 was… the $37 million debut of Air Force One in the summer of 1997.
That was a record for an R-rated opener, besting the $36 million debut of Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt’s Interview with the Vampire (which set the record for a non-summer debut in November of 1994). 26 years ago, Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible opened with a $45 million Fri-Sun gross (the fourth biggest behind Batman Forever, Jurassic Park and Batman Returns) and a then-record $75 million six-day gross over its Wed-Mon Memorial Day weekend. 22 years ago, Mission: Impossible II opened with $58 million over the Fri-Sun part (behind only The Lost World and The Phantom Menace) of a $92 million Wed-Mon debut. Cruise has experience setting box office records, it’s just been a while. Top Gun: Maverick, which has $116.5 million worldwide thus far, is playing like a mid-1990s Cruise biggie on steroids.
To answer the $170 million question that’s been haunting me since 2018 (when this film was initially shot), yes Pete “Maverick” Mitchell is absolutely a marquee character on par with Ethan Hunt. Tom Cruise may be of comparatively limited bankability in a marquee character/IP-driven era when it comes to playing a new or new-to-you character like Jack Reacher, “not James Bond in Knight and Day” or “that guy in Edge of Tomorrow.” However, he’s still worth all the money when playing the protagonist in Top Gun: Maverick. Again, it’s not unlike Harrison Ford’s later years. He hasn’t been an outright opener since What Lies Beneath in 2000. However, put him in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull or Star Wars: The Force Awakens and he’s worth his weight in gold.
Of course, that the film more-or-less delivered IMAX-worthy spectacle, crowd-pleasing story beats and generational nostalgia that earned reviews closer to Creed than Terminator: Dark Fate didn’t hurt. At its best, the Joseph Kosinski-directed action drama blends the genre goods from his Cruise-starring sci-fi romp Oblivion with the even-kneeled emotional melodrama of his spectacular knockout firefighter drama Only the Brave. It mimics some of the visual stylings of early Tony Scott while offering a comparatively level-headed sincerity and (even compared to the PG-rated Top Gun) four-quadrant wholesomeness. With a light summer slate mostly dominated by MCU heroes and kids’ toons (along with dinosaurs), Top Gun: Maverick is positioned as, by default, the grown-up event movie of the season.
If Top Gun: Maverick legs like Fast & Furious 6 ($117 million from a $39 million Friday) or Solo: A Star Wars Story ($103 million/$35 million), it still gets to over/under $154 million for the Fri-Mon weekend. If it legs like Pirates 3 or X-Men: The Last Stand ($122 million/$45 million), it’ll end Monday with over/under $142 million, both with a Fri-Sun gross of $115-$125 million. Best-case scenario legs like The Lost World: Jurassic Park ($93 million/$24 million) and Aladdin ($117 million/$31 million) will push it to between $195 million and $200 million by Monday. Tom Cruise is finally about to get that $100 million-plus Fri-Sun opening weekend. Theater owners worried about the viability of non-superhero tentpoles can feel relieved. Paramount must be partying like it’s 2011 with their first $100 million-plus opener since 2014.
Walt Disney opened 20th Century Studios’ Bob’s Burgers: The Movie to a solid $5.7 million on Friday. It, along with Top Gun 2 and Minions: The Rise of Gru (July 1) are the last of the delayed-by-Covid 2020 releases left on the calendar. The feature-length extension of a long-running Fox television show again shows the value of comparatively niche films like Downton Abbey: A New Era, Demon Slayer and RRR. The “fans” will show up for these specific titles even if they otherwise wouldn’t venture out to the multiplex on the regular. We can expect a $15.5 million Fri-Sun gross and a $19.05 million Fri-Mon holiday debut for the Bob’s Burgers movie. I don’t know the budget, but I’m guessing somewhere between Teen Titans GO! To the Movies ($10 million) and The Simpsons Movie ($75 million).