Why ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ Is Bigger Than ‘Titanic’: It Saved the Movies

Tom Cruise plays Capt. Pete "Maverick" Mitchell in Top Gun: Maverick from Paramount Pictures, Skydance and Jerry Bruckheimer Films.

“Titanic” is still the biggest movie Paramount has released, but “Top Gun: Maverick” holds a higher place in Hollywood history.

In the three months since the opening of “Top Gun: Maverick” (Paramount), the box office performances at home and abroad ($658 million) and foreign ($674 million) earned almost all the hype. And when it hits $660 million domestically, “Maverick” – in uncorrected numbers – will become the highest-grossing Paramount release in its history, replacing the 1997 release of “Titanic.”

This is where the hype train comes to a halt. If you think “Maverick” made more than “Titanic” you could also buy a house in Los Angeles today for $180,000 – the average house price in 1997. Inflation changes things and “Titanic” earned its spot when the average ticket price was $4.59 – half the current average, last calculated in 2019 as $9.17.

“Top Gun: Maverick” should end its domestic run at $700 million – $725 million domestic gross. Based on adjusted numbers, that would land somewhere between #4 and $7 between all Paramount releases, with “Titanic”, “The Ten Commandments” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” safely ahead; ‘The Godfather’, ‘Forrest Gump’ and ‘Grease’ are vulnerable if it exceeds $725 million.

All squabbles aside, focusing on a magical thinking achievement means overlooking a much greater success. ‘Maverick’ joins a handful of Hollywood’s biggest hits – including ‘Jaws’, ‘Thunderball’, ‘Star Wars’, ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘The Robe’ – which have made more than a lot of money. Each changed the way movies were made and distributed.

“An easy rider”


This is what makes “Maverick” more important than, say, “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” with its $805 million domestically and $1,097 million overseas. “Maverick” is a sequel — albeit on a property more than three decades old — but it’s not a comic book or otherwise part of a conventional franchise. With a pre-marketing budget of $170 million, the earnings outlook seemed dubious; it’s been years since Cruise really hit it off in anything outside of his ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise. It was unclear whether current audiences remained familiar with the original “Top Gun,” or whether the international public would appreciate a story set in the United States military.

With great reviews, a state-of-the-art PR campaign spearheaded by Cruise himself, and a well-played premiere in Cannes, it opened domestically for $126 million in its first three days. That’s impressive – but even more impressive is that it will end up with a multiple between five and six times the opening. That is rare, especially for an opening of that scale. Among the exceptions that prove the rule are “Titanic” (x24) and “Avatar” (almost x10).

So not only is it the biggest movie of the year, it will be significantly ahead of the Marvel movies, ‘The Batman’ and the latest ‘Jurassic World’ entry. The success of the “Maverick” competitors was anything but assumed. They are what studios prefer to make, the cost is damned ($200 million or more). The answer to “Maverick” and its appeal – contemporary human drama, an established old-school star, interest from an older audience, word of mouth – is not the standard model.

Perhaps most importantly, as of now, in its 10th week of its run, there is no immediate sign of availability anywhere but theaters. Studios now consider 45 days a normal window, apart from Universal (PVOD release after the third or fifth weekend, depending on gross opening). Pre-Covid, the normal rollout was 75 days for PVOD, 90 for VOD and retail sales of DVDs and Blu-Ray, with 120 days for physical rentals.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME, from left: Zendaya, Tom Holland as Spider-Man, 2021. © Sony Pictures Releasing / © Marvel Entertainment / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Spider-Man: No Way Home”

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

“No Way Home” spent just under three months as a cinema exclusive before going to PVOD. The equivalent for “Maverick” would be around August 20. No official announcement has been made, but sources indicate that the next platform(s) will not come until after Labor Day.

On a critical note, unlike Sony, Paramount has an internal streamer to feed. Adding “Maverick” after 45 days would be a boon for Paramount+ and follow in the footsteps of Disney and Warners. Continuing to favor theaters longer than any major film in years will have a huge impact.

Numbers and comparisons make for sexy headlines and empowerment at a time when movies and theaters need an ego boost, but repeating the dubious claim that ‘Maverick’ is the studio’s greatest movie ever puts you at risk. that more important achievements are buried.

“Top Gun: Maverick”, probably more than any movie, saved the theatrical model. It became a must-see movie, and more importantly, a must-see movie.

That’s the claim no other Paramount movie can make.

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