Top Gun: Maverick’s incredible domestic and global success continues, thanks to a number of factors that celebrate traditional theatrical exhibition.
Despite being in theaters for over three months, and despite now being available to stream on demand at home, Top Gun: Maverick continues to perform well at the box office, but how? The belated Top Gun sequel sees Tom Cruise reprise the role of Pete 'Maverick' Mitchell, who's been put in charge of training a team of young hotshot Top Gun pilots for a daring mission behind enemy lines. This new team includes 'Rooster' Bradshaw (Miles Teller), the son of Maverick's best friend, 'Goose' (Anthony Edwards) who was tragically killed in the first movie. Both men are forced to come to terms with their past in order to complete their mission and escape with their lives.
Given the nostalgia for the original Top Gun, there was always going to be an audience for a Tom Cruise movie sequel, but the overwhelmingly positive reaction at the box office is somewhat unprecedented. Since its release in May 2022, Top Gun: Maverick has broken all manner of box office records including surpassing the domestic gross of James Cameron's Titanic. Three months after release and Maverick is still in the box office top five, long after big movies Thor: Love and Thunder or Minions 2: The Rise Of Gru have fallen out of the top rankings. At time of writing, Top Gun: Maverick has grossed over $1.4 billion, globally.
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The huge success of Top Gun: Maverick has been a comfort to theater chains still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels of business, in the face of a reduced release strategy from the big studios. Top Gun: Maverick's nostalgia continues a trend of other similarly nostalgic box office hits released during the transition out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The marketing of movies like Spider-Man: No Way Home and Jackass Forever have specifically played to an audience's desire to see the return of certain much-loved characters and personalities. This is one element behind Top Gun: Maverick's runaway success, but there are other factors at play, too.
Unlike many other mainstream movies, Top Gun: Maverick was championed by the right-wing American news network Fox News. In July, the cable news network was the most-watched in prime time, with an average viewership of 2.116 million, which is a large captive audience of potential theatergoers. Despite the movie never revealing who the Top Gun: Maverick villains are in terms of their country of origin, the movie became part of the never-ending culture war, embraced by right-wing politicians and press who championed the movie as pro-American. This endorsement from the likes of Fox News would certainly have helped to sell the movie to an audience who believe that modern blockbusters preach "woke politics" while also still appealing to the modern blockbuster audience – but while this American nationalism likely factors into Maverick's box office success, it doesn't tell the whole story.
Because audiences don't have to believe that modern movies are "too woke" to be disillusioned with what's on offer at their local theaters. In a blockbuster landscape populated almost exclusively by kids cartoons and superhero movies, it can be hard for adults to find something more grown up to watch at their local multiplex. Top Gun 2 made $1 billion because, despite being a legacy sequel, it appealed to an audience that aren't being served by the modern glut of superhero and comic book franchise movies.
Most importantly of all, Top Gun: Maverick is unashamedly a big-screen experience that loses its power when streamed on the small screen. Famously, the Top Gun sequel was held back from release during the pandemic because Paramount wanted audiences to experience it in theaters when the time was right, they didn't even announce an upcoming streaming release when the movie hit theaters. Not only was this the right move for Maverick, it also demonstrated the studios' belief in the theater experience. Tom Cruise's stunts in Top Gun 2 are utterly thrilling and deserve to be experienced on the biggest screen possible, it would hardly be surprising if audiences would want to relive those high-flying moments on repeat visits to theaters on quieter weekends, instead of taking a risk on a new movie like George Miller's Three Thousand Years Of Longing.
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Prior to the dramatic shifts necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the standard theatrical release window for movies was three months prior to a home video release. The theatrical release window has been shortening for years, following Disney's controversial 2010 move from the then-standard 17 weeks to 12 for Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. During the pandemic, even after theaters reopened, release windows have further shortened, with movies like Free Guy being released on home video after a mere 45 days. Top Gun: Maverick's streaming release honored the three-month window, releasing on video-on-demand services on August 23rd in the US, just over 12 weeks after the movie debuted in theaters.
Now that it's available to watch at home, it may be less beneficial for theaters to continue showing Top Gun 2, which could see the number of available screenings decrease over the next few weeks. However, with no big tentpole studio movies until Black Panther: Wakanda Forever in November, theaters – specifically those with IMAX screening capabilities – may see the value in continuing to offer audiences the chance to relive Cruise's impressive flying skills on their biggest screen.
Despite Top Gun: Maverick's record breaking box office run, it's looking unlikely to beat the likes of Titanic and Avengers: Infinity War on the global stage, despite surpassing their domestic grosses. Now that it's available to stream at home, Maverick is nearer to the end of its theatrical release than the start, and box office numbers may begin to slow as a result. However, with an average daily domestic gross of $1.2 million and the upcoming Labor Day holiday, Top Gun: Maverick still has a lot of life in it. With a current gross of $1.4 billion, it's unlikely to reach the near $3 billion of an Avatar or an Endgame, but the lack of major studio releases between now and November, and the movie's big-screen appeal should see it land nearer to $1.6 billion globally.
Mark Donaldson is a film and TV features writer for Screen Rant. As an arts graduate and former movie theater employee, he is fascinated by the current streaming landscape and its impact on the box office. Mark also has a passionate love of TV, from prestige dramas like Better Call Saul to classic sci-fi like Doctor Who. He also loves comedy, and his SR highlight so far was when his comedy hero Tim Heidecker shared one of his articles. Another highlight from his time at SR so far is getting the chance to champion Seth MacFarlane’s brilliant The Orville on a weekly basis. Mark is also a freelance film programmer, podcaster, and writer who never misses an opportunity to share their love of movies and tv shows via screenings, podcasts, and the written word. He’s also currently working on a book about multiplex theaters and a documentary about Doctor Who fandom in the 1990s.


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